Square Enix’s bizarre decision to rename “Chocobos” to “horsebirds” for the Japanese version of Final Fantasy XIV has given rise to a storm of criticism and a grovelling and unconvincing apology from the designers.
Meanwhile, players have begun to speculate that the game was largely made in China, with Chinese audiences in mind…
The situation began with Square Enix revealing it has a full Chinese version of Final Fantasy XIV planned.
Square Enix for its part has commented that “the Chinese version is a completely different service” and that it will solve the problem of gold farmers with IP bans.
Japanese players of Final Fantasy XIV soon noticed that their own version of the game dispensed completely with the “English” names in favour of names using Chinese characters exclusively.
Most noticeably, “Chocobo” (チョコボ – chokobo) was renamed to “馬鳥,” a meaningless word combining the character for “horse” with that for “bird.”
Chocobos thus became “horsebirds,” a phrase as ridiculous to Japanese ears as to western ones.
For those with some familiarity with the languages in question, this is how it all ended up:
Japanese: English: ”How it should be”:
盾備 Guard ガード
搦槍 Heavy Thrust ヘヴィスラスト
奥儀：早詠 Fastcast ファストキャスト
霊銀鉱 Mythril Ore ミスリル鉱
主器 Main Weapon メインウェポン
馬鳥 Chocobo チョコボ
Final Fantasy games have typically made heavy use of English in their Japanese language versions. Most Japanese players seem to have found these made-up Kanji terms considerably more confusing than the admittedly unwieldy English transliterations.
Curiously, some users also noticed that “index finger” was written in Chinese (食指) rather than Japanese (人差し指) – a very odd oversight indeed, unless it somehow transpired that the game was actually developed in China.
Soon suspicious users began to connect these changes with another major design change – the highly controversial “fatigue system,” which imposes severe penalties for players who play too long, as Square Enix sees it.
In fact, Chinese law requires all MMORPGs to have just such a “fatigue” system, in order to “protect” players from the addictive properties of these games.
For many, the coincidence of this exact feature appearing in the game alongside an announcement of a full Chinese release cannot be dismissed as coincidence. Soon Square Enix was being accused of making most of the game in China, for the Chinese.
Regarding this sudden change in naming, Square Enix’s Hiromichi Tanaka was at pains to deny it had anything to do with a Chinese version:
“Even in XI there were these Chinese-like Kanji names – it was just intended to build atmosphere. It’s just made-in-Japan Chinese for a Japanese audience, the Chinese version is probably translated completely differently I expect.”
The next day Square Enix published a lengthy explanation of the decision, saying it was intended to simplify naming by consolidating on Chinese-like names but that the resultant mixture of hard to read Kanji names and the remaining unwieldy English names was even more confusing and inconvenient, and that it ruined the atmosphere.
As a result they announced they would be changing back to the English style naming.
Not all are convinced:
“What an absurd excuse!”
“The naming was abnormal, but putting out an explanation like that is even more abnormal…”
“You don’t normally write ‘index finger’ in Chinese for no reason, do you?”
“If this explanation is right, then there’s no reason for ‘Chocobo’ to become ‘horsebird’ now is there?”
“There is no way they turned ‘Chocobo’ into ‘horsebird’ to make it easier to remember.”
“Explain that one away!”
Of course, none of these translation concerns are likely to impinge upon the western release of the game (although seeing the international reaction to Chocobos being renamed to “Horsebirds” would be instructive indeed).
The suspicion that the fatigue system was largely introduced as a way of coping with Chinese laws does however make as least as much sense as the “reaching out to casuals by curbing hardcore players” explanation offered, and the doubts over the use of Chinese text in the game do not seem to have been dismissed as easily as Square Enix apparently hopes.