Premiering in the west on the Game Boy Advance, Advance Wars (Famicom Wars in Japan, guess why!) has text that isn’t always linearly connected, and synonyms for military terminology that sometimes cause confusion.
- Why is Mistwalker’s Description Wrong in Advance Wars DS? — An ability’s description seems to be wrong in both English and Japanese, but game-specific terminology actually paints a clearer picture in Japan.
- Was Advance Wars’ Andy More Airport-Savvy in Japanese? — Advance Wars’ protagonist doesn’t seem to know what airports are, but despite being in an army and having explained what they are before.
Castlevania (Akumajō Dorakyura in Japan) is a vampire-hunting platformer-turned-RPG-platformer that features plenty of references to western literature, films, and culture that don’t always make the round trip intact.
- The Mysterious Origin of the Name Belnades in Castlevania — Konami’s attempt to invent a western-sounding name has resulted in three different attempts to make sense of them, but are any of them right?
Though its difficulty is the first thing most people bring up when mentioning Dark Souls, its piecemeal lore is almost as noteworthy. With the incredible importance of minute details, it’s no surprise that some mysteries can only be solved by getting as close to the source as possible.
- Is the Tiny Being’s Ring Description Really a Lie? — Misleading text in character creation is many players’ first impression of the series. But is that the foot From Software wanted to start out on?
The interminable Holmesian mystery/slice-of-life series Meitantei Conan (called Detective Conan or Case Closed in the west, depending on who you ask) is filled with wordplay and codes that often depend on incredibly specific Japanese knowledge.
- Calling Detective Conan ‘Dynamic’ is an Insult in Japan — Understaffing leads to an episode’s low-quality art, which in turn leads to a history lesson in Japanese slang for animation errors.
Akira Toriyama’s Dragon Ball franchise has had a troubled history in the West, resulting in a lack of unified localization choices that make some versions feel like a totally different work.
- Translating King Kai’s Dad Jokes — Humor’s one of the hardest things to successfully translate, so it’s no surprise there’s about a dozen different ways to translate bad humor.
Among the longest-running and most well-known JRPG franchises in existence, Final Fantasy localizations have run the gamut of localization. From the filesize and display limitations of the NES days to entries that never came over to little details that just seem “off” to Western audiences, there’s no shortage of interesting trivia about this juggernaut.
- The Origin of Final Fantasy‘s Onion Knight — A Famitsu interview with FF3‘s creators details the game’s world & development, including getting detained at customs, costume details, & the origin of Onion Knight’s name
A franchise unto itself, Final Fantasy VII spans not only the original game, but plenty of prequels and sequels in the form of other games, books, and even a film. Many iconic lines have burned themselves into fans’ memories, so let’s mosey over to the Japanese versions and see how they stack up.
- Translating “Dilly-Dally, Shilly-Shally” Was a Drag — Tifa’s motivational speech from Advent Children borders on non-sequitor, but is actually based on a type of sound effect-based vocabulary common in Japanese
The Fire Emblem series has had a rocky relationship with localization. Its stories are typically characterized by tasteful minimalism, and punch-up attempts by localizers often fare poorly in players’ eyes.
- This Path of Radiance Dialogue “Mist” the Mark — An invention of the localization causes battle dialogue between Ike’s little sister and the Black Knight to clash with both their characters and the setting.
Once Harvest Moon, now Story of Seasons in the west, always Bokujō Monogatari in Japan, this text-dense farming life sim is very demanding on its localization staff. Full of conversational Japanese, a too-literal translation can lead to things getting lost.
- Harvest Moon 64 Gives This Dog a Hand? Huh?! — A history lesson on Natsume’s localization, and a primer on Japan’s version of animal commands
- What’s Wrong with Wrestling? — Friends of Mineral Town‘s remake features rewritten scenes that take advantage of loosened memory restrictions. It’s also been localized by XSEED, as opposed to the original’s Natsume localization. We look at Rick and Karen’s blue heart event to see the difference all that can make.
Whether you call it Legend of Heroes, Trails, or even Kiseki, it should come as no surprise that with game scripts the length of multiple copies of War and Peace, there’s gonna be some stuff that just doesn’t quite translate.
- The History Behind Crossbell’s Untranslatable Military Ranks — Japan’s unique military history leads to a plot beat not quite coming across the same for other regions.
The Legend of Zelda (a.k.a Zeruda no Densetsu) has just about every type of interesting localization challenge/decision one can imagine. Old-school text limitations, cultural differences, and ever-shifting writers and translators are just a few factors that make the overall sterling localizations of this series so impressive.
- Does Zelda II Lie About Where the Candle Is? — Being an NES release, text limitations played a significant factor in the difficulty of localizing hints in this game.
Zeruda Densetsu: Kamigami no Toraifōsu (The Legend of Zelda: Triforce of the Gods) is full of obtuse, self-referential text as well as mythological and religious references that didn’t make it over intact when brought to the west as The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past.
- What the heck is a “Gossip Shop?” — A translation error turns the fourth and final bottle from a quest hinted at throughout the entire game to something bordering on non-sequitor.
Once Yakuza in the West, now Like a Dragon, always Ryū ga Gotoku in Japan, the painstaking homage to and parody of Tokyo’s seedy underworld contains no shortage of historical and cultural references that just can’t be localized. Being set in Japan, it’s to be expected they’d be left alone for authenticity reasons, but that doesn’t mean we can’t help you understand them.
- How to Read Yakuza Zero‘s Perplexing Pager Codes — Set in 1988 Japan, the game features coded messages sent via beeper. Learn to understand the goroawase hiding full sentences in just a few numbers.
- How to Read Yakuza Zero‘s Perplexing Pager Codes (Part 2) — Following the above article, at the end of the game, the player receives another series of pager codes, this time featuring codes even Kiryu struggles to unravel!
- Living the Live A Live Life (Pogo) [AG] — Predating language, all of the caveman chapter’s text is conveyed through sound effects, which are surprisingly different in Japanese!
- Living the Live A Live Life (Masaru) [AG] — Learning techniques from the world’s greatest warriors, this wrestler encounters plenty of caricatures of real-life fighters and martial arts techniques.
- Living the Live A Live Life (Oboromaru) [AG] — The Bakumatsu era marks the end of Japan’s Tokugawa shogunate and Edo period. Naturally, historical and cultural references abound; most are untranslated.
- Living the Live A Live Life (Kung Fu Master) [AG] — Set in a historical China resembling a Wǔxiá film, this chapter is full of abilities and names in pseudo-Chinese, which transliteration simply doesn’t do justice.
- Living the Live A Live Life (Sundown & Cube) [AG] — Just because there’s cowboys and robots doesn’t mean it’s Westworld! We discuss why robot speech is limited and why Japan calls them “macaroni” westerns.
- Living the Live A Live Life (Akira) [AG] — Psychics, bikers, and giant robots combine in the not-too-distant future to bring us a song that hasn’t been translated properly in almost 30 years.
The Megami Tensei series is a massive love letter to mythology and culture from around the world. With myriad subseries including Devil Summoner and Persona, there’s almost no end to the cultural context needed to fully appreciate the games.
- What’s in Shin Megami Tensei V‘s Powder Box? — The SMT series consistently features relics of humanity in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Most are easy to identify, but the omission of a single word makes this one nearly impossible.
- Soul Hackers Didn’t Lose Its “Launch” — The cyberpunk hacker friends of the protagonist all have codenames, but players debate the true origin of Lunch’s handle.
- Westerners Won’t Get This Soul Hackers 2 Easter Egg — Shipping containers at the start of the game reference various Atlus games, using goroawase, a type of wordplay that only works in Japanese.
- Did Soul Hackers 2‘s Localization Take an L? — The first boss of SH2 is a parody of Western rappers, so naturally his rhyming dialogue had to be changed quite a bit in its journey overseas.
Known as Mario Story in Japan, the Paper Mario series is full of light-hearted wordplay, and showcases great detail in its characterization the iconic cast (friend and foe alike), laying groundwork for the lore of the Mario franchise as a whole.
- Russ T. Isn’t Truss T. — The wise old Toad gives a hint for a mechanic that doesn’t actually exist in the Nintendo 64 Paper Mario. Is it a translation error, or something more?
Pokémon needs no introduction. Arguably the most well-known and profitable franchise on the planet, the only question is how the punny names of the nearly 1,000 critters and their human buddies had to be changed in localization.
- Regional Authenticity in Pokémon Scarlet & Violet — Generation 9 is set in the Iberian Peninsula, which Japan has a strong historical connection to. How did the writers pay homage to Japan’s oldest European contacts?
With the jump to 3D, the Sonic the Hedgehog games received a major increase in text and story. Their localizations took this in stride, and have been impressively competent. It’s a good thing, too, because the line between way past cool and cringe is as thin as a hedgehog’s quill.
- The Sonic Adventure Paradox — SA‘s multiple perspectives show the player minor variations on repeated events. Some variations are introduced in localization, while others belie a hidden narrative purpose.
- The Mistranslation Behind Dr. Eggman’s “Special Race” — Growing senile, Dr. Eggman infamously claims Sonic Riders‘ EX World Grand Prix is not just any race, but “a special race, to see who’s the fastest.”
Despite being a light-hearted fighting game, the Super Smash Bros. series has a surprising number of localization-related mysteries. Series director Masahiro Sakurai’s painstaking attention to detail has created many plces for challenges to sneak in.
- Hitmonlee: Psyduck in Disguise? — In SSB for the Nintendo 64, the Pokémon Hitmonlee doesn’t seem to be saying its name, but Psyduck’s, creating a longstanding rumor that Psyduck was cut from the game.
Touhou Project is one of the foremost series in the danmaku or bullet hell genre. Set in Gensōkyō—a land where elements of the world’s history go when forgotten—it’s filled with references to traditional Japanese culture and mythology. Additionally, amateur translations have settled comfortably in players’ minds, being the only access to English versions of many games.
- Why Does Touhou‘s Mokou Think Jelly Donuts Are Scary? — Jelly donuts are infamous in localization, but the reason for Mokou’s fear goes back to a Japanese story from the 1700s.
- Making Sense of the Strange Lyrics of Japanese Goblin — Though an explosively popular meme, the meaning behind Suika’s song are nigh-impenetrable to Westerners.
Borrowing heavily from Norse myth, tri-Ace’s Valkyrie Profile uses extremely archaic speech and flowery prose that requires a fine touch during localization. Combined with its cult status, it’s been the subject of a lot of scrutiny and rumors in the decades since its release.
- Valkyrie Profile’s Misheard Catchphrase — Crunchy PSX audio led Lenneth’s dialogue to be so muffled that even Japanese players have trouble understanding it. Did the localization get her signature move wrong?
Xenogears had one of the most infamously-difficult localizations of all time. Its lengthy script was full of complicated terms relating to both technology and philosophy, as well as covering religious themes that rarely made it intact to the West at the time of its release.
- Did Xenogears Really Fear a Lawsuit from “Star Trech”? — A character breaks the fourth wall to tell off another character in a manzai-style routine, but the actual joke may have been untranslatable.
One of the oldest and most-influential adventure games, Ys has had a complicated history with localization. It also features well-known and influential soundtracks.
- Did Ys Actually Steal from Metroid? — Yūzō Koshiro’s item acquisition fanfare for the original release bears a striking resemblance to Metroid‘s powerup theme. Fans often accuse him of outright theft, so we take a look at his thoughts on the matter.
The Zero Escape trilogy is home to myriad wordplay-based jokes, room escape-style puzzles, and plot twists that required a little rewriting to bring over. Don’t worry, we’re here to sus out the localizers’ complex motives, so you don’t have to!
- 999‘s First Puzzle is Completely Different in Japanese — A puzzle based on the Japanese syllabary forced Aksys Games to get creative with an alternative.