May 20, 2024


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‘It’s a tier above’: How a giant, cryptic RPG like Elden Ring gets translated

When Ryan Morris, long time localizer and translator of FromSoftware games, first saw Demon’s Souls, he wasn’t impressed. His first exposure to the series was the opening cutscene for the RPG that started it all, and it clocked as awkward.

“To be honest, my first concern was, can a Japanese director effectively make a Western-style fantasy game?” remembers Morris, who works with London and Tokyo-based localisation company Frognation. “I was quite concerned about that. I mean, the passion was there. But is he really going to be able to follow through? He’s unknown at this time. He’s not a legendary director.”

Hidetaka Miyazaki, the creator of the Dark Souls series, Bloodborne, Sekiro, and now Elden Ring, has definitely proven that he can follow through. Western fantasy is a strong influence on Dark Souls and Elden Ring, so much so that in order to capture the mood of Western fantasy, Miyazaki chose to have English-language voice acting even in the Japanese version of his games.

Demon's Souls

2009’s PS3 exclusive Demon’s Souls was Frognation’s first FromSoftware translation. (Image credit: From Software)

Still, while all the trappings of high fantasy are present in FromSoftware games, they wouldn’t be as cherished if it was pure emulation. The Soulsverse has a peculiar way with language, a bereft archaism that works hand-in-hand with the bleak grandeur of its worlds. Whereas most game developers strive to clarify each plot beat in order to avoid losing a player’s attention, Miyazaki’s games famously demand a lot: whole forums and YouTube channels are dedicated to making sense of narratives that are told so obliquely they can easily be ignored entirely. But if you’re not ignoring them, Soulsborne games seem to have a fathomless, mysterious depth uncommon even in written fantasy, and it’s something that feels uniquely Miyazaki. It’s vital to their barren, cryptic, and absurd moods.

“Miyazaki takes each character quite seriously, I think he kind of falls in love with them”