Once ‘pon a time, there was a man, and the man had a dream of a world; a world divided by species conflict, a world that had suffered many trials, that hovered on the brink of collapse. Only the power of sound, and the ancient magics that sound could summon forth, bound that world together. Only that power could unite the hearts of a people torn apart by ignorance and self-interest.
That man was Tsuchiya Akira, head of the GUST sound team. That world was Ar Ciel, a world structured around the power of sound and song. United beneath Tsuchiya’s directorial hand, a team of artists, programmers, composers, and singers worked to realise this fantastic world, with its strange, emotion-based language and its eclectic blend of technology and myth, in the form of a videogame series. The result was Ar Tonelico: sometimes flawed, sometimes funny, and ultimately a series that speaks to the heart. Through its layers of implication, moe presentation, and playful interface design, the soul that Tsuchiya planted there shines out. Many fans have found themselves drawn to the series for the detailed worldbuilding of Ar Ciel, the intricate Hymmnos language with its own sub-dialects, and the thoughtful storylines of its heroines – as well as, of course, the rousing and emotive music, epic on a scale even Square, in their heyday, would have had trouble matching.
And then NIS America localised it for the US market.
Localisations are always good things, on balance, and NISA’s is no exception: it introduced this quirky and soulful series to a whole new community of gamers. On top of that, they faithfully localised the freebie artbook included with the first game, giving players further insight into just how much worldbuilding went on beneath the surface of the game. However, things kind of got shakier from there on. The grammar of the localisation was at best average and at worst subpar, with poor structure and seeming lack of serious editing, making parts of the game (notably the in-game encyclopedia, which expounded on the concepts that background the series) difficult to understand.
With Ar Tonelico 2, things got worse. Painfully worse. Even if you could forgive the numerous typographical errors, missing words, and shaky sentences littering the dialogue, the mistranslation of important game terms, and the inconsistently-adapted names, the localization introduced or exposed game-crashing bugs in the game. Furthermore, in order to move more copies of the game based on sex appeal, NISA marketed the game via a crude and clunky ad campaign. They boasted to media sources that the dialogue was even racier than in the original – when, in fact, AT2 was intended to be a more serious and thoughtful game, with less emphasis on cheap hooks and a greater focus on the plot, than AT1. Finally, in order to fit English voice acting onto the disc, they cut approximately half of the Japanese voice-acted scenes, leaving many important plot points lacking appropriate impact. The result was a game vulgar, ugly, and offensive in parts, but with enough of its soul left intact to appeal while still being a shadow of the original.
But the fandom knew AT2 was a game worth saving, and upon seeing what NISA had done to the game, assembled a crack team of coders, hackers, translators, and fixer-uppers with celerity. Together, they form feet and legs, form arms and torso, and they may or may not have a clue who’s the head, but they all have something in common: burning spirit, a love for Ar Tonelico 2, and a desire to see it restored to its former glory.
You can peruse the wiki for said project, if you care about the technical nitty-gritty going on behind the scenes. If you have something to contribute, hop over to the AT2 Retranslation Project forum at A Reyvateil’s Melody, where we’ll be more than happy to hear from you.
Now, anyone for Jakuri Stew?
Ayulsa (who can never resist the temptation to capitalise the “t” in tonelico, but promises not to let this influence the final product)
Proofer, Ar Tonelico 2 Retranslation Project