How localizers saved Final Fantasy X from its own voiceover

The localization editor for Final Fantasy X explains why translation isn't just about changing words from one language into another, sometimes it's about keeping the game from crashing.

“We had been aware of that when we were working on the original translation, but we didn’t realize how serious they were about not having the English voices go over the length of the Japanese voices at any point. Because the way that the game engine was triggering sound files was tied into the same system that it was using to trigger action on the screen, so if you had a sound file that went overboard by even half a second, it could throw off the entire scene and you could get a crash.”

-- Final Fantasy X localizer Alexander O. Smith, explaining why the game's English voice acting absolutely had to line up with the animation of the character's lips. 

The localization end of the video game business is often the stuff of legends, controversy, and misunderstanding as developers and publishers work to turn the complicated process of translation into a supported end of development. 

Today, localizers enjoy the benefits of translation tools, constant communication with developers, and a general inclusion in the game production process—but it wasn’t always that way. As Bob Mackey writes over at USgamer, localizing games used to be a far more frustrating process, and not always because of the language challenges. 

For instance, localization editor Alexander O. Smith tells Mackey about the time that Square made the jump to include full voice acting in its games with Final Fantasy X. Not only did Smith have to consider doing a proper translation with English voice actors, he literally had to time the line delivery to match the lips of the characters on screen. Otherwise, the game would crash. 

"[With] a ten-frame [line of dialogue], you can’t even say 'yes' in ten frames. It’s thirty frames a second, so ten frames is a third of a second, and you can’t say the English word 'yes.' You can say the Japanese word hai in twelve frames, but you can’t say 'yes' in twelve frames, because the 's' sound drags out," Smith tells Mackey.

"No matter what you do, you end up around 25 frames or something. So, even at that level, it was challenging, because I was having to make a lot of decisions that I think affected the final quality of the game for reasons that had nothing to do with the scene or the writing or the emotion of the scene, it was all about technical difficulty." 

Smith also provides some context for Final Fantasy X's infamous laughing scene, which turns out to have a surprising development origin. Smith says he himself was befuddled by the scene in production, and asked writer Kazushige Nojima for insight on what he should tell the English voice actor. "And, Nojima-san had basically put it in there because of this laughing, making yourself laugh, forced laughter, is a thing he had been doing, and he had been taking some acting classes. And it’s something that you do in acting classes."

For more tales on where the game development process and localization have collided over the years, be sure to read Mackey's full piece over at USgamer.

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