A talk was held this morning by Richard Mark Honeywood, a translator, localization director, and programmer on many Square-Enix titles. By his side was fellow translator Colin Williamson, and they spent their hour focusing on the difficulties and tricks to localizing a Japanese produced game for other territories.
The first problem - as fans of their games will attest - is Square-Enix games "are so damn complex" and there is never enough time. As Honeywood put it, everyone on the localization staff are "either artists or perfectionists," something that could be improved upon.
There is also never enough money. Some of the more interesting ways for the team to save money is "instead of flying everyone to Tokyo, we'll go to places like Austria," due to the cheaper airfare and accommodations. Additionally, members of the localization team will provide voices for some of the minor roles. Williamson then demonstrated his rather impressive Slime voice.
There is also never enough space on Square-Enix games. The eternal problem of Kanji to English did not go away with the 16 bit era. An example of a more inventive solution was shown with Final Fantasy VIII, in which a menu of statistics using Chinese characters in the Japanese version was replaced in the localized version with icons instead of words.
With Final Fantasy XI, Square-Enix's MMORPG, keeping the English translation up to date with the scripts being produced by Japanese development team was described by Honeywood as "a war of attrition".
After being on the project for four years, Honeywood went to work on other games, leaving behind a game script the size of the Bible, currently over 1,000,000 words in length. Keeping up with the languages across multiple platforms and expansion packs, Honeywood said "If we weren't so close with the development team, we would probably have killed each other by now."
And of course, there are never enough translators for all projects. "We lack direct Japanese to FIGS (French, Italian, German, Spanish) translators, so we have to resort to Japanese to English, then English to FIGS."
The main challenge in localizing these games was, said Honeywood, was, "How am I expected to translate all this text into English when they don't have basic grammar!" or what can be seen as the "You got a 5 sword(s)" translation problem. Honeywood said that "for small games you can branch the source code," but European languages can have up to 16 grammatical variations making it impossible to hard code.
The solution for them was a custom built macro system that handles articles, singular/plurals and masculine/feminine/neutral text branching. In addition, Square-Enix now work with the development teams to implement singular/plural item distinction in the design phase.
Important to Honeywood was product differentiation, or to make each game unique. While most Final Fantasy games have gone for Americanized English for its translation - Final Fantasy XII being a recent exception - for Dragon Quest VIII they decided to go for British English.
To this end, they employed a British recording studio and used classical stage actors and a theatrical director for all voice directions, giving it a unique "flavour" from other Square Enix games.
Where Honeywood saw room for improvement in the future included more simultaneous multi-language development, format standardization across teams, improved tools, better lip-synching methods and better market research concerning what to release.