Kid Icarus Uprising, “Hewdraw,” and the Art of Great Localization «

During my hands-on session with Kid Icarus Uprising last week, only one facet of the game leapt out at me enough to comment on it: The boss Hewdraw.

I wasn’t especially surprised to see Hewdraw in the game. It’s always been pretty obvious that, given the limited amount of source material development team Project Sora has to work with, practically every element of the classic NES game to which Uprising serves as a sequel will show up in some form or another. About the only thing I haven’t seen yet are (1) mallets to liberate Medusa-stoned soldiers and (2) Eggplant Wizards, though I’ve no doubt they’re somewhere in there.

Click the image above to check out all Kid Icarus Uprising screens.

No, what surprised me was simply that they stuck with the name “Hewdraw.” Originally a fortress boss in the NES game, here this creature antagonizes hero Pit in a running aerial battle punctuated by the beast’s oddly genteel dialogue. (Upon its defeat, Pit even remarks on the fact that he’s never met such a polite monster.) Given its multiheaded design and the series’ preponderance of references to Greek mythology, it’s pretty obvious that “Hewdraw” was one of those awkward NES-era mistranslations, in this case a bungled version of the name “hydra.” Yet for whatever reason, they didn’t correct it to be more in line with the game’s other nods to classical literature.

In being misnamed long ago, Hewdraw is in good company. The original NES version of Ninja Gaiden, for instance, managed to get just about every one of its mythology-inspired boss names wrong: “Basaquer” instead of “Berserker,” “Kelbeross” instead of “Cerberus,” and (my personal favorite) “Bloody Malth” rather than “Bloody Mars.” More famously, Square’s Final Fantasy series suffered many weird translations right from the beginning, most of which resulted from censorship policies or simple technical limitations.

For those paying attention, this has led to all kinds of awkwardness as the company has retroactively sought to correct those oddities. For example, Final Fantasy IX was intended to be a fond, nostalgic nod to the series’ past… and Square’s decision to localize names correctly meant that the endless stream of references was almost entirely lost on even the most devoted American fans, who grew up knowing (for example) “Mt. Gulg” as “Gurgu Volcano.” While the correct renaming of some things (like the spell “Holy,” formerly called “FADE,” “White,” or “Pearl” depending on the game) has been done gracefully enough, it’s also resulted in weird inconsistencies. Final Fantasy XII and Final Fantasy VI Advance arrived in America almost simultaneously, and both featured the character Orthros. Yet the former game went with its “proper” name, while the latter stuck with the original localization, “Ultros.” The impact of a nice cross-reference was therefore undermined by an inconsistency.

Nintendo has always been pretty good about placing value on this sort of consistency, though. The company made a lot of inexplicable changes to the names of foes in the original Super Mario Bros., including the decision to give basic turtle enemies the name “Koopa,” which in Japan is the name of the big bad guy himself (while over here inexplicably given a common dog’s name, Bowser). And they’ve stuck with even the worst of those occasionally dopey changes; about the only one they’ve revised was restoring Princess Peach’s real name from the decidedly unglamorous “Princess Toadstool” — and the localizers even accomplished this with a touch of grace, marking the change in the opening cut scene of Super Mario 64 by adding a subtle intimation that “Toadstool” was her formal title and that she and Mario had at last grown close enough to be on a first-name basis. Even Square Enix has left well enough alone at times: Dragon Quest IV companion characters “Ragnar” and “Taloon” have had their Japanese names (Ryan and Torneko) reintegrated as a surname and given name atop the original localizations, respectively, allowing for both to be correct and yet familiar to long-time fans. And while it doesn’t make a lick of sense for Chrono Trigger’s mystical European-style broadsword to bear the name of the legendary Japanese katana Masamune, the localizers of sequel Chrono Cross not only didn’t rename it with its Japanese moniker (Grandleon), they even went the extra mile by coming up with a suitable English title for its new upgraded form, the “Mastermune.”

 

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