Editor's Choice

Editor's Choice
Pardon My French

Rémi Savard | 11 May 2010 12:32
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And he was right. In retrospect, watching me play FF I, especially when I got to a town for the first time and needed to talk to every NPC, must have been torture for him. To some extent, it was torture for me, too. Compared to translating everything in-game to some form of roughly understandable French, beating Chaos with all four Light Warriors naked, unarmed and using only level 1 spells was like a walk in a Moogle park. What kept me going, what kept me translating, was seeing two of my favorite activities united - playing and reading. And it only started with Final Fantasy.

On top of boring my dad to sleep, this also laid a pretty strong base for my knowledge of the English language. By the time I got to 5th grade, my conversational English wasn't anything special - certainly not better than that of my classmates' - but I could write a killer story. Or, if need be, tell my teacher that the princess was in another castle, or that I had to get the crystals back to save the world - you know, life-saving second-language skills for me to have if I ever got lost, say, in New York City.

I wouldn't always play alone, of course. I managed to keep some friendships alive. Sometimes, my friends would even wait until I was there to play RPGs, so that I could tell what was happening without having to translate it themselves. I felt needed; I felt like a star, a kind of (admittedly self-proclaimed) bilingual étoile. I felt good.

But then localization became important to game publishers. The first game that I remember playing in my langue maternelle was The Legend of Zelda III: A Link to the Past. At first I thought, "Hey, I'm not gonna have to translate everything for them now, that's great! We'll all understand everything that's happening right away!"

I quickly learned the following lesson: Localization is a heartless bitch. The day I played the "French" version of Zelda III, localization destroyed this Québécois's expectations and grated them, tasteless cheese and gravy over the French fries of my enjoyment. This was a bitter-tasting poutine.

Not that the translation was horrible. To be fair, it was decent in that it did translate what was in English into French, keeping the story, as well as the names and everything else, intact. It should have been exactly the same game, right?

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And yet, it wasn't. Oh, sure, the graphics were a perfect copy, the gameplay felt the same, Link was still this jolly, green fellow trying to rescue the princess, and I still hated the boomerang. But something had literally been lost in translation, especially since it was probably translated into English, then into French.

Freud identified this as the Uncanny - when something is familiar to someone, but at the same time feels foreign, étranger. I suddenly didn't know this green guy anymore, and who was that princess he was after? Zelda? No. It had to be a different game.

It had lost its spark, and my own language was the cause, or so I thought at the time. Even though I should've been enjoying the incredible ease with which I could understand it all and how it all made sense, I hated the sudden ease and the sense it did make. Because of the language barrier, I couldn't tell that the game was so clearly intended for a younger audience. In previous games, my limited knowledge of the English language helped create a powerful illusion of overall seriousness and maturity, but when I read the text in French, everything just became childish and silly.

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