[personal profile] bookofholsety
nearly four years later, this is still something that a lot of people have a lot of questions and a lot of opinions about, not all of them deserved. i'd like to take a moment - a long, long moment - to try and break down the elephant in the room

please note: the majority of this was written before the start of the fire emblem heroes "choose your legends" campaign, and does not currently take any of its contributions into account! once the game is out and jugdral characters start to appear in it, i might come back and change things as necessary, but in the meantime, heroes does not exist for the purposes of this article

In case this is the first you’ve heard about this, here’s what happened. In 2012, there was this obscure little game called Fire Emblem: Awakening. Like, incredibly obscure. You’ve probably never heard of it because it never got localised, sold a grand total of three units, killed the Fire Emblem franchise forever and ensured that Intelligent Systems was never heard from again.

Seriously, Awakening included a sizable collection of bonus characters from previous Fire Emblem games. When the game was localised in 2013, this was the first (and to date, last) time that any substantial content from Genealogy or Thracia had ever been featured in officially localised English material, and so about thirty-five characters from across the two Jugdral games, as well as numerous locations and almost all of the holy weapons, got official English names for the first time. Unsurprisingly, to this day there are those who still revile the introduction of these names as the worst thing to ever happen to Fire Emblem.

Point is, every single one of its contributions to Jugdral character names, location names and the like is in use in these translations. This was basically non-negotiable from day one. These are indisputable official English canon so, as far as i'm concerned, there's no sense in not using them. Part of the impetus for these translations is to make the games more accessible to newcomers (as opposed to the older patches being rather intimidating and off-putting in how rough and unpolished they are), and odds are there are plenty of people who'll play Genealogy or Thracia for the first time after coming from Awakening and being introduced to the characters there. Hell, one of the project’s editors did exactly that!

The fact that i feel the need to emphasise this so hard is pretty self explanatory, because to this day they’re still pretty controversial. Their quality, relevance and justification have been debated vigorously for over three years now, and i’ve often seen 8-4, the localisation firm responsible for Awakening’s English version, being accused of rushing these names, of ignorance of their source material, or of simply not giving a shit. While i’ll be the first to admit that some of them aren’t perfect, this sentiment is something i just can’t agree with at all and is, in my estimation, vastly blown out of proportion. There's actually some pretty interesting stuff going on with a fair few of them, which i'm here to take a closer look at.

This does, however, put me in an unusual position. i'm unable to consult with the localisers to get the truth straight from the horse's mouth, as it were and i'm pretty obviously not one of their number myself. Normally i could readily explain my exact thought process with just about any translation decision i make, but just about all of this is going to be conjecture because at the end of the day, we just can't know for sure. i'd like to think this is educated conjecture and that the legwork i've done here has just about all of the plausible bases covered, but it genuinely would not surprise me if i'm off the mark here.

i feel like now would be a good time to clarify that i'm not here to assert that these are The Absolute Best Localisations Ever And You're An Idiot If You Hate Them. On the whole i'm partial to them, unsurprisingly, but at the same time, had it been up to me, i likely would not have made many of the same decisions. i'm more interested in shedding light on their reasoning and positive qualities as well as their drawbacks, with the hope that maybe people will be less inclined to completely write them off. Whether any of this was for the best remains a matter of opinion, of course, and i just hope that i can make the squabbling over said matter of opinion slightly less tedious and mind-numbing.

I. 8-4, The Colour Purple, And You

8-4 was commissioned to localise two of the seven Fire Emblem games which have gotten international releases so far - Shadow Dragon and Awakening. Both of these exhibit a largely identical approach to their respective text, one which isn't particularly common in other Fire Emblem localisations, and one which you're bound to notice very quickly.

They're... very grandiloquent. Virtually every line in the English versions of Shadow Dragon in particular is delivered in a register which embraces maximum pomp and circumstance at virtually all times, giving the script a distinctly archaic, lordly flair. The content of these words is mostly unchanged but all of it has its tone heavily embellished. More than any other Fire Emblem game, Shadow Dragon's localisation reads like a high medieval drama, employing poncy turns of phrase to make them sound significantly more dramatic and pretentious. For better or worse (and i very much lean "better"), the game is a fantastic demonstration of the direction 8-4 typically favours.

i maintain that this approach is prevalent in Awakening as well, although to nowhere near the same extent owing to that game's enormous script. With Shadow Dragon, i'd wager that its barebones script afforded them plenty of time to carefully rethink every line to cram in maximum floof, but between the sheer volume they worked with on Awakening and that game's cartoony direction, it's inherently more difficult to deliver Shadow Dragon's level of consistent polish. Even so, i would still argue that it's very noticeable, chiefly in the earlier stages of the main story. Other games do briefly dip into this style every so often - particularly Fates, which at times reads like an attempt to duplicate 8-4's style on Awakening - but none really make any efforts to keep it consistent across the whole game, and frankly i can't blame them. On the other hand, the dialogue itself is not the only way to give a game a more regal feel. They favour a very similar approach to naming things, and that's what we're here to discuss today: 8-4's habit of dolling up names and terminology.

You've almost certainly encountered it by now. It's not enough for that one Archanean sniper guy to be called George; no, 8-4 sees the need to push it a bit further and tweak the spelling into something more esoteric, giving us Jeorge. By the same token, Sheeda becomes Caeda, Nina becomes Nyna, Cashmere becomes Chiasmir, Macedonia Castle becomes the Macedon Aerie, thunder swords become levin swords, everyone and their dog from Sonshin Chon'sin gets an apostrophe shoved in there, Callum becomes Kellam, Chrom's vigilante band in Iris becomes the Shepherds of Ylisse, the holy king becomes the exalt, and - ducking outside Fire Emblem for a moment - Xenoblade X's Reese becomes Ryyz. 8-4 loves unconventional spellings and words, and puts them to heavy use to properly fit their typical treatment of dialogue. Fortunately for them, honestly, it works for the most part: with Awakening in particular this approach comes off as putting vastly more effort into actually giving that world character and flavour than the original text ever did. And despite how frequently they call upon it, with their Fire Emblem work at least they didn't go overboard with it and kept the spellings reasonably straightforward and legible, without dipping into the same convoluted, borderline-illegible barrel that you see in many fantasy novels or Square-Enix games.

Which brings us to the canon localisations for Jugdral stuff. It shouldn't come as any surprise as all that this approach explains a very sizable chunk of what was done here. Ethlin becoming Ethlyn and Cuan becoming Quan come across as pointless and arbitrary considering that no real substance is changed with either, but it's undoubtedly consistent with their approach to the rest of the game. Other probable examples include Jamke, Raquesis, Travant, Grannvale, Silesse, Leonster, and the decision to add diacritics to the names of two holy weapons despite the things virtually never being used in English.

(As a side note, i'm fairly confident that the intent with Quan is that it's the exact same name but with a more needlessly fancy spelling, and is meant to be pronounced exactly the same way it was before [i.e. kyu-an], rather than being pronounced like the Chinese name [i.e. kwan]. i've seen people work under the assumption that the latter was definitely intended, so i figured it'd be worth pointing out.)

None of this is to say that this is their only approach - not only to the Jugdral cast, but to all aspects of the games they worked on - and this doesn't even begin to consider cases which are basically the exact opposite of this approach, like Thracia 776's Cyas becoming the painfully katakana-ish Saias. Even so, at the very least the reasoning seems pretty straightforward.

II. Seliph

Now, to be clear, "Celice" is a fine name in and of itself (as are most other takes on the se-ri-su katakana spelling). i'm not interested in disputing that. The probable reason for the name being tweaked to begin with was he made his English debut in something in which he had to coexist with Celica, and they thought it best to make them a bit more distinct. Which is fair enough, and also a fairly basic and obvious observation on my part.  The why is self-explanatory, so what is Seliph relative to Celice? To my knowledge (and i'll be the first to point out that my knowledge is not the broadest), there is no particularly likely namesake for this character. There are shades of red, small Spanish towns and Final Fantasy characters whose names are basically identical to the Japanese spelling, but that's about it; they all lack plausible links to this guy. It wouldn't surprise me if i'm wrong, and i'd be curious to hear if i am, but there it is nonetheless.

Seliph, on the other hand, is pretty interesting. It's not explicitly anything in and of itself, but the name is certainly evocative of more than a few things. Personally, it's always reminded me of seraphs, one of the Abrahamic classes of angel; and shortly after Awakening launched, a friend remarked that to her it invoked caliphs, Islamic leaders whose defining characteristic is being regarded as the successor of Muhammad. While it's tenuous at best to assert that this speaks for literally everyone who has ever encountered this character in English material, already we're looking at invocations of the angelic and of divine right, which not only is interesting subject matter in and of itself but also very, very relevant to Seliph's entire role in the game.

III. Lewyn

Look, my fondness for Lewyn is extremely well-documented by now. It shouldn't come as any surprise that i have probably read waaaaaaaaaaaaay too much into the name of the windy douchebag. As far as changes go, his is particularly mild, going from Levin to the relatively similar Lewyn. Of course, that's not going to stop me from putting an obscene amount of thought into how exactly two letters changed to two slightly different letters.

First, it's important to realise that when it comes to the name Levin, there's actually a pretty broad scope of things it could be derived from, moreso than is usual for a FE4 character. The most common interpretation which you'll see mentioned on just about any fan resource is that it's of eastern-European Jewish origin, where it's a reasonably common surname taken from the Biblical patriarch Levi. An alternative origin as both a given name and a surname comes from German, where it is descended from Old English and Old German names meaning "dear friend". Both of these are again separate from the word "levin" as used by that one magic sword in Shadow Dragon, where it is an archaic English term of uncertain origin  for lightning or flashes.

They actually didn't give themselves much choice with respect to renaming Levin, all thanks to that one magic sword. The levin sword has no connection at all to the windy bard, so it wouldn't have been plausible to try and play it as a reference, and it's such a specific and recognisable term that you can't really shrug it off and leave it be in the same way that The Binding Blade is more than comfortable with having a cavalier who shares his (relatively common) name with an entire category of weapons. That said, the use of "levin" for the sword is a localisation invention, and an understandable response to this situation would be that all of this could've been avoided if they'd just left the names alone to begin with. i sympathise with that outlook to an extent, even if it's an oversimplification, but that's not the reality we're dealing with here.

Now, what is Lewyn, anyway? In my opinion there are three main candidates for the route from Levin to Lewyn.  The first and simplest possibility is that it derives from "Lewin", an alternate spelling for Levin as a German name which, to my knowledge, can be prononunced "leh-win" or "loo-win" with roughly equal legitimacy. This makes it possible to interpret Lewyn as another standard case of 8-4 taking a pre-existing name and tweaking it to look more esoteric. The second possibility is the one i've personally taken as the intent since Awakening's launch: Welsh. Since Genealogy leans extremely heavy on giving its world a Gaelic flavour, my first thought was to interpret Lewyn as an attempt to invoke more of the same by drawing on the Welsh name Llewyn, pronounced "loo-un".

The third possibility can actually be found if we turn to the real Silesia:

(map stolen from wikipedia)

The namesake of Silesse, as is reasonably well known by now, is a region whose historical boundaries chiefly fall within what is now Poland. In the proximity of the Silesian territory, two languages (depending on who you ask) are commonly spoken: the Polish language and its close relative, the Silesian language (considered by some to be just a dialect of Polish). Both have one very interesting and very relevant quirk in common: the letter W is frequently pronounced with either "V" or "F" sounds. For example, the city of Wrocław is pronounced "vrotswaf", and if this was the intent then Lewyn would be legitimately pronounced... "Levin". As with the German etymology, the use of a Y in the spelling would be another case of 8-4 attempting to exotify it just a little more.

Which one of these theories is correct? Who knows? We'll probably never know. Either way, the more i've thought about it the more legitimate possibilities i've found, and honestly that's pretty interesting.

IV. Ced

i suspect that The Good Boy Formerly Known As Sety is basically in the same boat as Lewyn and Seliph: in his case, the fact that he had to co-exist with Seth from The Sacred Stones was the likely deciding factor in his namechange. Sure, the way you pronounce the last syllables of their names is pretty different, but the same went for Celica and Celica (ka vs eese). The resulting changed name, Ced, has probably been complained about more frequently than anything else except maybe Raquesis; i've seen relatively respected community figures whine that if they encounter a patch that calls the guy Ced (*cough*), they'll have to edit it out first to cope. No, really. Names really make people say and do baffling things.

Frankly, they could've done a lot worse than Ced. Phonetically it's very similar to "Sety" to the point that, if you're saying it in a hurry, the latter will start to sound very much like the former.  A few years ago, KiddoCabusses did a fair bit of digging on the subject and found that it's a real, if obscure, name in its own right whose basic meaning revolves around kindness and love, which is remarkably fitting for the character: a man who sacrifices his own wishes to help others and who, if the endgame is anything to go by, is a lot more upfront and affectionate about his wife than anyone else in the damn game.

In the majority of estimations that i've encountered, the most contested point is that this guy was quite obviously named after other people and things, with both a crusader and the Forseti tome having obvious links to his name. It's a fair point: while i don't necessarily agree in that i appreciate the localisation being much less on the nose with him (GEDDIT HE'S CALLED SETI AFTER FORSETI, GUESS WHO HIS DADDY SHOULD BE), at the same time it's nice to retain this sort of significance. my answer to the problem is a pretty simple one: he's named after two things in Japanese, so with the Forseti/Ced differences established, that still leaves the crusader who has the exact same name. Just call that crusader Ced as well, and boom, there's still a clear in-universe namesake case going on here. Problem solved.

As a side note, fun fact: FE7 actually contains little nods to the anima magic crusaders with those dancer's rings. Obviously the localisation didn't take all that much notice of those references, but honestly, "Set" might've been a nice name for the guy too.

V. Yewfelle

A couple of years ago, somebody on Tumblr had a bit of a word with me about the sacred bow of Jungby - known in Japanese as "Ichaival" or "Ichii-bal", depending on who you ask, and renamed "Yewfelle" in localisation. It wasn’t something i’d ever really thought about much, but he offered some insight into what its deal is, and it’s pretty interesting so i thought i’d share it here. And i quote:

“Ullr was a Bow-god and his attested dwelling place is Ydalir [yew valley or valley of yews]. Bows at the time were presumably made from yew trees so a bow in FE for a bloodline descended from Ullr, the change isn't bad for english speakers and those familiar with the mythology. The name makes sense. A bow made from yew and (this one MIGHT be a bit of a stretch but I'm almost certain on this one): The old Nordic root for "felle" is likely "vel" (if we just take what I'm assuming to be the infinitive form to be "fell") a word for wells. Now putting these together into a kenning "yew well" is almost a certain reference to Ydalir. Yewfelle is far from a bad dub/Translation and almost certain to be better than Ichibal/Ichival for English, or any other Indo-European language, speakers. Given the chance I'd have dubbed the bow as Yewvel or Yewvol to prevent confusion since the "felle" part is apt to cause precisely that.”

Unfortunately, i no longer have a record of who this came from; the text has just been sitting in a drafts folder of mine for several years now, and i made the mistake of not leaving attribution in there. If you think this might have been you, let me know.

As far as localisation contributions go, this one is pretty minor. i'm mostly mentioning it because i once saw somebody gripe about Yewfelle, and while it was far from an intelligent or thought-out gripe (existing solely to make the baffling claim that people who play localisations and use their terms never care about the original version of the game. yyyyyyeah), i figured it’d be well worth heading off as well.

VI. Belhalla

Barhara. The capital of Sigurd's homeland, by extension capital of the world, and an absolutely delightful place to hold a barbeque. Just about everyone who's ever touched Genealogy knows exactly what's going on here: Valhalla, the Norse hall of the slain. It's also probably one of the best examples of Fire Emblem's "this is the reference but not quite" habit, because while there's absolutely no question that it's meant to be referencing and invoking Valhalla, at the same time it's very likely not meant to literally be Valhalla itself.

Now, the katakana-isation of foreign words is a matter that's generally not subject to consistent rules, so more often than not you just can't make sweeping "this is the only legitimate way of spelling this word in Japanese" statements. Theoretically i could point to Barhara and assert that it's not The Way That Valhalla Is Spelled in Japanese and act like this alone supports my assertion, but frankly it'd make me look like an ass, for there's not really one way to begin with. ヴァルハラ (varuhara) does seem to be reasonably common, but there are other spellings out there, and considering the typical relationship between the B/V and L/R sound pairs in Japanese, it stands to reason that Barhara (バーハラ baahara) is a plausible interpretation into katakana that one could make if one were to encounter the word with no prior Japanese-language knowledge of the subject. However, there is one element that strikes me as a very conscious difference: where Valhalla has a reasonably clear and emphasised L consonant, which is quite specifically expressed in Japanese with the ル (ru) syllable, Barhara instead has an elongated vowel (ー) without the same emphasis on the resulting R sound (as in, er, "bar"). This, in my estimation, is enough to distinguish Barhara as a deliberate variation on Valhalla, rather than the common case of the botched rendering of katakana (i.e. Holsety).

Enter the localisation process. While i personally think it would've been a mistake, they could've just called the place Valhalla, but they didn't. Instead, by calling it Belhalla, they did a remarkable job of expanding on the basic concept in the same structure - half recognisably Valhalla by the language's standards, half something similar but not quite there - and the choice to invoke the Latin "bellus" ("beautiful", as in the french "beau/belle") was a nice touch.

And i mean, come on. Straight-up calling the city "Valhalla" would be kind of tacky, which is saying something for a game with heroes bearing unsubtle names like Sigurd and Beowulf.

(Disclaimer: i absolutely adore the name "Belhalla". As far as i'm concerned, it's a stroke of genius.)
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