The Last of Us Game Localization Review – the Good & the Bad|
Few games tug at your heartstrings quite the same way as The Last of Us, even now, 10 years after its initial release. Its thrilling soundtrack plays long in your head after the credits roll, its masterful storytelling has you at its grip from start to finish, and the relationship between its characters, Joel and Ellie, only heightens the game’s allure. In fact, one could argue that The Last of Us has cemented its place as the most emotionally resonant video game in history.
Unsurprisingly, it didn’t take long until The Last of Us HBO series was released, in January 2023, for gamers to pick up their controllers and relive the gaming experience once again. Upon the series’ debut, the game made its way into the top 50 for daily active users, only boosting the game’s current, whopping 37 million sold copies.
But what about The Last of Us as told through the lens of different cultures? Have the game’s localizations been praised as vehemently as the game original? In honor of this gaming masterpiece and highly gripping series, let’s explore that in this article (warning: there are spoilers ahead).
The Last of Us theme and backstory – it’s more than just survival
What languages is the Last of Us available to play in?
The localization of The Last of Us & game globalization
The game’s most major localization fails
|Ellie||Hey, you know how to play this?||Ehi, la sai suonare?|
|Joel||Yeah. Pretty badly – yeah.||Sì, piuttosto male.|
|Ellie||I always wanted to learn.||Ah, vorrei imparare.|
|Joel||Hey, Bobby Fischer – don’t touch|
anything on that board!
|Ehi, Bobby Fischer. Non toccare|
niente su quella scacchiera!
|Ellie||Bobby what?||Bobby chi?|
|Joel||Just let it go.||Lascia perdere.|
Does the localized voice-over of The Last of Us do justice to the original? It’s complicated
The Last of Us is based heavily around dialogue and cut-scenes (aka cinematic scenes), which act as building blocks for moving the game’s plot forward. Once again, lack of context caused some trouble by compromising the quality of the game’s voice-over, with comments such as “the characters sound like they’re reading straight out of a script” arising from the public. And that, indeed, the voice-over artists did.
The crucial premise any game’s voice-over must fulfil is to make the performance sound true to the original. Not only is it a matter of capturing the essence of the original characters’ voices, so they match their background, age and other factors, but it’s also to convey the same feeling and emotion coming from the characters with every single line. That’s notoriously difficult to achieve, especially when there isn’t a game to refer to, in cases when development is still in progress. To only add further to the challenge, different cultures interpret characters in their own unique way, and emotions, such as sadness, are conveyed differently from culture to culture too. Therefore, capturing a character’s essence, tone, pitch and prosody in a different language is a whole new ball game altogether.
So how does TLOU fair in this arena exactly? Well, depending on who you ask and the language in question, the answer will look different. That’s because public opinion is disproportionately divided on matters of this nature – some might say that a character sounds and acts the part, while others might resoundingly disagree.
Not to mention that when a game is so loved and adored in its original form, there’ll always be those fans that’d never accept a localized version of the game for the life of them, and understandably so. When certain fictional characters hold such a special place in your heart, different voices will ring alien and foreign (no pun intended), since familiarity is a power to be reckoned with. With that in mind, let’s look at some examples.
Joel’s voice, being a highly important asset in the game, has been criticized amongst fans for various reasons in different localized versions of the game. For example, many players were deeply disappointed with the French version, thanks to Joel’s young-sounding voice in French. In the game, Joel is a man in his late 40s, making a high-pitched voice unfit for his character and undoubtedly rough background. Meanwhile, a common complaint that has surfaced, from within discussions centred around the game’s Japanese version, is that Joel sounds like your stereotypical Western male character like in any other Japanese-localized game. Generally, many fans have reported that Joel’s voice in Brazilian Portuguese resounded with the character the best.
On the other hand, Ellie’s voice, being the young, and yet adult-sounding character that is, was apparently nailed in multiple localized versions of TLOU, according to fans’ accounts. Her voice in German, as well as in French, were loved most amongst natives and other fans alike.
In general, while some of the characters’ voices were praised in some languages and scorned in others, the emotionless acting and a lack of proper intonation stood out amongst fans in many of the game’s localizations. And let’s not forget the translation errors and inaccuracies that creeped up in the game, which lessened the overall appeal of the game to foreign audiences. You can find one of the most heart-wrenching moments from the game in multiple languages below – are you brave enough to relive it not once, but times 11?
Localizing the cultural aspects of The Last of Us… or partly so
The Last of Us was not fully adapted to conform to the cultural expectations of its foreign audiences, but only partly so (using a blend of both a domestication and a foreignization localization strategy).
What was preserved from the original & what was changed
Overall, the cultural and geographical setting were left completely intact (i.e., the producers used a domestication strategy), which works just fine in our case, since the story clearly takes place in the Unites States. The characters’ names and the names of the infected, represented by the different stages of infection (runners, stalkers, clickers and bloaters), also remained the same. That’s also acceptable, since preserving the names of major importance to a game is common practice when it comes to big game titles.
As for references to American culture that are found across the game, nearly all of them were left untouched. That isn’t problematic whatsoever, since most of those references aren’t difficult to grasp for non-English speaking audiences; in fact, those simply enhance the game’s American feel. Take the following reference to the popular American movie “Twilight” for example. This kind of reference can be understood equally well by an American as well as international audience, given the overconsumption of American media around the world.
Localizing the game for puns and humour – a job well-done
|Ellie||You wanna hear a joke about pizza?|
Never mind, it was too cheesy.
|Stai a sentire. La sapete quella sulle cipolle? Meglio di no, tanto fa piangere.|
|Sam||I don’t get it.||Non l’ho capita.|
|Ellie||Yeah. Me neither.||Già. Neanch’io.|