Localising Exclamations In Final Fantasy XIII

"Gnhhh!" ... "Whhhhaaaah!" ... "Bah….ah...gahhhhhh"... "Hmmmf!"... "Ehiehhh" ... "Mhaemm!".. These grunts, sighs, squeals and miscellaneous other vocalisations compose roughly one-quarter of the dialogues in the early hours of Final Fantasy XIII.

On one hand, they're to be expected; Japan is known for its plethora of exclamations and onomatopoeia. On the other - when translated literally - they make for a poor localisation.

These sounds are often louder and longer than their English counterparts, or they simply have no equivalents. As such, they're difficult to remove or replace and are usually left untouched. They've even become something of an accepted "quirk" among the more dedicated fans of Japanese media, but that doesn't mean they couldn't be handled in a friendlier fashion.

I think the localisation team for FFXIII wanted to give Vanille a unique voice - much like the Björk-esque Fran in FFXII - but the voice actress's performance is a bit of a mess.

As things stand, vocalisations often come across as alien and awkward. They break the flow of conversation and the suspension of disbelief and can leave a new audience feeling put off.

Sure, one can always argue for the purity and cultural authenticity of any given product, but that's being a bit of a stick in the mud. Literal translations lack context and social nuances, and those fully familiar with them might as well experience the original versions. In order to make the products easily digestible by a different audience, though, some things need to change. FF XIII in particular is a title Square Enix wanted to be a global blockbuster, not just a Japanese game released to a niche audience outside of its home country, so it stands to reason that they'd want to iron out these kinks.

So how can this be done?

A couple of points: If possible, simply remove the exclamations altogether. The ones that could easily be cut are left in to keep things consistent and speed up the localisation process, so getting rid of them shouldn't be a big issue. Use local equivalents of the vocalisations if available. For example, make a character surprised by a hand on his shoulder utter a short "Huh?" instead of the original, "Mnhaaa?" Use actual words or sentences for sounds that have no local counterparts. A character crying out "Gwahhhhhhhhhhhh!" for three seconds after witnessing a car crash could easily be replaced with a quick "Oh my god!" Meld the exclamations into the speech itself. I'm not an expert, but I noticed many of the vocalisations were isolated within the dialogue, whereas in English they'd part of it, e.g. "Mmmm, I don't know about thaaaaaaaat." Finally, keep these points in mind when developing the game and provide the team(s) with the tools necessary to port it. Automated lip-syncing is already widely used, but I'm sure other functionality - or just the permission to alter the in-game cutscenes - would be appreciated.

Of course there are more issues to consider as well - perhaps toning down on the dramatic, clenched-fist poses with characters uttering such phrases as "I'll do my best!" - but those are a whole other topic…

Radek Koncewicz works as a video game design consultant, and also as the creative lead of Incubator Games, a small development studio he started with a few former coworkers. In his spare time he writes for blog Significant Bits.


    I just love how they give those vocalisations subtitles :P

    Oh but I love Vanille's voice. Isn't she just so cute and sweet? I don't get what you are saying about her at all!

      I like her character but I found that voice of hers to be the 2nd most annoying aspect of the game. The 1st being that I never found any real point in using the summons.

      I still liked the game, It helps if you think of it as an interactive movie.

    An 'accepted quirk' sums it up quite well. I think they add to the character of the game.

    It would also be nice if they didn't equate "Unique and foreign" voice with "Australian Bogan" voice

      Grand Pulse = Australia. lol.

    Vanille was horrible. Absolute worst character ever made by Square. I know it's a JRPG and thus they're required to fill in the stereotypes: The tough loner, the ice queen, the perky schoolgirl. But Vanille always rubbed me the wrong way. Her accent was just so bad.

    And it's not even the ocker accent, it's almost like there was a director in the recording studio going "Can you say that a bit squeakier this time?" every 5 minutes. So she ended up sounding like a 10 year old trying way too hard to be perky. The Fang character wasn't too bad (despite the awkward accent), but Vanille. So bad.

    tldr: Vanille's fucking annoying.

    i dislike english dubbing in JRPG's in general, they are always awkward and alien-like.

    The only english dubbing for JRPG's I can stand is the dubbing that comes from NIS games like disgaea and a select few Atlus titles like Persona.

    Although I do love JRPG's on the PS3 because the sheer disc space available on blu-ray disc often means dual audio for japanese games <3

    Totally agree with Vanilles voice, couldn't wait to get her out of my main party.
    The cutesy Japanese voice doesn't translate well into english unfortunately.
    I tried to play it in Japanese but I got tired of reading subtitles after the upteenth cutscene.

    Another solution that many anime viewers swear by is not having a dub, but just having the original with subtitles.

    Given all the VO is already there, would it be so hard to give english speakers an option of swapping between the two?

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