‘It’s a tier above’: How a giant, cryptic RPG like Elden Ring gets translated

 His first exposure to the series was the opening cutscene for the RPG that started it all, and it looked very awkward. “Honestly, my first concern was whether a Japanese director could effectively create a western-style fantasy game?” recalls Morris, who works with London-based and Tokyo-based localization company Frognation. “It worried me a lot. I mean, there was passion. He is currently unknown. He’s not a legendary director.”

 Western fantasy influenced Dark Souls and Elden Ring so much that to capture the mood of the Western story, Miyazaki decided to use English-language voice acting even in the Japanese version of his games.

However, while all the trappings of high fantasy are present in FromSoftware games, they wouldn’t be as valuable if they were pure emulation. Soulsverse has a distinct, non-archaic approach to language that works hand in hand with the grim majesty of its worlds. But if you don’t miss them, the Soulsborne games seem to have a bottomless, mysterious depth that’s unusual even for written fantasy, and that’s unique to Miyazaki. This is vital to their barren, cryptic, and absurd moods. So it must be hard to translate these games, right? Morris admits that compared to other games Frognation has worked on, “it’s a level up” in terms of difficulty (then Dark Souls is Dark Souls in video game translations? Well, yes).

“The writing was very dense and very unusual,” Morris recalls his first impressions of working on Demon’s Souls. “It uses a lot of very unusual characters, which reminds me of the density of some English fantasy translated into Japanese. Has that authentic, archaic feel. It wasn’t just a bunch of transliterations of English terms; it was good localization.”Armor seems gleefully oblivious to the pitiful decrepitude that surrounds him. These flourishes seem closer to the absurdism sometimes found in manga, the novels of Kobo Abe, or the tonal inconsistency of the Yakuza series than to high fantasy.

This low-key humor does not seek to explain or justify its weirdness.

white soapstone

One of the biggest challenges when translating From games is finding the right tone. “[Miyazaki’s] the original texts are like scriptures and then filtered through me because I have to interpret them,” Morris said. We ask hundreds of questions, but some of the more subtle things, like the level of absurdity, are too abstract to discuss. We usually ask a lot of facts, like, “What’s going on? And why? What’s the connection here? And what’s with the background? 

“It was a collaboration with some of the characters,” Morris continued. “I interpreted Soler with some flair and made several variations of how he would speak. There are not many decorations in Japanese, although they all mean the same thing. It’s a holistic translation when you take the context into account. Account because you are trying to create a corresponding character. Miyazaki takes every character very seriously; 

From Software’s game localization goes something like this: Frognation sends in Japanese text, which they then translate through Q&A sessions with the FromSoftware team. Usually, the packet of text received refers to one particular character. Although it is usually the complete piece of text relating to that character, sometimes this text is enlarged and even doubled.

Once the dialogue is translated, Morris and Miyazaki travel to London to work with the voice actors in person. However, things have changed slightly with Elden Ring due to the Covid-19 pandemic (roughly 50/50 was in person, according to Morris).

And, of course, character dialogue isn’t the only work: UI text and more needs to be translated as well.

“Mistakes are inevitable if you don’t have context and text alone is not enough to translate correctly.”

“We have early conversations where we sort of get a general idea of ​​what’s going on in the game,” says Morris. “But after this point, we must warn [Miyazaki] to things we don’t know. There isn’t a great add-on guide that will give us a bunch of contexts that he took the time to write – he’s too busy for that. So we make a text, a scripture, which we first run, and then we have to consult with it to find out the context, so we don’t make mistakes. Mistakes are inevitable if you don’t have the context and the text alone is not enough for a correct translation.”

Regarding the particular difficulty of translating from games, Morris points to the lack of specific ancestors as a significant obstacle. “Derivative is a loaded term,” he says, “but he plays with a lot of things by the book. FromSoftware games are not like that.

But FromSoftware still gives final consent. The fact that the Elden Ring player character sounds like The Tarnished in English rather than a more literal translation asebitowhich means “faded person” is not an example of a meaning-shifting translation: it was the closest parallel that Frognation and Miyazaki himself agreed on o

Elden Ring is FromSoftware’s most significant game in scale and the greatest translation effort for Frognation. (Image credit: FromSoftware)“Elden Ring is a complex family relationship,” Robson said, “and we came up with Welsh and Cornish regional dialects because both came from the Brythonic language spoken in Britain before and during the Roman occupation and fit the premise.”

Elden Ring is a reminder that you can’t just consume FromSoftware Game Narrative: It’s being studied. At least if you’re interested in history. Morris has overseen the English localization of every FromSoftware game, undoubtedly making him an authority on Souls history. But he doesn’t consider himself one.

“I don’t go deep into it,” Morris said. “I’m browsing [the lore discourse]. I like funny videos here and there and all, but I don’t dive too deep.“We study it as much as it takes to do a correct translation.

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