Tekken — Everybody Knows Japanese… They Just Don’t Speak It

Mostly known for punching; less known for funny dialogue

It’s interesting how I chose to talk about Tekken of all things in this article, considering that I talked about it in the last article, albeit briefly mentioned. Now that I think about it, it’s also something that I could’ve talked about in my Digital Museum series of articles, but I want to leave that out of the picture for a while. Of course, I only wrote all this because I had no better way to start the article.

But hilarity aside, Tekken is a great fighting game, if not a bit complicated with the mechanics. Seriously, every character has like 200 different moves, most of which are interchangeable. But that’s because Tekken supposedly bases its fighting system on actual martial arts, so no Fatalities or Hadouken or anything like those. Although it’s tailored more towards expert players, Tekken is still a fun game to play with friends if you just want to throw punches at each other without ever knowing how you did it. I did with my friends, and if you haven’t done it with yours, do so now.

While you try to get around the complicated move-sets, there are other problems besides “How to make the game easier for noobs”. I think everyone can see where this is going…

It’s never explained how they do it

Of course, since this is me and my articles of all things languages and how they relate to video games, I’ll tell you of the one feature of Tekken that nobody talks about, and that is the ability to understand each other despite not speaking the language.

Although this was only introduced later in the series, it’s not a feature so much as it is a gimmick since it doesn’t seem like it was intended. At first, it was only limited to a few languages, but then it expanded to several more. Even characters who formerly spoke English exclusively now spoke their native language. But forget how many languages the many characters of the franchise speak. The one issue that this causes is that, as I said previously, they understand each other by sharing a language, and they don’t even have a translator. Some “languages” aren’t even intelligible, namely, the one that King speaks, which is just jaguar growls. He’s a recurring character in the series, by the way.

Anyways, you get the idea that they shouldn’t understand each other because even if they were all polyglots by some weird miracle, there’s no way to properly translate what the guy with the jaguar head is saying. And all of this leaves me confused since they never explain how they do it.

Let’s just assume they’re polyglots and be done with it

So the first solution that I can think of is very simple: explain how they do it in the story. I assume that the explanation can’t be that hard since you could say something like, “they come from a technologically advanced society, so they have chips in their head that do the translating” or some other half-assed explanation. Of course, the story is not for me to write, but that’s ok since I’m not interested. Also, the developers might have actually solved the issue themselves since I haven’t played Tekken in forever. I assume that might not be the case, as I still remember baffling over the absurdity of these “lingual” situations in the game.

And then there’s the second solution: just laugh! It’s funny because they’re not supposed to talking like that, but they are. It’s clear that the developers themselves don’t care about this “mishap”, so why should you? But I must say that I appreciate their efforts in expanding the language pool among the characters and not hold onto a design philosophy that goes by the principles of “if they’re not Asian, then they speak English”.

And these two are basically what I have right now. I think I had a 3rd solution, but I probably lost it because I can’t find it in my head.

Looks like it’s a linguist’s job

If you’re a linguist, please explain the phenomenon of people understanding languages they never heard about in their lives (that’s loosely describing it). Alternatively, if you’re just someone who cares about Tekken for whatever reason, feel free to share your opinion on the matter. What do you think should be done about the Mishima Zaibatsu’s lack of an accompanying translator? That’s the name of a megacorporation in the game… in case you didn’t know that (because not just fans read this).

In Conclusion…

I wish I had more time to describe how fun it is just to sit down with friends and play Tekken, always pretending you’re an expert with a single character just to make a lasting impression on that friend of a friend that just happened to be there that one time but you never saw again. But those are stories from 20 or so years ago, and what the children of yesterday found impressive, the children of today will find it as nothing more than old junk. I honestly don’t know what kids like today besides those two games nobody would shut up about. I’ll let you guess what those games are; not that it’s hard, of course.

But, yes, Tekken is a great game to play with friends even if you don’t know how to play because, interestingly enough, Tekken is one of those games that are only fun if you don’t know how to play. That’s why everyone can play because you don’t need to be a gamer to have fun with some friends and a bowl of Cheetos. In short: yes, I recommend playing this game for everyone because it’s basically Mario Party if you don’t own a Nintendo console.

As for the language thing, either explain it in the story or don’t mind it. I recommend the latter because, come on; nobody cares about it THAT much.

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