Living in Italian part of Switzerland, all the games on the shelves of the local game store are in Italian. During my first year living here, I ordered all my games from Amazon UK because I was intimidated to play a game outside of my native tongue. This year, I am determined to play most of my games in Italian to better my grasp of the language.

           So, a week ago I picked up a game I’ve held off on playing for one reason or another: Uncharted 2: Il Covo Dei Ladri. Roughly translated, it means “The Cave of Thieves,” but you all know it as “Among Thieves.” It’s the same game that all gamers enjoy, but it’s a much different playing it in a different language.

The first thing that struck me as strange was that the game didn’t first load in Italian. The first time I popped the disk in I was staring at the English title screen. I’m chalking it up to the fact that I’m playing on an American PlayStation 3 and the game supposes the language I want to play it in is English (I’ll have to see if it does the same with future games). As tempted as I was to stick with it, I changed the language to Italian. Even then, the game had a large square button on the screen with the word “ENGLISH” emblazoned with gold lettering, like it was trying to change my mind. Every time after that, the game loaded up in Italian and the square button urging me to switch to English was gone.


I played the first Uncharted in English, so hearing all the characters suddenly speak Italian was jarring. It’s like when I watched The Simpsons in another language for the first time (Spanish was the first, but Chinese was by far the strangest); it’s a surreal feeling. Much like with the Simpsons, there was a nagging feeling at first that this was wrong, that anything other than English coming out of their mouths is heresy.

             I imagine that people who are used to them speaking Italian and then play in English feel the same way. I know that happened to me with the original Loony Tunes cartoons. My first time watching them was on old VHS tapes in Spanish that my grandma brought over from Mexico. I grew up with Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd, Yosemite Sam and Daffy Duck speaking Spanish. To this day I still prefer watching them in Spanish than English.

              The Italian voices are very close to their English counterparts. If Nolan North was speaking Italian, I imagine it’s exactly how he would sound. Voices in different languages will never be the same because of the different pitch languages have. Nathan Drake and company sound higher pitched because, for the most part, English is a deep sounding language compared to the more sing-songy and higher pitched Italian.


The Italian Cast (Elena Fisher returns scene)

The only major difference in voice actors I noticed was in Chloe Frazer. In the English version she has an Australian accent (yes, it sounds British to me and surely you, but I passed it by several British friends and they assure me it sounds like an Australian who spent a few years in Britain. I trust them because I can’t tell the difference between an Australian/New Zealand/British accent very well). The Italian voice actress wasn’t able to pull off the accent so she just played Chloe with her natural Italian voice. Personally, I much prefer the Italian voice on Chloe than her original Aussie voice. I feel the former has a much more sensual and sarcastic tone that better fits her character, which I don’t get the same feeling of looking at English YouTube videos of her. Chloe even looks more Italian to me. I think this is a great example on how a voice can change how a character is presented.


The English Cast (Elena Fisher returns scene


Though I prefer playing games with subtitles enabled – so I don’t miss tiniest bit of story – I played through the game without them after having them on for a bit in the beginning. My eyes were constantly trying to read and understand the text instead of the action at hand, and since I can’t read Italian as fast as English, I found myself frustrated when I didn’t finish reading and the words disappeared. It was much easier to understand and immerse myself in the game’s language without the subtitles and the language was able to wash over me easily. Contextual commands and in game tutorials would still appear, but those would stay on screen longer and so I was able to read them fine.

           I was surprised to find that the lip syncing was very good. There were moments where it was obvious that the voice didn’t match the lip movements, but those were far and few in between. I was expecting the game to be blatantly obvious it was dubbed over, but it seems that developer Naughty Dog and the Italian localization took very good care with the dubbing.

            The script was translated very well. There were never crippling flubs in translation; all the jokes were still funny, phrases like “go to hell” made sense, etc.
There were however, three huge translation mistakes. At a point in the game when Nathan is in Nepal and he is speaking to a local who neither he nor the player can understand, Nathan asks him in Italian, “Does anyone speak English?” Later on the same mistake is made when Nathan says, “Are you sure you don’t speak English?” The script is originally English, but why on Earth wouldn’t they tweak the script to say “Italian”? If this happened in this version, I’m sure this mistake is in every foreign version of the game. I know that the characters are American (except Chloe. She’s Australian), but surely it takes the player out of the game when the character asks for a language that they’re not speaking.

Then there was Nathan Drake’s journal that was not translated. Every page of the journal that he carries around and jots notes down in was still in English. It must be frustrating for people who don’t understand English have to decipher the notebook when looking at it for help with puzzles. They are also missing out on funny notes jotted by Nathan. It’s an important detail that was overlooked.


Finally, the credits are still in English. The bigger offense is that the Italian voice cast is not credited at all. Both the English and Japanese casts are listed, and the European translators/localizers are credited, but all other language casts are not there. I think it’s a disgrace not to list them or the other casts because I thought they did a fine job.

           So my first foreign game was a very interesting and enriching experience. I was amazed at how much I understood; I understood just about all of it except for a few words. I learned a lot of vocabulary, many of which I will need in life (“SoB” and “Go to hell” are must have phrases in any person's arsenal). I also learned about translations between games and what shortcomings there in foreign translations. It really interests me how many problems there are in translations to other languages because, when you think about it, every game that is not in either English or Japanese is translated. I think after every foreign game I complete I’ll write up differences between that version and the original if there are major differences.

This experience has inspired me to continue to keep playing games in Italian. It really is a great way to practice a language. My recommendation to everyone this week is to change the language of the game you’re currently playing to a different one, preferably one you’re currently learning or somewhat know, and try playing that way for a day. Even if you don’t understand everything, think of it as a cultural experience. If you do play it in a language that you know but English is your first, perhaps you’ll come out with a better appreciation for being able to play games in their original languages; I know I did.