I stumbled upon this insightful article from Kotaku Australia, chronicling the process that many video games go through as they’re translated from Japanese to English and/or other languages.
The challenge, the article explains, in translating dialog/cutscene animations from Japanese to English is due to the huge difference between the two languages.
“If you do a literal translation, it sounds horrible and stilted,” says Mark MacDonald, executive director at Tokyo-based localisation firm 8-4 which is responsible for the English language versions of many top Japanese-made games that make it over to the US. Stuff that may flow in Japanese does not if the words are simply flipped to English. It’s necessarily to inject that flow, that rhythm of English and that vibe of Western culture into localised games. That is, if you want the localisation to work.
There’s more in the article from MacDonald, including some photos and videos highlighting the differences between versions of games such as Undead Knights and Monster Hunter Tri.
It’s a really interesting read about some of the potentially unexpected difficulties that many video game companies have in making games playable to gamers from all over the world.