Video Game Lingo – 覚悟

I was in the Japan Times a couple weeks back with a look at how to improve your Japanese by cheating at video games: “Cheat your way to better Japanese with walkthrough video game guides.”

I bought a Nintendo Switch over the New Year’s holiday. I’ve picked up three games since then, but other than a weekend spent playing Mario Kart 8 with my brother in St. Louis, I have only been putting time into Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. There is so much joy in this game. In every single detail. The weather, the terrain, the puzzles, the atmospheric music, the voice acting, the anime-like storyline.

So much joy that it has outweighed the slight guilt I feel at cheating. In my defense, a friend from college who has two young sons noted on Facebook that the game is “imposiburu” without using online guides. Also in my defense, I just don’t have time to figure out everything. I’ve done most of it on my own, but I have used the guides so I don’t miss things here or there or to save myself some time.

These guides, as I mention in the article, are called 攻略 (kōryaku, walkthroughs), and I’ll let you find them yourself. Finding what you need (or what you want to say) in a foreign language is always good practice. Fortunately, Japanese walkthroughs don’t seem to be the ASCII-laden tomes I remember from the early days of the internets. Even the English walkthroughs these days are more visual and presented in marked up hypertext for ease of browsing.

I think I’m about 60-75% through the main quest in Breath of the Wild, but I have plenty of stuff left to smoke out in terms of side quests and whatnot. I’m kind of in a holding pattern right now, squeezing a little more juice out of the fruit before I start to make more progress on the last leg of the main story. I don’t want it to end.

It’s been fun to play in Japanese. I’ve been running into some of the video game lingo I used to encounter more regularly at my old job. One of these is 覚悟 (kakugo, readiness/preparedness/resolution/resignation).

I’m surprised I haven’t written about it previously, but the search engine tells me there are no instances of it on the blog. You see this word quite frequently in games, such as in this instance:

This was a pretty funny part of the game, and I won’t spoil more than that, but as you may or may not be able to tell, this is immediately before you fight this guy. He’s telling Link to “prepare yourself” with 覚悟 and しな (shi na), which is a short, impolite version of Xしなさい (X shi nasai, do X).

So…are you, punk? 覚悟できているのか? (Kakugo dekite iru no ka).

Get ye to a Nintendo Switchery! Get ye to Hyrule! This game is too good to miss.

Video Game Lingo – Passive Form

Amtrak isn’t quite as enjoyable as Japan Rail, but it sure beats driving. I recently rode the Lincoln Express from Chicago to St. Louis for Thanksgiving, and I managed to put in a few more hours on Final Fantasy VI. I’m only up to 15 hours so far, which means I’m just under half way through according to How Long to Beat.

I didn’t come across any new “lingo” worth introducing here, but I did find this pretty cool and very efficient line from Shadow:

ffvi passive

It’s always good to be familiar with the passive form, but it comes in especially handy in video games when space is limited. As you can see in this instance, there’s no need for a subject nor a verb because both are contained within the passive form (and it doesn’t hurt to have a visualization). The concision also plays into Shadow’s character, which is standoffish in the best of times.

噛み付く (かみつく) means “bite (at).” The invisible subject of the passive form 噛み付かれる (かみつかれる) is リルム, the daughter of the old man, and the performer of the bite is, of course, Shadow’s dog Interceptor. So literally, “You will be bitten by the dog.” Putting this into normal English, you get “He’ll bite you.”

Which checks out with the English script: “Back off. He bites.” Great translation.

The only way to master the passive is to “get used to it”: just keep doing a literal translation in your head for as long as it takes to become second nature. But it’s very important to force yourself to slow down when necessary and identify the subject and performer of the action in these instances.

Video Game Lingo – 始末

Fucking Ultros. I just got beat down in the opera house, and I’ve realized I probably either need to A) head back to Narshe and pick up another party member, B) hope that I can still add Shadow, or C) grind until I level enough to take the bastard down.

Which is basically to say that I haven’t made much progress in FFVI. I also haven’t found a seat on my commutes all that often. The El is unforgiving, especially between Sheridan and Fullerton, and I need at least one hand free when standing.

But I did come across this:


It pays to have a large vocabulary of words that mean “kill” or “destroy” when making video games, and 始末 is, effectively, one of those. In this case, the compound has the more general meaning “manage” or “deal with” (with an implied finality, thus death).

It’s also a cool kanji in its own right, combining two opposite characters for “beginning” (始) and “end” (末).

It has other meanings as well and confuses some with 仕末. This is a nice little blog post that concisely summarizes some of the frequently encountered forms:


Fortunately for our heroes, Kefka isn’t that adept at dealing with them.

Final Fantasy VI on iOS in Japanese

I have another Bilingual page column in the Japan Times today: “The myths and misery of translating Japanese video games.”

It’s sort of a redux of my post “On Translation and Me” (which was later syndicated at Kotaku) with a few of my Video Game Lingo posts thrown in for good measure.

I haven’t done much video game translation recently, unfortunately. I did a bit in the summer of 2013, and it was a reminder of how difficult and complicated translating dialogue for a major game can be. I only did about 10,000 characters or so, but I got a small peak inside the workings of a larger translation company. It was impressive. I will always be in awe of folks who are able to build living, breathing characters from context-less dialogue text alone. Translators rarely get to see the game they are working on.

I have, however, been doing more Japanese video games. Square has put out a lot of their old catalogue on mobile platforms in recent years, and they were on sale for 50% off until January 5th. So I picked up Final Fantasy VI for iOS.

I somehow scraped together the $60 for Chrono Trigger on the SNES back in the 1990s and spent a week one summer devoted to it, but I never managed to play through Final Fantasy III (née VI). I have at various times played emulated versions partway through (once during college, I believe, and once while I was teaching on JET), but I’ve never beaten it.

I’m a couple hours in and here are some thoughts in game-chronological order:


Japanese dialogue has a tendency to use a ton of ellipsis. I’m not quite sure if there is a standard way to deal with these. Occasionally you can translate around them, but it’s sometimes easiest to just leave them.


Kefka is even more ridiculous and evil in Japanese. (Partly due to the illustration. An inspiration for the Joker in the Dark Knight movies, perhaps?) As you can see, the language is more colorful in the Japanese original. くそ gets thrown around pretty lightly. Kefka’s infamous laugh, however, is merely ヒッヒッヒ or some variation, which is a bit of a disappointment because the English laugh is so legendary.

This screen grab also has a great word that pops up frequently in games: 借り (かり). 借りができたぞ is a way to say “I owe you one.” I distinctly remember a translator delivering a project with that line, and I was blown away by how succinct and spot on he was. There is a great Chiebukuro post about this phrase and 貸しができる.

Here, Kefka ironically shows that he will 返す the 借り(generally a good thing) without fail (必ず).


Here’s a great example of the double particle をも and ~かねない, one of my favorite phrases.


The (new?) character illustrations are great, and Banon looks awesome. You can tell he’s old because he’s got the old-man じゃ in place of the standard copula.


Go home, Ultros, you’re drunk.


Here’s a lovely-sounding Japanese idiom: 爪(つめ)のアカでも飲ましてやる. Literally: Make someone “drink” the crap under their nails. The kicker is that it’s not even their own nails: It’s someone else’s nail crud. アカ is also given as the kanji 垢, but I assume it’s kana-ized to allow younger players to understand in this case. I wrote a post about this idiom and got a couple of really great comments. Basically, these troops want Kefka to be a little more like Leo…which would happen if Kefka drank some of Leo’s toenail crud. Here’s what one of the commenters noted about the phrase:

In a scenario (profession, trade or any organization) where a rookie without a clue tends to blunder from one breach of etiquette after another, and where a sage advice clearly would be wasted, the only economic advice is to suggest such a concoction be consumed. But, this is said with one’s tongue in cheek only to underline the hopelessness of the endeavor.

So perhaps “take a page out of [somebody’s] book (which happens to be written in a language they probably won’t understand)” would be an appropriate translation.


Here’s a nice example of a use of ごめん that isn’t ごめんなさい. I can’t remember what exactly was happening (this is on the ghost train), but whatever it is マッシュ (Sabin) doesn’t want to do it, and expresses that with ごめん. It’s sometimes used with だけ in the expression 〜だけごめんだ to express “the one thing” that someone doesn’t want to do.


And one thing I noticed in the menu: The explanations for the the different items are given only in kana. This isn’t unusual, I don’t think, but it is a little strange given that all of the story is given in both kanji and kana. Just another reminder that kanji are awesome and reading kana-only writing takes a different set of muscles that you lose quickly once you move past the most basic stages of Japanese study.

Everything about this reboot is great. The graphics are slick and the sound is fantastic. I’m confident that I’ll be able to finish the game this time around, thanks in part to my commute, and because it’s in Japanese I won’t feel guilty about doing so.