In the Legend of Zelda: Windwaker, Ganon makes a rather somber speech at the start of the final confrontation. I remembered it from years ago, but came across a lovely fan comic that illustrated the speech itself on tumblr It made me curious as to whether what he said in Japanese was as poetic or in-depth.
So, here it is:
My country was within a desert.
The wind that blew over Hyrule,
I suppose I sought that wind…
My country lay within a vast desert.
But the winds that blew across the green
I coveted that wind, I suppose.
As you can see from the above, the localized English is significantly longer! Though the literal meaning is still there, it is presented in a much more thoughtful way, you could say. There are more adjectives involved than the Japanese version among other things, such as in the line: “a burning wind punished my lands, searing the world.” The Japanese equivalent line is simply “The scorching wind under the sun [while it was up],” and then he goes on to talk about the moon. English added his likely implied emotion, “punished” as opposed to simply being a “scorching/searing” wind. These subtleties go a long way in translation and conveying meaning for sure, however!
“And when the moon climbed into the dark of night, a frigid gale pierced our homes.” as opposed to “The dreary wind as the moon climbed…” in Japanese. Once again, the English has much more suffering and like it was a punishment for some circumstance, rather than simply how it was.
One can argue, however, that the nuance that is lost in translation is that Japanese uses a lot of implication rather than English that uses a more direct approach. The only issue with that is that it boils down to one’s interpretation of the text. That interpretation then goes on to become what the general audience sees, and so things (especially nuances) can get lost in translation like a game of telephone.
Of course, the important part is the overall meaning still got through. (Country in desert, sun is hot, moon/night was torture, the wind brought death, but Hyrule wind is awesome and sought after).
In that sense, the objective of translating is complete. Localization does not really have any role here, as there is nothing exactly being “localized.” The changes, with the high vocabulary (“coveted”, for instance) do more in terms of simply changing the character (or the audience’s impressions of the character) rather than the meaning. That’s a generally acceptable practice and sometimes serves to make the character even better. (Though, there are circumstances where it makes the character more questionable…)
Lastly, I figure that Ganon’s sort of “noble” tone came from his use of the pronoun ワシ (washi, used by elderly men most of the time) which comes with the implication of having wised up over the years. It does sometimes carry a condescending tone with it (from older and experienced to the younger and so more “inexperienced”) but it may explain why they chose to use higher vocabulary as a result, too. In Japanese, his vocabulary is rather straightforward in contrast. Considering the audience it is geared toward, seeing Ganon use his relatively advanced dialogue was probably how the localizers figured they could convey the “washi” feeling in English (as, of course, English would not convey it through “I”).
In the end, Ganon is lamenting the same thing –just expressing it differently.
And that’s that. If you would like to see more of these sort of brief comparisons, feel free to leave a comment or suggestion (or email me under “Contact”).