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Final Fantasy XIV: Triumph Of The Horsebirds

KWEH! KWEH! help i'm being held prisoner in an outsourcing studio in Guangdong KWEH!

As the latest in a series of fourteen LYING LYING titles, Final Fantasy XIV, is soft-launched, most North American gamers are reacting in this manner:

Something which goes almost unnoticed, though, is the poor quality of the English translation, with much of the game suffering from poor grammar, basic spelling mistakes, etc. Fairly par for the course, of course, for Asian games, and especially ones from Squaresoft. The truly interesting part, though? Apparently, the Japanese version ALSO suffers from poor grammar, basic spelling mistakes, and, in probably the most blasphemous act you can commit in Japan short of giving the Divine Emperor a wedgie, the iconic Chocobo is called… a horsebird.

Note: all further links in this article go to a site that has, um, NSFW advertising for things you typically think of when thinking of anime. I love the Internet SO VERY MUCH.

As Sankaku Complex, which has been summarizing the Japanese side of this story for American readers, notes:

Japanese players of Final Fantasy XIV soon noticed that their own version of the game dispensed completely with the “English” names in favour of names using Chinese characters exclusively.

Most noticeably, “Chocobo” (チョコボ – chokobo) was renamed to “馬鳥,” a meaningless word combining the character for “horse” with that for “bird.”

Chocobos thus became “horsebirds,” a phrase as ridiculous to Japanese ears as to western ones.

Curiously, some users also noticed that “index finger” was written in Chinese (食指) rather than Japanese (人差し指) – a very odd oversight indeed, unless it somehow transpired that the game was actually developed in China.

Soon suspicious users began to connect these changes with another major design change – the highly controversial “fatigue system,” which imposes severe penalties for players who play too long, as Square Enix sees it.

In fact, Chinese law requires all MMORPGs to have just such a “fatigue” system, in order to “protect” players from the addictive properties of these games.

For many, the coincidence of this exact feature appearing in the game alongside an announcement of a full Chinese release cannot be dismissed as coincidence. Soon Square Enix was being accused of making most of the game in China, for the Chinese.

Regarding this sudden change in naming, Square Enix’s Hiromichi Tanaka was at pains to deny it had anything to do with a Chinese version:

“Even in XI there were these Chinese-like Kanji names – it was just intended to build atmosphere. It’s just made-in-Japan Chinese for a Japanese audience, the Chinese version is probably translated completely differently I expect.”

Ah, it’s good to see that the MMO tradition of throwing community people to the lions without adequate briefings of what they comment on knows no cultural boundaries.

And as the game moved to release, Japanese players, again chronicled by Sankaku Complex, listed further suspicious oddities:

After making good its promise to remove “pseudo-Chinese” names, Square Enix seems once again to have inflamed the situation – the sloppy spelling mistakes introduced during the patch are being interpreted as evidence the job was not handled by native Japanese speakers.

“Chocobo” is misspelt “Chocopo”

Just whether this is any improvement over the previous “horsebird” is hard to judge.

“Physical Bonus” is misspelt “Physical Ponus”

“Telepo” is misspelt “Telebo”

“Support Desk” is misspelt “Subbort Desk”

In all cases the errors are caused by confusing the dots and circles which turn syllables like “ho” (ホ) into “bo” (ボ) and “po” (ポ). Most Japanese seem to consider it “absolutely impossible” for a native speaker to have made such an incredibly basic error, let alone so many times.

It’s fairly obvious that Squaresoft did indeed apparently contract much of FFXIV’s development to a Chinese outsourcing firm – a practice which is certainly not unknown to many other game developers. Whether or not they derived any productivity ponus from this remains to be seen.