Being on a budget is hard. It’s a statement that I don’t think will prove to be controversial by itself and one that I feel a lot of people can relate to. Having ten, twenty or perhaps even thirty dollars and having to manage it so they last me the week or longer is something that I never thought of as fun. Necessary, sure, but fun? Not really. As a translator Excel sheets are a large part of my work environment, when I’m not translating by hand on pen and paper (something rarely done anymore) the expected setup of my work is source text on the left column, a space in the cell for the translation on the right one, rows corresponding and yet the kind of Excel book where I log all of my finances and expenses still manage to fill me with the sort of anxiety I normally reserve for Sonic stages when underwater and the timer counts down the seconds until I drown.
It’s something I never did consider when growing up. It should have been obvious, considering my mum had often to make a chicken carcass lasts us for two days of food and that I often heard my parents arguing about money, their faces scrunched up as they made calculations in a way I now recognise on my own face but at the time it really wasn’t. I was perhaps shielded the worst of it, or perhaps I decided not to look too deeply into it because it would make me feel bad but it’s something that I look back on with shame nowadays. Not that we were poor, one of thousands of families living paycheck to paycheck and who were an unexpected expense away from having to borrow money but how bratty, donwright terrible I was when I demanded an used video-game and got no as an answer.
Yes my rhetoric of “if you can’t give ten euros once a month to get me a new game then we really ARE poor” makes me blush and stand uncomfortably on edge, almost as if sitting on a wet bench because the truth was, we were poor. Often late on bills, without internet for most of my life, still playing the original Playstation and Dreamcast when the Playstation 3 was finishing up its lifecycle and a DS Lite and a copy of Pokemon Mistery Dungeon: Blue Rescue Team being something my parents clearly had to budget around for months when they finally got me a DS.
Living in such conditions however has tailored and shaped my behavior and not just because it gave me an appreciation for canned goods and cheap pasta. No, something that it did to was make it so a lot of my experience with games came not in the form of a brand new 60 dollar video game I had been looking forward to and saving up to for months (I wouldn’t get a game full price until I was an adult, doing it for Crash Bandicoot: The N-sane Trilogy out of my own pocket) but rather game demos. Game demos and free flash games on sites like Newgrounds dot com were about ninety percent of what I played, always eager to try new things and experience new genres and though they were by definition vertical slices of a game, limited experiences with a clear start and end meant to entice me to want the full game oftentimes I got my fill by replaying the demo a hundred times over.
It was a cheap alternative, one that was cheaper still than getting “new” used games and one that I still hold dearly to my heart. Every month I would save up what I could – the few cents after paying for lunch at school, the one or two coins for helping my grandma do chores, whatever I could scrunge up and get the new gaming magazines which often times had a free pc game, or, if dedicated to a console a series of game demos. Small as I was and overager to spend my money without counting it first I am quite certain that often times it wasn’t enough, and realising that in adulthood it makes me feel even more warmly for my parents who no doubt added the missing coins on those €4.99 and €5.99 purchases.
But you know old habits die hard and when faced with a limited budget where even my morning coffee had to be compensated somewhere else, those 60 cents having to be accounted for even the great bundle deals that can be found every other week figured a bit too expensive for me and so I opened Twitter and searched for demos of games that would interest me. It was something I did on occasion anyway, when the literal hundreds of games I owned on Steam/Ps4 lost their shine and I craved something new, something other than the same 10-15 games I tended to repeat replaying for dozens of hours but while usually those short demos I found and donwloaded would entertain me for 20 minutes or so and I’d soon move over to entertaining myself with Youtube videos instead that was not the case
Shrine’s Legacy – A story that more than meets the eye
It was something that happened while I was mindlessly scrolling through Twitter. Following as I do a dozen gaming personalities and smaller websites which give a focus to new indie developers without the repertoire of a huge list of successeful games in their name when I first saw glimpses of Shrine’s Legacy. My tired eyes blinked, and I actually put on my glasses which sat at the desk by my side as I had been scrolling through my phone without them so as to get a better look. The little 5 second gif showcasing some gameplay played on my phone’s screen a dozen times, Twitter automatically looping GIF images and I stood there, transfixed for a few moments trying to decide if it was worth the download.
It was an easy decision, even more so because it came recommended by friends who had left some warm words on it after retweeting the series of images. Looking at the characters there was something inherently familiar to them, something I couldn’t quite put my finger on but that reminded me of good times I’d had.
Spotted it yet? I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t. It was something that took me several minutes of playing to realise because I was having fun slashing at things and enjoying the “swoosh” my sword (really a stick at that point) made.
It’s a mixture of several sprite styles of games I greatly enjoy. Most obviously there’s Stardew Valley, a game which I have to fight myself not to play because I know once I start I won’t stop until I’ve put at least 8 or 9 hours into it a day but there is also so much more. Thoughts of games like Terranigma, Chrono Trigger and Secret of Mana passed through my head and it wasn’t until I was looking at the screenshots to write this article that I figured out why, the sprites are taller than they are wider!
It seems like such an obvious observation that I worry you will think me a bit daft but it’s the truth, lanky characters, sort of built to be tall rather than wide with big heads are a style I haven’t seen emulated often, or at least one I haven’t seen emulated well very often and so I fully blame it for getting me to download the game.
Not that I was mad for long because the truth is that Shrine’s Legacy quickly became fun for me, starting in a quiet, idyllic village before things go wrong it quickly made itself a presence in my head with its quirky characters and with its often charming narrative. It is something that we don’t think a game needs, not when its merits should be in gameplay, but the fact was as the story progressed (until it stopped, as this is only a demo) a kind of companionship became clear between the characters.
They’re not overly complex, Rio the main character (in what is sure to be confusing if you speak Portuguese as Rio means river) is a good guy who has no idea of what he’s gotten himself into but wants to do the right thing. He saw a friend of his be taken and hurt by the big bad tm and wants to correct it. He’s filled with a desire for justice, a righteous fury and very fixed ideas on what’s good and evil…And he’s also kind of a dork.
Sure, he might be a descendant of a great hero, he might have been sword fighting all his life and he can even have discovered the ability to use magic for the first time but it’s pretty clear that while he thought of doing something more, being more than a village kid now that he’s gotten the chance he’s way out of his depth. Fighting monsters is exciting yes, but it’s also scary, and what’s to say about the traps? Or being hit by magic bolts?
Really this contrasts greatly to the other main character who is mysterious and has a dark troubled past she’d rather not get into but shows she’s clearly adept at magic and blade fighting. It’s something that jumps at you from the get go, inscribed even in the most minute of details of her dialogue and while the demo doesn’t provide full answers as she and Rio start to become friends some threads to come unraveled to reveal some clues.
Flavor text, it sort of has to be there but the truth is that a vast majority of players won’t ever care enough to trigger it or read it. How many will take the time to, before going on a goal, speak with the villagers in an area, or the npc in the overworld to gather more lore and details about what’s going on? Not many I would expect and at the same time they are sorta required to be there. Empty villages, full of husks who won’t speak would be more creepy than endearing and a little goes a long way in making the world feel alive and welcoming.
It’s the kid complainnig about having to do work or the character running around jogging. The overworked mother just sitting in a chair because her kid is playing outside and she can rest and relax for a bit, all those little character moments which put a smile on your face and make you care for the world you’re about to save were something I took the time to get and know my second time playing through the demo.
As a translator of course, I cannot turn my mind off the idea of how I would localise something when I am experiencing a movie, book or any sort of story. It’s a switch that’s present in any translator and after an enjoyable first run of the demo where I missed most secrets and was severely underleved and underequipped to deal with dungeons as I played through a second time taking the time to explore the desire to write about some translation difficulties grew in me more and more. It’s silly, and maybe obtuse that that is what I choose to focus on rather than the excellent gameplay which kept me coming back and which was styled after, appropriately enough The secret of mana as well as a bit of A link to the Past but as I found secret after secret and talked to ever more creative characters I started noting. So…here we are. All examples are from the introductory part of the game, by the way because while there are a lot more difficulties later on, I feel it important to not spoil the surprises that await you should you be playing this for yourself…
What and How to translate – Localising troubles in the Shrine’s Legacy Demo (or at least the first 20 minutes of it)
I will start with an observation. Rather than it being particularly difficult to translate it, instead is a bit time consuming. It’s nothing too annoying, but rather it’s something that speaks to the developer’s hindsight at how things should be.
Imagine you’re playing an old rpg and you reach a town that’s being held hostage by an evil wizard. You talk to the people in the town, who are hiding from the presence of that very evil wizard and their dialogue is all variations of the same thing “We need help! Won’t someone do anything to stop the evil wizard?” or “Ever since the wizard came into town everything’s gone horrid, when will it end?”, it is blatantly clear that you’re supposed to scare the wizard away or, if worse comes to shove, kill him. As you finally do that, you return to the characters expecting to hear congratulations and what do the characters in their houses still say? “Why won’t anyone stop the wizard?”
It’s a trope on TV Tropes called “Welcome to Corneria” and now that I have lost half of you to that website (which will totally ruin your life by the way) it is also something that is somewhat distracting. Often times dialogue, i.e “strings” won’t change to reflect the events of the story, but that is not something that’s a problem in Shrine’s Legacy. Imagine for instance you are being blocked of by a story goal – someone stole your sword. While earlier the same blocked off path would be blocked with another reason why you can’t wander off before you’re ready, the dialogue will change to indicate the reason why you should not go that way.
What does this means? It means that the player will experience less whiplash after accomplishing something important because the world will treat it as a big deal and not ignore what they have done, but it also means the translator will likely have two or three times the strings to translate. If every (or even most) characters react to story progression then they will have a variety of comments to make. It’s not that “I can’t let her get away with my sword!” is a hard segment to translate, my mind immediately conjured half a dozen alternatives all equally valid, but it’s something that takes time. Not boring, not hard, just time consuming.
But let’s start with one of the main problems with the translation, Reima. Now as I’ve mentioned before Reima has a past shrouded in mystery that has affected her behavior. She’s distrustful, quiet, introverted and doesn’t share much but when it comes to the times she talks there are a few particularities with her speech. Take for instance the first time she says anything:
This is Reima talking to herself, as indicated by the “(“, it is supposed, I feel to read like a monologue, her inner voice and yet even then she sticks to her particular way of speaking.
I don’t know if you’ve noticed it or not, but let me give the game away; Reima doesn’t use contraptions, it’s something that you notice early on if you have a keen eye, or if you’re a translator and it’s something that weights on your mind as you play the game. She doesn’t say that they’ve got to do something, or don’t do that, or even that they can’t let something happen, no, she says that they have got do something, do not do that thing, and that they cannot let something happen.
It’s an interesting thing to note because lack of contraptions has been used in the past to indicate a variety of things, things that hopefully you as a translator can deduce or are told by the developers but that, as I only have access to the demo I have to try and guess at.
Obviously were I the one translating the game, I would have access to more than the demo, I would have access to the complete script of the game which I would read before even attempting to translate so this is an exercise in futility, an exercise more done so as to present a possibility than something that should be seriously considered but here are the options.
Refusing to contract words can mean:
Nobility, or a higher social stand – There is every possibility that Reima is of noble upbring, taught how to read and write and speak “correctly” without falling into the trap of talking like a “mere” commoner. To purposefully use language as a way to feel superior and better than others is something sadly common throughout our history and Reima could herself be descendant of a noble family fled when she saw how poorly their treated others and how wrong their world view was.
Lack of education and resources or being a foreigner – Ironically enough the synthetic, artificial way in which she builds her language can indicate just the opposite! Not that she’s of noble heritage and has been taught to look down at others but rather that she’s poor, perhaps a thief or daughter to scoundrels or from far away lands and she has learned to speak the language not through usage – not through hearing it being spoken but through learning it without exposure. This Reima would come not from manors or castles, but rather some forgotten land, perhaps one already razed by the big bad guy tm.
Why does it matter? it matters because while we are basing ourselves on the original dialogue, of course, and we aren’t about to invent a backstory that’s not there I have previously said that translation is an act of interpretation and creation. Now this doesn’t mean we would be completely changing her dialogue, but it would mean that whether she’s of noble stock (hate that word) or she’s lived in misery most of her life would at least influence her how she speaks a bit. I’ve talked before about the idea of an idiolect and one of the area it links up to is, precisely sociolinguistics and sociolects.
It should definitively be reflected in the text, but here the difference would be whether she uses mostly high register variations of words, or whether she uses outdated, barely understood ones, often ignoring context. This doesn’t mean that a “COME ON” rather than a “C’mon” will be translated as “proceed forth” or “forward go ” but it does mean that it should be taken into consideration.
Hiya! Ya’ll! Somesuch! Howdy! And jinkies! Expressions that can be clearly understood to mean something but due to the fact that they’re more exclamations than actual words will need to be adapted.
This is a problem with many of the villagers in Shrine’s Legacy. Using coloquialisms such as “ya’ll” or greeting you with an exclamation such as “Hiya” adds character but it does make it so the translator is faced with the task of actually figuring out how to adapt them.
Consider for instance “Ya’ll”, now Portuguese does have an equivalent to “ya’ll” in the form of the of the second plural form “Vós”. It’s an outdated and quickly running out of use in communication form but it’s still standardised and present. It’s meaning? It literally means you but it refers to a variety of you. So “you all”, or “ya’ll”.
What’s the problem then if there’s an exact word here? The problem is that Ya’ll isn’t something anyone who speaks English uses because they lack a plural form of you that’s standardised as such in their grammar, but rather strongly associated with certain cultures and stereotypes. “Ya’ll” is something the southern sheriff says in the Old West as he greets familiar faces at the town’s bar. “Ya’ll” is something said by the southerner in the Southern States of the United States as he chews on his tobacco and refers to a group of strangers. Stereotypes aside it has a very pointendly and coded indication on where and how it’s typically used, at least when it comes to fiction.
I’m not saying that “ya’ll” isn’t something useful that a gentlemen or gentlewoman can use at any one time, I’ve had lecturers at my university use it, and doesn’t the idea of a british man, well groomed and in his 50 with a phd using it kind of goes against the “redneck” stereotype? But I cannot just ignore that there are certain expectations placed upon characters that use it.
Ignoring the potencial to, due to a variety of political and ideological reasons, paint such characters as malicious when all they’ve said is the equivalent of “Hi, how is everyone” that is something that must be reflected in the translation. Portuguese does not have a direct equivalent to the “uneducated Southerner”, while there are entire regions of the country which rely on agriculture and the raising of cattle to survive, even to this day our stereotypes about them are different. Polite, soft spoken and also very very lazy. When the weather can get into the 100f (or roughly 38 Celsius) during those summer afternoons they are known to rest and take a nap, be slow to respond, and do so with half closed eyes. Though historically less educated than the people in most major cities near the ocean it is not exactly a match for the hardworkin southern folks stereotype is it?
Then again, maybe stereotypes are something you don’t want to perpetuate or bring attention to. Perhaps you feel that it is your duty as a translator to not further participate in the spread of such things. It is something that must be discussed with the developer, not an option to be taken lightly or alone, but it is very possible possible that the translator doesn’t feel comfortable turning a “howdy” anda “ya’ll” into an old west character, other options can be taken.
That’s the thing about translation, nothing is done automatically (ideally, of course) and all decisions are thought through but different translators will have different options. So why someone would interpret that “heya” as an equivalent to a very loud and excited greeting others might just put in what amounts to a “welcome” or “hello”, and both options are equally as valid.
Last one for today, but how do you translate Village? It is such an innocent question, and yet it is one of those “easy questions” that a lot of translation students get wrong.
According to grammarly villages refers to “a group of buildings. That’s exactly what a village is—a small community in a rural area” this makes sense within the context we see in the game, it’s merely half a dozen buildings in the middle of a wooden area, everyone knows each other…that’s a village right?
But then you come into Portuguese and you are faced with a problem. Let’s leave out “cidade” which would translate to town/city, for that is far too big a term for those few buildings. See while aldeias which are generally the three or four street wide settlements in the middle of the field sustaining themselves on a single economic activity (be it fishing or field work) would seem to be the correct one, you also have to look at Vila.
Now Villager to Vila you can see how the mind would automatically make the association, right? Vilas usually start out as aldeias then they grow over the years. That is to say some vilas are massive and even the smaller ones are substancially bigger than Aldeias, for instance, here’s one where I used to live in…
Beauty of the town aside it is a distinction that needs to be made. Vilas (and let me now stress that it has nothing as a term to do with luxury condos) would be the equivalent of towns in English, if you assume towns to be smaller than full on cities.
In fact in Portugal there’s some requirements for a village to become a town, or an aldeia to become a vila I should say:
More than 3000 eligible voters (which translates into more than 3000 adults)
And at least half of these:
A healthcare center
A Casa do Povo (or a Casa dos Pescadores) – a common meeting place where cultural activities are organised – such as dance groups, chess lessons, language teaching cooking lessons with a strong social component so as to represent and unite the people who live within the town
Be served by a public transport system (often buses)
A mail outpost
A mall and or an hotel
So really while there should be no doubt that what Yuril Village is is in fact an aldeia this is one of those mistakes I see very very often, because translators read “village” and immediately think of “vila”. It’s not a hard thing to correct, but it requires attention.
The “selling out” part
Although this post was in no way sponsored or influenced by the Developers I feel pressed to admit that I am hopeful the game succeeds. This is in part due to the fact that I have joined the Discord for the game and so have made friends with the developers and the community they built but mostly, and in large part, because while I have not exactly discussed much of the gameplay, it is still fun and polished in a way not many games are at this stage.
Tucking them away at the bottom might seem like a bad idea if I am to try and bring futher exposition to their work but this is how I usually do stuff, and I feel to maintain myself to a degree of standardization to be important. All I can say is that I do recommend Shrine’s Legacy, and given the demo is free and easily completable in less than two hours I think you’re not losing much if you choose to play it.
With that said you can find Shrine’s Legacy on Twitter , the Kickstarter pre-launch page here and you can download the free demo from here. At the risk of further sounding like a shill, it has quickly become one of those games you hear about years before they’re released and that you try to catch glimpses and information about before it comes out. Sure, a Twitter is much easier to bother the devs in than reading about it in gaming magazines but still, it is something to look forward to! And hey, if you’re already on Twitter, why not follow me too? Not only do I not bite but I also share cute animals and video game related factoids often!