Thursday, May 4, 2017

Nintendo Lingo

Whenever a piece of media is translated from Japanese to English (or vice-versa) things inevitably get tweaked or modified to better suit the intended audience.  How exactly one goes about this though isn't always clear, leading to variations between successive translators as well as legacy issues that can crop up in later additions to a franchise.  Nowhere is this more apparent in video games than with Nintendo.

Hypothetical situation - a Japanese and American are talking about their favorite video games and one of them brings up Mario Brothers.  At first there isn't much in the way of communication difficulties since characters like "Mario," "Luigi," "Yoshi," "Wario," and "Waluigi," are basically the same in both languages.  However, when the Japanese person mentions "Kinopio" the American suddenly finds himself at a loss.  "Who's Kinopio?" they might be wondering.  It turns out that Kinopio's name in English is "Toad."  Those small brown creatures that Mario is always jumping on are "goombas" in English, but in Japanese they're called "kuribo."  Interesting aside, "kuri" means "chestnut" in Japanese which kind of makes sense given that the little critters do look a bit like chestnuts with faces and a pair of feet.  The turtle people are "Noko-noko" in Japanese, but in English are "Koopa."  Complicating things further, "Bowser" is called "Koopa" in Japanese, although I can see why his title is "King Koopa" if you interpret that as shorthand for "King of the Koopa."  Other characters such as Princess Peach and Princess Daisy, are pretty much direct translations in either language.  I'm not sure what became of Princess Toadstool though...

The same sort of mystery surrounds the Koopalings.  According to Shigeru Miyamoto, the creator of the Mario Brothers IP, Bowser Junior is the only actual offspring of King Koopa.  The rest are simply his lieutenants.  Who their parents are, and who Bowser Junior's mother is, has never been revealed.  This kind of bizarreness isn't unique to Mario Brothers either.  Another venerated Nintendo franchise has its own brand of weird.

A great example comes from The Legend of Zelda series, and Link's iconic steed - Epona.  I've heard my share of arguments over whether it's pronounced "E-po-na," or "E-pon-ya."  Turns out, either pronunciation is valid depending on where you hail from.  If you ever played the original Dead Space you probably noticed the planet-cracking starship that most of the game takes place on is called the "Ishimura."  In Japanese and English it's pretty much the same, but in the spin-off game Dead Space: Extraction, for the Wii, one of the british voice actors refers to it as the "Ishimyura."  Phonetically,  "mu" and "myu" are distinctly different sounds in Japanese, but in the U.K. it's just a regional accent - the same goes for Epona.  You might be tempted to say whichever is closer to the original Japanese must be correct, but I'd advise against going down that road.  It's a linguistics quagmire that will get you into more trouble than it's worth.  Knowing which syllable to stress is also a problem.  Are they "bo-ko-BLINS" or "bo-KOB-lins"?  Also, I'm not sure which pronunciation guidelines should be followed with regards to certain nouns.  Case in point, "Hyrule" is "high" plus "rule," but "Hyrulian" could be "hi-RU-li-an," or it could be "Hi-ru-LAY-en" (like the adjective "Hylian").  Typically, when it comes to four syllable words the emphasis is on the second, but there are exceptions (such as "Transylvanian" and "Filipino") where the stress is on the third.

In the past, most of what I've just talked about hasn't been of much importance because until just recently most Nintendo games have been light on the text and dialogue-free.  However, with the introduction of recorded speech in Breath of the Wild I wonder how Nintendo plans on tackling this.  Will they enforce consistency, or will it be left up to the voice actors to decide?  I have a feeling that, much like the original translations, it will depend on who's in charge of the project and what languages/dialects they're familiar with.

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