Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Who — Not Whither — Is the Blue-Haired One?

Some people make life a little tougher than it is. And they do this by being confusing. Of course, the fact that certain people speak different languages doesn’t help, either.

two characters, who may be the same characters, and who
nonetheless have four names between them.

An example that sprang to mind this morning for no apparent reason: a certain character in the video game Chrono Trigger, which I played and thoroughly enjoyed almst fifteen years ago. Ostensibly, his name is “Magus,” even though the appellation should be considered more of a title than a name. (Unfortunately, no one bothers to put a “the” before the “Magus,” so the matter is hardly clear.) From the get-go, Magus is offered as the storyline’s primary villain, but that doesn’t turn out to be the case. In fact, if the player makes a few key decisions, Magus actually reveals himself to be not a total dick and joins the party outright. Furthermore — and keep in mind that a video game with the word “chrono” in the title must necessarily involve a bit of skipping around through time — the characters in the game also encounter Magus as a child, in a different period of history, when his name was “Janus.” (A sensible allusion, as the character has at least two distinct personalities.) In Japan, however, the character’s grown-up bad guy name is “Maoh,” which literally translates as “Demon King.” And his little boy name is “Jacky.” (This is one instance in which I’m actually happy that the translators took some liberties in removing the text from the original Japanese. “Jacky” is not anyone to be taken seriously. Jacky is a girl with bangs and glasses who came up to you at recess and asked you if you wanted to play tetherball.) That is the extent of the character’s names in this one game, although one character memorable refers to him as “the blue-haired one” and that phrase has long stuck out in my mind. (Enough, least, that it became a post title and a chunk of surrealistic dialogue for a nonsense comic I once drew.)

from radical dreamers

The character became further complicated with the release of a game called Radical Dreamers, a Japan-only text-based sort of “chose your own adventure” game that featured a man named “Gil” as one of the three protagonists. The game’s developers have since stated that Gil is, in fact, Magus — as well as Maoh and Janus and Jacky, I guess — and that the connections between Chrono Trigger and Radical Dreamers were initially obscured so that the latter’s status as a spin-off would be a sort of Easter egg for those who play through the former. In unofficial English translations of Radical Dreamers, however, that gap is closed somewhat by the fact that Gil is re-named “Magil.”

The intentional obscuration is completely undone, however, with the release of a true Chrono Trigger sequel, Chrono Cross, a few more years down the line. One of the 45 playable characters in it is a guy named “Guile” who bears enough of a resemblance to Magus that it seems more than coincidental. (He also looks like an extra from the ballroom scene in Labyrinth, but that is neither here nor there, as this post is concerned.) Also, the linguistic distance between “Gil” and “Guile” seems negligible. The matter is compounded by the fact that Guile has a different name in Japan: “Alf.” Associations with extraterrestrial-starring sitcoms aside, the name is notable because Chrono Trigger’s Janus has a pet cat, Alfador. Again, the names resemble each other enough that I’d guess the similarity is not a coincidence.

Thus, what may or may not be the same character in three different games has eight different names. (As far as I’m concerned, the jury is still out on whether Guile is supposed to be Magus or just someone who looks a lot like Magus.) I’m not sure whether I love or hate the fact that such a seemingly simple matter could be so very complicated.

1 comment:

  1. I know this article is from 2008, but wanted to update. The developers revealed that, initially, Guile was in fact supposed to be Magus/Janus/Gil. Early on in development, they had to decide between dedicating a lot of time to tying the backstory together, or focusing on character development for over 60 playable characters. They went with the latter. Considering how lacking the character development was for most characters, I really wish they would have explored the Magus/Guile route instead.