Bokujō Monogatari 2 — lit. “Farm Story 2”, localized as Harvest Moon 64 — was my first exposure to farming sims. Despite reading Nintendo Power religiously, I’d never considered that it was actually someone’s job to convert video games from other languages into English so people like me could enjoy them. For better or worse, I became interested in localization almost as a direct result of HM64. Even as an 8-year-old, I could tell this game didn’t start out in English.
BokuMono, now known in the West as Story of Seasons, is celebrating Harvest Moon (SNES)’s 35th anniversary this month. So, I thought it was as good an opportunity as any to peek into HM64’s localization. One could generously describe the translation as “rough,” but Natsume was working with some handicaps.
With the exception of the SNES Harvest Moon and Lufia 2, the bulk of their projects were text-light shoot-/beat-em-ups like Pocky & Rocky and The Ninja Warriors. According to this interview, Natsume was staffed by about 5 employees at this time. 5 would’ve been plenty for small projects like that, but a text-dense game like HM64 was another story.
Furthermore, it faced the limitations of the N64 cartridge. While we don’t think of text as taking up all that much space, on average it takes around four times as much text to convey the same ideas in English compared to Japanese. There was also incentive to keep cartridges to 6MB or smaller, to reduce production costs. This was so much of a problem that hundreds of lines of dialogue were cut from the game, as well as a leaderboard and map!
Lastly, Hiro Maekawa was a Japanese native who came to America through his university, seeking an English-related career. There was disparity between his lifelong foundation in Japanese language/culture and his years-long exposure to native English speech at the time of localization.
With those facts in mind, we’ll proceed with some leniency. Let’s look at the line that prompted this article and my Japanese-learning journey as a whole. It occurs when showing Popuri your dog.
Showing off your dog is a simple (and free!) way to build friendships, so naturally I saw this as a kid. But the “hand” part never made sense to me. As will quickly become customary, let’s compare the Japanese, the official localization, and my take.
|Japanese||Official English||Direct Translation|
|Ha ha, cute.|
あれ (are) is a simple Japanese expression of surprise, so no confusion there. But the “hand” part threw me for a second even once I had begun to learn Japanese. It turns out, while お手 (ote) literally means ‘hand’ or ‘paw’, it’s equivalent to ‘shake’ in this context!
One thing that stands out to me is that other Japanese pet commands are generally pretty close to English ones:
|Japanese||Literal Meaning||English Version|
|お手, ote||hand, paw||shake|
|おかわり, okawari||seconds, refill, another serving||instructs the dog to give you its other paw|
|おすわり, osuwari||sit down (baby talk)||sit|
|伏せ, fuse||lay face down||down, lay down|
|立て, tate||stand up||up|
|ゴロン, goron||rolling sound||roll over|
|ワン, wan||barking sound||speak|
|いい子だね, iikodane||You’re a good kid, aren’t you?||Who’s a good boy/girl?|
Here, Maekawa probably knew dog commands were largely similar in English, and went with ‘hand’. I think this is a good counterexample to the idea that literal translation is necessarily the best way to localize. Of course, preserving the original intention is important! But it’s also important that the translation doesn’t stick out in the audience’s mind as “off” somehow. It definitely betrays that a lot of the localization work was done by a Japanese native. I think a team of native Japanese and English speakers would’ve produced the best results.
I’m speculating here, but I find it pretty likely Maekawa translated most of the game himself. He had just recently become President of Natsume, and Harvest Moon was seen as a life preserver for a drowning company struggling to maintain their already spartan staff. Beyond that, the company was also localizing the PlayStation Harvest Moon: Back to Nature — which released the same month as HM64 — as well as some other, lighter games.
It makes sense to me that, with staff spread pretty thin, and being concerned with the continued survival of the company, he would handle one of its most important releases with a personal touch. Of course, he probably made use of his native English-speaking staff as well, but maybe the minor nature of this dialogue let it slip by.
Since this is the first article I’ve posted to the site, let me know what you think of it, and let me know if there’s any localization mysteries you want me to look into! I’ve got dozens of articles planned and researched, so please, check back often, or follow me on Twitter!