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“Life is as… Uh… Something is due on a leaf…?” These words, spoken by Sushang, a video game character from HoYoverse’s Honkai: Star Rail as she goes over an enigmatic book, show us the complexities of understanding the things we encounter every day in life. While we all may come from different backgrounds regarding our way of life and our language, one thing that we all share is the experience of being entertained: whether it be Netflix, reading a book, or even playing a video game. However, as diverse as we are, we are limited to a certain degree. Take, for instance, video games or even the shows we watch. Some of us may be interested in Anime like Konosuba: God’s Blessing on this Wonderful World, K-Dramas from South Korea or games exclusive to one region only, yet, in most cases, we typically don’t know Japanese, Korean or the native language of the game. To understand the content we consume, we either must learn the language itself or find someone who knows what is going on to explain what it means.
The truth of the matter is that, due to our diversity, it’s a challenge to try to understand another culture and its language from the perspective of someone who has never experienced such a culture or language before. This is why in the game industry; some game developers and publishers have chosen to localize their games into different languages so that more players from around the world are able to consume the content and enjoy it more readably. However, localizing a video game from one language to another isn’t such a trivial task. The process of localizing games is a long one that tends to take a lot of time and effort, as a translation team must understand not just the language into which they are translating the game, but also the cultural aspects of the game itself. Due to this, the quality of localization can differ from game to game. Sometimes, you may notice that a translation might contain something that may “appear off” and you may wonder why the game developers picked that translation over many others. It might just be a word or maybe a whole phrase, but that feeling that something’s off is still within you. Even though there can never be a perfectly translated game, due to the difficulties surrounding localization such as developer vision, language regions and game limitations, it is important for developers to strike a balance between accuracy and accessibility in language to create a localized version that is both enjoyable for and understood by its players, as well as respectful of their original work.
Before we begin with the problems of game localization, let’s start off by understanding what it is and the process of localizing a game into another language. Game localization, according to Carme Mangiron from the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona in Spain, “consists of a series of complex technical, linguistic, cultural, legal, and marketing processes in order to sell a game in a different territory while also maintaining the ‘look and feel’ of the original game”1. This definition of game localization is seconded by Ramón González of the Universidad de Vigo in Spain, in that he offers similar responses to Mangiron, including other experts in the field of localization, such as Kin Chiew Quah, who stated that “[localization is] the process of changing the documentation of a product, a product itself or the delivery of services so that they are appropriate and acceptable to the target society and culture”2. Localization, however, isn’t as simple as translating the game into another language; rather it is a series of processes that are done to make the game available in another language’s region.
There are many pieces to consider in the localization process, such as the people involved in the process like “[game] developers, graphic designers, writers, and many other specialized professionals,” the localization budget, internal game design, and the type of localization that will be done3. There are three different levels of localization identified by Mangiron and Miguel Á. Bernal-Merino from the Imperial College of London.
The process of which localization process a game developer and publisher choose depends on “the amount of money companies consider they should invest in each language version” and the predictions on how the game will sell in that region8. For example, documental localization, according to Mangiron, is used for games with “little text, games which are not expected to sell many copies, or for territories with a good knowledge of the original language”9. By contrast, a full localization is used by companies who make Triple-A games with “high budgets that are expected to do well in the territories they are localized for”10. Capcom, a video game publisher in Japan known for games like Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney chose to go with a partial localization of Ace Attorney for its North American release, which resulted in the game world’s being set in a hybrid version of the United States but with “several traces of Japanese culture”11. On the other hand, Atlus, a Japanese game studio, known for the Persona series, chose a full localization of the game Revelations: Persona for the North American market before remastering it as a partial localization years later, after receiving criticism from North American players12.
However, for some games, official localizations of certain languages either don’t exist or the localization is done so poorly that some fans have gone out of their way to make unofficial localizations in order to understand and enjoy the game properly. Examples include an English patch for a Japanese video game or translation fixes that end up with players feeling like “fan translations are better than official translations”13.
One of the dilemmas that localization teams face is having to somehow translate fictitious locations into something that is understood via real world languages. Even if said locations take inspirations from the real world, at the end of the day, these are entirely fictional universes that have their own unique culture. This itself presents a problem: How does one localize a fictional place into another language whilst keeping the culture of the game intact? Regarding Japanese, “The big question Japanese developers have to assess carefully when they decide to export their products is whether their game is going to be addressed to the mainstream audience, who may not be very familiar with Japanese culture, or to a niche market of Japanese culture fans, who are knowledgeable about Japan and want to experience Japanese culture as closely as possible”14. For Spanish, the process of localization is rather complicated, as there are many Spanish dialects around the world in Europe, the Americas, and the Caribbean15. However, despite generally improving over the last few years, there are still issues that can be seen in today’s localization efforts, such as complex translations that do not accurately reflect the game’s culture and setting.
Take for instance HoYoverse’s Honkai: Star Rail, released in April of 2023. In the Spanish-language version of the game, for several locations, the localization team chose to translate them in ways that do not match up with the general essence of the universe’s culture. This comes off as more awkward compared to other languages. One example of a poor Spanish translation in Honkai: Star Rail is the location name Corridor of Fading Echoes, a section of the City of Belobog on the planet of Jarilo-VI16. In Spanish, HoYoverse’s localization team decided to name this place Pasadizo de los ecos apagados17. If we were to translate the name Corridor of Fading Echoes back to English using Google Translate, we should expect to get something similar or the same location name. However instead, we get the phrase Passage of dull echoes instead which sounds completely different from what the English name is18.
If we divide the Spanish translation into separate words, we notice that HoYoverse went with the word “pasadizo” which, according to the Real Academia Española, means “paso estrecho que en las casas o calles sirve para ir de una parte a otra atajando camino”19. If we translate “corridor” into Spanish, we get “corredor” which does not match the Spanish name we see in Honkai: Star Rail and the same applies for “pasadizo” in English which translates as “passageway” more than “corridor.” The word “pasadizo” is an uncommon, archaic word in Spanish which is rarely used in the Spanish-speaking world today. According to the Real Academia Española, the country that uses it the most is Peru with 13.24% normalized frequency, and is more often used in Soap Operas with a 59.6% normalized frequency compared to 5.04% in the fields of Arts, Culture and Entertainment or 2.17% in the fields of Science and Technology20. On the other hand, “corredor” is used more throughout the Spanish-speaking countries, is almost four times more used compared to “pasadizo,” is used almost three times more in Arts, Culture and Entertainment, and is used almost thirteen times more in Science and Technology21. “Pasadizo” ranks 19,036 on Corpus de Español’s Web-Dialect collection and is used 2.92 per million according to the Real Academia Española, compared to “corredor” which is ranked 3,559 and is used 33.72 per million; an increase of almost six times in the Corpus de Español and almost sixteen times in the corpus of the Real Academia Española22, 23, 24, 25. The use of the word “pasadizo” for Corridor of Fading Echoes is rather unusual for HoYoverse to choose over “corredor,” given the fact that “corredor” is widely used more than “pasadizo” according to not just Corpus de Español, but Google’s Ngram which shows the use of the word “pasadizo” in Spanish-language books only reached the same levels as “corredor” in the 1800’s, whilst “corredor” is used five times more in Spanish books in our century26.
Apart from “pasadizo”, we see the use of “ecos apagados” which translated into English means “dull echoes,” a translation that not only is nowhere close to “fading echoes,” but also sounds wrong to say27. The word “apagado” means “off” in English, but it does not have the same connotation as the word “fading” to match the name Corridor of Fading Echoes. The word “fading,” according to Merriam-Webster means “to change gradually in loudness, strength, or visibility” which suggests a gradual disappearance28. “Apagado” also shares a similar definition to “fading” in the Real Academia Española’s dictionary, however as previously stated, the connotation and the general understanding of the word, referring to turning off the car or lights in a room, sounds rather harsh and abrupt, and it does not match exactly how Corridor of Fading Echoes is in the Honkai: Star Rail story29.
If we are to look at the Corridor of Fading Echoes for ourselves, it is very clearly a “corredor”, and not a “pasadizo” as the localization team thinks it is. As can be seen in the image to the right, Corridor of Fading Echoes is very clearly in an open space – not an enclosed, secret underground path that “pasadizo” would normally imply, according to Corpus de Español’s terms and collocates30. While it is in a restricted area called the Silvermane Guard Restricted Zone, it’s not hidden from the public. Plus, since it’s in a wide open area, it also completely contradicts the other implication of “pasadizo,” which is that it is normally tight and dark31. If Corridor of Fading Echoes was meant to be hidden, like what “pasadizo” would imply, why would it be out in the open to begin with? On the contrary, “corredor” has a definition under “corredor aéreo” in the Real Academia Española’s dictionary, which does fall in line with what Corridor of Fading Echoes is shown as, along with the Corpus de Español’s terms in which “corredor” is a route and passage32–33.
In addition, if we translate Corridor of Fading Echoes into Spanish, we can notice that the Spanish translation begins to show its flaws. First, we have “corridor” which should translate as “corredor”, not “pasadizo” as mentioned before. Once we get to “fading echoes” however, everything gets complicated once again. If we were to translate “fading echoes” using Google Translate, it would be translated as “ecos que se desvanecen,” meaning that we would have Corredor de los ecos que se desvanecen as our location name in Honkai: Star Rail34. While this is the actual translation of “fading echoes,” it is rather wordy for a location, especially considering that HoYoverse has to take into account voice acting for the characters that are part of the Belobog arc like Bronya Rand, March 7th, and Serval of Honkai: Star Rail. To combat the wordiness, we could use the phrase “ecos desparecidos” instead which refers to disappearing echoes, giving us Corredor de los ecos desparecidos. Using this phrase not only makes the location name less wordy and easier for voice actors to say without annoying players, but it keeps intact the history of the place in a way that most Spanish speakers are able to understand easily when going through the game’s story.
A point can be made about game limitations, the significance of the words, the century and layout of Belobog within the Honkai: Star Rail universe, and possible Spanish variety prejudice. In the case that there is a game limitation, some linguists and scholars may argue that the suggested text is too big and could pose issues with the game’s core functions. This is especially a concern with some games, like those from China. Kah Hui Teo and Joelle Tjhadjadi, from Keyword Studios and Reality Squared Games respectively, state that, for Chinese games, “the Chinese language is the one language that can convey the most information while taking up the least amount of space. Furthermore, due to how concise the Chinese language inherently is, Chinese developers optimize their UIs for Chinese, making lack of space in the UI a massive barrier for localization teams”35 HoYoverse, better known as miHoYo Co., Ltd. in China itself, is a Chinese company, so the issues mentioned by Teo and Tjahjadi should affect their games like Honkai: Star Rail, Genshin Impact and Honkai Impact 3rd. However, this isn’t the case when you play their games in another language, especially with Honkai: Star Rail. While it’s true that Corredor de los ecos desparecidos takes up 33 characters compared to Pasadizo de los ecos apagados’s 29, there exists a place in Honkai: Star Rail that uses more characters than Corredor de los ecos desparecidos. The location name of the Zona restringida de la Guardia Crinargenta, which is a location before Pasadizo de los ecos apagados, takes up 42 characters, which is more than both Pasadizo de los ecos apagados and Corredor de los ecos desparecidos36. Yet, several game elements still fit in properly against other user interface (UI) layouts like the Interastral Peace Guide, world map locations, the HUD, which tells you the place you are in and has buttons for other menus, and more. Even if UI were an issue to fit the names in these UI layouts, HoYoverse could easily adjust the game’s UI itself to accommodate other languages, or shrink the text down dynamically to fit it properly into the UI element without any interference. This is especially possible given the fact that HoYoverse is a big company that earns a lot of money through premium currency in their games.
Regarding variety prejudice and the layout and century of Belobog, other linguists and scholars may say that “pasadizo” is still viable as Belobog could take place in a older century that, in the real world, would have used “pasadizo” more commonly than “corredor”, and that the suggested translation replacement is only reflective through that type of Spanish. As mentioned before, the literal translation of Corridor of Fading Echoes from Google Translate is Corredor de ecos que se desvanecen so the use of “corredor” is still valid in this case. However, this translation, as mentioned previously, is rather wordy to be used in a conversation or when voice acting is involved. Additionally, “ecos que se desvanecen” sounds like more like a statement than a name, as in when you say “Aquí están los ecos que se desvanecen de nuestro mundo.” I do acknowledge that there are other translations than just Corredor de los ecos desparecidos, like Corredor de los ecos perdidos or Pasillo de los ecos desparecidos, but as I mentioned previously, “there can never be a perfectly translated game.” The most we can do is translate what we must into something that should make sense to most players in each region while keeping the original meaning intact as much as possible. To address the issue of different Spanish regions, HoYoverse can implement different Spanish versions in Honkai: Star Rail like “Español (es-LA)” and “Español (es-ES)” for Latin America and Spain, respectively. By tailoring two different versions of Spanish, people from these regions should be able to experience the game in their native language using their native dialect without the issues of tailoring to all dialects in one. While this will increase the cost of the game, it will be beneficial in the long run for HoYoverse for not only retaining players, but bringing others in and not turning them away due to a poor localization of their language in their own dialect. Regarding the time period Belobog is in, we know that Belobog is a futuristic city given the fact that it has guns, electric guitars, portable heaters, cars, and more. If we were to reflect this, we would be beyond the Industrial Revolution to around the 1930s in real-life terms. During this time, according to Google Ngram, “corredor” would still be around 9 to 10 times more used compared to “pasadizo” and it wouldn’t change much if we were to reflect Belobog in 2023 despite its fictional year37.
The point of word significance is an interesting argument. While we do want word significance to stay the same or similar to the original phrase/word, it is not always possible. We considered Corridor of Fading Echoes and divided the three main words of them into a proper definition and looked back at the actual game to reflect this. In it, we emphasized what the English word was trying to express and translated it to Spanish in a similar fashion. While the suggested translation of Corridor of Fading Echoes alters the phrase slightly, it still conveys the meaning of the place in a clear and concise manner. One consideration is about how we interact with this place. In the Belobog arc of Honkai: Star Rail, we go through the Corridor of Fading Echoes, to find and save Bronya Rand and to stop Cocolia Rand, Bronya Rand’s mother, from taking drastic measures to “protect Belobog” and “be the architect of a new world”38. During this part of the quest, we can see echoes from both Bronya and Cocolia Rand walking towards Everwinter Hill and can hear what they were discussing when we interact with these echoes. Not only that, but before even getting to Everwinter Hill, you must fight an echo version of Cocolia Rand herself before you are able to continue further into the story. Once you deal with her echo, it disappears into thin air, leaving you there to continue onwards. Echoes can also be seen outside of the main story, such as the daily quest Ghost of the Past, which takes place in various locations in Belobog, including the Corridor of Fading Echoes. During this, you are usually tasked with talking to an individual from the past who has already died and become an echo. This individual wants something done and, once the mission is over, the echo will disappear into thin air, never to be seen again39. Knowing that the echoes we face in the game are people from a past life and can disappear after something is done, shows that this place means not “off echoes” nor “dull echoes,” but “fading” or “disappearing” echoes.
There is also the issue of the localization team seemingly leaning towards the straight translation of the entire game into the language they are localizing, creating further awkwardness with some translations that have a significant dissonance from the game’s universe. The choice between having a partial translation over a full translation of the game is one that is dependent mainly on the “marketing strategies and market size” of the game itself, alongside game expectations40. However sometimes these choices can make a localization questionable at best. Looking back at Honkai: Star Rail, we see that HoYoverse decided to do a full localization of the game into Spanish from just looking at the world map of Jarilo-VI and the light cones, items that you can give to characters to “boost their health points, attack and defense points and grant a passive ability to [them]”41. However, as mentioned previously, some of these translations don’t seem to match up with the game culture itself. Looking at the list of places we can go to on Jarilo-VI, we can see that every name in Jarilo-VI has been translated into Spanish, with places like the aforementioned Pasadizo de los ecos apagados, Zona restringida de la Guardia Crinargenta, and Paso de Remanso with little trace of English in sight42. However, these translations pose a problem. What do these places actually mean and are they really reflective of their English versions? To answer this, let’s look at Zona restringida de la Guardia Crinargenta and translate it to English. We can translate most of this phrase into English, which results in Restricted Zone of the Guard Crinargenta but the last word, “crinargenta,” poses a problem. What exactly is “crinargenta?” Looking through the Real Academia Espanola’s dictionary and its own corpus returns zero results of the word “crinargenta.” Looking at Google’s Ngram’s, it tells us that “crinargenta” was not found in any book in the Spanish-language library from the 1800s to 2019. Searching the Corpus de Espanol for the word also returns no results. So what does “crinargenta” even mean? If we examine the English version of Zona restringida de la Guardia Crinargenta, we see that the zone is called the Silvermane Guard Restricted Zone, which is a military area for Belobog’s Silvermane Guards. You can think of the Silvermane Guards like the US Army with different rankings, commanders, captains, and more, while the restricted zone is like a typical US military base. Even for the English localization, it is not possible to translate “Silvermane” into Spanish, as there is no word in the Spanish language that it could be directly translated into. In this case, there is no viable translation available for “silvermane,” so for our own translation, we would end up having Zona restringida de la Guardia Silvermane with the word “silvermane” being pronounced using Spanish phonology. The same process here can also be applied to Boulder Town, a small town in the Underworld of Belobog, which we could translate as Pueblo de Boulder or Ciudad de Boulder, keeping Boulder in English as it is the name of the place itself, like the city of Boulder in Colorado43. In Honkai: Star Rail, however, this place is referred to as “Villarroca,” which does not have an English translation and only has a translation when you split “villa” and “roca” to make “rock town,” which sounds awkward as both a town name and a phrase to say44.
In Spanish-speaking cultures, it is common for us to say English words when we are speaking amongst ourselves, when there is no direct translation of the word in Spanish, we do not know the Spanish translation of the word, or because the English word was “adapted for or assimilated into the Spanish language”45. For example, you can say “Tengo clase de Spinning en el gimnasio” to mean “I have a spinning class at the gym”, because the word “spinning” is an English loanword in Spanish46. This is not exclusive to Spanish; rather, it also applies to other languages. Take for instance Japanese, in which games that are either written in Japan or are localized into Japanese tend to keep parts of English text within them rather than have a full-on Japanese adaptation. The reason why Japanese localizations keep some of the English text in their games, rather than just translating the game into Japanese, can be attributed to a few factors. According to Clyde Mandelin from Legends of Localization, when you translate a English game into Japanese, “[t]here’s a common assumption that when you translate something from English into another language, there shouldn’t be any English left when you’re done. Otherwise it would be an incomplete translation”47. However, Mandelin states that this assumption is incorrect, saying that “English makes up a significant portion of the Japanese language today, and on top of that, English has been a major part of Japanese video games since the very beginning,” using examples from Pokémon, which in Japanese is called “Pocket Monsters,” Super Mario Odyssey, and more as proof of his statement48. Due to this connection that dates all the way back to early video games, there is an expectation of English to be found in Japanese games that some developers tend to overlook. For games from the west Mandelin states that “Western games are characterized by this ‘must translate everything’ assumption. As such, weird-sounding text and Western games go hand-in-hand the same way old retro games and bad English go hand-in-hand”49. Just like Japanese, Spanish follows the same process similarly, keeping certain, untranslatable words in its native tongue, but pronounced using Spanish phonology.
Despite this, there is an argument that the full translation of Zona restringida de la Guardia Crinargenta and Villarroca are done this way because this is how HoYoverse envisioned Honkai: Star Rail for the Spanish playerbase and that “crinargenta” not only does translate into “silvermane,” but is also valid Spanish. Yes, the word “crinargenta” translates to “silvermane” if you separate “silver” and “mane,” but this is a literal translation. A literal translation, according to Liraz Postan from BLEND, a game localization company, is when “the text is translated word-for-word from one language to another”50. Previously, we tried to search for the word “crinargenta” using the Real Academia Española, Corpus de Español, and Google’s Ngram and found no use of the word “crinargenta” from the 1800s up to 2019, nor is the word mentioned in any corpus or dictionary. This tells us that HoYoverse didn’t “pay much attention to the meaning of a text as a whole,” suggesting that the localization team didn’t take into account who the Silvermane Guards are in Honkai: Star Rail51. According to Postan, the lack of attention to the text as a whole can result in “unintelligible sentences, poor grammatical structures” or “idioms that bear no meaning in the target language”52. One such example of this was when Coca-Cola tried to capitalize on the popularity of the Disney movie ‘Moana’ by “advertising their products in the native Polynesian language Māori”53. The problem with these ads was that Coca-Cola used a literal translation in these ads and translated “‘Hello, Mate!’ to ‘Kia Ora, Mate,’ which in Te Reo Māori translates to ‘Greeting, death!’ resulting in an unanticipated mistake in their advertising54. That isn’t to say that literal translations do not have their use. According to Postan, literal translations can work in a “technical, scientific, legal translation or even technological texts,” but they should not be used in normal texts, of which much of Honkai: Star Rail’s content is comprised of55.
In addition to this, although Google Translate does indeed translate “crinargenta” to “silvermane,” this is not the case for all translators and you have to manually type “crinargenta” in Google Translate to get to the word “silvermane”56. If you use Yandex Translate, you will only get back “crinargenta” or “argent horsehair” and Bing returns “silvercrine” or “argent mane” if you use “crinargenta” or divide the word out as “crin” and “argenta”57–58. Using Samsung’s Translate feature, which is also powered by Google Translate, we instead get “crinagent” which shows that the translation argument is weak and only functions in one out of four tests. Additionally, if you were to ask artificial intelligence like ChatGPT by OpenAI or Google’s Bard to translate the word to English, they will differ in many ways from traditional translating applications. Bard’s response to the question says that “The most direct English translation of “crinargenta” is “silver-maned,” while ChatGPT says that “the term “crinargenta” does not appear to be a common word in English or any other widely recognized language” to the point that the chat name itself is called “Unknown Term in English“ by OpenAI’s chat resolver59–60.
Attempting to squeeze every word here in Honkai: Star Rail into Spanish is contrary to what Mandelin has stated and the same happened in the Persona series by Japanese game studio Atlus. For their video game, Relevations: Persona, not only was the game name translated, but many aspects of the game were “adapted extensively for the North American release” like “Japanese place and characters’ names [being] changed into English names,” gameplay mechanics, and character appearances61. According to Mangiron, “[t]he localized English version received so much criticism because of all these changes that in subsequent releases the localization team decided to change the localization strategy in favor of foreignization” with Persona 2: Eternal Punishment and later games having partial localization of the game itself in a way that kept the Japanese culture intact, but added special details so the game could be understood by a audience who isn’t familiar with Japan62. As Mandelin says in his post in regards to localized Japanese games from English, “if you end up turning every special term into fully-translated Japanese, the result is likely to feel cheap and awkward” including a silly comment he found online that states “In some Western game, they translated ‘Flash Heal’ as shunkan chiryō. As soon as I saw that, I immediately got turned off. They could’ve just left it as-is (phonetically)…”63. While the points Mandelin states “don’t make or break game translations into Japanese, they can definitely hurt the overall experience” for a player, which is why it’s important to balance between what should be translated over what the original source material is intending, which HoYoverse and other game developers should follow when localizing their games to another language64. HoYoverse has done this, but not for Honkai: Star Rail; rather, Genshin Impact, released in 2020, for certain regions in Inazuma, a kingdom in-game. For the islands that surround Inazuma, they are translated accurately with Narukami Island and Watasumi Island being translated as Isla Narukami and Isla Watasumi65. For other places like Kannazuka and Enkanomiya, HoYoverse has decided to keep their names as-is showing that, even in HoYoverse’s vision of Genshin Impact, they are able to keep the game intact without translating everything to another language66. Something similar was done in Honkai: Star Rail, with the Xianzhou Luofu and its translation of El Xianzhou del Luofu67. Even though the Xianzhou Luofu could be called El Xianzhou Luofu to be more directly connected with The Xianzhou Luofu, it isn’t as drastic as the other translations and shows that even in the game in question, there are places that are left as-is, rather than requiring a full rename like Qiongji Estuary as Estuario Chiongji, or alterations of the same name68–69.
The problems associated with video game localization are rather significant when it comes to adapting a game into another language, not just for HoYoverse, but other game developers like Atlus, Capcom and more. Now this poses another question. How do people understand these video game localizations? For the Arabic version of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) and Free Fire, researchers Shatha Jarrah, Saleh Al-Salman and Ahmad S Haider gathered 112 players from the ages of 10 to 30 years of age that played both games and asked them about their “reactions toward the Arabic localization of PUBG and Free Fire” using a questionnaire70. When presented with the question as to whether “the localized Arabic game is a true reflection of what is being said on the screen,” the scores were rather mixed with only 41.2% of respondents saying yes compared to 40.2% of respondents saying no71. While the respondents mostly agreed that the Arabic localization of PUBG and Free Fire was preferred, they still agreed that there were a lot of language issues, with over 76.8% of respondents for PUBG and 65.2% for Free Fire stating that the localized games had Arabic spelling errors, with grammatical and lexical errors following suit72. In the end, Jarrah, Al-Salman and Haider found that there was a weak positive response to language issues saying that there were “negative remarks focused on the grammatical errors, spelling errors, and lexical semantic errors in the Arabic versions of the game” and that respondents stated that “localization of video games is still lacking and [should] be performed by professional localizers”73.
Something similar can be applied to HoYoverse’s Honkai: Star Rail and Genshin Impact. I conducted a survey of fifteen different Spanish speakers who have never played Honkai: Star Rail nor Genshin Impact. These speakers were from different fluency groups and between the ages of 18 to 65. The respondents include students and professors, some of whom are linguists who either learnt Spanish at home or through a Spanish course. First, respondents were asked to translate 12 locations in Honkai: Star Rail and Genshin Impact to English from their official Spanish translations, without image context to the region in question. After processing the results, we see that from all fifteen responses, no location was able to achieve a passable score from the respondents’ attempts at translating the location name, for locations either in Genshin Impact or Honkai: Star Rail. The lowest score was 0% accuracy that was shared between Corridor of Fading Echoes, the Outlying Snow Plains, and Central Starskiff Haven from Honkai: Star Rail and Windvail Highland, the Sea of Clouds and the Court of Fontaine Region from Genshin Impact. The highest score was 50% accuracy for Honkai: Star Rail for the Robot Settlement and 33% accuracy for Vishuddha Fields from Genshin Impact.
Considering the fluency types, it appears that those with low Spanish fluency were unable to understand several of the locations in both Honkai: Star Rail and Genshin Impact, while those with good literacy were able to somewhat understand a few locations like Everwinter Hill and Robot Settlement from Honkai: Star Rail and Qiongji Esturary and Vishudda Fields from Genshin Impact, accounting for “Chiongji” as valid for “Qiongji,” but for the majority of places, they did not understand the name of the location or had parts of the location correct, but not others. When we consider those fluent with Spanish, we see that these respondents were able to understand places like Robot Settlement for Honkai: Star Rail and Vishuddha Fields from Genshin Impact with 90% accuracy, however struggled with many other places like Everwinter Hill and the Silvermane Guard Restricted Zone with 20% accuracy for Honkai: Star Rail and Qiongji Estuary with 60% accuracy.
After the first pass of questions, respondents were asked to name 8 locations in Honkai: Star Rail and Genshin Impact using their Spanish phrases with image context to the region in question and given a table of location names. Similarly to the first section, no location was able to achieve a passable score from the respondents’ attempts at naming the location correctly, for either Honkai: Star Rail and Genshin Impact. The lowest score was 0% accuracy for Exalting Sanctum from Honkai: Star Rail while the highest was 40% accuracy for Windvail Highland for Genshin Impact.
Considering the fluency types, it appears that those with low Spanish fluency were unable to determine the correct name for many of the locations from Honkai: Star Rail and Genshin Impact, with the highest being 25% accuracy for Corridor of Fading Echoes. Respondents with good Spanish literacy appeared to somewhat understand several locations in Honkai: Star Rail and Genshin Impact like Everwinter Hill for Honkai: Star Rail and Vishuddha Fields, Windvail Highland and the Court of Fontaine Region for Genshin Impact; however, they still had issues with most of the other Honkai: Star Rail places and the Sea of Clouds from Genshin Impact. When we consider those fluent in Spanish, we see that these respondents were able to understand places like Windvail Highland and the Court of Fontaine Region for Genshin Impact but struggled with the rest of the Genshin Impact places and all places in Honkai: Star Rail with Everwinter Hill at 40% accuracy, tying it with Vishuddha Fields from Genshin Impact.
Comparing the results of this survey with the one made by Jarrah, Al-Salman and Haider, we can see that between different questions and languages, there is a disconnect between how game developers and publishers localize their games and how others understand them, resulting in misunderstandings which are reported in their analysis and my own. With respondents’ translations for Corridor of Fading Echoes not translating the same or similarly to its Spanish counterpart, we can see that there exists a possible semantic error between the Spanish translation and the English results obtained like Passage of the off echoes and Hallway of fading echoes. This showcases that, currently, the methods that are being used for localization are not adequate between not just PUBG and Free Fire, but HoYoverse and other game developers. There is a massive disconnect of what is being shown with what is being said, both with context or without context. Due to this, sometimes special meanings of certain things in video games may lose value, like the Spanish translation of Welt Yang’s Light Cone In the Name of the World compared to English. Take for instance the following section of his light cone:74.
“It’s a… great name, right?”
In Spanish, however, this is what the same section means, according to HoYoverse’s localization team:75
“Es un buen nombre, ¿verdad?”
To further flesh out the world building, HoYoverse provides descriptions of the light cones in order to expand upon the in-game universe’s lore. If we take a closer look, we can see that the Spanish version of Welt Yang’s light cone lacks the ellipses that are present in the English response. This change alters the meaning of the light cone description by having it sound more like a general question than a meaningful conversation between Welt Yang and Welt Joyce, adding depth to Welt Yang’s story, even if we don’t know much about Welt Yang in the actual game. Including the ellipses also adds a bit of hesitation in the quote that could have implications such as the reluctant inheritance of power, possibly hinted by Welt Yang’s Ultimate Activation Line “You know nothing of the weight behind this power“76. If we were to translate this part, we would have noticed that this light cone talks about a transfer of power between Welt Joyce to Welt Yang, so that Welt Yang can save the world. With this context made clear, we can say that the second quote should have been “Es un… buen nombre. ¿Verdad?” If we used this quote instead, we would not only keep the same meaning of what is being said in English, but we would also keep the feeling of the description that the light cone is trying to portray to the user itself.
The reasons we have these issues come down to time, budget, and the lack of resources that a localization team has when localizing games to another language. According to Mangiron, localization teams lack “access to the visual context of the game” and when a localization team must localize a game that is still in development, “the text is constantly subject to changes and updates” depending on what the game developers feel should be in the game or not77. Mangiron continues and states that “[f]or this reason, if there is not much contextual information available and translators have no access to the visuals of the game, it can be difficult to know if a character is speaking to one person or more, and also to know whether the addressee(s) is (are) male or female”78. If we were to consider this in Honkai: Star Rail, we could possibly see this statement being accurate with Corridor of Fading Echoes and Welt Yang’s light cone, as there is a disconnect between the team localizing the game in Spanish and the actual lore of not just Honkai: Star Rail, but possibly its predecessor Honkai Impact 3rd, because the localization team lacked the actual game itself and/or the resources from HoYoverse to understand the message and context of these phrases and descriptions.
Aside from lack of resources, Mangiron also points out that time is an issue, mentioning Atlus’ Persona 5 having a lower localization quality compared to Persona 2: Eternal Punishment to Persona 4: Golden, stating that this was possibly due to “the time frame for localizing the project was short” for a team of “six translators and eight editors” that not only could cause fragmented words, but a lack of “time allocated to perform a thorough quality assurance process” in order to make sure that the English localization of Persona 5 was accurate to the Japanese version and was well understood by the game’s fans79. Budget is another reason for a localization team’s faults, as, depending on whether there is a in-studio localization team or a third-party one, games can either be low cost in localization by only using “documental localization” or high cost with a “full localization.” These decisions can affect the quality of the localization presented and as Mangiron quotes from Stephen Mandiburg, “[the] key to most game localization is staying safely within the restrictive forces of taste and budget”80. It is possible that some games like Honkai: Star Rail may not have had a sufficient budget compared to say SEGA’s Yakuza franchise, which invested in both a partial and a full localization of their game franchises, while keeping the Japanese culture of the game in both versions, at a higher development cost and timeframe before release. This shows that a proper localization not only requires sufficient time and context, but also enough funding for it to be well received by players and fans, like the positive fan reactions to Persona 2: Eternal Punishment, Persona 4: Golden, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, and the Yakuza franchise81.
The localization of video games has come a long way since the hilarious “All your base are belong to us” translation from Zero Wing in 198982. However, despite these improvements, there are still issues that can be seen in today’s efforts of video game localization. We have seen that games like Honkai: Star Rail attempt to translate everything into the language they are localizing for, with “silvermane” as “crinargenta” even though “crinargenta” is not a recognized Spanish word by the Real Academia Española. They also translate places like Corridor of Fading Echoes as Pasadizo de los ecos apagados and poorly translate Welt Yang’s In the Name of the World light cone, despite there being a lore disconnect between the two versions, due to a lack of resources, time, and budget. Due to these issues and decisions, some localizations for games like Honkai: Star Rail, PUBG and Free Fire may be seen more awkwardly by players, according to Mandelin, or may not be understood by many players as shown in both Jarrah, Al-Salman and Haider’s research and the survey I posed to different Spanish speakers with Honkai: Star Rail and Genshin Impact locations. Game localization is important not just from a business standpoint to obtain more fans and revenue, but for the fans as well, so that they can enjoy the game more directly in their native tongue without having to struggle with an unknown language. Even though there can never be a perfectly translated game, game developers like HoYoverse should put more effort into providing their localization teams with access to not just the game, but “notes about context, lots of info about how different characters should behave, lots of screenshots and videos of key moments, and just be there to answer lots of questions” in order for a game localization to be good and accepted by players83.
Dr. Meghann Peace for her assistance in proofreading this relatively long article in both English and Spanish and making sure that for someone who is unfamilar to Honkai: Star Rail knows what I am talking about along with doubling down on my arguments.
TheWandering514 for his assistance in proofreading as well and giving ideas as to tackling certain sections of my article more effectively.
Honkai Impact 3rd
Honkai: Star Rail
Azariel Del Carmen is a student majoring in Computer Science for the Class of 2024 at St. Mary’s University of San Antonio. He loves to learn and hear new things relating to technology. He is inspired by what he does, others he looks up to, and the person he wants to become for the future in his life and goals.Author Portfolio Page