Examining Star Ocean 2’s Two Official Translations

Star Ocean The Second Story R (a shiny new remake of the second Star Ocean game) comes out today, so I thought I’d take this opportunity to examine its translation history.

Star Ocean: The Second Story is the second game in the series, but the first of the series to be released in North America, coming out in 1999. Now, if you know anything about the state of the video game localization industry during that period, you’ll know that the process was often fraught. We may not know what exact challenges the Star Ocean 2 translation team faced, but some anecdotes from other translators of the time period include: using a GameShark to extract text because no one would give them the fileshandwriting translations on printouts of code, and getting raw dumps of machine code and having to run a search to find the text. So as you might guess, Star Ocean: The Second Story’s translation was…not the best. It’s often overly literal, there are at least two instances of fragmented sentences just within the first half an hour or so, and some of the shop text is nigh incomprehensible.

Thankfully, when the game was rereleased on PSP as Star Ocean: Second Evolution, it received a completely new translation that fixed all of these issues. And this is the translation that Star Ocean The Second Story R appears to be using.

But just what is it that makes the PSP translation so much better? Let’s take a look.

Here’s the opening scene of Rena’s side:

JP PS1EN PS1EN PSP
レナ
「いってきまーす。
Rena
「I’ll be going.
RENA:
 I’m leaving, bye!
????
「待ちなさい!
????
「Wait!
???:
 Hold on just a minute!
レナ
「なあに?お母さん。
Rena
「What, Mother?
RENA:
 What, Mom?
レナの母親ウェスタ
「何じゃないの!
昨日もおとといも行ったじゃない。
Rena’s mother Westa
「What do you mean, ‘what’? You
went there yesterday and the day
RENA’s Mother, Westa:
 Don’t you “What, Mom?” me! How about taking
 a break for once today? You were just there
 yesterday and the day before that.
今日はやめておきなさい。before. You don’t need to go
there again today.
レナ
「だって、あそこにいると
なんだかすごく落ち着くんですもの。
Rena
「But I feel so calm somehow
when I am there.
RENA:
 I know, but it’s just that being there
 makes me feel so calm.
レナ
「ねえ、ダメ?
Rena
「Can’t I go?
RENA:
 C’mon, why can’t I go?
ウェスタ
「ダメですよ。
ソーサリーグローブが落ちてから、
Westa
「No you can’t. So many strange
things have happened since
Westa:
 Because I said so. Do I have to remind you
 about all the crazy things going on since that
 Sorcery Globe crashed down on us?
色々とおかしな事が
起きているでしょう。
the Sorcery Globe landed.
ウェスタ
「昨日の夜にも
大きな地震があったし…。
Westa
「We had a big earthquake last
night … and I hear that the
Westa:
 Just last night, we had a huge earthquake.
 The animals are all going wild and attacking
 people. It’s too dangerous right now.
動物たちも狂暴化しているって
話じゃないの。
危ないから行くのはやめなさい。
animals have become so
violent. Don’t go, it’s too
dangerous.
ウェスタ
「だいたい、
そんなことじゃね…
Westa
「This is not the time to be
going…
Westa:
 Besides, there’s also…
レナ
「いってきまーす。
Rena
「I’ll be going.
RENA:
 See you later!
ウェスタ
「あ、待ちなさい。
Westa
「Uh, wait.
Westa:
 Ah! W-wait a minute!
ウェスタ
「本当に…
    シンゴ
あの子は神護の森が好きなのね。
Westa
「That girl … really loves the
Shingo Forest.
Westa:
 Oh, that child… What she sees in the Sacred
 Forest is beyond me.
レナ
「ふう、あぶない、あぶない。
もうお母さんたら
うるさいんだから…。
Rena
「Whew. Too dangerous, too
dangerous. My silly mother is
so annoying. I should go
RENA:
 Whew, that was close. Why does
 my Mom always have to harp on
 me like that?
早く神護の森に行こう。quickly to the Shingo Forest.RENA:
 I better get to the Sacred Forest
 quick if I wanna make it there.

Now, if you know Japanese, you’ll notice that the PS1 translation isn’t *technically* wrong. There aren’t any obvious misunderstandings (except perhaps one that I’ll get to later). The main problem is with the way the text *sounds*, especially in contrast to the PSP translation. In the PSP translation, Westa *sounds* so much more like a mother with phrases like “Don’t you ‘What, Mom?’ me!” and “Because I said so.” And Rena’s speech sounds a lot more natural than what’s presented in the PS1 translation, too. This dichotomy between translation approaches has a few different names in translation theory, including: direct versus dynamic translation, formal versus functional equivalence, or literal translation versus one that pursues the concept of equivalence. From The Routledge Course in Japanese Translation by Yoko Hasegawa:


 Literal translation is word-for-word replacement of words closely following the (source language) syntactic structure in the (target language), normally at clause level. More frequently used between languages with common ancestry than between unrelated languages such as Japanese and English, it is sometimes useful to the reader to understand the (source text), as in studying a foreign language.

Nevertheless, overly close correspondence to the syntax of the (source language) can seriously impair the effectiveness of communication in the (target language) and can even come out sounding ridiculous. (p.171)

Equivalence refers to the strategy that creates ‘equivalent texts’ by using different structural or stylistic methods. This is the most frequently used translation technique. For example, greetings and situational expressions are normally replaced with their functional equivalents. (p.176)

To better illustrate this, let’s go back to the very first line of the game:

JP PS1EN PS1EN PSP
レナ
「いってきまーす。
Rena
「I’ll be going.
RENA:
 I’m leaving, bye!

The PS1 translation conveys one possible meaning of the individual words but not their contextual function. いってきまーす is a stock phrase in Japanese that’s said when you leave home, to announce your departure. Thus, the PSP translation goes with “I’m leaving, bye!”, something an English speaker, and especially a kid, would be more likely to say when leaving the house.

This is also in line with the concept of matching register or discourse genre. Again, from The Routledge Course in Japanese Translation:

Register consists of variations of language according to the technicality of the topic, the social roles of the interlocutors, the formality of the situation, and so forth. … ‘a style of language-use that allows for inferences about the language-user.’ (p.61)

Discourse genre is a category to which a given text in a given culture is recognized as belonging, and within which the text is seen to share a type of communicative purpose and effect with other texts.

Translating different text genres requires different strategic priorities. The norms governing all types of letter writing, as one example, vary considerably from language to language and from period to period. (p.106)
A translation normally results in a text of the same genre as the original. That is, a narrative (source text) needs to be translated as a narrative in the (target text); it should not sound, for example, like an expository text. (p.107)

Which is basically a fancy way of saying that a mother character should sound like a mother and a fantasy story should read like a fantasy story.


Anyway, returning to the idea of how word-for-word translation runs the hazard of “seriously impair(ing) the effectiveness of communication in the (target language)”, we do also have one example of this in the above dialogue exchange. This would be the possible misunderstanding I mentioned earlier.

JP PS1EN PS1EN PSP
レナ
「ふう、あぶない、あぶない。
もうお母さんたら
うるさいんだから…。
Rena
「Whew. Too dangerous, too
dangerous. My silly mother is
so annoying. I should go
RENA:
 Whew, that was close. Why does
 my Mom always have to harp on
 me like that?

At first glance, EN PS1’s “Too dangerous, too dangerous” seems nonsensical. Or at least, it did to me. No native English speaker would say “Too dangerous, too dangerous” in response to narrowly escaping a lecture from a parent. But on a second reading, I realized they might have been interpreting the JP あぶない、あぶない differently. The PS1 translators seem to be understanding it as her repeating her mother’s previous line of “Don’t go, it’s too dangerous”, presumably in a mocking tone. But with the addition of voice acting in the PSP version, it’s clear that the JP really is meant to function more along the lines of “that was a close call” as EN PSP has. This demonstrates three things:

  1. Translations that prioritize form over function can obfuscate the intended meaning of the source text and more often than not destroy characterization. A native English speaker would be unlikely to interpret “Too dangerous, too dangerous” as meaning “Whew, that was close,” and even if they do manage to connect the dots it still comes off as an unnatural response, making Rena sound odd in English when in Japanese she comes off as a regular teenager.
  2. Even inconsequential lines can be understood in multiple ways, and something that seems like a mistranslation at first glance can turn out to be a valid interpretation. While I personally read the JP あぶない、あぶない as “that was a close one,” I can also see how someone might take it as her mocking her mother’s warnings, and in the end her dismissal of her mother’s concerns comes across either way. That said, something like “dangerous shmangerous” might better express a mocking tone in English in the absence of voice-acting, if you wanted to translate the line that way. Which brings me to…
  3. Tone of voice can greatly impact how a line is interpreted. Sometimes the way things are said is just as important, if not more important, as what’s being said. Which is again why word-for-word translations so often fail to properly communicate the meaning of the source text, because they struggle to convey the tone.

The single most obvious failure of this kind of translation, however, can be found in the game’s shop text.

JP PS1EN PS1EN PSP
アイテムを選択中は取引の指示で
店を出るときに精算します
While choosing items, settlement is made when instruction is made in dealings to leave the shop.Select items to buy and/or sell, then select Checkout to proceed.

In this case, the EN PS1 text really is straight up incomprehensible. Which is unfortunate, because it’s trying to explain a gameplay mechanic. Video game translators not only have to be good narrative writers, they also have to know how to write clear, concise system text so that players understand how the game functions. Which word-for-word translation once again fails at. Context and intent are just as important for conveying system text as it is narrative. 取引 can be translated as deal, transaction, business, or trade depending on the context. 指示 could be indication, instruction, designation, direction or denotation. 精算 is settlement, payoff, adjustment, exact calculation, squaring of accounts, or payment. So just like with dialogue, you have to glean the intended meaning based on the context and how the mechanic actually functions within the game. In this case, it would be something more along the lines of “Selecting items indicates you want to buy/sell them, and squaring of accounts is made upon leaving the shop.” Which itself is more clearly and concisely rendered in EN PSP as “Select items to buy and/or sell, then select Checkout to proceed”, showing that there’s something of an art even to writing system or instructional text.


Returning to the beginning exchange between Rena and her mother, there’s another notable difference between the PS1 translation and the PSP one: Shingo Forest vs. Sacred Forest, which gets at the question of how you translate place names or proper nouns.

The PS1 translation opts for a transliteration of 神護, “Shingo,” basically rendering the Japanese pronunciation into English letters. Meanwhile, PSP decides to translate it for it’s meaning, “Sacred” (lit. “divine protection” or “blessed by (the) god(s)”). Now, there actually is no one correct answer here. It depends a lot more on the setting of the game/story. For example, Final Fantasy VII transliterates 魔晄 “Mako” and 神羅 “Shinra” instead of translating them based on their meaning, “magic light” and a play on “shinwa” meaning “myth/legend.” But that works because the setting itself has a somewhat Japanese feel with background signs displaying a mix of Japanese and English, such that Japanese-sounding words don’t feel out of place in the English script. And also because you can still glean the meaning of those words based on context. Or at least, it’s clear that “mako” is effectively some kind of magic light, and any play on words with “Shinra” is not wholly relevant for understanding the story or the organization itself. Compare this with 北天騎士団 from Final Fantasy Tactics, which was initially transliterated as “Hokuten Knights” in the PS1 version of the game and then later translated for its meaning into “The Order of the Northern Sky” in the PSP version. In this case, the latter makes much more sense because not only is the setting more reminiscent of medieval Europe than Japan, but the meaning is relevant to the story (which heavily deals with the Western Zodiac). So what about Star Ocean 2? Does transliteration make more sense or focusing more on the meaning? I’d side with the PSP translation in saying the latter. While the setting is plainly purely fantastical, to me it still feels more European than Japanese overall. And it seems to me that the forest being considered “sacred” will likely become relevant to the story. To be fair, I haven’t actually gotten past the intro sequence to know that for certain, but that’s the sense I get from what I’ve seen.


So EN PSP is generally a vast improvement over EN PS1, but that doesn’t mean the PSP translation is perfect, nor that the PS1 translation is a complete dumpster fire. In fact, there were a couple instances where I preferred the way the PS1 translation handled things:

JP PS1EN PS1EN PSP
女の子
「…お姉ちゃん、
いつものお話してくれる?
Little girl
「Rena, will you tell us a
story like you always do?
Girl:
 Hey, RENA, could
 you tell us that story again?
レナ
「ごめんね。
ちょっと出かけてくるから、
帰ってきたらお話してあげるね。
Rena
「I’m sorry. I have to go out
for a little, but I will tell you
a story when I get back.
RENA:
 I’m so sorry, but I have to
 go out right now. But I
 promise to tell it to you when
RENA:
 I get back.
女の子
「うん!
Little girl
「Hooray!
Girl:
 Yeah!

In an interesting reversal, the PSP translation is actually more direct than EN PS1 in the final line here. I assume they were going for a more enthused kind of “Yeah!” akin to a “Yay!” but without voice acting I personally struggle to read it that way. So PS1’s “Hooray!” sounds more natural to me as a way for the little girl to express her excitement over getting to hear a story later. Alternatively, I think something like “Okay!” could also work as her acknowledging Rena’s promise.


JP PS1EN PS1EN PSP
レナ
「どこからいらしゃったんです?
Rena
「Where do you come from?
RENA:
 Where are you from?
クロード
「地球…からなんだ。
Claude
「I’m from… Earth.
CLAUDE:
 From…from Earth.
レナ
「…チキュウ?
どこですか、そこ?
Rena
「…Urth? Where
exactly is that?
RENA:
 …Earth? Where is that?

This one’s definitely a matter of personal preference, but I like the way the PS1 translation uses the misspelling “Urth” to convey that Rena is unfamiliar with the word, matching the JP’s use of katakana to show that the word is foreign to her. I can understand why EN PSP went for the straightforward spelling of “Earth” though, because it’s not like she mispronounces the word in either language.

That just goes to show how subjective translation can be. Give ten translators a line of text and you’ll get ten different translations back, as they say. But that’s part of what makes it so fascinating.


Anyway, I’m glad that Star Ocean 2 received a cleaned up English script in the PSP version, which was able to be carried on to the remake. Not every game from that era got that opportunity, and it really does make a difference in understanding and enjoying the game.

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