Jeff "Deuce" Nussbaum
Ys I, II, III & Origin
Hi Jeff! Thanks for joining us.
Can you please tell our readers a little about your involvement with Ys?
I discovered the series back in the early 90s, when I rented a TurboGrafx-CD with Ys Book I & II, and spent the entire weekend playing through it. I completely fell in love with it, with the music, the setting, the gameplay, the story, etc. Ever since then, it's been something of an obsession, eventually leading to involvement in fan translations of Ys games that (at the time) had little chance of seeing a Western release. These fan translations were eventually used in the officially published games you play today.
Can you tell us a bit about the process of how your fan translations got picked up by XSEED and eventually became official Ys games?
When XSEED acquired the license to distribute Oath in Felghana for the PSP in the West, I was approached about selling my script to them, since it already existed, was well-regarded by the English-speaking fan community, and would eliminate a sizable time investment for XSEED. This led to other work with them, and my Ys work can be seen in the official US releases of Ys I & II Chronicles, Ys: The Oath in Felghana, and Ys Origin, all of which originated as fan translation scripts.
How long did it take to translate each game?
It varies wildly, depending on the size of the script. I remember I & II taking a fair amount of time, not least of which was the result of the Alter magic in II, which let you transform into a Roo. Every monster in the game has a line or two of dialogue, and the humans have alternate dialogue if you try to speak to them in Roo form (some of which are highly entertaining). In addition, shooting the human NPCs with Fire magic would cause other alternate lines, which got incredibly tedious, due to all of them being variants on a theme... that theme being "ow fire hot." Ys Origin probably took the longest of the installments that I worked on, though, because it's the most dialogue heavy of the pre-Seven games, and basically tells three different versions of the story. The shortest was Oath in Felghana, which I completed in seven days (not counting context revisions and other fixes).
Holy Pikkards... Seven days? What was your motivation?
The original Ys III is a very strange game. Some people loved it; I was not among their number. Yet it does have an odd charm to it, despite the simple storyline and shallow characterizations... and the not so wonderful gameplay. The music is still the best in the series, in my opinion. Regardless, when I first learned that the next Ys game would be a remake of III, I practically salivated. And once I got my hands on the script, I tore into it with a vengeance. The timing also worked out, as I had a great deal of down time that I was able to devote to the project, which led to a rapid turnaround time on the first completed draft of the script.
What do you think is the most challenging part of translating Japanese games?
For me personally, it's trying to gather context clues from unlabeled dialogue, which is not always in the same order as you see it in-game. You generally have to translate lines individually as best you can, and guess at some meanings to get a functional English line. Playtesting reveals where missing context resulted in awkward lines or flat-out incorrect translations. In general, I find that a lot of Japanese to English translations fail to take into account how different the languages are, and how dry and borderline-unreadable a literal translation can be. It's more about conveying the spirit of the line.
As an example, a very common line in Japanese scripted dialogue is, "Omae dake wa yurusanai!" Literally, this translates more or less to, "Only you, I won't forgive." Many translators (particularly those still caught up in their weeaboo phases) will translate it as, "You're the only one I can never forgive." While the sentence makes sense, it doesn't really work in English, because a mainstay of Japanese culture is that if someone offers a sincere apology, it's spectacularly rude not to extend forgiveness. So a Japanese person saying that to someone is roughly equivalent to, "What you've done is so terrible, I'm willing to forgo all propriety and manners and hold a grudge against you until the day I die." This being the case, I typically translate the line as something more like, "You won't get away with this," since the clear implication is similar: the offense committed is so bad that a reckoning is eventually going to happen, even if it's not soon.
How do you approach puns or rhymes when translating?
Rhyming isn't really a thing in Japanese. When it happens, even in songwriting, it's largely incidental and virtually never a goal of the writer. Puns are a different story, though. Since Japanese speech is so prone to homophones, puns are commonplace and have a considerably better reputation than they do in any of the Romance languages.
There was only one pun that was noteworthy in an Ys game, to my memory. In Ys II Chronicles, there's a demon deep in the Rasteenie Mine who, if you speak to him with the Alter magic equipped, will give the following line in a very lazy slang dialect: "Nanka you kai?"
Literally, "nanka" is slang for "Nani ka," meaning "something."
"You" is "need / desire / purpose / use / etc."
"Kai" is slang here for "ka," indicating the line is a question.
So the line is "you need something?" But "youkai" is also a word for a type of Japanese ghost/spirit (as in Yo-kai Watch).
His next line translates more or less to, "But I'm not a youkai, I'm a mamono (demon)." Clever, but nonsensical in English. So for my translation, I wrote the line as follows: "You deem me a monster? Better you were deemin' me a demon!"
It's not as good as the original Japanese, but it carries essentially the same joke into English in a way that retains the flavor of the original. Making Japanese puns work in English rarely goes even that well. Many times, translators will simply leave it mostly in Japanese (seriously, don't do this), or simply write a different joke in the target language.
What are some names or terms do you think people often misread?
The title of the series, most prominently. I still encounter people who pronounce it as "wise" or "ease," when it's neither: it rhymes with "peace," with a hard S sound.
Also, people seem to have trouble with Adol Christin (not helped by the TurboCD versions calling him "AY-doll"). It's pronounced like "Add-all." And virtually everyone says his last name as "Christian," when it should be said like "Kristin."
Next would be Reah, which is "RAY-ah," not "Ree-uh."
But the one that always surprises people is Geis, which is actually meant to be pronounced as "Gash." Yes, really.
And just like that, I'll be calling him "Gash" from now oh. haha!
During the localization process with XSEED, were there many changes from your original scripts to the final versions we play today?
Here and there. I recall that the Chronicles scripts went through very little in the way of rewriting. Oath in Felghana got a solid edit pass, including one line where Dogi confronts Chester. The last line Chester says before [spoiler spoiler spoiler] was changed to make him sound more conflicted, which I thought detracted from the scene a bit. It might have been done to help set up part of the climax and ending, but I didn't think the change was necessary.
Ys Origin also underwent multiple changes, but generally not for content. I was never satisfied with the way Epona's dialogue read, as I'd written it to convey a rough attitude and accent, but it always came off as forced to me, so I told Tom at XSEED that he had my blessing and gratitude to change it to a style that sounded more natural.
XSEED hired Voice Actors for the PlayStation version of The Oath in Felghana. Did the voices match what you had imagined from your script?
For the most part. I was particularly pleased with Chester and Dogi. And the less said about Margo, the better.
Can you explain to our readers what 'Roonic' is? How did you translate it?
Roonic is the written language of the Roos, those kangaroo-like friendly creatures that you can turn into in some games. It's actually just the standard runic alphabet of 26 characters, each corresponding to a letter in the English alphabet. More interestingly, when you see it in Ys Origin, it can be read by anyone who knows the runes, as it's just a very Engrish-y translation of the regular dialogue, written in a font which few people can read. I've never gone back to check if the same holds true in Ys II Chronicles, though.
Can you tell us one of your fondest memories during the translation/localization process?
Probably the first time I finished the North American PSP release of Oath in Felghana and I saw my name in the credits. I never would have expected that, almost twenty years after falling in love with Ys, I'd be attached to my favorite series in an official/professional capacity.
What is your favourite Ys game and why?
It's a toss-up between The Oath in Felghana and Ys Seven. I think Oath is easily the best of the three 3D platforming games. I thought Ark of Napishtim had potential, but fell short in many respects (too much platforming & mostly weak music, for instance), and Oath just happened to be a vast improvement, combined with being a fantastic remake of the black sheep of the series. It was a real redemption for that game, I thought. And Seven was kind of revolutionary; it had been six years since the last new adventure for Adol, and not only was it the biggest Ys game to date, it revamped the entire engine and took it in an entirely new direction, while still retaining the magic that made me love the series in the first place. Plus, the soundtrack is fantastic.
Who is your favourite Ys character and why?
Even though he's a cipher, I'll always be fondest of Adol. His character development is almost always given by way of how other people interact with him, but I like the overall impression of earnestness he gives off. He has no ulterior motives; his heart is noble, and he genuinely enjoys helping people. And like me, he has no business being on the water.
What is your favourite music track from Ys?
Now that's tough. But if you held a gun to my head, I'd probably have to say The Strongest Foe, from the PC Engine/TurboGrafx-CD version of Ys III. I'll always be fondest of Ryo Yonemitsu's arrangements, and though his Ys III work took time to grow on me, it's now one of my favorite game soundtracks of all time.
Thank you so much for your time. Any final words of advice for our readers?
Glad to be of help. And to the readers: dig deeper! There's a wealth of information, backstory, and forgotten games in the series (almost all of which can be played in English, with a bit of effort). My goal in translating the games was always to spread the word and show more people why Ys deserves their attention. I'm proud and grateful to have been a part of the series' revival in the west, and I appreciate everyone who's supported it and helped it to become a success.