How “Sushi” in Japanese can Translate to “Sushi” in the English

Tuesday, July 12th, 2016

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Taiga | Facepalm

This article will focus on the recent editorial posted by Kate Gray for Vice Gaming. The piece we will be discussing is titled “Video Game Translators Are on Your Side, So Stop Hating on Them.” Kate’s article focuses on how the importance of translating games in the West involves removing every cultural statement and replacing it with a phrase a Westerner can understand. However, it seems that Kate’s opinions were lost in translation to most niche gamers as she states:

For example, the cultural relevance and ubiquity of, say, sushi in Japan could be translated into something like pie and gravy in the UK, or burgers in the US.

What she is saying is that localization companies should take pride in removing the culture from video games. However, this seems to be a step backwards from what these companies aim to do when translating and localizing games. In an interview with NIS America about translating their recent release of Grand Kingdom, we asked if they will keep the tone of the Japanese text or take it upon themselves to make it there own. In which they replied:

Not at all, we are being sure to make it true to the Japanese text. We still try our hardest to make it make sense… For the most part we like to stay true because that’s what we want as much as our fans.

The phrase you should take out of this is “what we want as much as our fans.” Could it be that Kate is wrong when saying it’s better for these localization companies to create their own interpretation of the story? In addition, she then goes on to say, “I think that some translators and localisation teams, especially the ones that work with Nintendo, are among the best I’ve seen…” Honestly, as a gamer, it’s clear she has not played a game localized by Nintendo recently, unless you want me to bring up Fire Emblem Fates and whatever that localization was.

Fire Emblem Fates | Comparison

Gamers who indulge in niche games are all fully aware that they don’t want a direct translation. Very few even ask for it. So, when the writer assumes that fans are “hating” on localization teams, that’s just not true. The uproar begins when gamers find out that entire scenes that are supposed to move the player in a way the creator intended are changed. The fans have come to the defense of the developers, directors and illustrators who created these games. Companies, such as Idea Factory International have also come forward about the way they localize their games for the West. In an interview with localization team member Alex Valles about translating a comedic game, they were asked if it was difficult to localize a pun-filled title:

…How do I get there and how do I retain that same mood and environment that was originally intended in the Japanese script? So I guess translating it is just really hard to do sometimes.

Let’s look at where Alex says “how do I retain that same mood and environment that was originally intended in the Japanese script?” This would completely go against Kate’s advice when she says, “Even though their work can often change the meaning and setting of a game in such a way that it ends up being quite different from the original…” For a publisher to change the mood or tone of a game during localization would be completely ignoring their fan base.

Tri Force Heroes | Comparison


These fans that want a close translation aren’t asking for anything other than a little respect for the games they enjoy. There’s no hate; there’s mostly disappointment. Localization companies like Idea Factory International, Aksys, and XSEED have learned this very well over the years. As a result, they have double down on their localization and kept their fans’ support, as well as gained more. Gamers have been painted in this bad light by larger media sites for too long now. Yes, their platform might be bigger, but they can’t be allowed to stand there and basically tell fans to “deal with it and stop hating.” Taking away the culture from a video game’s story is the most disrespectful thing to a developer that one could do. Let’s hope this doesn’t become a trend. Let’s also hope Kate is willing to understand niche gamers even though she clearly hasn’t spent enough time checking out the masterful localization found in games like Trails of Cold Steel, Senran Kagura and Megadimension Neptunia VII.