Since the Live A Live remake is about to come out, I thought it’d be a great time to talk about the game. If you haven’t heard of LAL, it’s a 1994 JRPG anthology for the Super Famicom. The game follows the stories of a variety of characters across history. The game spans everything from cowboys and ninjas to cavemen and robots! The settings are also appropriately diverse, and a huge love letter to movies in their respective genres. This article will not contain spoilers for the game, but future ones may. If they ever show up, they will be clearly marked.
Leading up to its release, I’m going to be taking a close look at each chapter, and how Aeon Genesis’ currently-existing fan translation handled them. When the remake comes out, I’ll also do a quick comparison of what changed, if anything! The articles coming out right now are going to be deep dives that long-time fans will hopefully appreciate, but I expect the remake-focused ones to be a little lighter, if you’ve just discovered LAL for the first time.
Before I get into the article itself, I want to emphasize that I am incredibly appreciative of Aeon Genesis for making their fan translation. It’s actually how I and most of my friends discovered this game, and I cannot overstate how grateful we are of its existence. For over 20 years, your only options to play LAL were AG’s patch, or learning Japanese. I certainly never imagined LAL would actually get an official localization one day.
That being said, LAL is not easy to localize, and AG obviously had difficulty deciphering some of the references and wordplay. Breakdowns like this tend to focus on things that are challenging, and those are where a translator is most likely to make a misstep. In addition, I have philosophical disagreements with some localization choices that are also going to come up. These don’t mean AG was wrong or bad at localizing, just that I personally don’t think they made the best choice possible for that situation.
Leading up to this set of articles, I played through the original Japanese release and replayed the Aeon Genesis 2.0 version, so that’s what this comparison is going to be based on.
Since the preamble already added to the length of the article, I’ll start with the chapter with the least text: Contact. Contact follows the story of Pogo, a young caveman who ends up having to rescue a cavewoman (Bel) from a rival tribe with the help of his ape sidekick, Gori.
Set in pre-historic times, Contact is the first chapter chronologically, and predates language. Because of this, there is no dialogue, and what text there is is largely comprised of 擬声語 (giseigo, onomatopoeic words) and 擬態語 (gitaigo, mimetic words). Onomatopoeic words are simply sounds converted to text, like “bang” or “woosh”. Mimetic words are similar, but describe actions or states of being that don’t necessarily make sounds. A reasonable approximation in English might be something like “zig-zagging”.
Even once you’ve wrapped your head around the difference between the two terms, you have to contend with the fact sounds aren’t the same between English and Japanese. For example, in English, the sound a dog makes is “woof” or “arf”, while in Japanese it’s ワン (wan). Another example is the beating of one’s heart: “ba-dump” in English, ドキドキ (dokidoki) in Japanese.
Another interesting thing about this chapter is that it makes minimal use of hiragana and kanji. Instead, Contact opts for katakana for most purposes. This is an oversimplification, but it’s kind of like if English were written without capitalization, punctuation, or spaces. It can be a bit difficult to separate sound effects — which katakana is typically used for — from regular vocabulary.
With the above in mind, I’m going to look at the items and party abilities. Let’s start with the main character, Pogo. Below is a comparison of some of his abilities (name in bold) and their descriptions. Aeon Genesis’ translation is listed below the Japanese, while my translation is at the bottom.
Bash Bash Bang, bonk
Bash Bash Ker-bash!
Bang Bang Smash, smashhh
Stomp Stomp Stomp, stomp
Oo! -Burp- pbfrrrrt, Aaahhh!
Ooga! Pfft! Mmph, wooosh, ohh!
PushPush (spin, spin) urggh
SqueezeSqueeze Twist twist, squish
Boom Boom Yaaaah!! Boiing!
Kaboom! Boiiing! Crash!
RubSticks Yeeh,Yeeh, Boh!
Scrape Scrape Scrape scrape, fwoosh!
As you can see, Japanese onomatopoeia is quite different from English in a lot of cases. It’s also much richer in meaning, I think. Translating them is no easy feat!
That’s a lot to take in, I know! The good news is, the sections for Gori and Bel will be much shorter. Let’s continue with Gori. Once again, the names are in bold, with Japanese first, then AG, then my translation.
BlumBlum Dogodogo, baabaa
Thump Thump Thump thump, bump bump
Eeeh! Buripuri… Uki? Bun
Ook! Rrrph…Ook? Plop!
Before I continue, I wanted to take a brief (I promise!) detour to talk about ッ, a scaled-down version of ツ (tsu). This diminutive smiley face indicates something called a glottal stop. It’s a little strange for English speakers to think about, but a glottal stop is essentially a sudden pause. ッ appears a bunch in Gori’s moves, but I’m fond of ウキッ (uki) as an example. ッ transforms its reading ‘ooky’ to the more archetypically ape ‘ook!’ In addition to changing the sound (or, more accurately, because of it), the glottal stop also helps sounds feel more impactful. Think of it like adding an exclamation point to the end of a sound effect in English. With this in mind, we can see that Aeon Genesis mistransliterated バッバッ as baabaa, since the a sound would actually shorten, not lengthen.
Man, the devs really had their minds in the gutter with Gori’s moves. Let’s hope our last party member, Bel, is a little cleaner.
Notably, Bel’s moves use hiragana, as opposed to the katakana used for Pogo & Gori. Generally, hiragana is seen as more feminine than katakana or kanji. It has rounder lines, particularly compared to katakana, which is quite sharp and masculine. In addition, women historically wrote primarily in hiragana due to lower literacy levels. There are thousands of kanji, and most women were simply not taught them. For a time, hiragana was even referred to as 女手 (onnade), or “woman’s hand”.
At a glance, Bel’s moves seem less dirty than her male counterparts. Unfortunately, the only meaningful correction I have from AG dispels that notion pretty handily. Once again, move names in bold, English is AG followed by my translation.
Teh! Teh! Nfuuu? Yaa, yaa!
Teehee Huh? Aieee!
てーてー (tētē) evokes a feminine giggle or titter, particularly when feeling shy or embarrassed. The description uses んふぅっ (nhuh), an expression of confusion or surprise, as well as やぁ (yaa), which is an embarrassed scream of denial or refusal, so I think we haven’t managed to get any cleaner with these moves. It’s not clear exactly what’s happening, but it’s easy enough to get the gist.
Lastly, I won’t go through them one by one, but the rival character, Zaki, has moves of his own. They directly reference 70s kaiju, as well as mecha from sentai shows like Himitsu Sentai Gorenjā. Talk about a cultural barrier! While western audiences probably won’t get the references, interest in these genres has grown considerably since 1994, so I wonder how the official localization will adapt them. Perhaps they’ll modernize the references, like the Funimation dub of Crayon Shin Chan did?
Whew! That’s all the moves. This article has gotten really long, but the last thing I want to take a look at is a couple items. Let’s push on through!
Most of the name changes here are pretty much down to personal preference, but I wanted to pay special attention to three things. First is the ギギガガのワッカ (gigigaga no wakka). Gigigaga is simply the word ‘giga’ twice in a row. Since that doesn’t translate too well, I think ‘Supermega’ is a fair English translation. As for no, that converts a noun into an adjective, so this wakka is being described as gigigaga-y. Lastly, wakka comes from 輪っか and refers to rings and loops. Because this item is primarily footwear, I chose ‘anklet’. AG simply transliterated the name, minus no.
Secondly, the busubusu in Smoulder Spear (busubusu yari) can indeed refer to a sputtering or smoldering sound, but it’s not so straightforward here. In fact, busu is synonymous with stabbing or thrusting motions . Makes sense for a spear, right?
The final point of interest here is ブンブン (bunbun). This one’s complicated. As usual, bunbun is giseigo, but its meaning can vary.
For the Buzzing Knife (bunbun naifu), AG took bunbun to evoke a buzzing noise. This is accurate in many cases, such as the ringing of a silenced cell phone, where bunbun is a perfectly acceptable giseigo for buzzing. In this case, however, sussing out its meaning requires a little context.
Weapons in this chapter are crafted from raw materials like sticks, bones, and animal hides. This weapon in particular is crafted from a stone knife and leather strip made from cutting up animal hide, making a knife-on-a-rope. As a matter of fact, both “Buzzing” items are created by combining leather strips with another item to make a weapon-on-a-rope! The end result is not-unlike the kyoketsushōge, a Japanese weapon thought to be the forerunner to the kusarigama or sickle-and-chain.
So how does bunbun relate to a knife on a rope? Well, it took some digging, but I eventually found that in addition to buzzing, it can also refer to a whirring sound, such as of something quickly spinning. In fact, the Japanese equivalent of a Slap Chop is called a “bunbun chopper” for this very reason!
Whew! That was a lot of writing! If you enjoyed it, check out part 2, covering the story of the wrestler, Masaru. It’s about as short as this one, but still has some interesting references and puns. Also, when the remake officially releases, I plan to revisit all of the chapter with full spoilers, so check back, then!
If there’s anything else you want to know about this chapter, sound-related or otherwise, let me know in the comments! If you want to keep abreast of when the next article goes up, Live A Live-related or otherwise, feel free to follow me on Twitter. Lastly, if you enjoyed this or any other article on the site, consider sharing it with your friends. Word of mouth is all I have!