The script text referenced throughout is from the Chrono Trigger Retranslation Project via the Chrono Compendium, completed in script form on March 30, 2007. This fan translation, thanks to KWhazit, creates "a clearer portrayal of Chrono Trigger as intended by its Japanese creators," that forgoes, "Nintendo of America's censorship standards," and overrides the video game's inability to hold all of the original text when translated to English. Please note that blue text is used to highlight specific Japanese characters and differentiate the North American Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) localization script.]
By far the most striking and noticeable aspect of the original Japanese game, profanity was utilized to personify specific characters and convey a harsher or more brutal context. These culturally-charged words or weapons that “force a listener to think an unpleasant (or at least emotionally charged) thought”1 vary from region to region (even among regional communities). As a result, what the Japanese might consider vulgar or upsetting, English-speaking individuals may view as easier to stomach. As such, it is inevitable that, once revealing the supposed equivalents of taboo words featured in Chrono Trigger, biases will be informed from a distinct perspective (in this case an American approach). Because of this, it is best to view these words at face value, and instead examine the differences between translations due to censorship. In most cases, such swears are used abusively and cathartically.1 When translated to their more or less English equivalents, they represent some of the taboo words that Americans, in particular, feel the most strongly about in terms of their obscenity. Below is a frequency chart of all swears utilized during character dialogue.

The most frequent of these taboo words are the various forms of “damn,” “damned,” and “dammit.” These are primarily used by sinister villains during times of confrontation and cruelty, and are intended to be dysphemistic. This word holds a deep religious connotation in Western religious communities. It inspires emotions of awe and fear, and was considered unprintable from the 19th century until the 1930s.2 Since then, common usage of the word “damn” has desensitized its flavor in Western popular culture. Throughout the North American translation, any mention of this swear was replaced with, in most cases, inadequate equivalents. Take, for instance, the words of a soldier at the broken Zenan Bridge as he watches Frog swim away:

That damn frog swam his way across.

That frog made it across by swimming to the other side.

「野郎」 yarou, with literal interpretations ranging from “rascal,” to “bastard” or “asshole,” can also be understood from the American perspective as “damn.” Utilized in a descriptive context, “damn,” here, makes us aware of the fact that the soldier is upset and angry towards Frog (like many of the other soldiers in the video game). This context however, is completely lost in the North American localization.

In other instances, “damn” is given the “minced oath” treatment these are euphemistic expressions created through misspelling and mispronunciation of taboo words, and are used to reduce the vehement qualities of the original swear. In the example below, Ozzie, the North American version of Vinnegar, uses “drat” instead of “dammit,” while in the Japanese iteration he exclaims the equivalent 「ちくしょー」 chiku sho:

Vinnegar: Dammit!

OZZIE: Drat!

As noted above, this word it typically used during times of high tension and confrontation. By examining the chart further, one can deduce which chapters are filled with the more aggressive scenes and boss battles. In a similar light, the second most prominent swear, “bastard,” is only used during chapters that have a form of the word “damn” in them which ultimately makes these words common in combative contexts:

Damn it, Vinnegar VIII, you bastard! Damn you for taking advantage of your ancestor's position and overworking us.

Ozzie VIII uses his ancestors' fame to boss us around!

Here, another rendition of chiku sho, 「ちくしょう」 chikushou, as well as yarou are used. As you can see, the text here (voiced by a goblin henchman of Vinnegar) makes use of both “damn” and “bastard,” exclaiming just how unfortunate his predicament is, as he is forced to perform laborious tasks. The English translation, although revealing to us that the goblin is upset, does not measure up to the same meaning that the profanity in the Japanese iteration creates.

Another important note, is that the word ”bastard” is rarely utilized by protagonists, instead being a characteristic of villainhood almost exclusively, Dalton, Vinnegar, and the Chancellor repeatedly voice out this intimidating swear:
ダルトン「ったく、あの予言者のヤローが中に入れて、なぜこの俺様がこんなところで見はり…… ハン、来やがったな……。   

Dalton: Jeez, that bastard prophet went on in, how come I'M stuck here as lookout...? Hmph, you bastards came...

DALTON: Phooey! Why is the Prophet allowed inside while I'm stuck with guard duty? Ha! There you are...

However, in one rare instance, when Crono is brought back to life, Frog (Kaeru in the Japanese script) exclaims the swear in an emphatic nature, expressing his relief and happiness more intensely than in the English script. 「お前」 omae, is either a derogatory or informal way of referring to someone or a close friend. In this instance, it may be interpreted that Kaeru is using the word “bastard” to speak to Crono (this is a common expression in America among male friends). Because of this discrepancy, it is plausible to say that omae, in this context, may not be considered as taboo in Japan as it is in America:
カエル「お前はしあわせ者だぜ…… こんなにみんなに思われて…… しあわせ者め……

Kaeru: You're a lucky guy... cared about like this by everyone... lucky bastard...

Frog: Thou art a lucky lad. Thy friends be loyal and true!

Even rarer are the swear words “ass,” “hell,” and “bitch,” with the latter only being referred to once throughout the entire experience. Although “hell” in Western popular culture has become greatly desensitized, use of the derogatory word “bitch” is still very culturally-charged. Below, a soldier guarding Crono’s cell confronts Lucca as she arrives to rescue Crono from his unjust captivity. 「キサマ」 kisama, is a very threatening form of “you,” (typically the equivalent of “son-of-a-bitch” or “bastard”) and as such, may be interpreted in various ways:

Who the hell are you!?

Who the heck are YOU?

And the following is Jyaki’s outcry in the Kingdom of Zeal as he confides in Schala where he uses 「ヤツ」 yatsu, as a derogatory reference to his mother:
ジャキ「あんなヤツ、母様じゃない! 姿形は母様だけど中身は別のモノだ……。

Jyaki: That bitch isn't our mother! She looks like mother, but she's something different on the inside...

JANUS: She's NOT our mother! She looks like mother, but inside she has changed.

Both instances of these words add extra intensity to the scene, especially with regard to Jyaki’s protestations against his mother. By calling his mother such a taboo word, Jyaki, from the Western viewpoint, is personified as extremely distraught, and even vile. In Japan, yatsu is most likely viewed differently, meaning that either Japanese censorship is lax or that such an expression is not deemed profane enough.

Without a doubt, by examining the discrepancies between translations, it is clear to see the impact of language on this artifact. Depending on the context and the Japanese characters used to represent rude or derogatory language, it is difficult to pinpoint the exact cultural equivalents overseas. This is why it is important to regard these interpretations at face value, but also reflect on how the English equivalents could have impacted the narrative and its emotional quality. By enforcing the removal and revision of profanity existing within the original version of Chrono Trigger, Nintendo of America articulated Japanese cultural language in a less passionate light (from the perspective of Westerners) altering the storyline’s intensity of emotions and conflicts for North Americans (whose view of such words are fundamentally different than that of the Japanese).

Works Cited:

[1] Pinker, Steven. "The Language of Swearing." Warwick’s Bookstore, La Jolla. 10 Sept. 2008. Open Culture. Web. 28 July 2015.

[2] Pearsall, Ronald. The Worm in the Bud: The World of Victorian Sexuality. New York: Macmillan, 1969. Print.

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