I spent hours playing the Final Fantasy 7 Remake at the peak of the pandemic. At some point, I switched the language settings to the game’s original Japanese and discovered fascinating translation choices that completely changed my experience of the story.
For example? Reno’s Japanese speech patterns are noticeably, distinctly weird.
Reno has a habit of ending his sentences with “zo to” (ぞ と). It isn’t that unusual to give a character a signature verbal tic. Avalanche’s Wedge also ends all of his sentences with “su” (ス). Wedge’s “su” is something you might hear in real life from young Japanese speakers. It is a slangish abbreviation of a proper verb “desu.” Reno’s tic on the other hand has no counterpart in reality. Or does it?
“Zo to” actually conveys so much about Reno’s character. Read on to learn what.
1. Reno’s “zo to!”
First, let’s consider a Turk like Tseng or Rude. Tseng’s language is polished. He says things like 申し訳ない (deepest apologies) and not ごめん (sorry) or もはや不可能だ (alas, no longer a possibility) instead of something like ダメだ (no can do). That kind of sophisticated, professional language fits the whole “upper management Black Ops in business suits” thing with the Turks.
Reno’s language is far more casual and rough compared to Tseng. He slurs his pronunciation and rolls his “r’s” like a chinpira from a yakuza movie. He shouts yakuza-like things like “Ora ora” which has no singular meaning but is a sort of aggressive warning, depending on the context. In the scene where Reno shoots Cloud from a helicopter, he shouts:
Japanese: オラオラ (ora ora)
English subtitle: Gotcha now!
My translation choice: “Hey hey” or even “Imma fuck ya up” (depending on how aggressive you think Reno is being).
2. Where does “zo to” come from?
Let’s be clear. “Zo to” might not have a literal meaning in Japanese but it is definitely meaningful. After all, the writers could have chosen Reno to say anything. It could have been “moo moo” or “ping pong” ending all his sentences for all we know. So let’s break it down…
Ending with a “zo” alone is not unusual at all in Japanese. “Zo” is a masculine, casual way to give strong emphasis to what you just said. Consider Cloud’s countless statements of “Let’s go,” always in the casual but more aggressive 行くぞ (iku-zo) or his “I’m strong!” 俺、強いぞ (ore tsuyoi-zo).
Ending with “to” alone is also not that unusual. This ending appears when speakers abbreviate their sentences by dropping the second half of their thought. The speaker presumes that the listener can understand the full idea based on the context of their conversation.
However, Reno’s pronunciation is deliberately emphatic and not a suggestion of an unspoken idea. It sounds like he just wanted to echo that masculine “zo” with a rhyming “to”! Does that hypothesis sound silly? Remember, Reno is not a sophisticate like Tseng but characterized as a rough and wild young man.
In other words, the meaningless combination of “zo to” comes off as an almost stupid need to emphasize aggressiveness, masculinity, and very casual speech. And that is exactly what a young punk would talk like.
3. How did the English localizers do?
Localizing Japanese video games is more involved than straight translation. In this situation, there is no way to directly translate Reno’s speech pattern. Instead, the game localizers playfully rewrote his words while getting at the essence of our gutter punk chinpira Reno.
Here are some examples of his bordering on silly, hyper-aggressive speech. The first line is the Japanese text. The second line is the official English subtitle. The third line is my literal translation of the Japanese text. You can see how excellent the official translations were in capturing Reno’s personal flair.
Japanese: 意地悪しちゃうぞ と
English subtitle: Two birds with one shitload of bullets!
Literal: Imma bully you!
Japanese: 逃がさねえぞ と
English subtitle: And where do you think you’re going?
Literal: You won’t get away.
English subtitle: Huh? Our guys are seriously struggling to take down these assholes?
Literal: WTF are they doing with these lame-ass guys?
Japanese: お仕事だぞ と
English subtitle: It’s nothing personal…bitch!
Literal: It’s work.
Japanese: あんたら ケンカ売る相手を間違えたぞ と
English subtitle: Sorry, losers! Gotta play for keeps today. No time to dick around.
Literal: Ya picked a fight with the wrong guy.
Japanese: さあ 楽しもうぜ 相棒！
English subtitle: C’mon! Let’s teach ‘em the Turks two-step!
Literal: Alright, let’s have some fun, partner!
English subtitle: You ain’t got shit on us.
Literal: Don’t underestimate the Turks.
Japanese: なかなかしぶといぞ と
English subtitle: Stubborn little shitbirds, ain’tcha?
Literal: You’re pretty stubborn.