"In English, we don’t have a solid, common equivalent of maō or daimaō. But you can’t just ignore the words when translating, so you have to come up with something. There are at least five main approaches to the problem."
- Clyde Mandelin, writing about the process of translating tricky words in games.
Longtime translator and author Clyde "Tomato" Mandelin has kicked off a neat new series of articles on his Legends of Localization blog which aims to show folks how localizers tackle the task of translating words into a language that has no clear equivalent.
Mandelin's perspective is informed by the fact that he's spent well over a decade localizing Japanese films and games, including the Mother 3 fan translation for which he's arguably best known. His first post focuses on the terms maō and daimaō, which he says are common in Japanese games but not easily translatable into English.
"It’s difficult to explain with a single word in English, but a maō is basically a term for a supreme supernatural being that’s usually super-evil. It’s a generic term that’s extremely common in Japanese fantasy settings," write Mandelin. "In short, if you’re playing a game that’s cliché enough to have a chosen knight or a hero of light, there’s great chance there’s a maō too – and it’s probably the final boss."
He then walks through five different approaches a translator might take, highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of each. It's an intriguing read, and he follows it up with a fun look at how various games (everything from Actraiser to The Legend of Zelda to Zener Works' PlayStation 2 classic Okage: Shadow King) have handled it through the years.
"The Zelda series is full of maō references. It’s also a good example of how inconsistent those references can be in translation," writes Mandelin. "First, in the original Zelda (1987) game, Ganon is called a daimaō in Japanese. The instruction manual localizers went with “Prince of Darkness” while the actual game developers went with “Prince Darkness"....in A Link to the Past (1992), Ganondorf is now just a basic maō in Japanese and “the evil King of Darkness” in English."
There's lots more great examples in the full blog post, which is well worth a read.