Alexander O. Smith

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Alexander O. Smith
Born (1973-02-08) February 8, 1973 (age 46)
Vermont, United States
ResidenceKamakura, Japan
EducationBachelor of Arts, Dartmouth College/Keio University, 1995
Master of Arts, Harvard University, 1998
OccupationTranslator, author
Years active1997–present
Notable work
Vagrant Story, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, Final Fantasy XII

Alexander O. Smith (born February 8, 1973) is a professional English–Japanese translator and author. While his output covers many areas such as adaptation of Japanese novels, manga, song lyrics, anime scripts, and various academic works, he is best known for his software localizations of Japanese video games including Vagrant Story, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, and Final Fantasy XII. He currently resides in Kamakura, Japan, where he operates his own contract localization business, Kajiya Productions, and is co-founder of a translation and publishing company, Bento Books.


Born in Vermont, Smith first gained an interest in Japanese after attending an exchange program in northern China.[1] He obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree in Japanese from Dartmouth College/Keio University in 1995, and a Master of Arts degree in Classical Japanese Literature from Harvard University in 1998.[2] Just before graduation, he interned at Sega, during which he was asked to perform voice-over for Winter Heat.[3] His first work in translation was as a subtitler for Japanese television dramas.[4] Smith joined Square after earning his master's degree, working as part of Richard Honeywood's nascent localization team. On his first project, Final Fantasy VIII, he and the other translators were not given access to the game files; they were instead forced to hack in their new dialogue using GameSharks during testing.[5] In 1999, he worked as the main English translator for Yasumi Matsuno's Vagrant Story. Reviewers noted the high quality of the English script, in which Smith utilized various archaic English idioms and slang that distinguished the game from its straightforward Japanese counterpart.[6][7] His last major work as a Square employee was on Final Fantasy X, for which he was awarded "Best Localization" of 2001 by RPGamer.[8]

Smith left Square in 2002 to found Kajiya Productions—a freelance translation and localization company—with Joseph Reeder, his co-translator on Final Fantasy XII, though he would continue to collaborate on Square and Square Enix titles.[1][9] By working as a contractor, he found that he had better access to the development team to aid in his translation process, free from the fetters of corporate communication protocols.[1] In 2005, during the protracted development of Final Fantasy XII, Capcom hired Smith to work on the localization of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney. He found director Shu Takumi's writing to be very funny and clever, which drew him to the challenge of translating Takumi's jokes and wordplay.[10] Smith joined the Final Fantasy XII project after Yasumi Matsuno, the original director, had left and was not able to collaborate on the script with him directly, unlike with Vagrant Story. Principal voice recording took place over eight weeks, with months of translation work both before and after that.[11] Smith worked with Matsuno again on the 2011 PlayStation Portable remake of Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together, which received a brand new translation.[12] In 2011, Smith co-founded a book translation and publishing company called Bento Books with his friend Tony Gonzalez and his Kajiya Productions partner Joseph Reeder. The company's first major work was Math Girls, a mathematics-themed young adult novel by Hiroshi Yuki.[12]

In addition to translation, Smith has composed English lyrics for a number of Nobuo Uematsu's vocal tracks, including "Melodies of Life" from Final Fantasy IX, "Otherworld" from Final Fantasy X, and "Eternity" from Blue Dragon. He also arranged lyrics for "The Skies Above" and "Otherworld" on The Skies Above, the second album from Uematsu's band, The Black Mages, and performed the spoken word intro to "Maybe I'm a Lion" as well.[5]


With his translations, Smith goes to great lengths to preserve the experience of the original text as much as possible, especially if it has a distinct feel. For The Devotion of Suspect X, he mirrored Higashino's "sparse, methodical tone of Japanese" by using more elevated and formal language.[9] He draws on his academic background in classical Japanese literature to inform some of these translations.[1] When it comes to the question of leaving Japan-specific terms untranslated, Smith is careful to either translate around it or provide a concise description of the term. He only resorts to leaving a word in Japanese in rare, plot-critical cases, such as with a kotatsu used as a murder weapon in The Devotion of Suspect X, stating "Nothing kills the flow of a text more than a long-winded explanation of something which would have come second nature to a reader of the original [Japanese]".[9] For less "literary" mediums like manga and games, Smith feels more free to maximize the audience's enjoyment if a strict literal translation that adheres to the original sentence structure would impede that enjoyment.[9]

Smith considers his treatment of Vagrant Story and Final Fantasy XII among his best translations.[9] He looks to Vagrant Story as a title that demands to be in English and thought of his work as revealing the inner English game that always existed underneath. Smith was able to speak directly with Matsuno to improve the script translation, marking the first of their many collaborations.[1] For Final Fantasy XII, his role entailed rebuilding the world to make sense for an English-speaking audience. He chose to portray the Archadian Imperials with a British accent to distinguish them from the American-accented Resistance members.[13] For both of these titles, Smith relied on Matsuno's dense notes on the world's backstory to capture subtle and implied connections and preserve the rich texture of the game.[1]

Smith compares translating lip synced dialogue to writing entirely in haiku.[1] The 7% of Final Fantasy XII's script that was voiced took more time to translate than the remaining 93%.[13] In his role as voice producer, Smith searched for character actors like John DiMaggio and British stage actors for the judges.[11] He was pleased by the performance of Johnny McKeown, the child actor who portrayed Larsa, a precocious prince.[5] Smith was able to rewrite the script based on the actors he had cast for each character.[1] He also made a key change to one of the final lines of Final Fantasy X with scenario writer Kazushige Nojima's approval. In the original Japanese, the main character's love interest, Yuna, tells the main character "arigatō" just before he fades away. Although the word literally means "thank you", Smith chose to elaborate on the connotations of the word and the tone of the scene, settling on "I love you"—the first time the phrase has appeared in a Final Fantasy game.[14][15]


Video games[edit]

Title Year[a] Platform(s) Notes[b]
Winter Heat 1997 Sega Saturn Cast & narration
Final Fantasy VIII 1999 PlayStation
Final Fantasy Anthology 1999 PlayStation Translation support
Chocobo's Dungeon 2 1999 PlayStation
Koudelka 1999 PlayStation Editor
Front Mission 3 2000 PlayStation
The Misadventures of Tron Bonne 2000 PlayStation Editor
Vagrant Story 2000 PlayStation
Legend of Mana 2000 PlayStation Special thanks
Parasite Eve II 2000 PlayStation
Final Fantasy IX 2000 PlayStation Lyricist, "Melodies of Life"
Bloody Roar 3 2001 GameCube, PlayStation2, Xbox
Mega Man Battle Network 2001 Game Boy Advance
Final Fantasy X 2001 PlayStation 2 Also lyricist, "Otherworld"
Mega Man Battle Network 2 2002 Game Boy Advance
Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter 2003 PlayStation 2
Everblue 2 2003 PlayStation 2 Editor
Final Fantasy Tactics Advance 2003 Game Boy Advance
Final Fantasy XI 2003 Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 2, Xbox 360
Fire Emblem 2003 Game Boy Advance
Final Fantasy X-2 2003 PlayStation 2 Editor, US recording producer
Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles 2004 GameCube Special thanks
Star Ocean: Till the End of Time 2004 PlayStation 2
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney 2005 Nintendo DS
Final Fantasy XII 2006 PlayStation 2 Also US recording producer
Blue Dragon 2007 Xbox 360 Lyricist, "Eternity"
Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney 2008 Nintendo DS
Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift 2008 Nintendo DS
Valkyria Chronicles 2008 PlayStation 3 English ADR writer
MadWorld 2009 Wii Scenario translator
Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Winter Games 2009 Wii, Nintendo DS
Gyromancer 2009 Microsoft Windows, Xbox 360 Also editor
Vanquish 2010 PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 Editor
Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together 2011 PlayStation Portable
Final Fantasy V 2011 PlayStation Network Translation support
Rhythm Thief & the Emperor's Treasure 2012 Nintendo 3DS
Crimson Shroud 2012 Nintendo 3DS
Anarchy Reigns 2013 PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
The Wonderful 101 2013 Wii U
Final Fantasy XII The Zodiac Age[16] 2017 PlayStation 4, Microsoft Windows
428: Shibuya Scramble 2018 Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4 Editor

Other works[edit]

Title Year[a] Medium Original author Notes
Guin Saga 2003–2008 Novel Kaoru Kurimoto Novel series; translated with Elye Alexander
Samurai Deeper Kyo 2004–2007 Manga Akimine Kamijyo Volumes 6–21; translated with Rich Amtower
Shaolin Sisters 2005 Manga Narumi Kakinouchi Volumes 1–5; translated with Rich Amtower
Dr. Slump 2005–2009 Manga Akira Toriyama Translated with Rich Amtower
Fullmetal Alchemist 2005–2007 Novel Makoto Inoue Light novel series; translated with Rich Amtower
The Twelve Kingdoms 2007–2010 Novel Fuyumi Ono Light novel series; translated with Elye Alexander
Brave Story 2007 Novel Miyuki Miyabe
Muhyo & Roji's Bureau of Supernatural Investigation 2007–2010 Manga Yoshiyuki Nishi
Cowa! 2008 Manga Akira Toriyama
All You Need Is Kill 2009 Novel Hiroshi Sakurazaka
The Summer of the Ubume 2009 Novel Natsuhiko Kyogoku Translated with Elye Alexander and Amanda Jun Katsurada
The Book of Heroes 2010 Novel Miyuki Miyabe
Harmony 2010 Novel Project Itoh
The Devotion of Suspect X 2011 Novel Keigo Higashino Translated with Elye Alexander
Rocket Girls 2: The Last Planet 2011 Novel Hōsuke Nojiri
ICO: Castle in the Mist 2011 Novel Miyuki Miyabe
10 Billion Days & 100 Billion Nights 2011 Novel Ryu Mitsuse Translated with Elye Alexander
Salvation of a Saint 2012 Novel Keigo Higashino
Malice 2014 Novel Keigo Higashino
Journey Under the Midnight Sun 2015 Novel Keigo Higashino
A Midsummer's Equation: a Detective Galileo novel 2016 Novel Keigo Higashino
  1. ^ a b Sorted by year of English language release
  2. ^ Credited as translator or localization specialist unless noted

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Jeriaska (2007-04-27). "Localization Tactics: A Conversation with Alexander O. Smith". Square Haven. Archived from the original on 2013-02-12. Retrieved 2016-02-13.
  2. ^ Smith, Alexander O. (2016). "Alexander O. Smith LinkedIn profile". LinkedIn. Retrieved 2016-02-13.
  3. ^ MacDonald, Mark (2014-01-24). "8-4 Play 1/24/2014: CANDY has a CRUSH on SAGAt" (Podcast). 8-4 Play. Event occurs at 8:15–10:55. Archived from the original on 2016-04-02. Retrieved 2016-02-13.
  4. ^ MacDonald, Mark (2014-01-24). "8-4 Play 1/24/2014: CANDY has a CRUSH on SAGAt" (Podcast). 8-4 Play. Event occurs at 47:15–48:15. Archived from the original on 2016-04-02. Retrieved 2016-02-13.
  5. ^ a b c Jeriaska (2011-11-16). "Interview: Kajiya Productions on Translating Final Fantasy". Gamasutra. Archived from the original on 2013-02-12. Retrieved 2016-02-13.
  6. ^ Zdyrko, David (2000-05-22). "Vagrant Story". IGN. Archived from the original on 2016-05-28. Retrieved 2007-05-08.
  7. ^ Vestahl, Andrew (2000). "Vagrant Story Game Review". Archived from the original on 2007-06-27. Retrieved 2007-05-02.
  8. ^ RPGamer staff (2011). "RPGamer Awards 2001: Best Localization". RPGamer. Archived from the original on 2016-02-22. Retrieved 2016-02-13.
  9. ^ a b c d e Dibbell, Jeremy (2011). "Alexander O. Smith: LibraryThing Author Interview". LibraryThing. Archived from the original on 2016-02-16. Retrieved 2016-02-13.
  10. ^ Mackey, Bob (2015-06-23). "Expert Witness: An Interview with Alex Smith, the Writer Behind Ace Attorney's English Debut". USgamer. Archived from the original on 2015-09-05. Retrieved 2016-02-13.
  11. ^ a b Learned, John (2015-10-12). "A Voice for Ivalice: The Localization and Voice Acting of Final Fantasy XII". USgamer. Archived from the original on 2016-04-08. Retrieved 2016-02-13.
  12. ^ a b Ward, Dave (2011-11-08). "Alexander O. Smith Interview". RPG Site. Archived from the original on 2016-03-04. Retrieved 2016-02-13.
  13. ^ a b Tong, Sophia (2009-09-07). "Final Fantasy XII vets talk game localization". GameSpot. Archived from the original on 2014-06-11. Retrieved 2016-02-13.
  14. ^ Klepek, Patrick (2015-12-14). "From Japan, With Changes: The Endless Debate Over Video Game 'Censorship'". Kotaku. Gawker Media. Archived from the original on 2016-02-16. Retrieved 2016-02-13.
  15. ^ Smith, Alexander O. (2001). "The Last Word". すばる [Subaru] (12): 36–37.
  16. ^ Kajiya Productions [@kajipro] (8 June 2016). "We're happy to announce that @aokajiya and @josephreeder are working on Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age! #ff12 #FINALFANTASY" (Tweet) – via Twitter.

External links[edit]