Now it may be flogging a dead horse at this point to mention how bad the localisation of that game is what with the removal of entire mechanics and the forceful injection of meme culture but FE: Fates is one of the biggest examples in recent years of localisation gone wrong.
Out of all the images I saw for the translation this has to be the most irritating for me....
Now of course FE: Fates wasn't the first game to 'screw the pooch' so to speak but it does seem to have been the straw that broke the camel's back to the extent it spawned a new hashtag in the form of #TorrentialDownpour where fans voiced their outrage and disappointment about the game (I will reserve judgement until I pick up and play the game but what I've seen so far does not fill me with hope), these events got me thinking about my own thoughts on localisation and so I thought I'd share them.
My general belief when it comes to localisation is the same as my opinion on CGI in movies, it works best when it's not noticed at all so it must add to the flow of the game and changes must only come in to bridge cultural differences that might break the game and immersion otherwise.
Now following the above guidelines it seems as though generally a straight translation would usually be the best way to go for most developers, there aren't many examples I can think of where changing cultural references add anything or enrich the experience in general (I'm looking at you Pokemon with your doughnut rice balls and sub sandwiches!).
A game I usually hold as a great example of localisation would be Persona 4 (I can't judge 1 and 2 as I haven't gotten around to playing them yet) in this game the characters seem to be demonstrated well enough and still hold their nuances whether it is Kanji's dubious sexual orientation or Naoto's conflict with her feminine nature.
However this game is not without fault, a personal gripe of mine was regarding some of the exam questions, maybe I'm an uncultured swine but my knowledge of Meji era haiku poetry isn't quite up to the level the games expected of me, nor is my knowledge of traditional Japanese housing in the third century. This was an example where I thought maybe changing the questions to encompass English literature would help the flow of the game as on these questions I did have to refer to the internet to get the correct answer, again this is a small gripe on my part as I didn't like to check online to make sure I got the best answers to help me raise my social links.
I was also a huge fan of Drakengard but after looking into it I was surprised at some of the changes they made, mostly in the relationship between Caim and Furiae where they removed a reference to incestual feelings that Furiae held for her brother, they also removed references to Leonard's paedophilic nature and Arioch's child killing.
These changes I could almost understand if it wasn't for the inclusion of one mission in particular in the game, I have very vivid memories of a mission in the forest area of the game where you have to fight wave after wave of Imperial child soldiers while every other character chastises Caim for taking too much glee in the slaughter of the young, the only character who takes equal joy in the slaughter is Arioch the mad elf.
I find this edit in the localisation to be especially strange due to the west's tolerance of darker themes in recent years with GoT and other similar media even dating back to the PS2 days with the likes of God of War where the visceral and brutal nature of it earned the game praise.
The changes made to Drakengard while not immediately noticeable did stack up overtime and even as young as I was playing Drakengard I noticed that many of the characters seemingly had to backstories and the suicide of Furiae made no sense in the context of the localised game as she is given no motivation for ending her life or for the disgust that Caim apparently feels for her, without the arc about her romantic feelings for Caim that scene and even her entire arc loses meaning, in my opinion she fell for Caim as he was the only relaible male figure in her life. Furiae was locked away from the world because of her role as goddess and so the only men she had contact with were the old Verderlet, the well meaning but relatively weak Inuart and Caim, the man who would always defend her and do whatever it took to crush the enemies that would harm her.
With the mention of her feelings removed her only conflict is struggling with the fatigue brought on by bearing the weight of the seals and she loses a lot of her depth as a character, this is an example of very poor localisation holding back the potential of a great game in my opinion.
While I was looking up cases of botched localisation one of the biggest issues I found was with companies botching spelling and grammar when it came to subtitles and dialogue boxes, this is certainly a huge issue as people who are being paid to deliver a product certainly shouldn't make such rudimentary mistakes, whether it is the awful translation in SAO: Hollow Fragment or the numerous spelling and grammar mistakes in the original Final Fantasy 7 it breaks immersion and gives the impression that the localisation team didn't give a shit about what they were doing.
In the vein of these errors also comes something that bugged me in the Dragon Quest games I have played and that is the obnoxiously awful accents they decided to give some of the characters, now I know they were aiming on keeping the mood light in keeping with the game's more colourful and charming aesthetic granted to it by Akira Toriyama's artwork but I still found I had to play with the voices either lowered or muted altogether as it got grating way too quickly, adding in a regional accent doesn't really make all that much difference to the character and if it is done poorly it can even make them an intensely unlikable character.
All in all I believe that if society is ever to take video games seriously we can't harm the integrity of a creator's original vision by removing whatever we believe might be 'problematic' or even seeking to simplify characters as you think the character's true nature wouldn't be well received, companies that handle localisation also need to realise that memes do not offer a good substitute for genuine humor and character quirks, until they learn this and until they are able to release a game with as few or no changes to content video games will not be taken seriously as an art form.
Some hope has been given to me what with Capcom's recent mention of avoiding memes altogether in localisation of their games, however with this said they are far from perfect as seen with their recent issues with censorship regarding R Mika in Street Fighter V but hopefully this means that more companies will wake up and see that gamers in the west don't want their games to be butchered in the way they have been for a while now or maybe companies will simply look at how well FE: Fates has sold and figure they can deal with the outrage as long as the sales figures are good, only time will tell I'm afraid.
Thanks for reading you magnificent bastards!
(If you like what you've read of me follow me on Twitter @rydennin as my ego could always use a good rub)