How One Man Stopped Square-Enix From Letting Gamers Kill Yahweh

Illustration for article titled How One Man Stopped Square-Enix From Letting Gamers Kill Yahweh

The attempt to include overt references to Judeo-Christian figures in the classic role-playing game Xenogears caused a few translators to quit — they feared a violent backlash — and prompted a change in the name of the game's final boss, according to one of the people who brought the game to America.

Advertisement

On this week's installment of the podcast 8-4 Play, long-time game localizer Richard Honeywood reveals what it was like translating the game in which God was the final boss. He's talking of course about Xenogears and the upheaval involved.

Beginning at roughly the 1:19:20 mark, he recalls "It was the project from hell. Translators walked off it. One [reason] was that it was too technical... and....the other was the religious content. It was a game, where, at the end of the game you basically kill God. And—a secret thing—back then, they actually called it Yahweh."

Honeywood was concerned that this bold bit of naming could offend portions of the game's audience, and confronted the development team—with unexpected consequences.

"At a development meeting in Japanese I was saying 'You can't call it Yahweh. You can't do that.' I was getting exasperated, and in Japanese [I said] yabeh-o, and they all laughed and thought it was the greatest pun ever. And so, the last boss was suddenly called Yabeh."

(For those scratching their heads, the adjective yabai is Japanese slang for something dangerous, unfortunate or otherwise inconvenient. Hence the room of hysterical Squaresoft employees, and one bewildered Honeywood.)

For some on Honeywood's staff, the potentially controversial themes cultivated by Xenogears were no laughing matter.

Advertisement

"[They] took every biblical reference they could and tried to twist it. One of the translators was a bit worried about this and was like 'I don't want to have fundamental Christians or other religious groups being upset and blowing up our office.' And I guess in the States, at that time, it was a concern. So I had two translators walk off it and I was stuck there by myself."

The antagonist known as Yabeh was ultimately redubbed Deus in the English-language release of the game. And Xenogears has enjoyed an enduring legacy as cult-favorite—in large part thanks to its edgy content.

Advertisement

For more fascinating insight into how one of the industry's first dedicated localizers braved a mid-90s landscape without Excel, spell-check—or the internet!—check out the full podcast from 8-4.

8-4 Play 4/22/2011: PROJECT CAFÉ OLÉ [8-4]

DISCUSSION

It never ceases to amaze me oh jumpy and sensitive Americans are, especially American Christians.

I can't help but want to partly blame them for the stagnation in fantasy and sci-fi these days. I mean if you look at many movies and TV shows you seldom hear or see ANYTHING willing to imply that maybe there is an answer to the question other than Christianity. You never see any opinions that suggest it's wrong, right but so are other ideas or that would seek to be even slightly edgy.

On the other hand, we have a graphic novel based on the Ramayana, a Hindu legend, and many anime that make a mockery of Shinto beliefs and Christianity beliefs, but heaven for bid anything make it into the mainstream American cultures that doesn't play the sycophant to the Bible.

I hate how the History Channel's line up is 45% "why the bible was right", 45% "America everyone's ass back in during WW2" and 10% trucking, pawning and crabbing. I hate how the new BSG was more about paranoid humans running from the First Church of Cylon (a subsidiary of the Vatican) than it was actually about humans fighting cylons. I hate how Christianity is used as a tool to sell an otherwise mediocre product, like Left Behind games. I also hate how Christians seem to think anything that has a different point of view to their own needs to be silenced (Why? If you're so certain you're right, why are you so terrified of other ideas?).

I saw a post on a forum while looking for help on Resonance of Fate and some kid was like "Um, is this game Anti-Christianity?" And some one basically told him that it's just a game and if you belief is so fragile that the mere thought of a game having ideas other than your own terrified you that he either needs to spend more time taking it from his priest so to reaffirm his faith or seriously reconsider his own convictions. I man ANYONE who has their faith destroyed by, of all games, a JRPG, obviously had no faith to begin with.

And, let me say too that I have nothing against religion (because this is America, most people are so dumb you NEED that disclaimer when talking about anything controversial because this is a land of extremes). Personally, I'm not a Christian, though I was raised as one. I'm also not an atheist, I really don't know what I am but I see religion used as a tool for hate and control more than I see it used for a tool for self betterment and enlightenment. I suppose I can best sum up my views of religion with a line from Kingdom of Heaven. "I put no stock in religion. By the word religion I have seen the lunacy of fanatics of every denomination be called the will of god. I have seen too much religion in the eyes of too many murderers. Holiness is in right action, and courage on behalf of those who cannot defend themselves, and goodness. What god desires is in the heart, and what you decide to do every day, you will be a good man - or not."