The popular action RPGs by From Soft are famed for their fair if fierce difficulty and a minimalist approach to tutorials, rather wanting players to learn by experience rather than by obsequious text-boxes. Text is indeed the very bread and butter of this blog, though more specifically the dialogue. If a game is set in ancient pseudo-medieval times or feature characters of elder ages then chances are that they will sport an equivalently archaic mode of speaking to the player.
Or is it?
The fact of the matter is that the original Japanese versions of the games do feature archaic speech, but only a handful of the characters who do sport a Elizabethan diction in the English dub do so in the original version.
We'll be looking at those whose speech is the most markedly archaic in the English versions and then comparing them to the Japanese originals - namely, Demon Souls, Dark Souls 1 ~ 3 and Bloodborne. I will pick chiefly a few so representatives from each game to illustrate the archaic speech.
Do note, dear reader, that spoilers are quite plentiful due to the nature of the topic.
Demon Souls - The Maiden in Black and Old King Doran.
Dark Souls 1 - Gwendolyn, "Hawk-eye" Gough and Gwyn
Dark Souls 2 - Rat King
Dark Souls 3 - Fire Keeper, Prince Lothric and Princess Yorshka
Bloodborne - Annelise Cainhurst
These represent moderately to extreme Elizabethan speech in the English dubs and are for this very reason suitable examples.
One's very first encounter with any line of dialogue, outside of the narration of the opening film, is that of the Maiden in Black (黒衣の火防女, Kuroi no Himorime, "Black-garbed Protectrix of the Fire"), whose final lines from the game reflect the stark relationship between the original Japanese flavour of lines for the Maiden and the English version's:
Hark, I hear a voice of yore. The Old One is calling for thee. Let us proceed below to its lair.
This is prime Shakespearean language, complete with hark, yore and thee, the latter being the object case for thou (second person singular), which aren't bad at all considering she is an ancient being working as the attendant for an eldritch existence called The Old One.
Natsukashii koe ga kikoemasu... Kemono ga anata o yonde iru no desu. Tomo ni, kemono no moto ni mairimashou.
"I can hear a nostalgic voice. The Beast appears to be calling for You. Let us both proceed to the base of the Beast."
All done in modern, non-archaic keigo, polite speech.
Does this then mean that all of the archaic speech in the English localisation is mostly just ad-libbed? I assume however that is not the case, since English voice acting was present in the original Japanese version using the Elizabethan lines that made it to the international versions.
One character does speak proper archaic language, the Old King himself, His Majesty Doran, who lives the life of an ruin-dwelling weirdo that awaits adventures who stumble by his dilapidated residence and then proceeds to spout lines of heroic intimidation to challenge them. Alas, poor Doran, tedium seems a most painful thing for a monarch of his ilk.
The king, only wearing cerulean armour that clasps his naked ageing Herculean manhood, spouts these first lines in the English dub:
Thou who seeketh the King's sword!
I am the Old King.
Show me thine strength and the strength of thine souls.
Prepare thyself, brave knight.
Which in the original were:
Ouka no tsurugi wo motomeru mono yo. Furuki ou no mae de, sonokato, tamashii no kachi wo shimesu ga yoi.
"O Seeker of the Royal Sword! Show Thy worth before I, the Olden King"
The English lines are from the original, so I cannot tell if they mended the horrible grammar such as thine souls instead of the more correct thy souls and not to mention other details in his language. The Japanese version uses the archaic adjectival form ~ki rather than ~i in furuki (olden) and he uses the archaic imperative ga yoi rather than ga ii, which in itself is rather pompous sounding, literally, "[you ought to] do [this]". The noun, "sword", is here tsurugi in the Japanese original, which is a poetic word for the ordinary pronunciation ken. 剣, the kanji used, depicts and usually means a two-edged sword rather than the Japanese 刀 (katana), though this is a minor point of interest.
Dark Souls 1:
Gwyndolin, the hidden androgynous commander of the Dark Moon Blades and Crown Prince of Anorlondo, speaks in fully fledged archaic English when the player encounters the mist-veiled step before him,
Halt! This is the tomb of the Great Lord Gwyn. Tarnished, it shall not be, by the feet of men. If thou art a true disciple of the Dark Sun, cast aside thine ire, hear the voice of mineself, Gwyndolin, and kneel before me.
And the Japanese original:
Tomarinasai. Koreyori saki wa, daiou Guven no basho
Nanibito de are, kore wa kegasu koto wa yurusarenai
Nanji, fukei no ishinaku, tadashiku kage no taiyou no shito naraba ware Guvendorin no koe wo kiki, sokode hizamasuku ga yoi.
"I order thou to stop! Beyond this point be the burial place of King Gwen the Great. No matter who thou art, I shall not permit thy defiling of the place. If thou, possessing no blaspheming intentions, be a disciple of the Dark Sun, then hearken unto the voice of I, Gwendoline, and kneel before this point."
Both the official English localisation and the Japanese original script line up perfectly. The Crown Prince is none other than the son of an ancient sun god and victor of the theomachy that is depicted in the opening film as well as hinted throughout the game's many flavour texts. Ware ("I"), nanji ("thou") as well as the gayoi imperative mark his speech as that of a god to his followers. We ought to note right now that the English thou is an informal pronoun, that originally signified either friendship, non-formality or intimacy, that is Gwendolyn's usage of the pronoun here is fitting since he not only is a prince, but also the commander of an order of knights, thus he thinks himself far above the concerns of lowly beings like the player's character. I would have said "mortals", but the player is a being that is caught in the nexus between the realms of the living and dead.
Gwyndolin's elder sororal hologram, Gwynevere has also been outfitted with archaic English, take this line when the voluptuous sun-princess implores the hero to complete the royal eschatological quest:
Since the day Father his form did obscureth, I have await'd thee. Once living, now Undead, and a fitting heir to father Gwyn thou art, and beseech thee succeed Lord Gwyn, and inheriteth the Fire of our world.
And the Japanese original:
Chichi ga kakurete ato, anata wo matte orimashita. Sunawachi, hito toshite fushi to nari, fushi toshite eiyuu to naru chichi no koukeisha wo onegai desu. Daiou Guven no koukei toshite, sekai no hi wo tsuite kudasai.
"Ever since Father did hide himself have I waited for You. Namely, You who becoming and Undead then became a hero, and thus do I implore you to become Father's heir. Pray, succeed King Gwen the Great, inheriting then the Fire of the World."
Same problem as with that of the Maiden in Black, where the Japanese version here uses keigo albeit much more formal and we have her using the kanji version of the pronoun anata, i.e. 貴方 rather than hiragana あなた, which underlines the solemnity of her wish. This is, however, going straight against how "thou" is an informal pronoun, talking down to the person whom one is addressing, whereas the Japanese version has the opposite with Gwynevere imploring the hero to succeed her father, King Gwen.
The same problem recurs with Dusk, an ancient noblewoman from the fallen kingdom of Oolacile, that also sports archaic Elizabethan lines where in the original she is merely very polite.
One of the knights in the game, the giant Gough, nicknamed the Hawkeye due to his unparalleled, apparently blind, archery, speaks in a similar if amiable Elizabethan manner, here he thanks the player after they have slain the corrupted form of the former Sir Artorias (Artorius in the original version), the leader of the band of Arthurian knights that Gough himself was a member of:
Hm? A visitor, have we?
Thou must be the one who freed Artorias.
An old friend he was, and thanks to thee…
He left this world with honour intact.
And the original Japanese version:
Hou, houmonsha to wa, mezurashii koto mo aru mono da. Moshiya, Arutoriusu wo kaihou shite kure ta gojin kana. Naraba, furui tomo no hokori wo mamotte kureta koto rei wo iwanebanarumai. Kikou ni kansha suru.
"Oh, a visitor, this is a most rare thing. Mayhaps ye be Personage that freed Artorius, thus I owe you thanks for my old friend having preserved his honour. Gramercy."
Splendid and amiable, kikou (貴公, lit. "honourable duke") marks a middleground in terms of politeness, but clearly signifies that Gough is grateful towards the player. The pronoun also recurs throughout all of the Soulsborne games as the 2nd person pronoun of choice for knights and nobility, as we shall see later on in this article. Other points of interest is his usage of the old fashioned negative volitional conditional ~banarumai (I ought to ....; lit. "if I will not do this, it would be bad"). ~mai corresponds to the more common ~naidarou, and typically denoting "I will not want to ....". This conveys the image of a chivalric giant whose tone is one that is neither belittling nor aggrandising. He also uses watashi (私), which in this series is chiefly gender-neutral and often has tones of aloofness or nobility.
Dark Souls 2:
A single person in this game speaks in Elizabethan English, and a monarch no less, albeit not the mythical regents of the game's lore, rather it is a cthonic ruler taking the form of the Rat King, whose speech is properly regal. The player encounters him deep within his underground lair which is riddled with traps and a giant guard wolf, which once the player has endured these hardships, stumbles into the audience with the royal rodent, who has a less hospitable view of humans:
Leave this place, human. We have no time for thy kind. Humans bring nothing but filth.
Tachisarugayoi, ningen yo. Yo wa, nanjira no mono to majiwaru ki wa nai. Kegarawashii ningen yo, sarugayoi
"Thou best leave, o human. We are loath to mingle with your kind. O odious human, get thee hence!"
Nanjira ("ye") the plural form of nanji ("thou"), the Old Japanese pronouns, is coupled here with yo (余), whose meaning does not equate any meanings of majestic plurality, but the tone of his dialogue and status suggests that it has a nuance akin to it. 余 was historically and frequently used in written correspondence and by the aristocracy. Its usage nowadays in fiction tends to be for royalty or divinity, such as Emperor Palpatine (Star Wars), King Knight (Shovel Knight), Hades (Saint Seiya) and Imajin (Dragon Quest - The Emblem of Loto). He also employs the imperative ga yoi.
King Vendrick from the same game has his speech translated into ordinary if old fashioned English, but uses ware (我) and nanji (汝) just like his compeers of the previous games:
As flame rises, so does it fade. Such is the way of things.
Do you intend to link the fire? Then you must first take the throne. Prove your worth. Find the ancient crowns. Seek adversity, and they will be yours. And your wishes, granted.
Hi wa sakari, dore kieyuku ga sadame
Nanji, hi wo tugu mono taranto suru ka
Subete wa ouza ni aru mono no ishi
Fusawashiki kanmuri wo motomeyo
Kunan wo motome, furuki kanmuri wo motomeyo
Subete wa, sono ishi no mama ni ...
"The fire flourisheth, either way it fadeth away, such is its fate.
Thou art wanting to be the one who succeedeth the fire?
It is all the will of the person upon the throne
Wish thou for the most fitting crown,
Wish thou for suffering, wish thou for the ancient crown.
It is all for the sake of its will...."
Haunting words which are rendered into less ones in the localisation, with the former having all the gravitas of the memories of a doomed king.
Dark Souls 3:
The grammatical errors that plagued Demon's Souls and Dark Souls are gone, they were purged by the second Dark Souls and refined in the third game, with a greater part of the cast speaking in archaic English.
We encounter the younger sister of Gwyndolin of Dark Souls 1, Yorshka, whose speech in the English version is Shakespearean, for this manner of thing is apparently inheritable for the royalty of Anorlondo.
The player first encounter Her Highness through a daring itinerary on invisible mid-airs paths across the towering spires of the royal castle, where she sits besides the utmost corner of one of the towers:
Name thyself, stranger.
I am Yorshka, Captain of the Darkmoon Knights.
What beckoned thee to such a place?"
...Donata deshou ka? Wata(ku)shi wa Yorshka. Angetsu no kishidan, sono souchou desu. Soshite anata wa, naze konna basho ni irasshaimashita ka?
"... May I ask who goes there? I am Yorshka, the Captain-General of the Darkmoon Knights. Wherefore would You, good sir/madam, be finding Yourself in a place like this?"
Decorous and using the sonkeigo (reverential speech) form of iru (to be), i.e. irassharu ("the sir/madam is") when addressing the player, which perhaps is the reason for their making her speaking in an Elizabethan tone? But why the "thou"? The children of King Gwen the Great runneth thick with these royals, when it comes to thouing.
She appears more courteous towards the player than other characters in the series are, more so using irassharu rather than a neutral variant, considering her status as divine royalty. Nevertheless, she uses 貴方 (anata) in the kanji form and may or may not be using watakushi rather than watashi, the former the most humble way to express "I", since the kanji used is the one for both, but going by the level of polite speech and her role as an ancient princess it is probably watakushi. Gwynevere uses the same 貴方, but she knowingly addresses the Promethean hero of the game, whereas Yorshka hardly having seen nor heard about who the player is addresses them straight away in a polite tone.
Moving on to another member of royalty, the suspiciously avuncular king Ludleth, who greets the player when they enter the hidden sanctuary, which serves as the game's hub:
Oh, thou’rt unkindled, and a seeker of Lords. I am Ludleth of Courland. Look not in bewilderment as I say… I linked the fire long ago, becoming a Lord of Cinder. If substantiation be thy want, set thine eyes upon my charred corse. This sad cadav’r. No need to be coy, have a closer look.
And in Japanese:
Aa, kimi ga hi no naki hai, ou no tansakusha da ne
Watashi wa Kûruranto no Rudoresu
Shinjirarenai kamoshirenai ga... katsute hi o tsuida, maki no ou sa
Sono shouko ni, imada kono karada, kusuburi ni yakarete iru
Kowareta karada da. Chikayoreba, kimi ni mo mieru hazu dayo
"Ah, dear chum, you are a fireless ashen, who jolly well seeks the kings?
I am Ludleth of Courland.
Perhaps it is too hard to believe, but I was formerly an heir to the fire, a King of Kindling.
The proof of this is my already charred and burned body. This ruined body. If you jolly want to come closer and look, then look, dear chum!"
The English script may render his speech into archaic English, as well as the voice acting for both versions - since the English voice acting is universal for both versions, but the script has him talking like the crazy uncle at a dinner party. His usage of kimi, which could be seen as a hearkening back to its olden meaning as an honorific pronoun meaning "Your Highness/Majesty", but his entire speech pattern plus the emphatic ne suggests that this is more in the line of "dear chum/pal/friend," hence my rendering it as such
Lastly, but not least, the Fire Keeper of this game speaks in a similar reverent tone towards the player in the Japanese version as the Maiden in Black did in Demon's Souls, likewise this is rendered in Elizabethan English, here her greeting to the player upon their entering the hidden sanctuary-hub:
Welcome to the bonfire, Unkindled One. I am a Fire Keeper. I tend to the flame, and tend to thee. The Lords have left their thrones, and must be deliver'd to them. To this end, I am at thy side.
The Japanese original:
Kakaribi ni youkoso, hi no naki hai no kata
Watashi wa himorime
Kararibi o tamochi, anata ni tsukaeru mono desu
Ouza o suteta outachi, o sagashi, torimodosu
Sonotame ni, watashi o otsukai kudasai.
"Welcome to the Bonfire, Fireless Ashen Personage.
I am the Protectrix of the Fire
I maintain the Fire and serve You, sir/ma'am.
To seek out and return the Kings who have lost their thrones,
For that very sake do I bid You please use my services."
Like Yorshka above she is courteous towards the Player, and here unlike the princess, she is serving the player who is destined to either bring an end to the chaos of the world or succeed. The construction fireless ashen personage is my conveying the nuance of hi no naki hai no kata, where kata is a polite word meaning "person/gentleman/lady/etc". Her lines are old fashioned, but not archaic.
We end our comparison of the games with the only person, as far as I know, who speaks archaic English in the Lovecraftian action RPG Bloodborne that pits the players, oneiric hunters against warped humanoid beasts, which eventually lead to clashing with the very forces of Cosmos.
Meet Annelise of Cainhurst, a vampire queen whose pronouns and tone hint towards her being one in a long line of immortal nobility taking residence in a baroque manor.
Later as the player's pact with the Vampire Queen progresses, should the player begin the side-quest, she will open up to them:
Speak not, those words.
We have little need of a consort.
Such a path would belike lead to further ruin.
Thou'rt dear to Us.
We would see no harm befall thee...
And the Japanese original version:
Ima wa yoi. Daga, waga hanryo to naru node
... Osomashii mirai wo miru darou
Kikou, watashi wa kikou ga daiji da
Mou, ushinaitaku wa nai no da yo...
"Do stop with this.
Now is nice. However, if ye were to become my consort....
I see naught, but what would be a repulsive future.
Ye... Ye are my one and all.
I shan't want to lose you..."
In the English voice acting she uses the Majestic Plural and thous the player, which isn't completely off in terms of rendering 貴公 (kikou) as such, I merely chose "ye", the second person plural which from the 1100s to 1700s was used as a second person singular polite pronoun to distinguish it from less formal pronouns. The Majestic Plural is nowhere present in the Japanese original script and she plainly uses 私 (watashi) as her pronoun of choice, even the recent(ish) re-released Japanese version featured voice-acting that confirms this. Her tone is overall akin to that of the knights of the Souls games, implying a reciprocal respect between the two parties - look for example at Gough's lines.
I have nothing against archaic English in the SoulsBorne games, in fact I love it utterly to pieces, but it is interesting to note where in the original Japanese version there is actual archaic speech. The localisation effort of implementing an English translation to the game was not one of rendering a brand new English manuscript in terms of voice acting since the voice acting in all of the Japanese SoulsBorne games, with exception to Sekiro and the later addition of Japanese voice acting to Bloodborne, featured the English voice acting that is also shared with English version along with some of the international versions.
My main gripe with the series' Elizabethan English are its glaring grammatical errors that haunt its earliest instalments, but become less of a problem later on as the series nears its final titles. The most egregious example occurs during one of the endings for Dark Souls 1, where abyssal serpents will proclaim the newly crowned player with,
Our Lord hath returned'st…
Applying the second person singular ending to the past tense of a verb that along with the third person version of an auxiliary verb creates a mangled past perfect tense that for all intents and purposes would give us, in Modern English,
Our Lord has returneds
Despite its lack of the cases of Old, Middle and Elizabethan English, the sentence still looks utterly aberrant. The case could be made, "well, English -s only applies to the present tense of the third person, not the past tense," well my dear imaginary critic that obscures the point that I am trying to make, and -s derives from a dialectal transposing the 2nd person case unto the 3rd person, but that is another story for another time.