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

Tuesday, July 12th, 2016

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By


The opinions and views expressed in this article do not directly reflect those of oprainfall as a whole or their affiliates. 

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

SOURCE: https://twitter.com/PI20XY/status/658866548900241408

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.




  • j0eeyy_p

    Great opinion piece Azario. Unfortnuately the opinion piece critiqued is a classic example of why niche gamers tend to avoid the mainstream media for their coverage of niche games – many people involved like this writer simply do not understand the arguements put forward by the niche in part due to the echo chamber that is in the mainstream media (and believing the smears against people trying to point these critiqus of localisation out) and sometimes they don’t want to understand. Localisation should be about translating the meaning of the text given into English – but not rewriting it. Niche gamers often play Japanese games to understand Japanese culture better – Westernising the game dilutes this flavour with something that’s not always wanted.

    On another note, I’ve started playing Cold Steel recently and I’ve been enjoying the localised text and the dub (!). A lot of love was put into the translation and it’s what’s helping me play through that slow burn of a game.

    • Keichi Morisato

      a lot of people complained about the game being english dub only, but i thought that they did a good job of it, and it fits since the game is supposed to be set in a country inspired by europe.

    • j0eeyy_p

      Yeah, I normally switch to JPN audio but I’m enjoying the dub – it’s almost as good as Persona 4’s dub – and I loved that dub!

      Shame about no JPN voices, but licensing issues suck and at least XSEED disclosed that fully.

    • Keichi Morisato

      yeah, people fail to realize that it’s usually one or the other, and that the budget for both languages come from the same pool of cash. games with dual audio usually have pretty terrible to mediocre english dubs, but should they focus on english, they tend to fair better. while with Japanese dub, it can be really difficult and expensive to license due to various factors.

    • Dgnfly

      The reason english dub is poor in games is cause its a Niche audience and they are mostly fine with japanese dub its only the casuals that bitch about wanting english dub.

      And the japanese dubs can be very expensive is bullshit cause the deal could be made beforehand lowering cost the only reason certain japanese games diden’t get it is cause it was done afterwards. japanese dub in general is cheaper and better cause they don’t need to spend another 200,000/500,00 bucks on the whole hiring of the studio and voice actors not to mention needing to westernize it in the process so it doesen’t sound wierd when english voice actors say something.

      English dub fans love the myth that japanese dub are more expensive then english dub while they aren’t and has been proven by the Xseed localizer. only problem is like with PQube has retailer being stuck up and living in the past.

    • azariosays

      I’ve heard from a few publishers that it’s difficult and very costly to localize games with the Japanese audio. There’s also issue that they can’t even speak about. However, i do prefer dual audio support on games.

    • Dgnfly

      I have my doubts, if a small publisher like Xseed say its cheaper i doubt it’ll be that expensive especialy considering somebody who wanted Sernran kagura with english dub but they said they coulden’t even afford it cause it would put the company at risk it was that expensive.

      Like i said if they make the contract before hand and if retailers in the U.S would stop acting like crybaby’s and stock the game there woulden’t be all that much problems.

      I feel english dub is a waste of money that would be better spend bringing more titles. The whole reason they coulden’t get
      Cold Steel’s japanese dub is cause the japanese Devs refuse to cooperate with the whole deal for unknown reasons really i doubt money cause we offered to pay for it with a kickstarter.

      I would say a cast like persona 5 would be pretty expensive but you get the top of the line! unlike their english counterparts which are most likely the same old boring cast considering the whole english dub voice actor line up.

      And let’s not forget publishers love lying about shit to skip cost same with the censorship bullshit they censor stuff before its even gone through ESRB to skip cost.

    • Keichi Morisato

      XSEED has stated that the reason they didn’t include dual audio in Trails of Cold Steel was the cost of licensing.

    • Dgnfly

      Nope i debated with their mod on their forum during Trails of cold steel. they only dare say they weren’t allowed to use the japanese dub they never stated why during that conversation only that they aren’t allowed to discusse the reason cause if it were money they would be upfront about it.

    • Panpopo

      Just wanted to pop in and say glad you are enjoying Cold Steel! Seriously more people need to play it. Due to the sheer amount of text I can only imagine how much work it was to translate all of it. Dub was fine imo – as long as you don’t lose immersion, that is all that matters. And yeah, it’s the kind of game where you take your time and relax to.

    • azariosays

      There needs to be more time in a day for me to beat that game 🙁

    • Karen McCune

      <<o. ✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤✤:::::::!bw973p:….,

    • ElKonsolero

      Yeah i also play through Cold Steel currently. I´m really enjoying the game. The localisation did a really good job. Although i´m sad that there is no JPN voice option the dub serves it´s purpose and doesn´t distract from playing the game. Maybe when i´m finished with Cold Steel (which is close) i finally get back to Trails 2 because that game kind of bored me so far.

  • Daymon

    I think she gave some really poor examples, but I think I *might* understand part of what she’s trying to get at. Not saying I agree with her views, but I think I know what she means.

    It all depends on your audience. If you’re dealing with localizing a game aimed at a “Rated E for Everyone!” audience (and by that, I really mean kids. Like, li’l kids who are just starting to learn how to play games), I sort of understand making changes to make it more understandable for a certain audience. Changing food items that a 7 year old has no idea about to something more understandable? Yeah, I get it. Not saying it’s not dumb, because kids should be exposed to other cultures to learn about them, but I get it. It’s about accessibility at that point.

    But when your audience is teens and up, there’s really no reason to make changes on that scale. If you’re old enough to play a T rated game, you understand that other cultures have foods that are particular to them, and there’s no reason to change something like takoyaki to french fries. You can expect a small child to try and get french fries at a German restaurant instead of spatzle. It gets kind of silly when it’s an adult.

    • Solbasa

      I don’t remember where I saw this, but I remember reading something saying that, by keeping cultural references unchanged in something meant for kids, it can push them to try and learn more about that culture. Meanwhile, if you pull a 4Kids, over-localizing and changing everything to make it more recognizable, it’s like you’re teaching kids that the only culture in the world is ‘Murica.

    • Daymon

      I fully believe they should remain intact. But I also understand why a company might make that change when it comes to the wee li’l ones. I think it stems from the outrage parents get when they feel like kids are being “taught” other religions and cultures to “wipe out their American heritage.” Which is just as absurd as it sounds.

    • Steve Baltimore

      Right but NOA is doing this with game marketed at teens and adults. Which is just unacceptable today. Could imagine if they did Persona today like they did in the late 90’s? I would be a huge failure, which is exactly what happened with TMS.

    • Daymon

      Well, I don’t know the numbers on TMS, so I can’t speak to whether it was a failure or not. Unless you’re referring to the (admittedly inconsistent) localization changes.

      It’s also not just NOA – there are other companies that do the same thing. The references to the original opinion piece when it comes to NOA mostly refer to Pokemon and changing clever puns from Japanese that don’t have an English equivalent to clever English puns and making sure it still works. if that’s the kind of work that she’s referring to, then yes, that is good localization.

    • Steve Baltimore

      Not many other companies do it to the extent that NOA does. They remove and edit anything they find offensive to anyone. They are basically the 4Kids of localization at this point.

    • Daymon

      Well, to some extent I can see that. But it’s incredibly and bizarrely inconsistent. They don’t remove everything that could be offensive – I mean, if you look at TMS, there’s tons of heaving, jiggling tits, lots of cleavage, thongs, showing, etc. They covered Aversa’s chest with flames in the cut scene, but in the regular game, they’re left the way they were. There are tons of jokes about “Ba’al busting” in Bravely Second.

    • Steve Baltimore

      They just changed every outfit and Bravely Second and dropped some bad ending to make you not feel as bad. Square’s reasoning for latter is complete bullshit. If they did that based on feedback from Japan, where is the patch for their version to fix this?

    • Steve Baltimore

      Also the whole idea the outfits needed to be changed to get a T rating is crap. This pic is from Panzer Waltz, it’s a mobile game on Android, Rated E10 by the ESRB

    • Daymon

      That’s a whole other can of worms. The ESRB is a hot mess. There are too many factors involved (some of them uncontrollable) to try and compare games, in my opinion.

    • Daymon

      Again – inconsistent. They covered up costumes and changed the endings for Edea’s asterisk quests, but left plenty of other things in there that could be considered “adult” humor. They don’t remove everything offensive. They only remove some of it. Which is what makes it so confusing and impossible to figure out why.

    • Josh S.

      Right that “pride” comment struck me as a bit off as well. It was a gross mistranslation 😉

  • Mr0303

    “I think that some translators and localisation teams, especially the ones that work with Nintendo, are among the best I’ve seen…” – top kek.

  • Mr0303

    Her entire argument is pretty weak. It assumes that audiences are ignorant and don’t want to learn anything about other cultures. Could you imagine something like this being done to books? Instead of sushi the samurai grabbed a burger from his local McDonalds. It completely changes the tone and it’s immersion breaking.

    These poor localisations should stop. Translate the meaning as close as possible and fans will appreciate it. Changing the meaning and the setting should be considered a failure of translation.

    • ElKonsolero

      It´s not a samurai anymore it´s now a knight ;P

    • Mr0303

      Hah, good one.

  • ProfessorFluffy

    What I find frustrating on the topic of localization is that many of the people that are for removing the cultural references from Japanese games will also argue that gaming needs more diversity and representation of other cultures.

  • Klagmar

    Hmm, there are definitely points to both sides here. For what it’s worth, the image you used to demonstrate the bad localization in FE Fates actually does the opposite in my opinion. It changed a line that was really saccharine and generic and personalized it more to the character speaking while keeping exactly the same meaning, which is not a bad thing at all. There are certainly examples of awful localization in this game, but that is not one of them.

    • Sylveria Shini

      MRglrlrglglglglroooogahoooorglgrlrlr!

      That’s murloc for “I to love video games filled with the sickest dank memes!”

    • azariosays

      I’m dead lol

    • Personally, I do agree that the image used to compare the FE Fates translations should be pointed out– in that the comparison translation was a /fan/ translation, not any official translation. I feel that comparing the two are, at their base, unfair.

      But also, yes, the fantranslated image is pretty flat, but they could have done better on the official one without resorting to something that people now use as an out of context example.

    • azariosays

      Flat as in you personally would change it to what YOU wanted it to be? or what the creator intended it to be. Would you think kindly of someone making a spectacle of your work by putting their own personal flair on it? And guess what you have no say in it.

  • Josh S.

    First off, there is a LOT of hate in the industry right now, and the hate aimed at any “imperfect translation” is only one tiny aspect of the vast Hydra. That said, I think the points made in the Vice editorial make a lot of sense, and took special note of the following two quotes

    “A good localisation… will be truer to the intentions of the original creators than a strict translation,” says Ace Attorney translator Janet Hsu. “By allowing a Western player to be entertained by it in the same way the creators intended their Japanese players to be entertained by the original – you’re laughing at the same points, and crying your eyes out at the same points, too.”

    “Translation is never, ever perfect. The translator will always be a traitor, and the best thing they can do is what they’re already trying to do – offer you a different, but still enjoyable piece of entertainment. They might be traitors, but at least they’re on your side.”

    • azariosays

      Okay, then you will love this

    • Steve Baltimore

      They are on my side as they butcher content from games? Yea I’m gonna have to disagree with you there. There’s no reason for these content cuts going on in right now. Other than people letting their own morals get in the way of them doing their job.

  • bloblord

    “There’s no hate only disappointment”

    LMFAO

    There might not be any hate coming from most of the great people at the operation rainfall staff but just a cursory glance around the internet shows that statement is false. Just a glance at the comment section here can show incredible vitrol over seemingly silly and minor edits.

    On topic
    It’s interesting she used the word sushi I was expecting her to go a different direction not with “maybe we should consider something with more cultural relevance” as sushi is fairly well known in the west (at least in the U.S.). The example seems silly and doesn’t hold up under scrutiny.

    I was expecting her to use the example that if we went with a literal translation instead of seeing the word sushi you would see the words “Vinegar Rice” as that is the literal translation of the word sushi and it would actually make less sense to go with the literal translation because it strips it of the cultural context and most people would have no idea what it was actually saying.

    • azariosays

      I think people get more upset when scenes are removed or altered. When tone is changed i just get “Really? Why you doing that?” type of reaction. However, i could just be in my own oprainfall world and you could be right.

  • alto_angelo

    Finally. Someone calling out that “localization” bullshit fluff piece. The writer probably friends with some of the localizer in treehouse [not surprised if it’s true].

    Most of nintendo and treehouse localization are garbage nowadays, probably because of their recent hires and goes all the way to change dialogue for the “EPIC MAYMAYS”

    thanks for this article

    edit :
    Why not display the line where they changed character’s backstory to simply “…” to push the silent ninja meme garbage

  • James Galizio

    Well said, man.

    • azariosays

      hey thanks for reading!

  • Audie Bakerson

    Aksys is really bad though, especially with their Otome games. They’re really nasty to people who complain too.

    • azariosays

      TBH some of those games were handled by outsourced translation teams. Not in house. I hope to see an improvement on these upcoming titles.

  • Some furf

    “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.”

    Perfect opportunity for the localisation profiteering scam right there. Claim that for cultural reasons, the sushi restaurant needs to be changed to an English pub to make the game relatable to the market. Of course it will require new assets to be made and additional testing to be done, but that can be afforded by the publisher, right?

  • ElKonsolero

    Apperently Mrs. Gray formerly worked for the Nintendo Magazine: https://twitter.com/mombot/status/752755346049896448

    Could be a hint of a bias. When i think of good localisation i think of XSEED and ATLUS US not really about Nintendo. I boycotted the new FE once it was known that EU will get the same translation for the game as the US -.- . Tokyo Mirage Session seems to be even worse (though i don´t have a WII U).

    The two Zeldascreens in the article. From which game is it and which of the screens are closer to the original (the europe one is the better read imo)?

    • j0eeyy_p

      I thought Gray’s name was familiar. Thanks for finding this. She wrote another piece on Nintendo Life spreading positive words about the last 9 months she had at Official Nintendo Magazine UK before it closed. The same ONM that published this drivel about Senran Kagura Burst, which is ironic considering that Estival Versus is XSEED’s most successful game. (https://web.archive.org/web/20140124054210/http://www.officialnintendomagazine.co.uk/56737/blog/senran-kagura-burst-is-damaging-the-industry-heres-how-to-stop-it/?page=1) I really liked ONM back when I read it and have fond memories of reading it, but it’s a shame that even ONM came down with the same drivel affecting mainstream games media.

      As for your question, the EU one is more faithful. Note the doge meme in the NoA translation.

    • ElKonsolero

      It was posted on “Kotaku in Action” so i did not originally find this but i thought it would be interesting to post it here as it fitted the article. Like i said i don´t know if her former job influenced her opinion could be very well that she does want cultural translations in her games. As a huge Anime and Manga fan i disagree with her though. If i play a japanese game published in the west i don´t want to read “Schnitzel mit Pommes” they are in a japanese restaurant (Pommes is the german word for French Fries, mit = with). Even if the go to eat something i do not know i would rather google it than have it removed.

    • Mr0303

      That’s what we call a conflict of interest. I’m not surprised whatsoever.

  • alto_angelo

    Wow. My comment is marked as spam. Really? Is it because of the KiA link?

    • azariosays

      I believe I’m the only mod here right now and I didn’t mark it as spam 🙁

    • alto_angelo

      looks like the reddit/KiA link then.

      Just linked that someone found out that the writer of that piece actually have connection with nintendo, hence the fluff piece is biased and supporting nintendo/treehouse’s “localization”

      still, this is a great piece, to have someone finally call out these bad practices

  • azariosays

    I believe I’m the only one here right now and I didn’t mark it as spam 🙁

  • MusouTensei

    This was always stupid, is stupid, and will always be stupid.
    I’m gonna treat such intentionally bad translations as I treat censorship, because technically, if intentionally, it is a form of censorship, and buy those games use if at all.

  • Zelpok

    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.

    Reading through her piece, it doesn’t say that. Yes, she does provide a horrible example with trying to replace sushi, but in general, all she is saying is that good localizations help gamers enjoy a game in their native language. Most of the game examples she gives (Persona 4, Ace Attorney, Pokemon) are considered to have great translations, and she even mentions how the malfunctioning kotatsu was left in Persona 4 because it made sense in the context. Your opinion piece brings up some excellent points (that I mostly agree with), but I think the Vice article is misinterpreted here.

  • ftidus12

    Excellent article, Azario. After reading through Grey’s article I had to just shake my head at her half-hearted justifications for white washing and ‘sanitizing’ content
    from other cultures. Thanks for calling it out!

    • azariosays

      Hey! Thank you for reading 🙂 ugh I tried to not take her seriously, but I felt that someone had to say something against her.