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...With a successful translation of Final Fantasy VIII under their belts by September 1999 and Chrono Cross ready to go in August 2000, Squaresoft's localization teams had only one last PlayStation masterpiece to tackle: Final Fantasy IX.
The lush fantasy world and medieval cities of Final Fantasy IX marked a return to tradition for the series, which had grown increasingly modern with VII and VIII. But tradition hardly meant simplicity: As a celebration of the Final Fantasy series, IX packed a dizzying number of references to past characters, locations and themes, all wrapped up in a charming adventure that pushed the PlayStation to the limits of what it's hardware cound handle. A host of changes made the game feel like an interactive fantasy storybook or stage play: The return to cartoony superdeformed characters, the Active Time Events that introduced secondary plot elements, the allusions to Shakespeare. Even the simple addition of quotation marks around dialogue, first appearing in VII, gave the text a more literary air.
Though many of IX's allusions were present in the Japanese version of the game, they weren't there at the beginning -- when Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi delivered his original script, it barely resembled the full game that would later appear.
"I can remember receiving an initial draft of Sakaguchi-san's script early in production to review as preparation for our Loc Dept," Honeywood said. "I was surprised that it didn't really have any structure or even grammar to it. The plot was just a series of nouns. 'Darkness. Matches. Light. Candle. Boy with tail....' It made me laugh as I tried to imagine how a dev team would make a game out of this, and how much the planners would flesh out that basic story draft to have a very involved plot."
Final Fantasy IX's references range from the obvious to the obscure. Garland, Mog, Vivi, and "No cloud, no squall shall hinder us!" all make overt references to fan-favorite series elements, while Trance, the Dwarves of Conde Petit and the Princess Cornelia of "I Want to Be Your Canary" could easily sail over the heads of all but the most devoted fans. And that's not even counting the pop culture references packed into the script, with allusions to Star Trek ("Dammit Jim, I'm a doctor, not a miracle worker.") and Monty Python ("Bah! Only only a flesh wound!")
Perhaps it was the wonderful source material, or perhaps it was the strength of the localization department by the year 2000; either way, Final Fantasy IX's translation remains one of the strongest scripts Squaresoft has ever produced. The improvements in technology helped, too, of course.
"FFVIII was the last game that forced the translators to submit their text in Shift-JIS double byte letters. I had written a tool that converted the text for them (along with line-width-checkers and a few other tools). On FFIX we convinced the dev team to allow us to use extended ASCII from the get-go, helping them implement that encoding into the program along with better fonts."
By the time Honeywood and the other localization producers were working on FFIX, they had hired translators capable of converting Japanese straight to FIGS (French, Italian, German, Spanish) rather than translating the script to English first. As a remarkably lively translation and a technical accomplishment, Final Fantasy IX was a fitting homage to the series and a hallmark of what was to come in future Square titles, when localization teams would work more closely with the developers than ever before.
"At FFIX's stage, we weren't too involved on a daily basis with the Japanese version...FFX, FFXI, FFX-2, FFXII and onwards we had the translators move to sit within the dev team at an earlier stage, and there was more collaboration. Over time, some dev teams became very good at choosing product and character names that work in all regions by discussing them with us."
In some cases, that close working relationship resulted in the English translations feeding back into the Japanese scripts -- FFX-2's developers liked the term "machina" that was developed for Final Fantasy X's English script so much they added it into their game in Japanese. And because American gamers cared far more about lip syncing in cut-scenes, some games like The Bouncer were recorded with English voices first and later dubbed into Japanese.