Harvest Moon 64’s Variety Channel, Translated

When talking about Natsume’s localization of 牧場物語2 (Bokujō Monogatari 2, Ranch Story 2) into Harvest Moon 64, it’s impossible to avoid mentioning its cut content. As a Nintendo 64 game, it was hamstrung by the memory constraints of cartridges, with a ROM totaling only 16MB. Contrasted with the >200MB Playstation release Back to Nature—which released about a year later—HM64 lacked cooking, many festivals, and a map. It also had far stricter limitations on text, both due to the cartridge’s size and the fixed-width font implemented in the game.

Here’s a visualization of the difference between the Japanese ROM (top) and the English one (bottom). As you can see, only a tiny sliver of free space existed at the end of the Japanese ROM. With the difference in text density between languages, it’s a miracle the game was localized at all!

Even if Marvelous & Natsume were willing to take the hit on steeply raising production costs, the largest N64 cartridges (Conker’s Bad Fur Day & Resident Evil 2) still capped out at a mere 64MB, so there was no way HM64 would be as fully-featured as BtN. In fact, due to how Natsume had to cut several feature in the game’s localization, as I’ve mentioned before, HM64 isn’t even as fully-featured as Bokujō Monogatari 2.

By far the most infamous of these cuts is that of what fans have dubbed the “Entertainment Channel”. In the original Japanese release, the TV had four channels: Education, News, Weather, and バラエティー (Baraetī, Variety). The first three channels conveyed gameplay information like whether it would rain the next day or tutorials on how to take care of animals. The Variety Channel, on the other hand, contained 7 shows whose primary purpose was entertainment. A different show would play for every day of the week!

While the shows are perfectly intact in BtN and most subsequent releases in the franchise, Harvest Moon 64‘s channel was replaced with looping static.

The missing channel was common knowledge amongst HM64 fans, even when the game was new. There were plenty of rumors about ways to restore the functionality. The most pervasive was that it necessitated playing a perfect game: winning every festival, being married & having a kid, obtaining every commemorative photo, and being friends with everyone in town, all before the game’s ending at the start of the 3rd Summer. After doing that, the Harvest Sprites (not the carpenter…?) were supposed to come to your house and fix the TV for you, and presumably give you the Triforce as well.

Sadly, there was no actual way to restore data that didn’t exist on the ROM in the first place. Furthermore, even though some games’ shows were reused in later releases (for example, Friends of Mineral Town uses the same shows as Back to Nature, as does its modern remake), these have never reappeared. So, Harvest Moon 64‘s variety channel has never been translated for Western audiences.

Until now.

I’ll be posting translations and breakdowns of every single show in the game for the next few weeks. As of right now, I’ve got rough translations done of about 90% of it. Why not release it all at once? Well, despite the roughs being done, there’s still some cleanup to do to make them the best they can be, and it’s best to do that over a long timeline. In particular, I’ve found the best path to be showing not only a direct translation, but also what a localization might’ve looked like. There’s a few other goals I want to accomplish with this translation project suit it to a staggered release, too.

For one, a few of the shows are mired in Japanese media tropes that will be hard to explain in a simple translation. If you don’t know what an akudaikan or a goinkyo are, for example, you’ll probably need some help understanding あくを切る! (Aku wo Kiru!, Cut the Villain!), the samurai-filled drama set in Japan’s Edo period. Likewise, if you don’t know that ガラガラ (garagara) is a sound effect that can be used as an adverb to show something is done with a clatter, the onomatopoeia-laden ひみつせんし ゴン! (Himitsu Senshi Gon!, Secret Soldier: Gon!) will probably throw you for a loop. Even with a direct translation and a localization, issues like this will either confuse Western readers, or simply benefit from additional context.

Beyond that, this project has a secondary goal: to teach you Japanese! As I work through the episodes, I’ll be updating and releasing a spreadsheet containing every single term in series, which you can use as a study guide! If you can already read Japanese syllabaries, this can get you where you need to be to understand these shows yourself. If you can’t, maybe now’s a great excuse to learn, with Tofugu’s guides for both hiragana and katakana.

I did my best to consistently format the spreadsheet so you can import it if you have some sort of personal, automated solution for that. It also has color-coded cells to help identify grammar and loanwords, as well as kanji that don’t appear in the game but are common enough to be worth learning.

You can use the spreadsheet to either make your own flash cards or plug the items into your language-learning service of choice (I recommend KameSame and bunpro if you don’t already have a preference). In addition to the spreadsheet, I’ll also be maintaining an Anki deck, in case you’re more comfortable with that. If you want to stay updated on when the spreadsheet and Anki deck are, well, updated, follow me on Twitter.

Rather than simple definition checks, the Anki cards also contain my brief thoughts on important points that often confuse learners, as well as links to several external resources that should help you get a sense of the meaning. I usually have to check at least 3 sources to fully understand new concepts, so I figured having a few starting points would be handy. Generally speaking, the resources are sorted by complexity, with simple overviews at the top and deep dives at the bottom.

If you’re intimidated by the workload of learning all that terminology, I think a great way to show how useful it is is through data. Here’s a graph which shows how many new vocabulary and grammar items show up over time, compared to the sentences the terms are in:

As you can see, the number of new vocabulary and grammar points per week trends downward over time, but the number of sentences always hovers near 65. In fact, near the end of the series, there are fewer new terms than there are sentences! The amount of work and studying necessary is front-loaded; it’s a pretty big burden to start, but eventually it becomes almost no work at all. If you think about it, this makes a lot of sense. If you’re learning new things, there are necessarily fewer and fewer new things to learn as time goes on. So, just get the ball rolling!

If you’re like me, and you’ve been wondering what was on this channel since 1999, or you’re looking for a way to kickstart your Japanese-learning, or you just have some time to kill, come get started with the first set of shows. If you have a specific show in mind, you can also use the directory below:

  • あくを切る! (Aku wo Kiru!), Cut the Villain! — [1], [2]
  • 歌ってナイト (Utatte Naito), Sing Tonight! — [1], [2]
  • モンモンTV (Monmon TV), The Monmon Show — [1], [2]
  • スポーツでポン (Supōtsu de Pon), Sports — [1], [2]
  • 運命の赤い糸 (Unmei no Akai Ito), Red String of Fate — [1], [2]
  • ひみつせんし ゴン!(Himitsu Senshi Gon!) Secret Soldier: Gon! — [1], [2]
  • 少女たんていいちごちゃん (Shōjo Tantei Ichigochan) Ichigo, Girl Detective — [1], [2]

Also, just in case you missed them, here’s the Anki deck and the spreadsheet, both updated as of March 9, 2023.

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