It is fair to say that, when it comes to FromSoftware titles directed by Hidetaka Miyazaki, the game script is the lore hunter’s bible. Covering everything from descriptions to dialogue, it is the script from which we learn the deeper truths and form the basis for which we frame all other elements in the game. And much like how understanding of the original Latin, Greek, and Hebrew helps with understanding the biblical narrative, knowledge of the original Japanese is critical to understanding the story to these games.
Some might believe that such international titles weren’t written for a Japanese audience first or foremost, especially since many are dubbed only in English. However, this is typically a stylistic choice for fantasy games based in European-inspired settings, intended to serve its Japanese audience with an authentic “foreign” Western world. Let us ignore the obvious fact that these games are developed by Japanese developers working for a Japanese company based in Japan, thereby naturally saturated in the Japanese perspective. Let us even overlook several instances of cut dialogue written in Japanese but ultimately not localized in English, something which simply wouldn’t occur if English was in fact the script’s original language. Let us simply take a look at the quality of the localization itself.
Simply put, the localization for all of these FromSoftware games are littered with deviations from the Japanese script, ranging from debatable word choices to erroneous mistranslations of the text. Many of these deviations have a major effect on interpreting the information contained therein, and collectively have a cascading effect on comprehending the overall story. Some might claim that these deviations are somehow intentional on FromSoftware’s part, designed to present different information to different audiences for a game which can often seem deliberately ambiguous. If that were true, then the developers have presented the Japanese audience with a fairly straightforward and coherent script while leaving English audiences to writhe within an inconsistent, contradictory and obfuscating one.
The idea that Miyazaki aims to make his stories paradoxes is absurd. Various interviews with the director have affirmed time and time again that his games do have a story to tell, one “true” answer to each mystery presented in-game. The man is simply not in the business of spelling everything out, letting players figure it out for themselves with as little comment from him as possible. It is still his singular vision. In an Edge interview and separate Q&A on the localization company’s Japanese website, Miyazaki and members of the localization team from Frognation attest that the game director is the original writer, and that the team translates his Japanese text into English before handing that English script off to be localized into other languages. In other words, the English localization is simply a filter, one which for one reason or another contains serious flaws.
Some might argue that the English localization is useful in situations where the Japanese script is vague, since the translators may have received insider information to provide deeper insight. While this is entirely possible, it is a Rorschach test. There are instances when evidence supports the localization’s assumptions, and instances where said evidence belies them. Anyone can make a blind guess in a vacuum and be right some of the time, but that isn’t a standard with which to put them on a pedestal. Ultimately, we the consumers of the final product possess the most context from the environment and characters to be making the correct determinations for the script; whether or not they comport with the localization is irrelevant.
Moreover, the aforementioned interview and Q&A give mixed impressions on Miyazaki’s involvement. Frognation claims that the localization receives little to no input from FromSoftware, and Miyazaki himself acknowledges that he defers heavily to the localizers. At the same time, they have both claimed to closely collaborate from early on in the writing process, even sharing some internal documents when needed. Overall, it appears that Miyazaki has acted as a rubber stamp for these localizations, only pushing back when it comes to certain key terms he wants translated a specific way. And with so many objective errors riddling the text, we cannot trust the English script to ever give insight over the original.
For that reason, I will be supplying quotations from my own translation for reference in my analyses. My rendition shouldn’t be considered a replacement for the official English script, per se, but it will provide a closer approximation of the original wording and flow that the Japanese text actually provides. In attempting to educate English-speaking fans, I have focused on plainly conveying the necessary information in as consistent a manner as possible over flowery verbiage or phrasing and other, more artistic, concerns that an official localization needs to take into account. If this is to be interpreted in any way a criticism of Frognation’s work, it is in so far that their rendition could have done more to incorporate accuracy into their poetry.
By that standard, Frognation have overall gotten better. While the localizations for the original Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls can, kindly, be described as total travesties, the localizers have progressively made fewer egregious errors with each subsequent game following the wild popularity of Dark Souls — funny how that works out. If they are receptive to public exposure, for the better; all the more reason to be properly critical. To do better doesn’t necessarily mean to be good enough, and Frognation cannot claim ignorance to their own blunders. The Demon’s Souls remake saw many of the original game’s worst localization mistakes corrected, meaning that the extent of the company’s failures hadn’t gone unnoticed. And yet, that still left roughly half of such glaring problems to fix, including entire sections of the script ignored entirely.
When I go to buy a burger, I expect it to come with all the appropriate toppings. It doesn’t matter if every day I come again you are including progressively more of them; you are still failing to meet my original order. Either do the job or be replaced by someone who can. I expect the AAA games I purchase to meet that same standard of quality in localization. Had these games been marketed more like JRPGs than your typical Western action RPG, I suspect that fan and media coverage would be more cognizant of these shortcomings. But marketing being what it is, the English community has been slow on the uptake. I doubt that Frognation will ever fear being replaced, given their long working relationship with FromSoftware by this point. Even still, widespread public — and civil — criticism is the best chance at motivating further improvements. In at least that respect, these analyses highlighting the flaws of the localization are my protest.