The Lore Train: The Sad Tale of Phlegethon and Acheron
We’ve known for awhile now that the creatures that appear within the Crystal Tower are often ones that also appeared in Final Fantasy III. But did you know that in Final Fantasy III thatt Acheron was actually Titan?
As the popular saying goes “There can only be one!” and so the localization team had to come up with a different name. What resulted was some clever brainstorming that shows just what kind of thought and effort goes into localizing a game like Final Fantasy XIV.
Read on for a post from Fernehalwes describing The Sad Tale of Phlegethon and Acheron.
Fernehalwes here. Many of you may know me as a dropper of lore bombs, others as an English voice for Yoshi-p during interviews and Producer Letter Lives. However, when I’m not trotting the globe, eating aged prime rib in swanky steakhouses (which is never), I’m back at the Square Enix headquarters in Japan localizing the bejeebers out of FINAL FANTASY XIV with my all-star team of translation/localization/culturalization specialists. But what, you ask, does a translation/localization/culturalization specialist do (other than create and fix bugs, as is documented in this here dank, cobwebby corner of the forums)?
Oooh! Oooh! That’s easy! You translate the game from Japanese to English!
Well…if it were only that easy.
Japanese and English are such different languages that a great deal of rearranging and decoding has to be done before a translation turns into something coherent (I’m sure a lot of you are familiar with the stinky-poo nuggets that Google Translate excretes).
On top of that, there are cultural differences that have to be taken into account, as well. Some turns of phrase, characterizations, jokes, etc. were created by the Japanese writers with the Japanese audience in mind. If FINAL FANTASY XIV was a game that took place in modern-day Tokyo and all the NPCs were named Hiroshi and Akane and Hatsune, then we’d try to preserve as much of the culture as possible, as it directly pertains to the setting. Eorzea, however, is an original fantasy world, and we wanted to make it feel like one. That meant drawing on our knowledge of fantasy and incorporating it into the dialogue, etc. so as to be something more accessible to fans of the genre as a whole.
That road, unfortunately, is not one without its share of potholes, pitfalls, and landmines. To make sure everything stays on track, we are inclined to take certain liberties─to make certain decisions that may appear absolutely batty to most. Those decisions, when left unexplained, have been known (on occasion) to be the spark that starts a flame war. Nobody likes a flame war (least of all me), so that’s why I decided to start this little corner explaining the proverbial methods behind our madness.
And so, without further ado, here’s our first installment, and it’s quite a doozy. I like to call it…
COOL STORY, BRO ～The Sad Tale of Phlegethon and Acheron～
Back before patch 2.1, the LOC team was given a list of enemies that would be appearing in the soon-to-be-released Crystal Tower. For the most part, the list contained names that were taken directly from FINAL FANTASY III, making our job pretty easy. We merely had to go and get the FFIII glossary from our in-house database and work a little Ctrl+C Ctrl+V magic. That is, until we came across ティターン and its FFIII translation of…wait for it…Titan.
Wait, what? Titan is already a primal. How can you have a completely different enemy with the same name?
Well, it turns out that the Japanese katakana rendering of the primal/summon Titan and the FFIII mini-boss Titan are different. So, while both are supposedly based off of the exact same Greek myth, because one developer decided to use one spelling of the name (closer to the Greek pronunciation), and one developer another (closer to the English pronunciation), FFXIV was in the clear to use both as completely different entities (well, the Japanese version, at least).
After asking the development team if it was possible to choose a different enemy from FFIII to replace Titan (it wasn’t), we had a localization pow-wow and considered our options. Using the spelling Titan was never an option (too much confusion, as well as system-related wackiness). Using a made-up alternate spelling (like Tytan) seemed a bit cheesy, and using a spelling (Ttan) based off of an undeciphered Cretean writing system (Linear A) seemed a bit far-fetched. However, after a bit of research, we discovered that the FFIII Titan shared the same design (but different color palette) as a few other enemies, one of those being Acheron. We approached the monster team and asked if it would be alright to use Acheron in place of Titan as the translation of the FFIII Titan. They understood our predicament, and said that they did not mind. The French and German (who also had the same problem) decided they would follow suit, and all was solved…OR SO WE THOUGHT.
Fast-forward to a month before patch 2.3. We get a list of the enemies slated to appear in the second leg of the Crystal Tower…and what do we see?アケローン. For those of you who don’t read katakana, let me give you a hint: it’s Acheron.
So yeah, you can bet the first thing we did was go to the monster team to help refresh their memories about what happened around 2.1. Needless to say, it seemed to have slipped ALL their memories, and they weren’t keen on making any changes, as enemy design was pretty much complete and Acheron played a big part in this next leg of the tower.
Well, the localization team gathered again to decide what we were to do this time. There was always the option of going back to FFIII and choosing another enemy that used the same design (but different color palette), but I wasn’t going to get caught in the same trap again. It was time to simply choose a new name. As Acheron was a river of Hades, it seemed appropriate to choose another river. Styx and Lethe were a bit too major and had appeared in other Final Fantasy games (making them fair game for future fodder), and Cocytus was ripe for the invocation of a thousand thousand sneers. So Phlegethon it was.
The only problem now was having Acheron in both the JP and EN versions, but as completely different monsters. As a lover of lore, I hate retconning more than I hate corned beef in my yogurt, but this seemed to be an instance where a grievous wrong needed to be righted, and so here we are.
Titan was Acheron, and is now Phlegethon. Acheron is now back as Acheron (also known as Acheron).
And now you know…the rest of the story.