FFXIV Backstage Investigators (No. 9): Localization Team (Pt. 1)
Hello everyone, this is Hama from the Promotional team!
FFXIV Backstage Investigators is a blog series that shares behind-the-scenes stories from the team members who work on all aspects of FFXIV.
The subjects of our ninth interview are...
Paul, Pamela, and Odilon from the Localization team!
The Localization team is responsible for translating FFXIV, which is developed in Japanese, into our supported languages. But did you know they also handle a variety of other tasks in addition to translating in-game text? Since this interview with three of their members is brimming with detail, we'll be delivering it in two parts!
Hama: To start us off, could you tell us about yourselves?
Paul: My name is Paul Chandler, and I'm one of the English translation leads for FFXIV. As one might expect, I've always had an interest in Japan from games and anime, but my reason for making a more concerted effort in learning the language and eventually moving to Japan stems from FINAL FANTASY XI, believe it or not. I played it for about six years, and in that time, I made a number of good Japanese friends. The game has a built-in translation function that tries to help bridge the language gap, but it wasn't enough for me. I seized what few opportunities I had to learn Japanese, and eventually stumbled upon a program that allowed me to travel abroad. I'd always dreamed of working in the gaming industry, but I never thought I'd get to pay forward the myriad adventures I had in FFXI by working on FFXIV.
▲ A screenshot of Paul's character.
Pamela: My name is Pamela and I have been working for Square Enix and on FINAL FANTASY XIV for three and a half years as the lead of the German team. As a child, I was the biggest fan of Sailor Moon. This love led me to Japanese pop culture as a whole, and later on to Japan's history, politics, and language. After graduating from high school, I thus decided to try my hand at turning this hobby into a proper career and picked up Japanese Studies at college. Since my second biggest passion in life has always been creative writing, becoming a translator seemed rather natural to me.
So, why Square Enix? Well, FINAL FANTASY belongs to Japanese pop culture as a beer belongs with a pretzel, doesn't it? (I think in the States you'd say "soft pretzel" ... Not the sweet abominations, I don't think those do well with beer.) As such, after graduating from college, I promptly moved to Japan, tried my luck and the rest is history, as they say.
▲ A screenshot of Pamela's character.
Odilon: My name is Odilon, I'm the lead translator for the French version of FINAL FANTASY XIV. Growing up in France in the late 80's/early 90's, you got to see a whole lot of Japanese anime on TV, and of course video games were booming as well. I also trained in martial arts, which gave me my first experience with the Japanese language. I wanted to learn more, so I started taking Japanese classes in high school and decided to major in Japanese studies in college. I went on my first trip to Japan during my second year and by the time I completed university, I wasn't very satisfied with my abilities and decided I should spend at least a year in Japan. Sixteen years later, I still haven't left!
At first, I trained in FFL (the French equivalent of EFL (English as a Foreign Language)) and taught French for a few years. I had the opportunity to work as an interpreter on a game show in Paris, and within a year I quit my teaching career and secured enough work translating and interpreting. Fast forward to 2019, I've been told there was an opening for Japanese to French translators at Square Enix, and I knew I couldn't miss out on that opportunity.
▲ A screenshot of Odilon's character.
Hama: Each of you come from such fascinating backgrounds, but it seems all three of you began from a common interest in Japanese games and anime!
Next, could you explain the localization workflow for FFXIV? For example, what sort of tasks do you work on during a particular patch update?
Paul: The first things that usually cross our desks are lists of items, actions, place names, and so on that will be appearing in the update. Our other English lead, Kate, oversees these, and when reviewing said lists, offers feedback and suggestions to ensure everything is consistent and cohesive within the world of FFXIV.
Odilon: We also have meetings with the development teams, and sometimes are asked to pitch in some character/location/item names.
Paul: Next usually comes the script for voice recordings. Work on the script usually entails peppering the writers with questions, and meetings with both the Scenario team and Cutscene team to make sure everything will match up with all languages once recordings are done. When the script is written and it's time to begin recording, one or two translators will oversee recordings (via Zoom for now), working with the voice director to ensure the actors fully understand the context of the story, and get the best performance we can.
▲ Cutscenes with voice acting are often prioritized over other parts.
Hama: I see, so you have to work on the script first, since the voice recordings take place before all of the in-game text is finished.
Paul: Around the time we're wrapping up voice recordings, we've also likely begun work on the various quests and content to be seen in a given patch.
Odilon: Before we can tackle the translation of the game, we spend some time reading development documents that allow us to get a better understanding of what's to come for the next patch or expansion─the familiarization phase. As the lead translator, I'm also in charge of dispatching the tasks between the members of the team. FFXIV is a massive game, so we try to keep things new for everyone by rotating who's in charge of which content with every patch/expansion. Once the planning is set and the text ready to translate, usually each translator is in charge of a specific content (i.e. the MSQ, raid, etc.).
Pamela: Many people are under the impression that the German team translates from the English localized text, but the truth is that we indeed translate directly from the source Japanese. Thus, the lion's share of our work begins as soon as we receive the first batch of text from the development teams.
Hama: I play the game in Japanese, but even then, I feel like there's an overwhelming amount of text in FFXIV. It's incredible that the Localization team translates all of that into each language simultaneously!
Odilon: As FFXIV is being made while we're translating, there are often changes in the original text, so we need to adjust our version to the latest revision by the end of the development cycle.
Pamela: Implementing changes and additions from the Japanese side often takes up just as much time as the initial translation itself, as well as crosschecks and edits done on the German side. Once we're happy with the content, we hand it over to QA, who then sift out any remaining mistakes and inconsistencies.
Hama: That's a staggering amount of work... And not only that, but you also work on translating text outside of the game as well, right?
Paul: There's usually plenty of other work that begs for our attention as well, such as lore books, merchandise naming, album liner notes, and the like, so there's always something to fill our time.
Pamela: We take care of different web topics (hello, Lodestone!), read the localization forums and address reported bugs and community feedback, or offer support with lore questions or naming, should the need arise.
▲ The Localization team also provides translations for lore books, as well as some of those important announcements we see on the Lodestone!
Hama: Does your approach to localization change depending on the type of content you're working on?
Paul: The text in FFXIV is presented to players in a number of different ways, and so naturally, there are different considerations to be taken for each situation. With voiced dialogue, for example, we have to think about not just the text on the page, but also the actors. A person's tone alone can convey just as much─if not more─than what is written, which can sometimes give us a little wiggle room in how lines are written while still staying true to the intent of the writers. By the same token, we also have to be wary of scenes where voices must match specific timing and character movements.
Pamela: We make sure to faithfully transport dialogue and mood in quests, especially the main scenario, whereas item descriptions allow for more freedom. Character dialogue is all about creative writing, while action tooltips have to follow a specific format and need to be clear as well as easy to understand.
The approach stays the same either way: our goal is to immerse players thoroughly in the world of FINAL FANTASY XIV and to create a relationship to every facet of the game. The main scenario is supposed to make you root for certain characters, while Triple Triad needs to offer a relaxing respite from an adventurer's life. As such, our approach is mainly to adapt our style from content to content, to create a multifaceted experience.
▲ Character dialogue and action descriptions each require different styles of writing.
Odilon: It sounds obvious but we don't approach dubbed dialogue the same way as tutorials or job actions. Some elements in the game have very specific syntax rules, where some are more open to creativity. FFXIV will soon reach its 9-year anniversary since the release of A Realm Reborn, and with its cast of colorful characters─all of which have different speech patterns─a lot of our time is spent studying past occurrences and trying to maintain coherent writing between the dozen or so translators who have contributed to the game since its inception.
Hama: I can see why it'd be important to inspect for consistency, since you're not translating on your own but as a team.
That concludes the first part of our interview with the Localization team. In the second half, we'll be talking about their favorite moments in the game and what motivates them to work in localization!
- Promotional team
Previous Editions of FFXIV Backstage Investigators
・ (No. 1): Main Scenario Writer Banri Oda
・ (No. 2): Lead Level Designer Arata Takahashi
・ (No. 3): Web Director Hiroyuki Takachi
・ (No. 4): Lead UI Artist Yoichi Seki
・ (No. 5): Character Concept Artist Hiroyuki Nagamine
・ (No. 6): Community Planner Takeshi Kato
・ (No. 7): Lead Technical Artist Tatsuya Okahisa
・ (No. 8): VFX Artist Takayasu Ishii