Saturday, August 18, 2018

Bravely Default's Language

Before we begin today, I'd like to just put a Kickstarter RPG I've found on your radar, in case you, like myself, find the idea amusing enough to back: I Have Low Stats, But My Class is Leader, so I Recruited Everyone I Know to Fight the Dark Lord. Looks promising as a comical RPG, and it's got a lower-than-average pledge level at which you get the game for free when it's finished. Check it out; it might be neat!

And now, on with the rant.

There’s a lot to really like about Bravely Default. Appealing main characters with depth,* an interesting plot, an awesome conclusion, a really good supporting cast, a great villain, the fact that this game manages to pretty much be the most perfect and excellent example of a classic Final Fantasy, a good balance of levity and’s just a great RPG, no 2 ways about it, a pleasant experience that really reminds you of everything you love about the JRPG style. And I do, indeed, really like all of those aspects to this game. And so do many others: as much as a JRPG reasonably can be, Bravely Default was a big hit, and many have extolled its virtues quite eloquently before me. But there is 1 additional characteristic of this title that I’m pleased with, which I have not seen lauded by its fans: the language of BD’s dialogue. And that’s a shame, because I think it’s worth crediting the writers and translators of the game for their use of vocabulary with it.

As a general rule, I’ve found that the RPG genre is a decent one for varied and interesting word use. This is, I suppose, quite natural for an entertainment medium whose greatest focus is on its storytelling elements. It’s also quite natural for an entertainment medium whose titles seem by and large to be nonsensical jumbles of any and all fanciful and archaic buzzwords the writers could think of.** Some games are better than others in this regard, of course--you’re much more likely to learn some fancy new words and phrases from Planescape: Torment and Torment: Tides of Numenera than you are from, say, Lagoon, or Zenonia 1--but you’d probably be surprised how often even the seemingly less intellectual works of the genre can teach the player a new word or 2. A decent chunk of my own vocabulary comes from my long history of playing RPGs, and my learning of my language through the genre is still ongoing. I wouldn’t have known of the existence of the word ‘dunamis,’ let alone its meaning, without having played Infinite Dunamis a mere 2 years ago. And that’s a Kemco game, for Hyperion’s sake!

Still, Bravely Default really goes several steps beyond what you might expect of its genre. The game quite frequently makes use of all kinds of older, less common words in the English language, and really cool ones, at that, such as ‘fain’ and ‘malefic,’ among many others. It’s not like with most other RPGs, where you might, every now and then, discover a cool word or 2 you haven’t come across before in the course of the whole game--in BD, it’s common enough to come across several older, eloquent terms you’re unfamiliar with within the same conversation! And not only that, but you also get frequent occurrences of common, familiar words being used in older, less typical ways, such as the use of ‘ransom’ as a verb synonymous with ‘liberate.’

As a prospective English teacher, this is something I already approve of, but what really makes the use of all this olde language great is how easily it’s used. See, it’s easy as a reader to see new words and phrases and stumble over them due to your lack of knowledge of their meaning. Hell, it’s easy as a writer to use less common vocabulary in a way that’s halting or stiff--even when you know its definition, if you’re trying too hard to use a particular word for its flair, you can wind up making your sentence too focused upon that single term, which makes it all the more jarring to a reader who doesn’t have an instant knowledge of its meaning.

Bravely Default doesn’t have this problem. To me, at least, it uses all of its vocabulary fluidly, organically, and obviously. Each word, even if unfamiliar, is used easily by the writers, as a natural part of the sentiments being expressed, and in such a way that the meanings are easy to intuit from the context and the tone. To be able to regularly use archaic and very specific vocabulary in a fluent and flowing enough way that it never becomes a stumbling block to the audience is very impressive!

Bravely Default’s writers deserve a great deal of praise for just how good and enjoyable an RPG they crafted, and most of that praise comes from greater strengths of the game than just its use of language. Nonetheless, even if it’s a comparatively minor virtue, I also think it’s worthwhile to applaud the writers and translators for their consistent use of interesting, older, uncommon vocabulary to help create the atmosphere of their world, and also to applaud them for just how skillfully easy and natural that vocabulary’s use is for the player to read and hear. Well done, Silicon Studio!

* Well, 3 out of 4 of them, at least. Tiz never quite gains a more nuanced personality than one might find in any given lump of mud. Still, that is, sadly, the standard of RPGs.

** I would be highly surprised if the guy who titled Final Fantasy 12: Revenant Wings actually had a firm grasp on the definition of the word ‘revenant.’ I would be even more surprised if, in the unlikely scenario where he did, he could provide a compelling explanation for the title as a whole.

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