The Sonic Adventure Paradox

As one of the first games developed for the Sega Dreamcast, Sonic Adventure was a pretty experimental entry into the hedgehog’s franchise. The first fully 3D game in the Sonic the Hedgehog series (no, Sonic 3D Blast and Sonic Jam don’t count!) featured 6 playable characters: the familiar Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, and Amy alongside newcomers Big the Cat and E-102 Gamma.

Not only do all 6 characters have different gameplay, but their stories intertwine, too. Eventually, they culminate in a seventh, final scenario in which the events of the game are fully resolved. Sonic Adventure was so well-received that this structure became the blueprint for Sonic games for some time, such as in Sonic Adventure 2 and Sonic Heroes.

One of the quirks of this method of storytelling is that players will see the same scenes play out multiple times from different points of view. Although these events are ostensibly part of a single timeline, the scenes differ slightly. For example, the player will see the same encounter with Dr. Eggman near the start of both Sonic and Tails’ stories:

Left (Sonic Story): "Ha ha ha ha! If it isn't Sonic!"
Right (Tails Story)
Eggman will only mention Tails if you’re currently playing as him.

Many of the dialogue changes are similar to this one, where they simply put the character you’re playing as in the spotlight. These serve to make the player feel less like they’re playing second fiddle to Sonic while playing as other characters, and don’t cause any narrative problems. Also, this being a localization-focused website, I of course checked them against the Japanese script, and they’re pretty much identical.

Crossing the Streams

Slightly more interesting are differences that do result in narrative inconsistency. Take, for example, the following scene that plays out in Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles’ stories. For context, Knuckles has just fought Sonic and Tails after being tricked by Eggman into thinking they’re stealing pieces of the Master Emerald, which Knuckles is trying to rebuild. In actuality, they’re holding Chaos Emeralds, which Eggman promptly scoops up in the confusion:

The scene in question, from Sonic’s perspective.

The important part of this scene is Eggman’s quip when revealing Knuckles was duped. The localization gives the following variations, depending on the currently-selected character:

Sonic StoryTails StoryKnuckles Story
That’s right, fool,
you made it all too easy!
You are so easily tricked!
First come, first served,
as they say.
You practically gave them to me!All I did was wait for you
to bring it to me!
And you serve me too well
for your own good.

All three sets of dialogue convey more-or-less the same idea, and could all reasonably be said by Eggman in this situation. Later on in Knuckles’ story, as he’s preparing to get back at Eggman, he says this:

Knuckles saying, "Now we'll see who's so easily tricked."

This is an obvious callback to “You are so easily tricked!” in the exchange above. But hang on a second; Eggman only said that in Tails’ story! Since the player doesn’t need to play through Tails’ scenario to get to this point, this is a problem. The callback falls totally flat if they haven’t. On top of that, Knuckles’ version of events should be internally consistent. Not only is it required reading for this scene, but it’s likely to be the freshest in the player’s mind.

Naturally, we’ll want to know if this discrepancy was introduced in localization. Let’s get to the bottom of this by checking the Japanese for all four scenes. First, the equivalent to the Knuckles screenshot above:

“Heheh, slipped right in! Well then, how about I look around for the Master Emerald?”

The dialogue conveys a sense of smugness, but otherwise it’s pretty straightforward. Let’s check the other cutscene for callbacks:

Hey, even I like taking it easy sometimes. So, thanks for letting me take advantage of your [[gullible]] nature!

You don’t need to speak Japanese to see that all three scenarios have identical dialogue. What’s more, there’s no callback to speak of. Obviously, none of the three translations for Eggman exactly match the original dialogue. I’d still say punching up is fine here, since the Japanese dialogue has a “Saturday morning cartoon” feel to it. A direct translation might not properly convey that feeling.

Still, callbacks should definitely be consistent! A simple fix would’ve been to switch the dialogue from Tails’ scenario to Knuckles’. I’m guessing they meant to do this and it just got overlooked. Contextless translation from a spreadsheet used to be even more prevalent than it is today, so it’s completely understandable that it would be difficult to keep these overlapping scenes straight.

In the Eye of the Beholder

There’s one more detail about these dialogue changes that’s way past cool. In some cases, the differences add a layer of depth to the story of Sonic Adventure that I never noticed before. Let’s take a look at one of the earliest events in the game, Sonic and Tails’ conversation outside the hotel:

We’re going to have to check each version of the scene. The video, of course, contains the Japanese subtitles, and below is my direct translation contrasted with the official localization:

Sonic (Direct Translation)Tails (Direct Translation)Sonic (Localization)Tails (Localization)
Anyway, it’s really been a while, huh?
Hey Sonic.
Long time no see, huh?
Ah, I guess so.
I’m glad I happened
to see you.
I’m just glad you’re okay.
Boy, you’re lucky
I saw you come down!
So, how’d it happen?So… how’d it happen?What happened anyway?So, what went wrong, anyway?
The Tails I know wouldn’t crash a plane.The Tails I know wouldn’t crash a plane!You’re too good of a pilot
to just crash like that.
It’s not like you
to crash like that.
I was testing a new model.
It seems like the transmission was too weak.
I was testing a new model.
It seems like something was wrong with the driveline.
That was a test run using
a new prototype propulsion system. It’s got a few bugs to iron out.
Yeah, it’s just that I’m testing
a new prototype power supply, and it’s not fully compatible yet!
If you need a plane, I think you can just rely on the Tornado.
If you need a plane, can’t you just rely on the Tornado?
Why not just use my plane,
the Tornado?
You can always borrow my plane, the Tornado, if you want.
Hehe, I’m thinkin’ this plane’ll be even more amazing!
Hehe, I’m thinkin’ this plane’ll be even more amazing!
Thanks, but you gotta check out my newest power supply!
Thanks, Sonic.
But if I can make this work,
it’ll run circles around yours.
And that’s because… Look!And that’s because… Look!Ta dahhh!Check out this power supply!
Whoa! A Chaos Emerald!Wow! A Chaos Emerald!WHOA! A Chaos Emerald!It’s a Chaos Emerald!
No way!
I got a hold of one of the seven.
I got a hold of one of the seven.
I just happened to find
one of the 7 Emeralds
during one of my test flights.
I was lucky to find
one of the 7 Chaos Emeralds.
An amazing jewel that can produce unlimited power….An amazing jewel that can produce unlimited power….This thing’s got unlimited power, ya know…They have unlimited mystic
I thought, “Can’t I use this as a power source somehow?” y’know?I figured, “Can’t I use this thing as a power source somehow?”So I figured, why not use it
to power my plane. Super charged!
Now I want to harness
that power to fly my plane.
On that note, let’s go to my workshop! I want to show you something else.On that note, let’s go to my workshop! I have something else to show you.You gotta come over to
my workshop, Sonic! I’ve got something I’ve gotta
show you!
Let’s go to my workshop
in the Mystic Ruins, and I’ll show you what I’ve been working on.
It’s in the Mystic Ruins.
If we take the train from the station, it’ll be easy!
It’s in the Mystic Ruins, so, if we take the train from the station, it’ll be easy!It’s in the Mystic Ruins.
The fastest way is by train. Let’s go!
We’ll go to the station, hop on a train, and get there in no time!

I know that’s a lot of text to take in all at once, but we only need the broad strokes, here. The gist of each conversation is the same: Sonic and Tails discuss what caused the plane crash, Tails shows off his Chaos Emerald, and the two head off to Tails’ workshop in the Mystic Ruins.

There are some general differences in the demeanor of each character. In Japanese, Sonic’s more laid-back in his scenario, and Tails is more instructive. Meanwhile, Sonic’s dialogue feels harsher in Tails’ scenario, and Tails’ explanations are more technical, but less confident.

I think the clearest example of this is in Sonic’s first couple lines of dialogue. Despite the fact the sentences are identical in Japanese, his tone of voice is quite different. To make it easier to hear, I removed the music from these scenes. Even if you don’t speak Japanese, listen to the video below:

You should be able to hear a difference in the way Sonic delivers each version of his dialogue. In Sonic’s own scenario, his concern sounds fairly soft and genuine. In Tails’ scenario, Sonic seems to be admonishing his sidekick. This is particularly noticeable with the second line.

This is even reflected with minute differences in the subtitles. Sonic’s scenario uses the kanji 落 (o) to add a stronger layer of respectfulness than the hiragana お (o), and the lack of a period ( 。) makes the sentence more casual. Details like this are difficult to pull off with text alone in English, but the use of italicized, bolded, or CAPITALIZED text might approximate the feeling.

Tricks like this can be a nightmare in localization. For example, small furigana above kanji typically functions as a pronunciation guide for difficult terms, but can also convey extra information. In this Hajimari no Kiseki/Trails into Reverie screenshot, the speaker merely says カルバード (Karubādo), but the text adds 共和国 (kyōwakoku, republic). Localizations use “Calvard”, “the Republic”, or “the Calvard Republic”.

Checking the English localization for this exchange again, it seems like the localizers absolutely picked up on these differences and wrote them into the script. “You’re too good of a pilot to crash like that” is a fantastic way to convey Sonic’s concern without strongly placing blame on Tails.

However, I think “It’s not like you to crash like that” falls short of the harshness of Sonic’s tone in Tails’ story. It’s possible the localization team opted to emphasize his kindness in the Sonic scenario, instead. They might have been worried about Sonic being unlikable if he was too mean.

I mentioned that researching this article deepened my appreciation of this game considerably. If you’ve never played Sonic Adventure, or it’s been a while, you may be a little confused. Tails’ story reflects Tails’ feelings of inferiority to Sonic in both its narrative and gameplay. The tone change in an otherwise identical line of dialogue perfectly encapsulates the “eye of the beholder” nature some conversations can have for someone with those feelings. Even though the two are having the same conversation, Tails is taking it more harshly.

I’ve seen Sonic Adventure compared to Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon for its multiple perspectives, but the way those perspectives color the story being told makes the connection much stronger than it might seem at first glance!

Thanks for reading! Are there other scenes in the game you want me to take a look at? Or perhaps games with a similar premise that might have changes like this? Feel free to let me know in the comments below! You can also contact me on the Lost in Localization Twitter, where we not only post links to every new article, but smaller localization discussion throughout the week. There’s also the Lost in Localization subreddit, if that’s more your speed.

If you’re hungry for more translation trivia, check out this article on how one misheard letter supposedly resulted in mistranslation of Valkyrie Profile‘s catchphrase. Or, for another SEGA game, how about this Soul Hackers 2 easter egg that’s impossible to understand if you don’t speak Japanese?

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