• 3 June 2023

FINAL FANTASY Pixel Remaster Localization Team Special Interview! Part 1

The FINAL FANTASY Pixel Remaster series brings all the magic of the first six FINAL FANTASY games to you with quality-of-life upgrades, while staying faithful to the retro design of the original masterpieces! While these titles had all received localizations before, a number of changes were implemented for the pixel remasters. Now that the PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch versions are available, we spoke with the titles’ localization team to get some insight into how they approached remastering the localization of these classic FINAL FANTASY games!

In part 1, we ask about the localization process overall, including how working on remasters differs from other titles, how the team chose what extent to deviate from the original scripts, the challenge of working on six full titles and more!

- Paula Kaye Gerhold (Lead English Translator)
- Dan Gidion (English Translator)
- Yusuke Haruguchi (Localization Project Manager)

●What makes localizing remasters different from a total rehaul of an existing title, like FFVII REMAKE for example? Also, how many people were involved in the localization of the pixel remasters?

There are so many different ways to do a project that it's hard to say definitively, but you could consider something a "remake" if it updates its graphics from 2D to 3D, or remodels the characters, or redoes the design of the game. Basically, it refers to a title that uses modernized tools to completely re-fashion something from scratch or make large-scale changes. A "remaster," on the other hand, generally tries to create the same gaming experience as the original, just with newer graphics, or higher resolution, or making use of some other improved developmental medium.

Localization of these types of games can be considered similarly. For instance, for the FINAL FANTASY Pixel Remaster series, our goal was to retain the nostalgic feel of the original games. We used existing translations where possible and avoided retranslating expansive portions of the text so as to preserve the lines fans know and love. But we also wanted to update the script to make sure that it reflected current standards. Of course, each language team used their own discretion on how and what to change, and some languages received localizations for the first time with this remaster. Our answers in this interview will generally reference the English translations.

Besides Japanese, we were localizing into eleven languages, which is a lot for a single project. We split these languages into two groups of people handling them. I led the three-person project management team that handled six of the localized languages: English, French, Italian, German, Spanish, and Korean. Each of those were generally handled by one translator per language. Several of the other languages were translated from the English text, which meant that the English versions of the scripts had to be completed as fast as possible. So for English, we started with two translators to speed up the revision process. These two were, of course, Paula and Dan, who are also here for this interview!

FFI through FFVI have received multiple ports over the years with tweaks to both the original Japanese scripts and localizations along the way. Which versions did you reference for the pixel remasters?

The answer differs depending on the language, so I’ll answer for English specifically. We started with the Gameboy Advance and smartphone ports of the original pixel graphic versions of the games as our base text. These had already been remastered in some respects and included updated story scripts. FINAL FANTASY III was the only title that hadn't received a translation of the original game, just the 3D remake, so that one needed a new translation. We were, however, able to use many of the same character and ability names from the 3D remake in this new version, but the rest of the text is almost all new.

●What is the process like for deciding which version of a line to use, or to rewrite it entirely? Is it mainly up to a single translator or more of a collaborative process?

As Yusuke mentioned, the FINAL FANTASY pixel remasters used the Gameboy Advance translations as the base for the majority of the games, with the exception of FINAL FANTASY III. So rather than switching between translated versions, we went into the project looking to use the GBA script and updating it from there. By “update,” I mean that we looked at both the content of the actual translation and the style of the text. Over the years, the Localization Division has created style guidelines and typographical rules for our translators to give us a baseline for how to write out our translations—including uniform spellings, conventions for writing dialects in dialog, standardized punctuation, and more. We were able to bring these six titles in line with our current standards for English translations, as well as ensure that they’re updated for the times.

As for the process, how much to change and how to go about doing it are generally discussed within the members of the project, and then implemented into the script by the translators. Each game requires a different approach when it comes to their script. Remakes can be especially difficult to determine where the line between legacy and modernity falls. In the case of the pixel remasters, just like the programmers worked hard to have the game retain a graphically nostalgic feel, we gave top priority to preserving the beloved script for fans new and old, rather than giving the original games an entirely new spin.

Mixing in dialogue from the different translations of each game was never a consideration. The original NES and SNES versions of these titles have so many lines that have developed a cult status to them over the years, and the various remakes and ports have excellent translations of their own. For the pixel remasters we aimed to stay true to the text that we were using as the base. While I’m sure some players would get a kick out of seeing lines from one of the SNES localizations, if we started replacing certain parts with cherry-picked alternatives, it would be a disservice to both translations, and the result would be a mish-mash with no distinct identity of its own.

I went into this project with the mindset that I wasn’t going to change anything that didn’t require it. We’re performing a bit of a balancing act where we’re trying to give the old FF heads the nostalgia hit they came for, while also not alienating newer players who want to discover the series’ roots. We looked at the text in these games and examined every single line to decide if it was okay as is or needed changing. We were asking whether a sneaky pop culture reference is still relevant today, if the meaning and usage of words or expressions have shifted over the years to take on a different nuance, or whether certain viewpoints are still accepted or not. Depending on the answers to these questions, sometimes it’s clear that a full rewrite of a line is necessary, and other times a small edit will suffice. But for the most part, players will find that the text is the same as they remember.

With that said, there’s still a case to be made for bringing a bit of subjectivity to the process. So we were prepared to make minor tweaks even if the text didn’t strictly require it, but only if we felt it would enhance the line and improve the experience.

●We’ve heard in previous FF Portal interviews that recent game development has the localization team working closely with the development team – how was that for the pixel remasters? Were there any major differences in that sense compared to a non-remaster or standalone title?

First off, we make sure to have close communication with the various development teams no matter what genre or type of game it is that we localize. It's extremely important to build a smooth, cooperative relationship between all facets of the game development process in order to create a top-quality production in the end.

That being said, and as I mentioned earlier, for remastered titles the game already exists in some form, so you can play the original and get a feel for it. It's also comparatively easier for developers to share their vision of what they’ll be doing with the remastered version with the rest of us. That's one of the merits of working on a remastered title. But for both remakes and new titles, it can be difficult to localize a game effectively until the mechanics or story are finalized. This is hard to do if the development team is working on it at the same time we’re trying to localize it. For that reason, localization teams need constant updates from the developers as they work on games other than remasters. Working closely with the team and meeting for face-to-face discussion is even more important than it usually is.

But back to localizing this specific title. We began work on the pixel remasters at almost the exact same time that COVID began shutting things down around the world. We had to shift everything to a remote work environment, which made it impossible to meet face-to-face with the development team. (This was a problem for many projects at that point in time.) We were all worried about how the change would affect the project, but looking back on it, I think that everyone was very diligent in our communication to make up for our physical distance from each other. We also had to take care of the multilingual vocal recordings for the opera scene in FFVI remotely. That's recording sessions for three characters per each of the seven sung languages. There were so many instances where we could have had big problems, but it was obvious that all of us team members worked very hard to overcome the separation. You could say that it brought us all closer emotionally.

●The FINAL FANTASY Pixel Remaster series consists of not just one game, but six – what effect did that have on the overall flow of localizing this project compared to others?

As many fans will already be aware, FFIII received a brand-new localization, while the other five games used existing translations as a base. The processes for reviewing existing text and translating from scratch are quite different. For FFIII we used a similar method to most other games we localize, with a few tweaks due to the relatively low volume of text. Paula was the sole translator, and when her translation was complete we did a round of cross-checking together that included plenty of back-and-forth while we thrashed out exactly how we wanted to handle certain situations. Once we had our final draft, we handed over to the vastly experienced Tim Law from Olive Jirushi for an editing pass. He made sure that we’d dotted all our i’s and crossed all our t’s, that we had each character portrayed consistently, that there were no continuity errors, and things of that nature, which left us with the final translation you see in the game.

For the rest of the titles, we were working with text that had already been through that process, so it was more a case of bringing it up to our modern standards, as Paula mentioned earlier. Both of us still checked the text for every game just to make sure nothing slipped through the cracks.

Luckily, we already had several versions of game text to look through and actual copies of the games to play for context at the outset of the project. With newer games, we aren’t always given the luxury of a completed game in Japanese before we begin the localization process. For the first six FINAL FANTASY games, we had a plethora of information to work with while going through the scripts. Though the volume of text to comb through and fix up was quite large with six full games to work on at the same time, we were at least able to familiarize ourselves extensively during the entire production.

With a remaster, you start out with the story text being mostly finished at the beginning of the project. Obviously, the development team was working on one game title at a time. The workflow on the localization side goes all the way from initial translation to quality assurance testing, so we worked on the titles as the developers readied them for us. I remember that because of the frequency of emails talking about all six games, we had to use Arabic numbers instead of the traditional Roman numerals so that we wouldn't mistype or misread the titles and get confused. (LOL)

Thank you for your time today!

Check out the continuation of our special interview, where we inquire in more detail, including why certain dialogue was changed or not, which lines presented a challenge and more at the link below!