As was recently discussed, Fire Emblem has a long history, with a full six titles released only in Japan before Nintendo began publishing entries internationally (Seven, if the discussion includes the episodic Satellaview game). And while most of us had probably never touched a Fire Emblem game prior to the release of the second Game Boy Advance title, there’s a small-but-dedicated community out there that not only looked for ways to import, but also interacted online to share knowledge and advice. A few dedicated souls even went so far as to create fan-translations of the in-game text.
On the most basic level, separate from the necessities of proper grammar and well-written dialogue, one of the important aspects in localization is keeping track of the names of the people and places encountered over the course of the story. It’s perhaps a seemingly minor issue, but given a series like Fire Emblem, where each entry features a large and diverse cast of characters, keeping all of these names straight can be a trick without any sort of official elements to reference.
Given the sheer amount of text in the average Fire Emblem release, the idea of a small group of fans translating a full game from start to finish is a daunting task. But when multiple groups tackle a game’s translation independently with no set naming conventions or standards, even a full localization can still feel foreign. It’s an issue that can naturally arise in fan-driven translation projects. Problems that demonstrate just how satisfying it is when a publisher produces their own official localization.
The Art of Romanization
What’s amusing and interesting about the era of multiple translations floating around the internet is that not everyone has been able to agree on what the Romanized names of characters should be. Part of this is simply due to the fact that there are multiple ways in which certain Japanese characters can be Romanized into English. For example, Japanese has no distinction between the “th” and “s” sounds, which is why Marth’s name became “Mars” in the translation of the Fire Emblem anime; the only licensed product to see any sort of official western distribution prior to Marth and Roy’s appearance in Super Smash Bros. Melee.
So in that sense, it’s not uncommon to see the same character referred to by two different people with each using a different Romanization that is technically correct. The same goes for place or object names. I’ve personally come across several different spellings of Fire Emblem Gaiden’s setting; Valencia, Barencia, Varencia, and so on. Some Romanizations have seen more common use than others, but all of the above are mechanically correct from a basic standpoint. And it can be really confusing and tiring to sort through and parse each and every person’s own preferential spellings, particularly in an internet forum or a wiki where there aren’t any set rules for Romanization usage.
Further complicating matters are the times when common English perception of names seems to clash with the character’s Japanese name. For example, there is a pair of characters in Genealogy of the Holy War whose names, when directly romanized, come out as some variant of Yurius and Yuria. Depending on whose preferred translation is being used, I’ve seen them also referred to by the less Roman-accurate, but more accepted English variants of Julius and Julia. So there’s a lot of room for disagreement, but also a lot of room for what could be considered acceptable.
Clearing the Haze
The above confusion is, in part, why official localizations are preferable over those produced by fans. Though there might be those few fans that become incensed when the official names tend to stray from their Japanese sources completely or even slightly, it still gives all English speakers common ground. Layered on top of this, names are sometimes given that extra level of localization polish to make it fit as a part of the setting; this is in effect why we refer to Shadow Dragon’s initial Pegasus Knight as Caeda rather than Shiida or Sheeda, and also why Path of Radiance’s Wayu was renamed Mia. Though they aren’t accurate to the original Japanese, they’re a better fit in the contexts of their respective game universes for an English-speaking audience.
Nostalgia and New Appreciation
But beyond all of the technical and logistical reasoning behind the how and why names are localized as they are, there’s also the emotional connection and attachment. This is why I personally love the DLC elements of Fire Emblem: Awakening so much. The appearances of all of those characters from games never before given an official localization finally get a turn in the spotlight for a larger western audience, with names that we can all agree on.
Really, for as fantastic as Awakening is, one of the most stirring moments for me was something inconsequentially minor. On the first DLC map, Champions of Yore 1, I moved the cursor over each of the enemy units to examine them. And one of the first I came across was a character named Deirdre. It took me a moment to process, but as I looked at her portrait (old character art from Genealogy of the Holy War, another welcome touch), I realized that I was looking at a character western fans had previously known as Diadora. A character that might not mean much to those that don’t know who she is, but for anyone that played Genealogy of the Holy War, or who have read up on and appreciate its story, to see her recognized in a western Fire Emblem release after so many years is wonderful. The same can be said for the appearance of her daughter Julia (Yuria no longer), Alm and Celica of Fire Emblem Gaiden, and everyone else that’s appeared or will appear before the DLC releases come to an end.
It really says something that, for all of the excellent, entertaining writing in Awakening, what I enjoy the most about the localization is seeing all of these old names and old characters get new life. And this only further enhances the game’s writing, which is top-notch across the board, from its storyline, to its support conversations, to the ridiculousness of the Hubba Tester (or really, just Hubba in general). Even if others don’t necessarily get the same quiet thrill of seeing Fire Emblem’s old guard in an official western release for the first time, the localization is one that shines through on all fronts.