Welcome to my biggest project yet: comparing the Japanese and English scripts of Final Fantasy VII Remake to the original PSX game. I’ll be going through, chapter by chapter, and seeing how closely the scenes and dialogue follow the original. This is also an opportunity to check how the English translation has evolved since the troubled days of 1997/98. Though it’s often hard to make a direct comparison because of how much the script has changed, for even the Japanese itself stands as a translation of the original game. For a deeper dive into this concept, keep reading. If you want to jump straight to the comparison itself, hit the “Jump to Table of Contents” link above.
After years and years of wishing and waiting, Square Enix has finally realized the dream: a full remake of Final Fantasy 7 on modern consoles. Or perhaps more accurately, a translation of Final Fantasy 7 for modern audiences. In countless developer interviews, the creators make clear (even as far back as 2015) that their intention was not to simply recreate the game 1-for-1, but rather to reimagine it for a new audience. The Inside FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE series details this more closely, but for now let’s just look at a few standout quotes:
It emerged when we considered how FINAL FANTASY’s classic ATB battle system would be, if it was created in the modern era.https://youtu.be/DCAJADlLg9g?t=708
When we started the Remake project, we wanted to make it something that modern players would experience and appreciate in a similar way, as the start of something new in RPGs.https://youtu.be/OL_Xqgjm55Q?t=657
The experience that we wanted players of FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE to have, was for players who did not know or play the original to experience the surprises of the FINAL FANTASY VII story in the same way that the original generation of players did 23 years ago.https://youtu.be/OL_Xqgjm55Q?t=896
But as that last quote there suggests, it’s not that their only focus was on changing the game to meet contemporary standards. In fact, “faithfulness to the original” is a very heavily recurring theme in the interviews as well:
In FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE, I felt that players had to be able to experience all the elements that were in the original game. I thought of the best way to include those in a way that would fit well and not affect the core play experience. That resulted in us using and evolving the elements from the original in a very natural way.https://youtu.be/DCAJADlLg9g?t=775
…one thing I used to communicate the idea when I started the project, and one of the core concepts that I had throughout development was the idea of being able to play the original Final Fantasy VII with Cloud at the same graphical quality seen in the movie sequel Final Fantasy VII Advent Children.
…However, if we tried to make it 100% photo-realistic, like actual human beings, it would lose some of the distinctive character of the original game. So we tried to take the realism as far as we could, without crossing that line.https://youtu.be/DCAJADlLg9g?t=1113, https://youtu.be/DCAJADlLg9g?t=1201
But in terms of the character dialogue and conversations, naturally we are keeping all the iconic moments from the original script, but because the original was all text based, with no facial expression and quite bare camera work, if we left the dialogue unchanged, it would sound very explanatory and not be up to the same quality as modern games. So, we have edited and reworked it to sound more like natural conversation, but very much kept it having the same impression on the player.https://youtu.be/OL_Xqgjm55Q?t=659
In terms of how faithful the remake is to the original Final Fantasy VII, from the perspective of the storyline, it is very faithful indeed. The major story structure is kept very close, so you will do the Mako Reactor bombing mission and then return to the Sector 7 slums.https://youtu.be/OL_Xqgjm55Q?t=742
So I set out to make new music that matched the scenes better, while always trying to respect the originals.https://youtu.be/DliMpiemUy8?t=550
I made multiple arrangements of many of the iconic Final Fantasy VII music tracks. Some of them are very faithful to the originals, and there are other arrangements that only sound reminiscent in passing. But if you pay too much attention to the originals then it is quite difficult to try and make something even better. For that reason, I try to be as natural as possible, and approach them as if I were writing a completely new piece.https://youtu.be/DliMpiemUy8?t=834
Note the language used here. In every aspect of development, from the battle system, to the graphics, story/writing, and even music, they emphasize faithfulness to the original while creating something that feels natural to this new audience. Now, what does that remind you of? Yes, this is exactly how translators talk about their work! We strive to maintain the same “experience” while acknowledging that a translation will necessarily be different from the original.
I start out with this just to try to give people a broader understanding of what translation is. Many people seem to assume that translation is as easy as looking a word up in a bilingual dictionary and inserting it. Heck, I thought this way myself before I started working as a translator. But the fact is that sentences and words can be written and translated in any number of ways while still expressing the same intent, just like how adaptations tell the same story in a new way. Translation requires just as much work and creativity as producing an adaptation or remake.
To demonstrate this, we can find a lot of similarities between the process of creating FF7R and the process of translation. For starters, both require an understanding of the source material: characterizations, theme, what makes it resonate with the audience, etc. You can’t successfully bring something to a new audience without understanding how it operates within its original setting. And may I note that all of this is incredibly subjective. People will interpret the text and characters differently and come to varying conclusions about what makes a work successful. The authors of the text are no exception to this either. Even throughout the FF7 compilation, specific scenes and characterizations have changed in various installments. So both remakes and translations are nothing more than one person (or one group of people)’s interpretation of the original.
Once that interpretation is established, the next task is determining how to create the same effect for a new audience, which in turn requires an understanding of the audience in question. And this, again, is incredibly subjective. Creators and translators can only guess how people will react to their work. Certainly they can study the culture and try to learn as much about their audience as they can, but this will still only amount to an educated guess. And even if they manage to hit the mark for some people, there will invariably be a few for which it falls flat. Which is one of the reasons why translators always say that it isn’t an exact science. Communication is messy, whether it’s across languages, time, or what have you.
Speaking of communicating ideas, translations incorporate a variety of strategies for doing this, and so does FF7R, it turns out! People often tend to think in absolutes, like “This thing has been localized!” or “This is a faithful translation!” Probably because translation discourse largely revolves around extreme examples. But in reality, almost all (if not all!) translations use both domesticating and foreignizing strategies (and more!). Like with most things, it’s good to strike a balance and make decisions on a case-by-case basis.
For example, the English dialogue in FF7R is beautifully localized to sound natural, but it also keeps some Japanese terms as-is, like “mako” or “Shinra.” Both of these terms are written in kanji in Japanese and could be localized for their meaning instead; 魔晄 (mako) is roughly “magic light” and 神羅 (Shinra) was evidently derived from 神話 (shinwa) which means “myth/legend.” But the English translation opts to transliterate them as unique fantasy-sounding terms, which is also a valid strategy.
Similarly, FF7R has sections which follow the original game exactly, other parts which are entirely new, and plenty of scenes that are a mix between the two. While most of the dialogue is substantially rewritten in Japanese, there are still some sections that are a precise match and the overall narrative remains the same. Not unlike how translations of entertainment products will largely take a localizing strategy to better communicate the story and characters, but still find opportunities to retain certain things from the original.
Which brings me, finally, to the scope of this comparison project! In this series, I aim to show how FF7R takes many of the same scenes and concepts from the original game and adapts them for a new audience, while also looking at how the English translation has evolved since the PSX era. …Which is basically a fancy way of saying that I spent a long time combing through the script in both Japanese and English for every reference and easter egg I could find.
Naturally, it’s easier to pick up on the similarities in the Japanese script, but at times even the English script manages to sneak in throwbacks where the Japanese has none. Some English-speaking fans may be disappointed that we lose out on more references because of the change in translation, but I would argue that fans with a keen eye will still pick up on many of them anyway, such that it isn’t worth sacrificing the quality of the translation (as subpar as the original’s is) just to shoehorn in a reference (and trust me, I love a good reference). Not to mention that this time around, the translation is heavily bound by timing constraints. As the translators discuss in an interview, the spoken English lines needed to match almost the exact timing of the Japanese ones, which can severely limit viable options. (Here’s another (English) interview with someone from the translation team, for more insight.)
In any case, this project should help to shed some light on any details a curious fan might have missed.
A few housekeeping things before we begin:
- I’ll be focusing mainly on the script, as opposed to similarities in the graphics or animations.
- I won’t be referencing any of the compilation, since I’m not familiar with it.
- I’ll try to avoid spoilers as much as possible, and will mostly only reference the Midgar section from the original. That said, if you haven’t played the original and want to go into the next installment completely blind (without any hints whatsoever to things that happen later in the story), you may want to steer clear.
- I’ll also try to make this as accessible to non-Japanese speakers as I can, but you’ll probably get a little more out of it if you know Japanese.
Finally, if you want to follow along with the original game’s Japanese and English script (Midgar only), you can find an Excel sheet with that here. And if you want to follow along with Final Fantasy VII Remake’s Japanese and English script (along with some matching FF7 lines), you can find that Excel sheet here. Also note that you can find a list of all my Japanese/English game scripts on my Resources page.