Game Translation Analysis

For a while now I’ve wanted to make a site kind of like my EarthBound vs. Mother 2 stuff, but for other games, not as crazy-detailed (man, it’s too exhausting making each page!), and maybe with more of a focus from a translator’s viewpoint.

It’s like, you know how whenever the news media talks about video games, science, the internet, or anything like that and they somehow get everything completely wrong or completely miss the point? I feel that exact same way whenever gaming journalists (maybe even just gamers in general) try to talk about game translation/localization. It’s already happened a few times in the past in interviews I’ve done, and it’s really weird. So I think a site like that might be extra helpful in clearing up some stuff, besides just being entertaining.

The problem then is picking which games to take a good, close look at from translation/localization standpoints. I’d love to sit down with the Final Fantasy games of course, but they’d take forever to get through, especially since I’d have to play through each language version of each game side by side. So right now I’m thinking of smaller games. Some ideas I have are:

  • Gitaroo Man
  • Symphony of the Night
  • Some of the early Zelda games
  • EarthBound Zero?
  • Some of the early Final Fantasies
  • Dragon Quest?

I might even try my hand at games that were originally American and translated into Japanese, like God of War. I think that’d be neat as well.

I know there are so many other games out there that’d do well with something like this, I just can’t think of any right now. So if anyone reading this has any suggestions, let me know please!

EDIT: Here’s a running list of suggestions people have made:

  • Super Mario RPG
  • One of the Working Design Lunar games
  • Secret of Mana
  • Pokemon
  • LandStalker
  • Legend of Dragoon (just because the translation’s so hilarious and crappy)
  • Soul Blazer series
  • Breath of Fire 2 (again for the famously bad translation)
  • Final Fantasy Tactics
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31 Responses to “Game Translation Analysis”

  1. KingDarian says:

    I’d be interested in seeing more of the differences between The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening and A Link to the Past, and their Japanese counterparts. Like EarthBound, they’ve got a wonderful, memorable English script written by Dan Owsen. The original NES release of Dragon Quest vs the original Dragon Warrior would be interesting too, since so much was changed in that game. Maybe even throw in a Working Designs classic like Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete(although that might be a bit longer than you’d like). Secret of Mana might be another good candidate. I was reading about how the whole translation got done in 30 days, and the English script got cut short due to space restrictions. Surely that’s worth looking into. Maybe also the original Pokémon games, Red/Green/Blue? And for good measure, a Sega Genesis game: LandStalker.

    • Tye The Czar says:

      If you can do Final Fantasy Tactics: War of The Lions on PSP, I might be able to understand why everyone seems to hate it more than the PS1 version.

      Ys Book I & II is also a great idea, as it’s a rather short series, but has lots of spoken dialogue by actors from G.I. Joe and He-Man.

  2. V-King says:

    I second Zelda – A Link to the Past.
    I’d also be very interested in the Soul Blazer Trilogy (Soul Blazer, Illusion of Gaia and the Japan and PAL exclusive Terranigma).

    Secret of Mana may be an interesting one, especially if you were able to compare it to the German translation (which is god awful, but at least that has been explained by the translator a few years ago).

    Another game which might be interesting is Breath of Fire 2. At least it would be kind of funny, I guess 😀

  3. OKeijiDragon says:

    I would love to see how the original Japanese script of Super Mario RPG is any different compared to the English localization.

    Yes, I’m aware of TMK’s Japanese-to-English page (http://themushroomkingdom.net/smrpg_j-e.shtml), but I’m not asking about visual differences, but for dialogue.

  4. NekoKnight says:

    I’m a big DQ fan, so I would, of course, suggest a DQ game. The newer translations are very different from their Japanese counterparts, a little too different for me. To give an example, there’s an Egyptian-like queen in Dragon Quest V named Isis, named after the goddess of course. But for the English version, they changed her name to “Cleohatra.” Yes, you read right. Cleohatra with a “t”. The DQ games are full of these ridiculous puns which, according to the localization team, make the games “unique.” So yes, it would be nice for people to see just how different the English and Japanese versions really are.

  5. John says:

    AS far as bad localization goes, the French version of Breath of Fire III was an outstanding example of what not to do, including grammar and spelling mistakes, text displayed out of the screen or worse the mistranslation of West/East that rendered some dungeons impossible to complete without a walkthrough. I wonder if the US version was as bad?

    • Mato says:

      That sounds like really awesome material to write about sometime. I know other countries tend to translate off of the English translations (often with shoddy results), so there’s probably a ton of stuff to talk about there. It’s a shame everything but my Japanese knowledge has atrophied so much, I’d love to be able to appreciate that stuff first-hand 🙁

      I never played anything past BoF2 so I don’t know how the English translation of 3 turned out, although I do seem to vaguely recall people liking it in general.

    • Jungyin says:

      I do recall at least one instance of East/West confusion where a person’s stated directions said one thing and the written version said the other. To make things worse they were directions for getting through a HUGE desert.

  6. Archaic Sage says:

    Harvest Moon on the Gamecube was a terrible translation. Spelling mistakes, parts that just made no sense, text that went off of the screen, the lot. I consider it a bit of a joke really!

    • Mato says:

      Ah, sounds like it’d be a lot of fun to pick apart!

      • Jungyin says:

        Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town on the GBA had some oddness to it too, but it’s not be so much poor translation as it was sloppy/rushed programming. I remember at one point the priest inexplicably spoke German when I talked to him.

    • Inunah says:

      A Wonderful Life or Magical Melody? Because A Wonderful Life had a lot of its translation errors fixed in Another Wonderful Life.

      Except they changed “mae” from the description of the sheep. THAT, no matter if it was a typo or not, was not an error. That was a bonus. I don’t like male or female sheep. I like mae sheep.

  7. Carlos says:

    I think this sounds like a great concept. You might want to ask John Ricciardi from 8-4 he knows tons about translations and might know which games to recommend. Anyway man, just stopped by your site after playing Famicom Detective Club II, thanks for helping to make that possible! I hope to play the first one in the future too.

  8. NaturalChemical says:

    I think that of the games listed, stuff like The Legend of Dragoon, Gitaroo Man, Pokemon, etc. are the kinds of games that would be more interesting to read about because they’re known for having more interesting writing.

    Since you said that you want to try and clear up misconceptions, it might also be interesting to see some posts talking about the process itself, and explaining why and how games wind up with exceptionally good or bad localizations. Just an idea.

  9. Tym bandit says:

    Nthing the idea of good, classical games. Probably in the order I’d like to see them:

    Legend of Zelda Majora’s Mask because of how surreal the game is

    Super Mario RPG
    Illusion of Gaia
    Terranigma
    LOZ Lttp/OoT
    BoF2… this one is particularly interesting because I loved the game but didnt understand ANYTHING that was going on. Never had to try so hard to justify a game I enjoyed.

  10. tailchaser says:

    It probably doesn’t have enough dialogue and isn’t a significant enough game (some people think it launched the Metroidvania genre, but they’re wrong – Metroid did,) but Castlevania II comes to mind for me because it’s one of the very few games that gives you hints that are wrong on purpose, not just because of a translation mistake or a part of the game that never got finished, and because there’s so much misinformation floating around the internet about what the Japanese script says.

    Like for instance, the infamous line “Get a silk bag from the graveyard duck to live longer.” There isn’t any “graveyard duck” in the game, but you can get a silk bag from the nearby graveyard, and the English script has a lot of obvious misspellings in it (“You now prossess Dracula’s rib”,) so a lot of people theorized that they missed a period in that bit of dialogue; it was supposed to be two sentences (“Get a silk bag from the graveyard. Duck to live longer.”) and the last part was supposed to encourage you to dodge attacks by ducking. But then if you look at the equivalent line in Japanese….

    http://i39.photobucket.com/albums/e200/grokyou/graveyardahiru.png

    It obviously is referring to a duck, like the animal (“ahiru”.) They actually did mean to say that there was a graveyard duck. (Or at least that there is a duck in the graveyard. Even though there is no such thing in the game.)

    I’d also second a request for any of the Dragon Quest games, because of the huge number of odd puns and jokes in both languages, or Breath of Fire II, because it’s perhaps the only game ever made where the translation actually is as bad as the internet wants to believe it is. (I know barely enough Japanese to embarrass myself by saying things like (in a restaurant) “Kono kata wo tabeteiru mono wa nan desu ka?” but I still found BOF2’s Japanese script easier to understand than the English one. Far more consistently punctuated too.)

  11. Phil L says:

    The Famicom Disk System version of Zelda II had a LOT of differences when compared to its US counterpart (even the battle theme.)

  12. MagicBarrier says:

    Seconding Pokemon Red/Blue/Yellow, as they’re fairly short and famous games. There are also some mentions of censorship floating around (e.g. the espresso man was originally drunk), so I’d like to hear more about that.

  13. Darien says:

    I second the suggestion of Castlevania 2. Also I’d love to see Princess Tomato in the Salad Kingdom and Faria.

  14. 257 says:

    I’ve seen several people here mention Breath of Fire 2. I just wanted to mention that the guy who did the retranslation of BoF2 included fairly extensive translation notes in the zip file for the translation.

    This link has the latest patch:

    http://watercrown.info/second-verse-same-as-the-first/

  15. Ryusui says:

    Just FYI, I’m also the guy who finally solved the mystery of the Graveyard Duck. Someone was taking a crack at a CV2 retranslation; I offered to help.

    As it turned out, both the English and Japanese versions are full of blatant lies like that.

    Anyways. The problem with a lot of old translations, Breath of Fire 2’s included, is that they’re just mechanical one-to-one conversions from Japanese, with minor concessions to censorship guidelines of the time (and frequently outright incompetence). Despite his latter-day demonization, Ted Woolsey was one of the first to subvert this trend: while some of his early, ugly work had him running up against crushing cartridge space limitations (Secret of Mana, Breath of Fire 1), his work on Final Fantasy VI, Chrono Trigger and Super Mario RPG should be considered an absolute baseline for localization quality.

    Oh, and by the way, if you want to try the Breath of Fire 2 retranslation, you’ll want the BoF2 ROM Check app:

    http://watercrown.info/i-shoulda-done-this-like-a-million-years-ago/

    A lot of people have trouble applying the English retranslation patch because it requires an unheadered ROM. It requires an unheadered ROM because I had trouble applying the original German retranslation patch, which required a ROM with a very specific header. Unfortunately, most of the ROMs floating around have headers: any of them will work with the English retranslation patch if you remove the header, but how to do so is not exactly common knowledge. The BoF2 ROM Check app takes the guesswork out of applying the patch by detecting whether you have a compatible U.S. ROM and removing the header, if any, from it. Enjoy!

  16. Jasper says:

    I’d suggest the Paper Mario series, but they’re probably too complicated. Any Zelda game would be interesting to pick apart, though. Maybe I just like the Treehouse localizations.

  17. Nessgeek says:

    My suggestions would be the following:

    – old era zelda games
    – illusion of gaia would be interesting to pick through (theres a beta version of that game around as well)
    – Ys III Wanderers of Ys snes/gen/turbo cd (doesn’t matter) i would like to see if there were any script differences.
    – anyone of these 3 games: Shadowgate/Deja Vu/Uninvited

  18. Anon says:

    Secret Of Mana. Should be interesting to see, especially due to the excising of most of the script during translation.

  19. furrykef says:

    This sounds like it has some overlap with my own website, Learning Languages Through Video Games. The focus is on teaching Japanese (and occasionally other languages), but somebody familiar with the original dialogue can use it to spot differences in translation.

  20. Strawberry Tofu says:

    I agree that analyzing the Paper Mario games would be interesting (the localizations are pretty legendary), but it’d probably take forever to document. Mario and Luigi (the RPG) probably had some (if not most) of the same people working on it, and it’d probably be a shorter project (and an easier text dump), so maybe that?

    I’ve been playing Pokemon Green recently, and it is fun to note the more surprising differences (a Team Rocket member referring to the group as a “Pokemon Mafia,” using the word マフィア and everything, and the fact that all the gym leaders are named after various plants). It’s not super-duper dramatic, but when you do see an interesting line, it catches you by surprise. I was also surprised by how many lines were translated more or less literally (“a thousand lightyears” springs to mind).

    …Is this going to be a solo affair? (crazy ideas running through my head now)

    • Mato says:

      Actually, I didn’t stop to think other people might want to get in on the action. It’s still in the early planning stages so I don’t know how I’m going to handle everything yet. I think I’m gonna start with some super simple short games and see how things will work out and then see how to progress from there. I’m thinking some early, popular NES games might be the way to go at first.

  21. g says:

    I would love to see you do one for Super Mario RPG.

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