二ノ国 : Impressions and Localization Expectations

Day 1: Initial Impressions

I was discussing Japanese manuals and their translation at a game developers/producers bar gathering. Specifically, I was being told that translating them is incredibly boring as they are routine, have little of interest, et cetera. This struck me as odd at the time because my informant was referring specifically to Japanese manuals (although he then added that English manuals have similarly become boring), but also vaguely true in that manuals are very chunked up in terms of translation. They are incredibly redundant and simplistic. As Gee has noted they make no sense at first, but become sensible after playing. There are so many “problems” with manuals its amazing that they’re still there and haven’t been replaced by in-game education (by which they have partially been replaced).

To my informant I asked if it had something to do with reading and Japan. Their answer was that such was a relativistic statement as it’s no harder to read in Japanese as a child due to furigana as it is in English. I demurred, but still questioned. I’m still not sure what the answer is, but having just seen Level 5 and Studio Ghibli’s upcoming Nintendo DS title 二ノ国 [ni no kuni] I’m writing about how that manual will turn out in relation to this whole idea of manuals in particular and translation in general.

Technically, I’m not even sure if the 352 page book next to every DS unit filled with characters, items, story, et cetera is a “manual” that comes with the game or an extra for the Tokyo Game Show, but I can’t imagine the latter as during my 15 minutes of play I was required to go into the tome (to page 61), retrieve the phrase “いでよなべまじん!”, and input it into the game to summon the genie-like boss/enemy.

So, the question here is two-fold: First, is it really an integral 2nd half to the game? If it is, then what does a 352 page required reading tome do to “video gaming?” Second, how will that tome be translated!?

Both of these questions are fantastically interesting on various levels. The first to theories of “game” and “play.” Where is the story, and where is the play? They’re overlapped in that to play the game one must understand the story. Narratology has a vague revenge on ludology. Does this interaction of book and game encourage kids to read? Is all of this intentional?

The second is of course particularly interesting to me in that a 352 page tome is so far from both the standard practice of manual translation and the standard type of game localization that to translate it almost requires a translation and not a localization. Will the job be distributed? As Ghibli has previously even gone to Neil Gaiman for celebrity/professional rewriting style translation will that be the avenue of choice? And how will that then effect the actual localization element of the game?

Sure, 二ノ国’s manual is hardly “usual,” but it’s exceptional qualities bring out the very questions that came up with the original conversation of manual translation. Is reading ability, which is to say “literacy,” a target of this game spearheaded by a company whose head has a penchant for hating new media in particular and technology in general?

Let us simply say that I am looking forward to the translation/localization of this title, and I hope I can talk with the localizers. For that matter, Im’ not sure that a localization has even been announced…

Day 2: Further Thoughts and Localization Expectations

I went back to Level 5’s 二ノ国 DS title today and confused the hell out of the staff by not playing the game at all. No, I don’t want to put on the headphones, and no I don’t want to choose one of the two demos. I just want to peruse the book. So here goes my further impressions and expectations.

It’s a 352 page book divided into 7 chapters (魔法指南, 合成指南, 装備指南, 道具と食べ物, イマージェンと魔物, 伝説の物語, and 色々な地方), and those chapters have an amazing amount of stuff from how magic and alchemy work, to information about equipment, tools, food, and creatures, to legends and stories of the world, and finally various extra information about characters and places. And of course there are pictures throughout. The book is really beautiful, but its truly amazing in that it forces the player to read it! They must peruse it at least enough to get information, but its beauty encourages them to read the rest. Yes, it’s a carrot and stick situation involving children and literacy.

This book alone would make translation an interesting task as it would be translation, not localization. But the particular use of language within the game makes it even more complicated. The in-game alphabet is based off of the Japanese 46 character syllabary with corresponding characters including “, ° and っ. Such a one to one choice is far from unknown: FFX had a similar trick with the アルベドalphabet but it was largely a non-issue due to the bulk replacement and lack of visual use of the language in the game. The particular use in Final Fantasy is to take the language, mix it around and voila, a “different language.” Because . The issues with 二ノ国 are heightened by the visual representation of an alternate language and the writing of characters during play. If the player does not write them it is less of an issue, but still a great difficulty.

To give an example, the book itself is called Magic Master, which transliterates to まじっくますたー, which transliterates to English as majikku masutaa, or Magic Master. This is on the cover of the book and there are paragraphs of the game language throughout the book at various points. One expects it is in the game world as well. To localize the game the ties between the in world language and the player’s language must be untied and then retied. To do that for English the 46 characters must be weeded down to 26, which is easy enough on a surface level, but  more difficult if anything in the game uses some of the 20 deleted characters in an interactive way.

So, who is taking on this task? I asked one of the Level 5 booth workers and was told it is not being localized. It’s possible he was missing my point and thinking I was asking for an English version on the spot, or he didn’t know, or he couldn’t answer due to legal restrictions, but I’ll take the general ‘no’ for now. After all, what company would want to take on a task that highlights the difficulties and unruly ties between localization and translation? This is not to say I don’t want it to be released in other countries, just that it will be both interesting and problematic when it eventually comes up for localization.

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