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Localization of the Fire Emblem series
The Fire Emblem series first began receiving international releases in 2003 with the release of Fire Emblem, the seventh game in the series. The process of preparing a video game for international release typically goes beyond simple translation and requires localization. Fire Emblem is currently translated and localized into six languages: English, French, Spanish, German, Italian and, starting with Fates, Korean.
Localizers behind Fire Emblem
Treehouse is Nintendo of America's in-house product development division, which is responsible for the English, Canadian French, and Central/South American Spanish localizations for NTSC-region releases. As with most first- or second-party Nintendo releases, they were responsible for the English localization of five English language Fire Emblem releases: Fire Emblem, Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones, Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance, Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn, and Fire Emblem Fates. However, they did not complete French or Spanish localizations for these games, nor were such editions released in the Americas by Nintendo of America.
8-4 is a Japanese localization firm which specializes in freelance Japanese-to-English localization jobs on behalf of other companies. Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon and Fire Emblem Awakening were both localized by 8-4.
Nintendo of Europe
Nintendo of Europe handles localizations of Nintendo games for the various European markets, producing localizations in British English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Dutch and Russian, although Fire Emblem is not currently localized into the latter two languages. In the case of English, there are enough differences between American and British English that an alternate localization is often needed for release in the United Kingdom. However, this has never been the case for Fire Emblem, and the PAL English releases have always been more or less exact ports of the North American releases with only minor textual changes which are few in number. Often, the only significant changes in Nintendo of Europe's work are name changes and even these are fairly rare.
The most significantly changed PAL English version of a Fire Emblem game was Awakening, though even it still contains relatively few alterations which changed several minor lines of dialogue (e.g. Lucina's defeat quote in Chapter 4, which was changed from "Impressive...if not surprising..." to "Impressive... Just as I'd expected..."); unusually, it is also the only Fire Emblem game to implement British English spelling changes across the entire game (e.g. turning the Armorslayer into "Armourslayer").
Cup of Tea Productions
Cup of Tea Productions is a voice-over studio based in California which specializes in voice acting for video games and frequently works with 8-4. They provided English dubbing services for Awakening on behalf of 8-4 and Nintendo of America, and were responsible for casting actors and recording the localization's voice-acted lines.
For the seven games which were never officially released outside of Japan, unofficial translation patches produced by fans take the place of official localizations. These translations have been produced by a variety of people, and vary greatly in quality, translation/localization philosophy, and writing style.
Elements of localization
Dialogue translation and changes
|“||I think that the overall biggest "challenge" with Fire Emblem is that the storyline is so rich and we're trying to bring the same texture and depth from the Japanese version into our localization. We don't want it to sound farcical and campy. We want to keep it serious, but also keep the humor, which is very prevalent in the Fire Emblem series.||”|
— Tim O'Leary, a Treehouse localizer
The key difference between a simple, direct translation and a localization is the question of cultural context. Namely, the means by which a scene may express itself in the original Japanese text may be compromised in a straight-up translation because of the new audience's unfamiliarity with a certain cultural convention, or because the wording when presented exactly as it was in Japanese it may fall flat by the grammatical standards of this new audience. The goal of a good localization is to address this by tailoring the game for the sensibilities of this new audience, and to make it read as naturally as anything written natively in that language without compromising the original intent or thematics of the text.
This tends to be important in Fire Emblem in particular, being that it mostly presents itself as a medieval drama with a serious tone, and the challenge here is to present the text with both its intended gravity and sense of humor without letting it become too campy or tonally inconsistent. Proper localization is particularly crucial for actual jokes in the game's writing, as what makes a joke funny differs drastically in different cultures and languages; similarly, sometimes a style of speech in the Japanese version needs to be re-mapped to a completley different style in English that has similar cultural connotations in order to make the character work, as is the case with Bastian. Localizers are afforded freedom by Intelligent Systems to make tweaks to the story and writing as they see fit in order to strengthen it and make it work better on its own merits, regardless of cultural context.
With both official localizations and fan translations, a key issue with presenting the text in non-Japanese languages is the amount of space and size available in the game itself. While the structure of the Japanese language makes it relatively easy to say a lot in a relatively small amount of space, European languages are not so lucky and, being that Fire Emblem is an extremely wordy series with long dialogue scripts, dialogue must be kept as brief and to-the-point as possible to fit the screen space and to prevent audience frustration from dialogue scenes taking an exorbitantly long time with too many button presses. This often makes properly conveying everything that needs to be conveyed about a character's feelings in that succinct space a distinct challenge for localizers.
|“||Did Ruthea being changed to Lucius make you enjoy FE7 any less? Did Cougar being changed to Cormag significantly change your experience of FE8? Did Muddy being changed to Mordecai negatively affect your playthrough of FE9?||”|
— gringe, the translator of The Binding Blade
Name changes tend to be by far the most controversial element of adaptations of anything, and Fire Emblem is no exception. On one hand, Fire Emblem in particular typically loads its characters' names with mythological references which often have some tie to the respective character's role or persona. On the other hand, to a certain extent name changes are considered a vital part of a proper localization, to correctly preserve any intended meanings or references and to avoid having them muddled by other connotations; for example, the character Mist needed to be renamed in the German localizations of the Tellius games because, despite her name being a mythological reference, it is also the German word for feces and is often used as a curse word (being an exact counterpart to the English "shit" or "crap"), making it extremely undesirable as a character's name.
Intelligent Systems grants Fire Emblem localizers a significant amount of freedom with respect to elements such as name changes, with the belief that it is part of ensuring that a game is received as well as possible by an international audience and that localization teams are best trusted to do what they feel is necessary to accomplish this. At the same time, the Treehouse team at least prioritized preserving the impression conveyed by the original and properly adapting it to the English-speaking audience, and would discuss at length a name's origin and meaning and consult the development team on their original intent in order to produce names with the same spirit as the originals.
With every localized game so far except Awakening, Nintendo of Europe's versions often implement further name changes than the US edition. The main reason appears to be attempts to exotify them further. For instance, several Elibe locations such as Ostia and Bern are named for actual European locations, so given how to an European audience these places and names are entirely mundane and lose much of their effect, a few tweaks were implemented to distance them slightly from their namesakes (becoming "Ositia" and "Biran", respectively); the character Renault (renamed "Renaud" in Europe) may have been in a similar case, as "Renault" is famous a French car manufacturer. Occasionally they may correct errors or oversights by the North American edition of a game, such as reverting Dheginsea and Kyza to "Deghinsea" and "Kysha" in the European edition of Radiant Dawn because those characters had already been named such in Path of Radiance.
As a result of the controversy they can provoke in fan communities, Fire Emblem fan translations have historically been much more conservative with their approach to names and stick closely to literal transliterations of the Japanese names or the official romanizations provided elsewhere by NoJ material. A famous incident of a failed attempt to completely change a name occurred with the fan translation of New Mystery of the Emblem, where the team's attempt to rename Belf to "Vergil", inspired by a belief that "Belf" is a poor name, drew intense backlash and criticism which led to the change being reverted for the final versions of the patch. With fan translations of other series, name changes don't often result in the same level of anger (for instance, the Mother 3 translation's renaming of the character Yokuba to Fassad is widely accepted).
The localization process affects more than the game's writing and names, but also its core gameplay. Tweaks to the gameplay are warranted by a variety of factors depending on the game: some tweaks are bug fixes or rebalancing measures which were found to be necessary after the Japanese release, while others are considered on the basis of the needs of the western market, which was more common when Fire Emblem was still new to the west and people were considered unfamiliar with it. Gameplay changes are often based not only on the opinions of the developers with the mindset of the western audience in mind, but from feedback from Intelligent Systems themselves, who receive feedback from players of the Japanese version of the game.
Cuts and censorship
Official localization into English often carries a connotation of censorship with it, as a result of the heavy-handed approach of anime localizers such as 4Kids Entertainment. Fire Emblem localizations, however, have relatively few instances of active, deliberate censorship so far, although some content, primarily in gameplay, has been cut from the games for various reasons.
These are examples of content cut from localized editions of the games:
- Being a prequel to the Japan-only The Binding Blade, Fire Emblem received several content cuts relating to connectivity with that game. A data transfer feature was removed because of the inability of English audiences to link up with copies of The Binding Blade, and most of its content - chiefly, the extended epilogue set ten years later - was rolled into the game's default state. The European releases, however, cut the extended epilogue entirely.
- The Japanese version of Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn featured an extended script which played in the game's higher difficulties, going into greater depth on the game's story and lore than the basic script did. The localizations only use the basic script, with the extended script being cut entirely, amounting to a loss of roughly 5% of the game's story content. The Japanese version's forging system also involved a system of forging points, which was cut entirely in localization.
- The localizations of Awakening cut the ability to, when creating a new avatar, make them completely mute. Such an avatar would play no voice clips and have no lines of dialogue at all in the entire game, with the rest of the script slightly altered to accommodate for their lack of input.
These are examples of censorship in localized editions of Fire Emblem:
- In the Japanese version of Shadow Dragon and New Mystery of the Emblem, the Warp staff's menu icon displays a six-pointed star in the style of the Star of David. Being an overt religious reference, the icon was edited in the localizations of Shadow Dragon to be a plainer five-pointed star.
- The "scramble" DLC series in Awakening was censored twice in different versions. The NTSC version of the game covers up part of Tharja's swimsuit illustration with a curtain in Summer Scramble to censor its skimpiness; the European edition has it uncensored. In Harvest Scramble, a conversation between Tharja and Nowi was altered in the European release, changing the topic from Tharja's "boingy bits" to her hair.
- Gameography, 8-4, Retrieved: 2015-08-25
- Professional audio recording., Cup of Tea, Retrieved: 2016-01-22
- Arushan, Z., Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance Interview, Nintendo World Report, Published: 2005-10-04, Retrieved: 2015-08-25
- Casamassina, M., Fire Emblem Interview and Videos, IGN, Published: 2015-09-29, Retrieved: 2015-08-25
- lsmith, Interview: The Localization Team of Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance, Kotaku, Published: 2005-10-20, Retrieved: 2015-08-25
- VincentASM, What's an extended script?, Serenes Forest, Retrieved: 2015-08-25
- Video game localization on Wikipedia
- Fire Emblem (according to Japan): a blog which analyzes localization changes
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