The History Behind Crossbell’s Untranslatable Military Ranks

Note: This article will discuss an optional scene from Chapter 4, Day 2 of The Legend of Heroes: Trails to Azure. While I try to avoid spoilers where possible, some story details will be necessary to explain what's happening.

The Legend of Heroes: Trails to Azure finally saw an official English release last week. Due to the troubled and lengthy localization of the first two Trails in the Sky games, it was passed over in favor of the Trails of Cold Steel games, which were the newest entries at the time. Originally released in Japan in 2011, Azure‘s 12-year localization journey put English-speaking Trails fans in a tier of suffering usually reserved for Duke Nukem Forever pre-orderers.

With such a wait, it’s no surprise that fan translators beat both NISA and XSEED to the punch. In 2020, fan localization team Geofront released a lavish fan patch for Trails from Zero, giving Azure the same treatment just one year later. I haven’t done a thorough comparison, but having played every localized Legend of Heroes game (including the Gagharv trilogy) my impression is that their work borders on indistinguishable from the official localizations stylistically. Small wonder, then, that NISA chose to use these fan projects as a foundation when the two games finally got over the localization barrier and were officially brought to the West.

But Geofront’s fan patch wasn’t the only attempt to give English-speaking players access to Azure. Before them came Guren, whose work understandably fell short of fully editing a script that is by some estimates 5 times longer than War and Peace. Unfortunately—even with additional work done by Flame and Kitsune57, along with some polish by Geofront’s fans in the months following Zero‘s release—what leaked of Guren’s patch was far from finished.

Guren’s patch features many stock translations that probably would’ve been reworded in an editing pass if one ever came.

Of course, it’s unreasonable to hold the lack of polish against Guren. The project was never completed in that form, and even the amount of work that was finished is truly staggering. On top of that, he laid the groundwork for Geofront to eventually finish the job.

Still, it does lead to some interesting nuances being exposed for those of us who played through Guren patch. Take, for example, this screenshot from an optional event near Orchis Tower. For context, this scene comes on the heels of an plot development requiring Crossbell’s military to take steps to become more credible as an armed force.

Addressing the party, a soldier says, "We were called Captain[ichii], 1st Lt. [nii], 2nd Lt. [san'i], but now it's Captain[taii], 1st Lt. [chui], 2nd Lt. [shoi]."
The soldier is explaining recent policy changes to Randy, who used to serve.

This dialogue is likely to make anyone who doesn’t speak Japanese scratch their head. Clearly, there’s some nuance to the bracketed Japanese transliteration, but its exact nature isn’t obvious from this alone. First, let’s compare how both Guren and Geofront handled the exchange in full, and see if the answer gets any clearer.

Guren (with Flame edit) Fan TranslationGeofront/NISA Official Localization
[Soldier Carter]
By the way, when we became the State Guard, it was decided we’ll use normal military rank names.
[Private Carter]
In case you hadn’t heard, the Defense Force is shaking up the structure of command to be more like other armies on the continent.
We were called Captain[ichii], 1st Lt. [nii], 2nd Lt. [san’i], but now it’s Captain[taii], 1st Lt. [chui], 2nd Lt. [shoi].All current ranks are carrying over, but our day-to-day operations are going to be a lot stricter–like a proper military.
It’s rude if you get it wrong when addressing an officer, so be sure to be careful.I know you were pretty lax about using ranks back in the day. I don’t think that’d fly now.
Yeah, thanks for the warning.
Yeah. Thanks for the heads-up.
Then, because that Mireille was a 2nd Lt. [san’i]… She’s now a 2nd Lt. [shoi], huh.I wonder if Mireille’ll give me an earful for not calling her ‘Second Lieutenant Mireille’ next time I see her.
Ha ha, that’s a new way to make fun of her.Haha. That sounds like a fun way to get under her skin.
Hey now…
How’d this turn into an opportunity to torment the second lieutenant?

It’s easy to see that Guren’s translation is fairly literal, while Geofront’s does some rewriting. Both translations discuss revised proper conduct when addressing officers, and both translations have Randy decide this information can be used to tease his old boss, Mireille. Lastly, the game’s protagonist, Lloyd, chastises Randy in both versions.

These similarities aside, it’s hard to ignore that they are wholly irreconcilable with regard to the most interesting part of the exchange. Guren’s translation claims that the military ranks are changing in pronunciation if nothing else. Meanwhile, Geofront’s explicitly says they’re not changing, but policy is becoming stricter about enforcing their use. The way Randy and Lloyd react is also different, though only superficially in Lloyd’s case. For Randy, the changes are informed by Carter’s dialogue.

To figure out who’s right and why there’s such a big gap, we’re going to have to take a look at the Japanese dialogue. So, that’s below, alongside a fairly literal translation to help those of you who don’t speak Japanese understand it:

JapaneseDirect Translation
[Soldier Carter]
Incidentally, in becoming the National Defense Force, we also have to start using the same rank names a typical military does.
一尉、ニ尉、三尉って呼ばれてたのが大尉、中尉、少尉って具合にな。Those who used to be called “first officer”, “second officer”, and “third officer” have become “big officer”, “middle officer”, and “small officer”.
士官を呼ぶときに間違えたりすると、相当失礼だから気をつっけるよ。When addressing an officer, it’s considerably impolite if you make a mistake, so be careful.
Aah, thanks for the warning.
つーことは、ミレイユのヤツは「三尉」だったから……今度からは「少尉」になるわけか。Then that means, since that Mireille chick was a “third officer”…… she’ll become a “little officer” from now on, then, huh?
はは、からかうネタが一つ増えたぜ。Haha, my teasing material has increased by one, heh.
Hey, hey……

Looking at this, Guren’s translation is definitely closer. The ranks did change, and this fact will become ammo Randy can use to tease/flirt with Mireille. This probably doesn’t surprise most people. The moment I encountered it for the first time the Guren patch, I figured the scene would be rewritten entirely in its eventual localization.

A lingering question, however, is why the Japanese text is like that to begin with. Why are there two types of rank for this military, and what’s the relationship between 三 (san, 3) and 少 (shō, small) that makes them both correspond 2nd Lieutenant? To answer that, we need to examine Japan’s military history.

Don’t worry, my summary won’t take 26 hours.

In 1945, Japan surrendered to the Allied Powers, marking the de facto end of World War II. For years thereafter, they were subject to American military occupation, as well as sweeping reforms both social and political in nature. In 1947, these reforms culminated in a new Constitution of Japan, which included a stipulation that Japan would completely dismantle its armed forces, never to maintain a military again.

By 1954, however, Western powers began to see the benefits of a militarized Japan. In the intervening years, the Cold War had begun, with Soviet and Chinese dominance mounting. Japan’s advantages as a potential ally in the East helped to convince the Allied Powers their restrictions were short-sighted. The lack of a military had also damaged Japan’s economy, and the West feared this would make communism more appealing to the Japanese.

And so, in the summer of 1954, the Japanese Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) were formed. Despite nominally not being a military (to maintain compliance with the new Constitution), the JSDF consisted of air, ground, and maritime branches equivalent to an air force, army, and navy. These branches operate with restrictions to their offensive capabilities, like not maintaining aircraft carriers and bomber fleets. In Japanese media like Shin Godzilla or Kado: The Right Answer, it’s common for the JSDF’s weapons to be insufficient against whatever threat Japan is facing.

In some cases, this leads to the American military intervening on Japan’s behalf with their superior firepower. Usually, this carries a grim implication about Japan’s independence and their capability to defend themselves.

In keeping with the pretense of not being a military, the JSDF also has a non-military ranking system that happens to correspond almost exactly to a military one. Let’s put them side-by-side:

American MilitaryJSDF
General / 大将
(Taishō, Big general)

(Shō, General)
Lieutenant general / 中将
(Chūshō, Middle general)
(Shōho, Supplementary general)
Major general / 少将
(Shōshō, Little general)
Colonel / 大佐
(Taisa, Big assistant)
(Issa, 1st assistant)
Lieutenant colonel / 中佐
(Chūsa, Middle assistant)
(Nisa, 2nd assistant)
Major / 少佐
(Shōsa, Little assistant)
(Sansa, 3rd assistant)
Captain / 大尉
(Taii, Big officer)
(Ichii, 1st officer)
First lieutenant / 中尉
(Chūi, Middle officer)
(Nii, 2nd officer)
Second lieutenant / 少尉
(Shōi, Little officer)
(San’i, 3rd officer)
Warrant officer / 准尉
(Jun’i, Quasi-officer)
(Jun’i, Quasi-officer)
Trails to Azure‘s Japanese dialogue uses the kanji , , for one, two, and three, respectively. However, the standard when writing horizontally is actually to use Arabic numerals as above.

With this chart, we have a clearer idea of what’s different. The hierarchy itself has indeed changed only nominally. For this reason, insisting on the change might seem a little petty to laid-back characters like Randy. As noted in the direct translation, Mireille’s rank also changed from 三尉 (san’i, 3rd officer) to 少尉 (shōi, little officer). Whether Randy intends to tease her by disregarding the change and continuing to use san’i or play up the “little” part of shōi is left up to the reader.

The historical context also helps us understand the intent of the Japanese dialogue. At this point in the story, Crossbell is eminently concerned with convincing the rest of the continent that they’re a force to be reckoned with. While the original ranking system will call to mind the hamstrung JSDF for Japanese players, the revised one invites comparison of Crossbell’s military might to that of the rest of the world. Amusingly, this is a total reversal of Japan’s history.

The Geofront localization more-or-less spells out the comparison in the first line. In lieu of a several-paragraphs-long contextualization of Japanese language and history, a rewrite like this might be the best way to keep the speech natural while conveying the same tone. Still, it is unfortunate that it explicitly contradicts the Japanese text by saying the ranks stayed the same. I think an ideal localization would look pretty similar, sans mentioning the ranks aren’t changing.

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Hopefully the history lesson helped some of you Trails fans appreciate the Crossbell arc a little more. The whole series draws inspiration from real-world events, but Crossbell’s storyline feels like it has some uniquely Japanese echoes, both of what was and what might have been. It’s also a good example of how a good localizer needs more than a bunch of definitions and grammar to do their job.

If you enjoyed this unnecessarily-fine analysis of a single conversation, you may enjoy this breakdown of what Tifa’s “Dilly-dally, shilly-shally” line in Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children was like in Japanese. Or maybe you’d like to know more about the masculine dialect used by characters like Randy? In that case, check out this article about an Edo-period drama featuring tough-talking samurai, which was cut from Harvest Moon 64‘s localization.

One comment

  1. Pretty cool info I’d have never known about if not for this lengthy explanation. I could see this being something that there’s a small chance of being touched up by Nisa in an update, perhaps.

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