I had the chance to play through Breath of Fire 1 in both Japanese and English last year, so I figured I’d go ahead and post my thoughts on that experience. Or rather, use some examples from it to talk about what to do when space limitations come down hard and you need to condense your translation to have any hope of fitting it in. Because that’s what Breath of Fire 1’s translation seems to mainly suffer from: a severe lack of space. Now from what I understand, back then the issue was more that the file would become literally too big for the cartridge to hold, while these days most space limitations are caused more by the amount of text that can fit on a given screen. But even though the problem isn’t as dire anymore, there’s still plenty to learn from Breath of Fire 1’s successes and failures.
My main takeaway is that when deciding what info to retain, conveying the gameplay and plot take utmost priority. If you have no choice but to trim a sentence down to make it fit, you need to first understand the most important thing it’s trying to get across and make sure that, at least, is kept.
For example, here the translators summarize the most important information the player needs to progress the game:
|みなみには ふねのでるまちが あるんだ
こくりゅうぞくが かわを せきとめるついでに
|There’s a port town to the south. But the Dark Dragons took the opportunity to destroy the bridge while they were damming up the river, so (you) can’t go there now.
|Dark Dragons destroyed the bridge to the port town in the South.
The same info is being conveyed (there’s a port town in the south, but the Dark Dragons destroyed the bridge to it), just much more concisely.
And a slightly more drastic example:
きたの きょじんを うごかせば
いわを どけられるかも しれません…
こんな いいつたえが あります
|Oh, Master Ryu! If (you) operate the giant (robot) in the north, (you) may be able to move the rock out of the way. There’s a legend about how to operate the giant (robot).
|The Stone Robot can move the rock!
|きょじんの いのちは パスラのうきしまに ねむる
りゅうさま！ なんとか おねがいします！
|The giant (robot)’s life sleeps in the floating isle of Agua. That’s the only clue I have, but please do your best, Master Ryu!
|Look for the Robot’s secret in Agua.
A lot of personality is sadly lost in this case, but if space is at a premium, it’s more important that the player knows exactly what to do next: go to Agua to get the robot to take care of the rock.
This example shows plot info being translated in a more condensed way:
ゆうしゃのゆびわを わたせば すむはなしだ
|How to get the giant (robot) to move? (I) don’t know (or care) about that. There’d be no need to get the giant (robot) moving if the people of Tantar village would just hand over the hero ring.
|I don’t know how to work the Robot and I don’t want to get involved.
|なぜ わしらまで まきこまれるんだ！
|Why do we have to be dragged into (their) mess!?
|Tantar should give up the Ring to resolve the problem.
Again, it’s unfortunate that so much personality is lost, though I’d argue that the tone still gets across at least. But at any rate, the most important info here is that he doesn’t want to help or get involved, and thinks Tantar should just hand over the ring, which is what the translation hones in on.
And one more:
|さいきん びょうきで たくさんのむらびとが
そんなとき カーマのとうの まほうつかいが
へんなくすりを むらじゅうに まいたんだーよ
んだら はかにうめた しにんが
|Recently a bunch of villagers died from illness. Then a wizard from Karma scattered this weird medicine around the village. Afterwards, all the dead people rose from their graves! (We) were stunned!
|This wizard used a potion to turn the dead into zombies.
The main point is that the dead are coming to life and it’s all a wizard’s fault. This is the issue the player will eventually have to solve to continue the game. If there had been space, it might’ve been nice to add in the fact that they all died of an illness recently or that the wizard came from Karma, but the most important thing is that the village is currently suffering from a zombie problem.
Once you establish any necessary gameplay or plot info, I’d say the next priority is making sure that the sentence comes across as a natural reaction in whatever conversation or context it appears in, so that the flow of the scene isn’t disturbed. Breath of Fire 1 isn’t quite as great on this point.
For example, in this scene, Bo walks up and introduces himself to the party:
ぜひ わたしにも てつだわせてください
|(You’re) traveling to defeat Zog, right? Zog is a terrible enemy to us, as well! Please let me help (you).
|Zog is also my enemy! Let me help you fight him!
While the official translation does get across the main point (Bo wants to help you fight Zog), it feels abrupt in context. Something like “You’re fighting Zog, right? Let me help you!” might help to make the scene flow a little better while still keeping the line short and sweet.
In this example, the party has just fallen and then we transition to a soldier who stops and turns around as he’s fleeing:
|Gasp! That scream just now was…!
|I heard a scream!
The official translation is perfectly accurate here, but feels wooden/odd in context, at least to me. Perhaps something like “What was that scream?!” would be better, considering he’s talking to himself. Though this one’s admittedly more nitpicky.
Finally, if you need to cut anything, then start with whatever’s already implied or otherwise obvious.
|すっかり むらを かこんでいます！
|(They’ve) completely surrounded the village! (We) can’t escape!
If they’re surrounded, then it naturally follows that they can’t escape, so that part doesn’t need to be expressly stated.
|え？ わたしたち へいしが
しろの ばけものを たいじしろ ですって？
|Huh? You want us soldiers to eradicate the monsters in the castle? shiver No way! (They’re/That would be) too dreadful!
|You want us to go up against monsters? You’re crazy!
In context, it’s already clear that “us” = “soldiers” and that “monsters” refers to the ones in the castle. “You’re crazy” is a nice quick way to get across his refusal.
In summary: gameplay/plot info gets first priority, then anything needed to help make the scene/conversation flow naturally. Honestly, this isn’t all that different from the regular translation process where you need to consider the underlying intent or purpose of the text. It’s just zeroing in on that purpose while cutting away anything extraneous (if necessary).
All in all, Breath of Fire 1’s translation is decent. It’s clear that they did the best with what they had, considering they were also likely working with no context on a tight schedule, as if the space limitations weren’t already enough of an obstacle on their own. It would be nice to see it get a proper official English translation someday though, if only to restore all the text that ended up on the cutting room floor.