Let me tell you a secret: I am a bad Final Fantasy fan.
I am a bad Final Fantasy fan because I love the franchise to bits (general grumpiness with FFXV notwithstanding), but I have never beaten Final Fantasy VI, long regarded by RPG aficionados as the pinnacle of the series in the pre-PlayStation era. Some regard it as the best Final Fantasy game, period. IGN rated it the #1 RPG of all time. So yeah. I need to play this fucking game already.
Now, in my defense, I have made several attempts to play this game. At one point, I made it over halfway through the story only to lose my save file when my computer died. At another, I started playing the GBA version on my DS only to lose all of my games when the case fell out of my bag one day. I bought the PSOne Classic edition through the PlayStation Network this past spring, and I’ve been meaning to finally sit down and play it all the way through, but never got around to it. It needs to happen, though. So earlier this week, I laboriously went through the process of remembering how to transfer PSOne games to my geriatric PSP-1000, and I have restarted the game.
There are a few reasons to love playing Final Fantasy VI on the PSP, despite the system’s age and general clunkiness. First of all, I have too many games to play on my couch as it is. If I’m going to sit down and play a console game, I am probably going to boot up World of Final Fantasy or play some co-op Dragon’s Crown with Boyfriend. If I’ve got FFVI on a handheld, though, I can play a little bit on the bus or I can curl up in bed with it, which makes me much more likely to actually play the damn game. Furthermore, the sprites look fantastic on the small screen. Scaled down, they achieve a greater sense of artistic realism than they do on my HDTV. Also, I don’t know if it’s the PSP itself or the fancypants Samsung earbuds that came for free with Boyfriend’s new phone, but the music sounds absolutely fantastic through headphones. This gives me great joy, because I really do think that FFVI’s soundtrack is some of Nobuo Uematsu’s best work. Terra’s Theme is hands down my favorite song from any video game ever.
When Boyfriend caught me playing the game, he admitted that he, too, has never managed to finish it, but that he was planning on playing the GameBoy Advance version because the translation was more accurate. Citing an episode of Retronauts (because approximately 60% of conversations with Boyfriend begin, “I was listening to a podcast…”), he explained that the original North American localization had to be heavily edited because there was simply not enough room on the cartridge for all of the text. English needs to use a lot more characters than Japanese to say the same things, so many lines of dialogue needed to be trimmed down in order to squeak in under the data limit for a SNES cart. The GBA port, less constrained by its storage medium, was able to restore some of that lost text and clarify the localization in some ways.
While I understand the desire to play a potentially more accurate translation, I spent ten bux on this PSOne Classic edition, and by golly, I’m going to play it. Also, and more importantly for me, the sound quality of the music apparently suffered quite a hit in the GBA port, since the GameBoy Advance has fewer sound channels at its disposal. There are lots of other ports of the game available, but the PS1 port is the one I already have, so that’s the one I’m going to play. Besides, who would want to play the *shudder* PC port?
However, my interest was piqued at the idea of the wildly different translations that are available for this single, classic game. The script of a game is not so different from the script of a play, and as a Shakespearean scholar, I am intensely interested in the way texts change and adapt over time. For instance, when you go to see a production of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, there’s a good chance that large portions of the original script have been cut out. If you were to perform every word in Hamlet as it appears on the page, you’d be there for at least four hours. And most people don’t want to watch four hours of Hamlet (except Kenneth Branagh, of course). This means that every script for every production of Hamlet is subtly different. Each tells the same basic story, but some of the details are different, and these differences change the way that the audience perceives and understands that story. It’s no different with a game like Final Fantasy VI.
Luckily, the Internet exists, and hardcore Final Fantasy fans who are willing to laboriously type out every word in a Final Fantasy game exist, so I’ve been playing the PSOne Classic version of the game while following along in a transcript of the GBA localization. It’s been a fascinating experience so far. While many of the lines remain mostly unchanged, many have been shortened, presumably for the sake of cutting down the amount of data storage needed. There are a few really big changes, though.
The most notable difference thus far is the opening text scroll. The original translation was admittedly a little garbled.
Long ago, the War of the Magi reduced the world to a scorched wasteland, and Magic simply ceased to exist. 1000 years have passed... Iron, gunpowder and steam engines have been rediscovered, and high technology reigns. But there are those who would enslave the world by reviving the dread destructive power known as "Magic". Can it be that those in power are on the verge of repeating a senseless and deadly mistake?
By contrast, the GBA localization completely rewrites this important bit of exposition:
The ancient War of the Magi... When its flames at last receded, only the charred husk of a world remained. Even the power of magic was lost... In the thousand years that followed, iron, gunpowder, and steam engines took the place of magic and life slowly returned to the barren land. Yet there now stands one who would reawaken the magic of ages past and use its dreaded power as a means by which to conquer all the world. Could anyone truly be foolish enough to repeat that mistake?
Certainly, the newer version has a much better flow, although I must admit my fondness for the grandiose phrasing of “high technology reigns.”
Other changes are more like the cuts you might find a director or a dramaturg making in a play like Hamlet. For instance, when Terra wakes up after the old man in Narshe removes the Slave Crown, in the original, he comments,
Impressive! I've never heard of anyone recovering this fast...!
In the GBA localization, there’s a little more to the line:
Impressive! I've never heard of anyone recovering so fast. You must be made of tougher stuff than most..
One might argue that this difference is minor to the point of irrelevance, and little story is lost without the expanded observation of Terra’s relative toughness, but the addition of this sentence adds to the audience’s knowledge about Terra and emphasizes very early in the game that this is one badass lady.
Some of the changes are frankly a little silly. Case in point, after Kefka stops by to make some pointed threats about the fate of Figaro Castle if King Edgar doesn’t hand over Terra to the Empire, Edgar takes his leave of Terra in the original localization by saying,
I'd love to chat with you, but the Chancellor and I must plan our strategy. Sometimes I hate being a king! If you'll excuse me.
In the GBA version, he tosses in a wacky idiom that seems somehow out of place:
I'd love to stay and chat, but the chancellor and I need to do some planning now. Being a king's not all tea and crumpets. If you'll excuse me...
There are other changes that really deepen the amount of characterization for the members of our cast. After Edgar leaves to make some plans, Locke escorts Terra to a guest room to get some rest. In the PS1 version, he comes off as pretty cocky:
Follow me. Don't you worry 'bout a thing!
In the GBA translation, by contrast, he seems much more concerned with Terra’s feelings.
Follow me. Sorry, I didn't mean to drag you around like this without giving you a chance to rest.
That’s a pretty big shift in both tone and content, and it completely changes the way that Locke and Terra’s relationship seems to be developing.
Most of the changes, minor or otherwise, have been really interesting to track over the first hour or so of the game. By far the most baffling shift in language thus far has come in the form of one of Kefka’s classic lines. In the original Japanese script, I am given to understand that after Figaro Castle escapes his flames by burrowing under the sand, Kefka (understandably, I feel) yells the Japanese equivalent of, “Son of a bitch!” Obviously, delicate American sensibilities couldn’t handle such shocking language, so the line was censored into the hilarious and nonsensical, “Son of a submariner!” The GBA translators elected to change this line, not back to the original expletive, as I might have expected, but to the equally perplexing and somehow less amusing, “Son of a sandworm!” Perhaps this is a Dune reference? I don’t know.
I’m looking forward to proceeding through the rest of the game in a manner which is satisfying both to the nerd and to the theatrical scholar in me. As I continue to pour work into my own video game script adaptation, it’s continually fascinating to me to explore the difficult work of translating and adapting a story from one medium and one culture to another.