The attempt to include overt references to Judeo-Christian figures in the classic role-playing game Xenogears caused a few translators to quit – they feared a violent backlash – and prompted a change in the name of the game’s final boss, according to one of the people who brought the game to America.
On this week’s instalment of the podcast 8-4 Play, long-time game localiser Richard Honeywood reveals what it was like translating the game in which God was the final boss. He’s talking of course about Xenogears and the upheaval involved.
Beginning at roughly the 1:19:20 mark, he recalls “It was the project from hell. Translators walked off it. One [reason]was that it was too technical… and… the other was the religious content. It was a game, where, at the end of the game you basically kill God. And – a secret thing – back then, they actually called it Yahweh.”
Honeywood was concerned that this bold bit of naming could offend portions of the game’s audience, and confronted the development team – with unexpected consequences.
“At a development meeting in Japanese I was saying ‘You can’t call it Yahweh. You can’t do that.’ I was getting exasperated, and in Japanese [I said]yabeh-o, and they all laughed and thought it was the greatest pun ever. And so, the last boss was suddenly called Yabeh.”
(For those scratching their heads, the adjective yabai is Japanese slang for something dangerous, unfortunate or otherwise inconvenient. Hence the room of hysterical Squaresoft employees, and one bewildered Honeywood.)
For some on Honeywood’s staff, the potentially controversial themes cultivated by Xenogears were no laughing matter.
“[They]took every biblical reference they could and tried to twist it. One of the translators was a bit worried about this and was like ‘I don’t want to have fundamental Christians or other religious groups being upset and blowing up our office.’ And I guess in the States, at that time, it was a concern. So I had two translators walk off it and I was stuck there by myself.”
The antagonist known as Yabeh was ultimately redubbed Zeus in the English-language release of the game. And Xenogears has enjoyed an enduring legacy as cult-favorite—in large part thanks to its edgy content.
For more fascinating insight into how one of the industry’s first dedicated localizers braved a mid-90s landscape without Excel, spellcheck – or the internet! – check out the full podcast from 8-4.