With KH3 right around the corner, I thought it would be a good exercise to try typing up the Japanese and English text of KH1 side by side, not only to refresh myself on the series’ lore and storyline, but also to see if I could learn anything from the translation that I could use to improve my own work. In the process, I made some observations that I hope might also benefit fellow translators, or perhaps be of interest to KH enthusiasts. I’ll be posting my notes here while also attaching the entire text dump in an excel sheet for others to peruse and use for their own projects, if they so desire.
In order to make my observations more accessible to those who might not know much Japanese, I’ve added my own fairly literal translations of the few lines I’ve pulled for comparison in my notes. To that end, in the interest of staving off any undue negative critiques of the official translation, allow me to insert this disclaimer:
You will find many differences between the literal and official English text, but this does not mean that the official translation is wrong. In fact, it was handled quite spectacularly. Literal translations can be a good tool for putting the differences between two languages’ sentence structure and idea formation into sharp contrast, which can help people further understand a foreign language and culture. That said, it’s quite a far stretch from being entertaining and fun to read, and it makes it much harder for average people to engage with it. (For more in-depth writing on information load and translation theory, see this link.) And the fact is that most games aim to reach the widest audience possible in order to be more profitable. Of course, “fun to read” is itself incredibly subjective! There’s no such thing as the One Perfect Translation to end all translations. If you give the same line to ten translators, chances are you’ll get ten different translations back, with each translator’s understanding of the text, writing style, and intended purpose/audience for the translation varying. There are many translations, but they all share the same passion—one passion, one destiny.
In any case, before I get too far off track, this is all to say that for the purpose of translating entertainment media, a more natural translation like that of KH1 is usually desirable. And this project aims to be a stepping stone towards achieving that style of translation.
Therefore, without further ado…
I’ve split up my notes into four sections: general translation strategies that I picked up on, a list of how some common Japanese phrases were handled, lines that really stood out to me, and general observations touching more on the game’s lore/interesting tidbits I found in the Japanese.
General translation strategies
Avoiding repeating words or similar-sounding lines:
|The power you have obtained – that is the power to fight.||You’ve gained the power to fight.|
|おまえには何もわかるまい おまえは何も知らない||You don’t understand anything.
You don’t know anything.
|There is so very much to learn. You understand so little.|
|Well done, well done! You’re pretty good.||Splendid. You’re quite the hero.|
|何にも知らなくて悪かったな。何にも知らないけどな、それでも俺たちは行かなきゃならないんだよ！||Well sorry for not knowing anything. We don’t know anything, but we still have to go!||There’s a lot we don’t know. So what! We have to use the gummi ship to go to other worlds. We don’t have a choice.|
|I’ve been looking for you and Kairi, too, along with these guys. / Along with…?||I’ve been looking for you and Kairi, too, with their help. / Who are they?|
|But don’t be afraid. Your heart is a weapon that’s stronger than anything. So don’t be afraid. The one who will open the door to light is you…||But don’t be afraid. Your heart is the mightiest weapon of all. Remember, you are the one who will open the door to the light.|
Avoiding using katakana words verbatim in translation (or rather, feeling free to use other words):
|Don’t get involved. This is my game.||Who invited you to the party? Stay out of this. This is my show.|
|やれやれ…では泳ぎ方をコーチしてやるとするか。||Good grief… Then I’ll coach you on how to swim, I guess.||Easy for you to say… Okay, it’s time you learn how to swim properly.|
Rewriting “*name*…!” or “……” into a full sentence that fits the scene:
|Just watch and see if I’m fit to be a hero! / Kid…!||You can decide if I’m hero material or not. / Careful, kid!|
|……||……||Here we go again…|
Getting rid of unnecessary quotation marks:
|『ルール１１ これは試合（ゲーム）だ 結果を気にせずぶちあたれ』||“Rule 11 It’s a match (game). Dive right in without worrying about the results.”||Rule 11: It’s all just a game, so let loose and have fun with it!|
|ゲームの”結果„がどうなろうと 気にするこたァない||Don’t worry about how the game’s “results” turn out.||I mean, a casualty or two along the way is no big deal, right?|
|よってここにソラ ドナルド グーフィー ３名を”英雄の卵„と認め———||And so, here, I recognize the three names of Sora, Donald, and Goofy as “budding heroes”…||Thus, I do hereby dub thee junior heroes,|
|この子も”召喚石„になってしまったのね…||This child also ended up turning into a “summon stone”…||He has turned into a summon gem.|
|”鍵穴„か…前にどこかで そんな話を聞いたような…||“Keyhole” huh? I feel like I’ve heard that somewhere before…||Keyhole, eh? I could swear I’ve heard about that somewhere before…|
|王様は『鍵を持つ者と一緒に行動せよ』って言ったんだ||The King said, “act along with the one who holds the key.”||The king told us to go out and find the key bearer, and we found you.|
Switching phrasing around to sound more natural/flow better:
|The one who will open the door, is you…||You are the one who will open the door.|
|Okaaay, then… Gonna do it? / The usual, right!||Hey, how ’bout… The usual? / Let’s do it!|
|The worlds had never intersected until now, so no one knew.||They’ve been secret because they’ve never been connected. Until now.|
|さっきの騒動の後始末があるから——— 大会が開かれるのは しばらく先になりそうだ||I have to clean up after that tussle earlier, so…looks like it’ll be a while before the tournament opens.||There ain’t gonna be any games for a while. Gotta clean up the mess from that last battle first.|
|その光もまた 闇に溶けるのだ 無知なる心よ
|That light also will melt into the darkness. O ignorant heart, go sleep within the darkness!||So you have come this far and still you understand nothing. Every light must fade, every heart return to darkness!|
Adding lines to clarify or aid the flow of a conversation, or add personality:
|Someone who knows nothing, no matter what they look at… Yes. They won’t understand anything.||A meaningless effort. One who knows nothing can understand nothing.|
あいつらをまくには——— 君がキーブレードを手放すか——— おまえの心を隠す必要があった
|Yeah, it was a little rough, but to give them the slip…we needed to either have you let go of the keyblade or hide your heart.||Yeah, we had to get it away from you to shake off those creatures. It turns out that’s how they were tracking you. It was the only way to conceal your heart from them.|
|ああそうとも！おまえの契約は大会本選で ヘラクレスの息の根を止めることだ||Yeah, that’s exactly right! Your contract says to choke the life out of Hercules in the final round of the tournament.||I know! You think I don’t know? I wrote the contract! I know it says you’re only required to kill Hercules in this tournament.|
|I came in order to fight. I can accomplish things, even on my own. That is why I came here.||I came to fight for Belle. And though I am on my own, I will fight. I won’t leave without her. That’s why I’m here.|
|ああ もろいかもな でも
|Yeah, it might be weak. But my heart is connected to everyone. To precious people and precious friends!||Although my heart may be weak, it’s not alone. It’s grown with each new experience, and it’s found a home with all the friends I’ve made. I’ve become a part of their heart just as they’ve become a part of mine.|
|Open your heart to darkness. That alone is enough.||It’s really quite simple. Open yourself to the darkness. That is all.|
|It’s reacting. The princess’s heart! Sleeping inside you, Kairi’s heart!||The princess’s heart is responding. It has been there all along. Kairi’s heart rests within you!|
Rewriting lines to better fit the mood of the scene or convey a character’s personality:
|それがキミの選んだ力———||That is the power you have chosen…||Your path is set.|
|よっ ソラ！俺と勝負ッス||Hey Sora! Have a match with me!||Hey, Sora, you feel lucky today?|
|星の大海をなめるんじゃねえぞ！||Don’t underestimate the giant sea of stars!||Bunch of pinheads. Interspace ain’t no playground.|
|We walked together, talked together, did nothing at all…||And we’d take walks together, or play Pooh sticks…|
|Oh. That’s right. I haven’t eaten any honey yet today.||Just one small smackeral would taste very good right now.|
おまえよりも新しいともだちの方が大事なんだ でもね 心配することはないよ
|That child, you know… He treasures his new friends more than you. But there is nothing to worry about. Forget him and come with me.||Evidently, now he values them far more than he does you. You’re better off without that wretched boy. Now, think no more of him, and come with me.|
|愚かなる振る舞いはジャスミン姫も お喜びになるまいぞ||Jasmine would also not be pleased with such foolish behavior.||Back to your hole, street rat. I will not allow you to trouble the princess any more.|
|その不慣れな泳ぎ方ではな||With that unexperienced way you swim…||You don’t know your dorsal fin from your tail.|
|But…I want to travel with Sora. He’s my good friend, after all.||But I’m not gonna betray Sora, either, ’cause he’s become one of my best buddies after all we’ve been through together!|
Toning down stuttering:
|た た たいへんだ！
|It’s t-t-terrible! Don’t tell anyone!||We’ve got a problem, Goofy! But don’t tell anyone…|
Making passive sentences into active ones:
|力はカタチになり———||Power takes form…||If you give it form…|
Spelling out game terms in case players are unfamiliar with them:
|緑色のゲージはHPゲージです。||The green gauge is the HP gauge.||The green gauge displays your Hit Points (HP), or health.|
Ellipses are largely left out.
They are generally only used when a sentence is left unfinished, or when continuing sentences between dialogue boxes/subtitles. Though there are a few cases of full sentences ending with ellipses. When continuing a sentence between boxes/subtitles, there is no leading ellipsis and the first word is left in lowercase (if appropriate). When ellipses are used between words in the same sentence, there is no space between. (“Now…you’re…gonna…you’re gonna…”)
Also, as an aside, long dashes are used in the Japanese subtitles instead of ellipses. I’m curious if this helped the translators stay away from using too many ellipses, since dashes would look even weirder in English.
Translations of common phrases
|そうか 仕方がないようだな||I see. Then it seems it can’t be helped.||All right, then have it your way.|
|頼りないが仕方がない か||You’re unreliable, but it can’t be helped.||Well, I suppose beggars can’t be choosers.|
|ムムム…仕方ない。大会予選にエントリーしてやる。||Mmmrrrggh… It can’t be helped. I’ll enter you in the preliminaries.||Well… I guess so. We start
with the preliminaries!
|しかたないよ。彼をよその世界につれていったら…||It can’t be helped. If we bring him to another world…||But we can’t. If we take him to another world,|
|仕方のない子だ。||He’s a kid who can’t be helped.||He can be a naughty boy.|
|Well… Then it can’t be helped.||Oh, I see. In that case…|
|しかたない…||It can’t be helped…||I guess we have no choice.|
|しかたない||It can’t be helped.||(left untranslated)|
|な 何言って———||Wh-What’re you say–…?||Wha… Wait a minute…|
|あんた 何言ってるんだ？||You… What’re you saying?||Wh-What are you talking about?|
|What’re you saying! More importantly, Kairi is…||What are you talking about? We’ve gotta find Kairi!|
|What’re you saying? We finally met.||I hope not. Took forever to find you.|
|何言っているんだ だめだよ ウェンディはたいせつな人なんだから||What’re you saying? No way. Wendy’s important to me, so…||Are you crazy? There is no way I’m gonna leave Wendy there!|
|勝手にリクをあやつって何言ってるんだ！||What’re you saying, controlling Riku against his will!||Whoever you are, let Riku go!|
|アラジン、俺たちにまかせてよ。必ずジャスミンを助けるから。||Aladdin, leave it to us. We’ll definitely save Jasmine, so…||Aladdin, we’ll find Jasmine. I promise.|
|僕をだれだと思ってるんだ。このドナルドの魔法にまかせておきなさい！||Who do you think I am? Please leave it up to this Donald’s magic!||Not with my magic, we won’t. Just leave it to me.|
|俺たちにまかせてくれ！||Leave it to us!||We’ll take care of it.|
|負けないッス！||I won’t lose!||Alright, let’s go!|
|おまえには負けないぜ！||I won’t lose to you!||I’m gonna leave you in the dust.|
|いろんな魔法をおぼえたからもうドナルドにはまけないかな？||I’ve learned a lot of magic, so I wonder if I won’t lose to Donald anymore?||I think my magic is as good as Donald’s now.|
手にいれた > “attained” “learned” “obtained”
無駄だ > It’s no use. \ Don’t bother. \ It is futile.
Lines that stood out
|ねえドナルド 僕の考えではきっと——— /
|Hey Donald, in my thoughts, I’m sure that… / That (Goofy’s thoughts) can’t be counted on. / Yeah, I guess that’s true.||Uh, Donald. Ya know, I betcha that… / Aw, what do you know, you big palooka? / What do I know?|
怖い顔 さみしい顔はダメ/ どうりで僕らの顔は面白いと思った /
|But you can’t ride on our ship the way you are now. Scary faces, lonely faces are no good. /
It’s no wonder I thought our faces are funny. /
Smiles are the ship’s energy.
|But you can’t come along looking like that. Understand? No frowning. No sad face. Okay? / Yeah, ya gotta look funny, like us! / This boat runs on happy faces.|
|見たかよ あの間抜け面||Did you see them? Those stupid faces?||Swoggle me eyes, they’re all bilge rats by the look of them.|
|いやいや 聞かなくったって 君の言いたい事はわかるさ||No, no… I know what you wanna say without having to ask.||Whoa, hold on there, fuzz boy. Wait, let me guess.|
|フン 亡者より陰気な奴め||Hmph. He’s gloomier than the dead.||Geez. Stiffer than the stiffs back home.|
|ワォ ピノキオじゃないか！||Wow! If it isn’t Pinocchio!||Well, well, as I live and breathe! If it isn’t Pinocchio!|
|まあ その トモダチだしね||Well, uh, we are friends and all.||Well, you know…
All for one and one for all.
|つながる心が 俺の力だ！||Connected heart(s) are my power!||I don’t need a weapon. My friends are my power!|
|世界が消えても 僕らの心は消えない||Even if the world disappears, our hearts won’t disappear.||Even if this place goes poof, our hearts ain’t goin’ nowhere.|
In the very beginning the line “僕はもう 戻れない” is left untranslated. It reveals that the voice in Sora’s heart is someone other than Sora (who uses the pronoun 俺); a boy who is unable to return somewhere. Initially I had assumed this might be Ventus (who uses 僕 at the very beginning of BbS, but then switches to 俺), but it turns out that the Kingdom Hearts Ultimania α book (and an interview with Nomura) confirms that this is in fact Mickey, who has just set off into the realm of Darkness to try to stop Ansem’s plot. In any case, I’m guessing this was left untranslated so that the voice remained a mystery and there’d be no chance of a mistranslation creating a plot hole. Space limitations might have also factored into it.
Each of the dream weapons has a negative aspect to it in Japanese. The staff will sacrifice your very soul. The sword hurts other people. The shield is cowardly. Perhaps these were left out in English due to a mixture of space limitations, the descriptions being deemed too dark for a game that’s partnered with Disney, and/or they just wanted the choices to sound more heroic.
Selphie speaks Kansai-ben! Also, there’s a wide range of speaking/writing styles ranging from Cid’s extra casual tone, to the classical Japanese used in Ansem’s writing on the terminals at The End of the World, not to mention tutorial/system text.
Maleficent mentions the door to darkness towards the beginning of the game in Japanese, wondering aloud if Sora will be the one to open it (闇の扉を切り開くか), but it was translated as “Will it be he who conquers the darkness?” (Unless I’m misunderstanding the verb 切り開く) The door of darkness doesn’t come up again until the very end of the game, so some foreshadowing was potentially missed here.
The Cheshire Cat is usually spelled チェシャ猫 (Chesha cat) but is spelled チシャ猫 (Chisha cat) in the Japanese KH script. Either a typo or a pun on 知者 (chisha, wise person).
In Japanese the 7 Princesses are simply referred to as Princesses, while English adds the epithet “of heart”.
世界 is used both to refer to individual worlds and the universe in general, leaving it up to the reader to decide which based on context.
In Hollow Bastion, Riku and Ansem sound slightly more threatening in the Japanese, but these are toned down a bit in English. Though the implication is definitely still there.
|闇の力で消されたいのか||You wanna be erased by the power of darkness?||The darkness will destroy you.|
|消えてもらうぞ||I’ll have you disappear.||But now it’s over.|
In Japanese, the Ansem Reports number 0-12, while in English they’re 1-13. Presumably this is to make it clearer that there are 13 reports total, because 13 is an important number in the series.
Also, there are no pronouns used in the Japanese text of Ansem Report 11(J) / 12(E), making it unclear who the writer is talking about. Japanese often leaves it up to the reader to infer who the speaker is talking about in order to avoid sounding arrogant by declaring “I/me/my” all the time. The official English translation decided that the writer is referring to someone else.
|Becoming only a heart, (I) should have returned to being a Heartless, but there is no change whatsoever.||The body is gone;
the heart should
have returned to
And yet, nothing.
|Surely (my) body was destroyed. But unlike other heartless, (I) have (my) previous memories, and have not taken the form of a Heartless, either. It means that there is a lot (I) need to understand yet.||This one is unlike
any other. Its
memories remain, and
it has yet to take the
form of a Heartless.A close eye must be
kept on the situation.
Much is still unknown.
Personally, the Japanese still gives me the sense that it’s Heartless!Ansem writing about himself, since previous reports did speak of his plan to turn himself into a Heartless, and we know that he retained his form and knowledge, unlike other Heartless. The Kingdom Hearts Ultimania α book also supports this, saying that it’s a memo Ansem wrote upon noticing that he himself didn’t change. That said, there’s a slight chance the translators were in discussion with the devs and wanted to retcon it a bit to hint at the possibility of another writer. In that vein, the Kingdom Hearts Ultimania α does suggest that the even numbered reports (0, 2, 4, 6, 8) seem to be written from a distinctly “sage-like” viewpoint compared to the odd numbered reports (1, 3, 5, 7, 9), hinting that Ansem the Wise wrote those instead of Evil!Ansem. However, it’s not certain that 10-12 (11-13 in English) are meant to follow this pattern, since they were newly added in the Final Mix version of the game.
That concludes my personal discoveries made during this project. Thank you for reading! I hope it proved useful or relatively interesting. I’m currently planning to continue this exercise with as many KH games as time allows for, following with Chain of Memories and going on from there. I imagine that the overall localizing translation strategy will remain throughout, though I’ll be keeping an eye out to see if there are any stylistic differences with new translators coming into the mix. If there’s enough interest, I’d definitely like to at least share the text dumps for others to look over.
Last but not least, a big thank you goes to Stephen Meyerink for helping me put this write-up together! And of course, my deepest gratitude to all those involved in Kingdom Hearts’ official translation for giving me a game that has been such a big part of my life:
General Manager – Akira Kashiwagi
Localization Directors – Kazuyoshi Tashiro, Ichiro Nonaka
Localization Specialist – Amanda Jun Katsurada
Localization Assistants – Mai Morofushi, Satoko Kondo, Tomoko Sekii, Seikou Hokama
Square Soft, Inc.
Localization Specialist – Ryosuke Taketomi
Editor – Jennifer L. Mukai