Yet Another Example of How Context Impacts Translation

One of the panels during the 2023 Final Fantasy XIV Fan Festival had Naoki Yoshida (Producer & Director) and Natsuko Ishikawa (Senior Story Designer) discussing various lines and characters from the Endwalker expansion alongside English localization lead Kate Cwynar. The whole thing is a great watch, though naturally filled with spoilers for Endwalker if you haven’t finished playing that yet.

But this part in particular is an amazing little glimpse into the writing/localization process behind Final Fantasy XIV, and also includes a discussion of how important context is when translating.

To that point, when I first saw the highlighted line in isolation, it seemed to me that the English was saying something different from the Japanese.

JapaneseEnglish
そりゃ、考えがバラバラでぶつかることもあったけど…
それもひっくるめて、かけがえのないものだった。
All of us lost in a sea of chaos, searching desperately for purpose and meaning…but it shouldn’t just be an extension of another’s. It has to be ours. It has to be.

The English talks about the idea of finding one’s own meaning in life, whereas the Japanese just seems to be saying that she treasured the experience of clashing and debating with others.

Except that it’s then revealed that this line was meant to be a callback to another character’s line from closer to the beginning of the game.

JapaneseEnglish
これからは、わしに願ってはならない。
それぞれの力で、かけがえのないものを見つけ、守っていきなさい。
Your hopes and dreams must no longer be an extension of mine. You must needs find your own reason to fight for this realm—your own meaning in this sea of chaos.

And it’s in this context that the English translation of the first line makes so much more sense. On its own かけがえのないもの is basically saying “I found meaning in this experience” but in the context of this callback she’s saying that not only did she find meaning, but she found a meaning that was hers and hers alone, just as her grandfather told her to do. The English rightly hones in on that part then, and even goes so far as to retain the phrases “sea of chaos” and “extension of mine/another’s” to signal the callback for English players.

And if that wasn’t enough, the English translation later slips the straightforward translation of かけがえのないもの (“irreplaceable thing”) into another line, just so that it’s retained somewhere.

Good! Because there are things we care about, and people we love…and none of them is replaceable. Not a one.

All packaged in superb writing that really shows just how high quality Final Fantasy XIV’s English translation is.

Anyway, all this is to say that context is in fact majorly important when translating or analyzing translations, if that wasn’t already obvious. And that doesn’t just include the context of a single conversation or situation, but the context of the work as a whole.

It’s great, then, that Natsuko Ishikawa and the other writers of FFXIV seem to leave such detailed memos for their localization teams, because that’s what really makes the difference between a legible translation and a fantastic one.

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