I can't imagine the work that goes into translating and localizing video games for a Western audience, but Nob Ogaswara can. That's because Nob Ogaswara has officially translated some of the most popular RPGs to come out of Japan. Although he may be best known for translating almost every Pokémon game between 1998 and 2009, he also translated a number of Dragon Quest games in the late '90s and early '00s.
In fact, Nob Ogaswara (who goes by @DougDinsdale on Twitter), translated Dragon Warrior I & II, Dragon Warrior III, Dragon Warrior Monsters 2: Tara's Adventure, and Dragon Warrior Monsters 2: Cobi's Journey – all on GameBoy Color. He also translated Torneko: The Last Hope on PSone and had started the translation for Dragon Warrior IV on PSone before the project was shut down.
I was lucky enough to interview him for my site. You can read the entire interview right here:
Getting To Know Dragon Quest Translator Nob Ogaswara
AK: Is there anything you'd like to share about yourself? Just to give readers an idea of who you are.
NO: I was born into nobility, destined to be the 14th feudal governor of Shinshu (the present day Nagano) if that feudal system were to still exist. I was working for EGM and Game Pro in the early '90s when I did an impromptu interview with NOA Exec VP Peter Main at the N64 unveiling in Tokyo. He happened to miraculously sit beside Game Pro Chief Editor Wes Nihei on the bus out to the airport, they got to talking about me, and Mr. Main poached me for NOA. I think they wanted me for Nintendo Power, but I somehow got given the Terranigma translation project, and that’s how the game translation career got started. Pretty much pure dumb luck and brazen pluck.
AK: So you're a native speaker of Japanese?
NO: Born Japanese, and emigrated to Canada when I was six. [I] did all my schooling there, including university, then went to Japan in '85. Answered a want ad in the Japan Times and got hired by a translation agency as their in-house translator, which lasted nearly two years, [then] went freelance. Developed a love for video games, and blagged my way onto EGM as a foreign correspondent.
AK: Do you have a favorite Dragon Quest game?
NO: Biased, of course, but 3. But the reason I decided to try my hand at game translating was because I wanted to translate the Famicom DQ4.
Working At Enix USA
AK: How long were you with Enix USA and which Dragon Warrior games did you translate?
NO: Not all that long. I got a call from Enix USA Localization Producer George Torii (formerly Square USA) around '98 through an introduction from Nintendo Power’s Scott Pelland, and they got me working on the GBC Dragon Warrior 1 + 2 remake. I also did GBC Dragon Warrior 3 remake, GBC Dragon Warrior Monsters 2, and PS Torneko the Last Hope.
I was offered the editing job on PS Dragon Quest 7, but I was utterly ruined from the last three games in quick sequence, so I turned it down. I did write the Jester lines for battles, though. I actually did start working on PS DQIV, but that was cancelled before I got seriously deep. There was also some talk of working on other Enix titles like Grandia and Star Ocean, but then the merger happened, and the shoestring operation that was Enix USA was no longer. Too bad, really, Enix USA was a hilarious nightmare—I know I’ve never had more fun working with anyone else.
AK: Besides translations, were you involved with other aspects of Dragon Quest/Dragon Warrior at Enix? Like marketing or promotions or anything?
SO: Nope… Oh wait, actually, I was the admin on Enix USA’s forums off and on for about a year. That was fun, but also frustrating since I couldn’t be a total dick to people who were being dickheads.
AK: At what point do you (or other translators on these projects) decide to use direct translations versus what would be better for an American audience to understand? Is that just a judgement call sort of thing? I know some Western fans are pretty hardcore about staying true to the text (personally, I don't care that much).
SO: Change Mr. Horii’s iconic Japanese text? Are you out of your mind? So… that’d be my judgement call on the titles I worked on.
Translating Dragon Warrior 1-3 & Dragon Warrior Monsters
AK: So, in the Dragon Warrior 1-3 games on GameBoy Color, the hero is named Loto instead of Erdrick or Roto. Was there a certain reason for this, or just a stylistic choice?
NO: No, just a dumb mistake. I wasn’t sure if it was “Loto” or “Roto,” so I gambled they don’t want “rot” and went with Loto…And neither George nor anyone else at Enix USA called me on it, so the typo remained.
AK: How involved were you with naming monsters in Dragon Warrior Monsters 2? And how involved were other people? Like, did Yuji Horii or anyone specifically have to approve names and things? Or were you just trusted to do it all yourself?
NO: A good number of names were already mandated from the NES versions, and bosses were to be named according to Enix’s wishes. (I was furious when I realized “Ag Devil” was using the scientific notation “Ag” for “Silver.”) Otherwise, I got to do whatever I wanted. So…Capt. Dead. George had the right of refusal, but he generally left me alone.
Translating Torneko: The Last Hope On PS1
AK: You also did the PSone Torneko game. At what point did Taloon become Torneko? I'd read that Paul Handelman decided to make his full name Torneko Taloon to incorporate both aspects of his name. Did you go with Torneko for a specific translation reason on PS1? Or was that something the company had already decided on?
NO: It was always Torneko with me and George. I wasn’t ordered to use it, but it just felt natural anyway. I loved the original SFC outings, so I jumped at the chance to save this on-the-verge-of-cancellation project at the last minute. The original translation company (who are still credited on the Wiki, I think) made a total mess of things (as in, producing ZERO usable text), blew most of the budget and deadline, and Enix Japan were saying, “Fuck it, cancel it.”
AK: So how'd you guys get it out?
I convinced George, “Let me do this. I’ll do it for what’s left of your budget and I’ll do it in the three weeks left before deadline, so Enix Japan won’t have any reason to can it.”
I did it, too, despite spending a night in hospital for shoulder surgery. I phoned to tell George, whose first words were, “So, you’re going to make deadline, right?” That was the only time I ever cussed out a client. I finished the job with my left arm in a sling. I got my kids to copy enter text, which I parlayed into giving them credit as translators on at least one GBC title.
Translating Dragon Quest IV For PlayStation
AK: You said you started work on the PSone version of Dragon Quest IV. There's a big question in the fandom in regards to how far along that translation got. Do you mind sharing how far along in the process you were?
NO: Not very far at all. I was given some of Torneko’s chapter to start, but I was more or less just sorting and organizing files when the axe fell. Heartbeat baled out after getting miffed at being told Enix would put DQ8’s production to tender rather than automatically assigning them the job.
AK: I'm not familiar with that story. Do you mind explaining that a bit?
NO: DQ7’s production was long and difficult, with people incensed at the graphic quality late in development, [which] threatened to extend the already long gestation period. DQ7 was also really buggy, too. It was prone to crashing. Incidentally, Heartbeat became Genius Sonority who produced Pokemon Colosseum, Pokemon XD [both on GameCube], and DS Pokemon Troze, all of which I got to translate.
AK: This isn't really a question. But I just want to say on behalf of myself and the whole DQ fandom in the West, I really appreciate the hard work you've done. I can't fathom the work that goes into translating these massive games, and I just really appreciate your work and for taking the time out of your day to answer these questions. So thanks!
NO: The pleasure was mine. Thanks for giving me a platform. When I look back, I can’t help but marvel at how incredibly weird and fun it was to work for Enix USA. In their case, I can honestly say the pleasure was all mine. I’m so very glad and grateful y’all got to come along for the ride.
Special thanks again to Nob Ogaswara, aka Doug Dinsdale on Twitter, for being so candid and thorough with answers! Also thank to sackchief for doing some detective work and suggesting I do this interview.
For more Dragon Quest content, be sure to check out the rest of my content on DragonQuestAustin.com and read my book: The Dragon Quest Book: Interviews and Reflections on the Fandom in the West, which is on sale now!