I spent hours playing the Final Fantasy VII Remake at the peak of the pandemic. At some point, I switched the language settings to the game’s original Japanese and discovered fascinating translation choices that completely changed my experience of the story.
For example, Reno’s Japanese speech patterns are noticeably, distinctly weird.
Reno has a habit of ending his sentences with “zo to” (ぞ と). It isn’t that unusual to give a character a signature verbal tic. Avalanche’s Wedge also ends all of his sentences with “su” (ス). Wedge’s “su” is something you might hear in real life from young Japanese speakers. It is a slangish abbreviation of a proper verb “desu.” Reno’s tic on the other hand has no counterpart in reality. Or does it?
“Zo to” actually conveys so much about Reno’s character. Read on to learn what.
1. Reno uses rough, casual language
First, let’s consider a Turk like Tseng or Rude. Tseng’s language is polished. He says things like “deepest apologies“ (申し訳ない) and not “sorry” (ごめん). He’ll use “alas, no longer a possibility (もはや不可能だ) instead of something like “no can do” (ダメだ). That kind of sophisticated, professional language fits the whole “upper management Black Ops in business suits” thing with the Turks.
Reno’s language is far more casual and rough compared to Tseng. He slurs his pronunciation and rolls his “r’s” like a chinpira from a yakuza movie. He shouts yakuza-like things like “Ora ora” which has no singular meaning but is a sort of aggressive warning, depending on the context. In the scene where Reno shoots Cloud from a helicopter, he shouts:
Japanese: Ora ora (オラオラ)
English subtitle: Gotcha now!
My translation choice: “Hey hey” or even “Imma fuck ya up” (depending on how aggressive you think Reno is being).
2. What is a “zo”? What is a “to”?? WHAT is “zo to”???
Let’s be clear. “Zo to” might not have a literal meaning in Japanese but it is definitely meaningful. After all, the writers could have chosen Reno to say anything. It could have been “moo moo” or “ping pong” ending all his sentences for all we know. So let’s break it down…
Ending with a “zo” alone is not unusual at all in Japanese. “Zo” is a masculine, casual way to give strong emphasis to what you just said. Consider Cloud’s countless statements of “Let’s go” or iku-zo (行くぞ) which is always in the casual but more aggressive speech pattern. Or recall another familiar response of “I’m strong!” or ore tsuyoi-zo (俺、強いぞ ).
Ending with “to” alone is also not that unusual. This ending appears when speakers abbreviate their sentences by dropping the second half of their thought. The speaker presumes that the listener can understand the full idea based on the context of their conversation.
However, Reno’s pronunciation is deliberately emphatic and not a suggestion of an unspoken idea. It sounds like he just wanted to echo that masculine “zo” with a rhyming “to”! Does that hypothesis sound silly? Remember, Reno is not a sophisticate like Tseng but characterized as a rough and wild young man.
In other words, the meaningless combination of “zo to” comes off as an almost stupid need to emphasize aggressiveness, masculinity, and very casual speech. And that is exactly what a young punk would talk like.
3. How did the English localizers do?
Localizing Japanese video games is more involved than straight translation. In this situation, there is no way to directly translate Reno’s speech pattern. Instead, the game localizers playfully rewrote his words while getting at the essence of our gutter punk chinpira Reno.
Here are some examples of his bordering on silly, hyper-aggressive speech. The first line is the Japanese text. The second line is my literal translation of the Japanese text. The third line is the official English subtitle. You can see how excellent the official translations were in capturing Reno’s personal flair.
Japanese: Ijiwaru shichauzo to (意地悪しちゃうぞ と)
Literal: Imma bully you!
English subtitle: Two birds with one shitload of bullets!
Japanese: Nigasanēzo to (逃がさねえぞ と)
Literal: You won’t get away
English subtitle: And where do you think you’re going?
Japanese: Zako aite ni nani yattendayo (ザコ相手になにやってんだよ)
Literal: WTF are they doing with these lame-ass guys?
English subtitle: Huh? Our guys are seriously struggling to take down these assholes?
Japanese: Oshigoto dazo to (お仕事だぞ と)
Literal: It’s work.
English subtitle: It’s nothing personal…bitch!
Japanese: Antara kenkauru aite wo machigaetazo to (あんたら ケンカ売る相手を間違えたぞ と)
Literal: Ya picked a fight with the wrong guy.
English subtitle: Sorry, losers! Gotta play for keeps today. No time to dick around.
Japanese: Sā tanoshimōze aibō (さあ 楽しもうぜ 相棒！)
Literal: Alright, let’s have some fun, partner!
English subtitle: C’mon! Let’s teach ’em the Turks two-step!
Japanese: Tākusu namen nayo (タックスなめんなよ)
Literal: Don’t underestimate the Turks.
English subtitle: You ain’t got shit on us.
Japanese: Nakanaka shibutoizo to (なかなかしぶといぞ と)
Literal: You’re pretty stubborn.
English subtitle: Stubborn little shitbirds, ain’tcha?
Final Fantasy 7 Remake’s North American version has mastered translating Reno’s strange speech into English.
Originally published at https://www.julianachoi.com on April 29, 2021.