I’m actually a bit uncomfortable handing out writing advice beyond “Sit down and get it done.” About five or six years ago I was a real chatterbox about what makes “good” writing, but that kind of changed when I began to realise many of the books and authors I like break the rules and / or feed me the literary equivalent of McDonalds that I crave from time to time.

The Phantom Tollbooth has an appalling amount of adjectives and adverbs.

Frank McCourt never met a quotation mark he liked.

Maeve Binchy’s books can be summed up as “British Man Breaks Irish Lass’s Heart: The Series.”

And yet I love them all. So who am I to hit another writer with a rolled-up newspaper while yelling “NO?”

That said, there’s one rule that I cling to from my chatterbox days:

Do not write dialect unless you know exactly what you are doing.

This decree comes from God himself. Look, I’ll prove it.

decree

Break it and wind up in Writer’s Hell, where the keyboards are all Dvorak.

I rarely write in dialect. It’s too tricky. Using dialect is like owning a pet deinonychus: It’s an extremely powerful ally if you manage to tame it, but let it slip for a second and everyone dies. More accurately, your story dies.

What’s with all the moaning and groaning? I’m playing Chrono Cross for the first time in years. I initially played the game on PlayStation, but I never finished it. So I went ahead and downloaded it for my PSP because even though my PlayStation is still in working order, I somehow ended up with two disc ones for Chrono Cross and have no idea where disc two crept off to.

Chrono Cross is a big game. And, for the most part, it’s a wonderful game. Its battle system is highly unique and livens up encounters. Its graphics aged far better than Final Fantasy VII’s. Its soundtrack is nearly flawless. And even though its story is a confusing mess that staples a lot of needless conflict and gobbledygook to Chrono Trigger’s simple but significant shonen-style adventure, I can appreciate Chrono Cross’ ambition.

Also, its character roster is a thing of genuine beauty. There’s a topless pop star who hurts enemies by getting in their faces and riffing on his guitar. There’s a luchador who pulls double-duty as a priest. There’s a high-ranking military officer from Porre named Norris who’s easily my favourite of the bunch because, to quote Vonnegut, he’s “mournfully pregnant with middle age and patriotism and imaginary wisdom.”

But Chrono Cross’ ambition leads to a major problem. There are a million characters with a million things to say about the million events going on in-game. So to liven up the otherwise near-identical bits of dialogue between these characters, the localization team fed the game’s text through a series of filters that added accents.

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It gets worse.

To repeat myself, dialect is hard to write properly. It is definitely not to be treated like some kind of textual garnish that you add by shoving your script into the Oi-Mate-O-Matic. Otherwise, you wind up with a big pile of what Chrono Cross is serving: Characters that are hard to relate to because their shitty “French” accents (or shitty Australian accents, or inexplicable dialogue quirks, or whatever) ping against your forehead like tiny pebbles.

I can’t stand Kid as a consequence, or Harle, or Leah (even though she looks ADORBS) or any of the “-CHA” loser family, or even Draggy, which is a damn shame because he’s a baby dragon. I hate this game’s localization so much, I won’t even play as the baby dragon. Sit in the corner and breathe in your shame, Chrono Cross.

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Stupid *and* offensive to Native Americans! Double points!

On the upside, there are plenty of characters that use civilized language. Greco’s occasional “amigos” and Fargo’s occasional “Arr” are perfectly digestible dialogue quirks, if a tad predictable and overused. Weirdly enough, even though Nikki the half-naked J-rocker is a ripe candidate for using some kind of stupid, badly-translated honourific in his speech, he’s as clean as a whistle. Dear dragon gods above, I appreciate that.

Norris and Karsh are also clean, which is one reason why they’re my usual accompaniments. I already explained why I like Norris, and I decided I simply had to have Karsh as soon as the ferocious little kitten got angry about his mom giving away his room to a boarder.

If I can’t bring down the Time Devourer with axes, guns, and love, by the heavens, I’ll bring it down with acceptable tone and grammar.

But before I wrap this up–

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Look at this gongshow. Just look at it. Each of these words are legitimate. But when you put them together, the whole paragraph just falls apart like a clump of kinetic sand hitting a table. It’s fascinating.

Presumably this crazy man touches people’s genitals for a living. No wonder Watari tried to hoof it to Marbule when Serge was poisoned by that panther demon.

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  • Jeremy Parish

    Doc sounds like a True Detective character, honestly.

  • TheGameroomBlitz

    Oooga-booga. Indeed. What is she, Chuck Rock’s niece?

    I bought this game in the recent Square sales thanks to your recommendation, but that writing… oh lord. It’s like a Saturday morning cartoon from the late 1980s.

  • Roto13

    I dunno, I kind of like reading Doc’s dialogue like he’s some 80’s California surfer with a larger-than-average vocabulary.

    • Nadia Oxford

      It’s interesting to read. I’ll give the game that much.

  • mnicolai

    I’m torn on this one. I mean, OK, the accents are really terrible. But I was impressed that this was something the PS1 could do on the fly, and it’s not like they had the manpower or disc space to store dialogue for every character. I wonder if it’s something that an intrepid hacker could improve or give us the ability to toggle on and off.

    • Nadia Oxford

      Disc space isn’t something I’d considered! Though I do wonder if that’d be a problem: Suikoden games have 108 characters that say different things at different times, and although the localization for *those* games is, uh, something else, there were no cloying accents that I can recall.

      • mnicolai

        I might be mis-remembering the details, but I remember Richard Honeywood saying something to that effect on an 8-4 podcast a few years ago. It was a time/budget issue. Worth a listen!

        • Nadia Oxford

          Thanks! That sounds interesting!

  • http://shawnstruck.blogspot.com Shawn Struck

    “I hate this game’s localization so much, I won’t even play as the baby dragon.”

    I said this exact thing to a friend once and they were like “Wow, it /must/ be pretty bad!”