Where's Ted?

by Matt Sergi 

I once met a girl who chose to take Japanese in school specifically for the reason that she wanted to understand un-translated Japanese anime movies. I was surprised that she would devote so much time to such a goal-- yet, somehow, I understood where she was coming from.

Between anime and our beloved RPGs, we in the USA have enjoyed countless storylines from across the Pacific-- yet we quietly and sadly accept the truth that we can't see these stories in their true form, because something is inevitably lost in the translation. Languages as different from each other as English and Japanese just have too many gaps due to idioms, slang, etc. to pass on stories in a non-polluted form.

So we must either learn Japanese, or settle for the best possible translation we can find. I present that personal honor to Ted Woolsey, the translator for FFIII (FFVI in Japan, of course). From the early rolling credits, I noticed that he was the last name mentioned-- honored above the producers and artists, it would seem. But through the game I found out why. Woolsey's translation had heart, lots of heart.

A year or so passed, and I searched the credits of FFVII for that golden name... nothing. And right from the get-go I see Barret tell Cloud, "If you push [CANCEL] button while walking to run." FFVII's storyline was intensely complicated-- and sometimes the poor translations added unneccessary confusion. Not to mention that where Ted Woolsey had heart, FFVII felt cold, as if someone had just translated word-for-word wothout much thought.

I've found that the key to a good translation is to understand that it will be inevitable flawed, and so feel free to take a bit of creative liberty. For instance, in FFIII there was the "bear" thing. I read this somewhere a while ago-- Woolsey managed to use the word "bear" three or four times in different contexts near the start of the game. (I can remember two: Locke telling Edgar that Terra seems "loaded for bear," and Sabin asking if a " 'bear' like me can help you on your quest.") This is hardly American vernacular-- it's just Woolsey having fun. And in doing so he made the translation more human, more warm. And how can we forget Celes calling Cid her "Granddad"? This was a bit on the rough side, but it was pulled off well enough to be very touching.

Also, there's the aspect of grammar. F. Scott Fitzgerald fanatics often obsess over the typo at the end of "The Great Gatsby"-- in some copies the green light is "orgastic", in some it is "orgiastic". But in the obsessing, the readers are distracted from the beauty of the work. When Aeris and Cloud met in the Sector 5 Church, I couldn't help but notice that Aeris' grammar was very bad-- she used "are" instead of "is" once, and "it" instead of "he." I had trouble eventually understanding what the hell she was talking about. Meanwhile, in FFIII, Woolsey's grammar is pretty solid, and so the storyline is saved from the distraction.

Basically, FFVII's poor translation took away from the American experience. A little more proofreading here, a little creativity there, would have made the game ten times better for me. I understand that Ted Woolsey has now gone off to form his own separate company, or something of the sort. Well, I sure miss him. [Ed: For the record, Ted Woolsey is a member of Crave, makers of the upcoming Playstation RPG, Shadow Madness]

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