Thanks to the newest episode of the ongoing Kotaku YouTube series called Found In Translation: Final Fantasy VII the amount of emotion and meaning that gets lost in translation when expressing Japanese in another language has been a hot topic among me and my friends. Japanese is such a nuanced and beautiful language that even one word can convey so much more than its “counterpart” in let’s say, English.
While Final Fantasy VII is an old game and was bound by limitations, such as small text boxes, which forced the translator to be creative, you still see this kind of stuff in games today (don’t get me started on the English translation of Persona 5). Sometimes, it is even done very much on purpose, as was the case with the ending of Final Fantasy X.
SPOILERS FOR FINAL FANTASY X FOLLOWS
If you aren’t familiar with the story of Final Fantasy X, it is mainly about a whiny sport ace boy, Tidus, who gets sucked up by a giant monster and thrown 1000 years into the future and a summoner girl, Yuna, who is about to set on a pilgrimage to save her people from said monster. Their paths collide and Tidus ends up accompanying Yuna and her guardians on her pilgrimage. Eventually he finds out that in order to get rid of the monster and finish her pilgrimage Yuna must sacrifice herself. This upsets him greatly and after fucking things up for a bit when trying to stop her from fulfilling her destiny, they do manage to find a way to beat the monster without her sacrifice. However, as the final plot twist of the game it is Tidus who will disappear as he didn’t actually exist in this world at all. Oh yeah, and they also kinda fancied each other.
(my short synopsis may have been written a tad humorously, but there’s actually a lot of interesting stuff in the story of Final Fantasy X. Maybe one day I will dive more into it -such as its handling of religion- but for now lets focus on the topic at hand.)
The pivotal moment, when Yuna realizes that Tidus is disappearing and will be gone forever, is the one we want to focus on in this article. During this emotional moment, Yuna chooses to say one last thing to Tidus before he is gone and that one thing is completely different in English and Japanese versions of the game.
In the English version the last thing Yuna tells Tidus is “I love you”. This is perhaps the version that most people will be familiar with.
In the Japanese version, however, she chooses to say “ありがとう”, in other words “Thank you”.
Now depending on which version you play, the nuance of that moment changes completely thanks to just this one line. It is also clear that the translator made a conscious decision to alter the message like this, but why?
For this, I believe the answer lies in cultural differences and values. In Western culture much emphasis is put on the individual – you are unique, you are needed, follow your dreams. We grow up thinking we are special and deserve to get what we want. In Japanese culture on the other hand, the emphasis is put on society – what can you do to benefit everybody, how can you trouble everybody the least, you are part of the whole. It is the very basis of their polite demeanor that fascinates the rest of the world.
The line Yuna utters depending on the language is a reflection of this – in the English “I love you” she puts priority on her feelings above all else. If there is one thing Tidus needs to hear it is how she feels about him. In the Japanese “Thank you” there is the nuance of “I am so grateful for everything you have done, not only for me, but for everyone else and this world”. Yuna puts priority in making sure Tidus knows that his brief presence in this world made a difference for everyone.
While I understand the choice the translator made here – as just having that line as the English “Thank you” wouldn’t really carry that nuance the way the word does in Japanese – I do feel that something more was lost with the change in addition to the cultural nuance I just mentioned.
Throughout the whole game Yuna has demonstrated that above all else she cares about the people. It is the reason why she has taken on the burden of the pilgrimage. In every village and city she stops and does what she can for the people there and then moves on with her mission. She even almost marries a man she clearly despises, because she believed it would bring hope and benefit the people.
It is true that her affection for Tidus makes her resolve waver ever so slightly making her consider for the briefest moment just running away with him, but even after embracing the feelings she has for him, she still chooses to continue her pilgrimage – saving the people is more important to her than her personal happiness.
This is why it feels more appropriate for her to keep this mindset till the very end. She has been so resolute since the very beginning – it is such a core part of her character that it would be slightly strange that she’d jumble up her priorities completely at the last moment because of “some guy”.
That being said, if it weren’t for the Japanese version where her character stays true to herself till the end, I could once again understand where the translator was coming from. Yuna and her merry friends have just beaten Sin, the monster, and it is the first time in her life she is not bound by responsibility. Awash by the newfound joy, her relief is shattered by the sudden departure of Tidus. In this moment she utters her first selfish words.
Both of these versions have their merits and I guess which ending is the right one for you depends on what kind of woman you believe Yuna to be. For me personally, I think she will always first and foremost be the advocate of the people.