Dragon Quest: Protectors of the Whimsical Accents

Dragon Quest 9 released in Japan over the weekend, and several of my Japan-based Twitter and Facebook friends immediately proceeded to sequester themselves away from all possible distractions in order to devour the game.

But even though I’m a longtime DQ fan (we’re talking ever since the Nintendo Power giveaway promotion back in ’89), I’m still not that hyped for the North American release just yet. I wasn’t quite sure why, but then it hit me: It’s because the feature I’m most excited about isn’t actually included in the Japanese version.

The accents.


Ever since Square Enix decided to go all-out with Dragon Quest 8‘s translation — peppering the dialogue with whimsical accents and clever regional characterizations — DQ’s probably been my favorite localized Japanese series. Nothing against the majority of fantasy-RPG writing, but when knights in shining armor talk like they’re from Ohio, it kinda takes me out of the experience.

Dragon Quest’s use of regional British dialects — along with some (admittedly over-the-top) foreign inflections — really make me feel like I’ve been transported to another world. For example, DQ8 bodyguard Yangus speaks with a hilarious Cockney inflection. But when you eventually reach his hometown of Pickham later in the game, you realize this isn’t just some throwaway characterization trick. No, Yangus talks just like everyone else in his village…even the Cockney-inflected cats!

Personally, I think the use of regional British dialects actually makes the text closer to the original Japanese. Japan and the U.K. are somewhat similar geographically and linguistically in that they’re about the same size, and several distinct cultural regions developed over the centuries. Go 60 miles in America, and everyone still talks the same. Go 60 miles in Japan and the U.K. — especially before the mid-20th century — and you’ll run into vastly different accents.

These regional differences are regularly referenced in the Japanese versions of various games, manga, and anime — for example, Dragon Ball protagonist Goku may speak like a standard American in the English-language release, but he actually has a country dialect in the Japanese version — but they’re often lost in translation. Using the U.K’s vast array of dialects, however, is an ingenious way to help keep some of the original flavor.

But not everyone finds these accents charming. Upon Dragon Quest 4‘s release, message boards filled with frustrated gamers unable to understand the thick Scottish brogue featured in Ragnar McRyan’s opening chapter. And there’s no doubt that if Square Enix decided to go for standard, generic translations, we’d certainly get DQ games a bit sooner — DQ9 doesn’t even have a North American release announced yet, though it’s certainly coming.

What do you guys think? Are you fans of Dragon Quest-style localizations, or do you prefer more generic accents and characterizations? And since these characterizations require so much creativity, is it worth it to wait a bit longer for the localized releases?

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