The Ascent Is Gorgeous But Its Signs Are Nonsense

The Ascent Is Gorgeous But Its Signs Are Nonsense
Screenshot: Neon Giant

The Ascent is a pretty dang good twin-stick shooter, but some Korean-speaking players have taken issue with the cyberpunk game’s liberal (and sometimes downright incorrect) use of the language.

The cyberpunk genre has long had a love affair with Asian iconography that is often used as background decor, usually in the form of neon signs. Despite this visual obsession, cyberpunk media rarely exhibits true respect for the people and cultures from which it borrows. The Ascent, which launched for Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and PC on July 29, appears to be no different, as the devs have sprinkled its world with a ton of Korean text that barely makes sense.

When The Ascent arrived last month, folks almost immediately noticed there was something awry with the Korean text used in its environments. Some mistakes, like the mirrored text on the game’s title screen, are just plain bizarre. As pointed out by Twitch streamer GoNando, “술집” is Korean for “bar,” whereas the characters used in the screenshot below don’t even exist in the Korean language.

Screenshot: Neon Giant / Kotaku Screenshot: Neon Giant / Kotaku

Similarly glaring issues were pointed out on Steam and Reddit in the days following The Ascent’s release, and with no official word from the developer, folks are left theorising that perhaps the translations were done by a machine rather than someone who fluently speaks the language. And earlier today, a series of screenshots started to take traction that purportedly show more flipped text and improper Korean usage.

Even as someone who doesn’t speak Korean, it’s easy to see where The Ascent developer Neon Giant went wrong. Take the word “부문” from one of those Twitter screenshots, for example. While a quick Google Translate indicates it means “sector,” which makes it a totally appropriate thing to have painted on the floors of your cyberpunk complex, folks who know Korean say it’s actually closer to “category” or “classification.”

It’s impressive that just 12 people were able to make a game as beautiful as The Ascent, but that’s likely what contributed to its issues with Korean as well.

Kotaku contacted Neon Giant but didn’t hear back before publication.

It’s hard to paint The Ascent as malicious in its misuse of Korean, but when you aestheticise your game with references to a language spoken by more than 75 million people, you should probably get someone who’s fluent to double-check your work.


  • Or maybe they just didn’t think anyone would care enough to translate the signs looking for things wrong with the game that only took 12 people to make….

    • Look, trivial issue and all, but I find it amusing how far over backwards people feel the need to bend to justify fucking up when the whole problem could have been avoided with a few random posts in a Korean-language gaming reddit or something. I mean seriously, it’s as simple as “hey guys! would you mind running a quick eye over a few images for me and letting me know if they look okay to you?”

      And where does this “only 12 people” excuse come from? I mean, seriously, I routinely work with teams of half that who are pushing literally millions of dollars of output every couple of months. Are you really implying that not one of 12 full time employees could find a couple hours downtime between crunch for a quick chat with a native Korean speaker?

      Let’s reverse the situation here. “Hey, Scpnope! I’ve got a new game coming out. I’m not a native English speaker and I was hoping that you can check something for me. Does the phrase “Graciously buy my beers friendly” look okay to you? I was hoping to whack it up against the wall of a nightclub? Any suggestions appreciated.”

    • I don’t think knowing Korean and recognising errors counts as “caring enough to translate it”. It’s just reading, and it would be quite jarring. You don’t translate English when you read it, you just read it. The only reason translation has come into it is to demonstrate non-Korean people why it’s wrong.

      On the other hand, if I, as someone with no understanding of the Korean language, poured over all the signs and fed them through a translation app to try catch the developers out, then yes that would be more aligned to what you’re talking about.

      It’s not really that much of an issue. There was no malice here, it’s just a bit lazy.

  • Maybe they went to Korea for inspiration, and then saw all the cute attempts at English on the signs and thought they’d pay tribute? Yeah/nah? I doubt it was intended to be offensive.

    But it’s only 12 people as you say – hopefully someone in the community steps forward and offers to help them re-translate the signs.

  • Well I can go in to bat for the developers even if it means outing myself as a grammar weirdo (please don’t judge my own post).
    I noted so much janky English grammar early in the game that I actually started taking screenshots…

    For example the first time you open the Augmentations tab you get the message: ‘Equip Augmentations and Modules at any time – but be mindful of charging augmentations yourself will drain your energy’.
    Clearly ‘of’ should be ‘that’… or something. Terrible stuff!

    Also when you first enter Sector 13 the subtitle of the holograph newsreader says: ‘All attempts to contact the corporate board has failed’.
    I hope someone got fired for that one. Go back to little school Small Studio!

    It’s just a small studio trying to make a huge project with no time.
    Going off the standard of English they could well have had someone who does speak Korean at home but can’t write it doing those translations.

    • Not sure if being ironic, but clearly they didn’t. It’s one thing to rip a few graphics off random photos for flavour, however ‘best’ would presumably involve making some actual effort.

  • For what it’s worth, there is no way I would have let this one get through in any game I was writing due to the risk of accidentally ripping a word like “toilet”, or something even more obnoxious.

    Not to mention that a lot of the random advertising scripts taken from billboards are quite likely to be trade marks owned by companies that might actually decide to sue.

    I guess that it’s kinda like mistranslated tattoos… If you’re not willing to spend a couple minutes spell checking or properly translating your tattoo, why care about this kind of thing either?

    • Yeah I don’t get it. I can’t imagine not at the very least doing basic google translate. You could probably go on reddit and get people to translate some words for free! Why make shit up?
      The tattoo analogy is a good one.

    • I hope you stop in at every Asian restaurant and give them the same high judgment about the spelling & grammar on their menus. I’m sure you do, you sound like a cool guy.

  • I’m not sure that the signs are meant to be correct Korean.

    I appreciate the developers do need to ensure signs don’t spell something that may offend but if you’ve played the game you know there are *many* other things which could not be described as correct.

    Blowing someone’s head off with a shotgun comes to mind. As does the use of medpacks laying on the ground to heal your own injuries or a hacking system that takes seconds.

    It is a game. It has a different set of rules as to what is appropriate vs. the real world.

    Things don’t always need to be “correct”, just appropriate for their context.

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