Soul Hackers Didn’t Lose Its “Launch”

With Soul Hackers 2‘s English release imminent, I decided to play the original Soul Hackers to get a better grasp on the series. Originally released for the Sega Saturn in 1997 as デビルサマナー ソウル ハッカーズ (Debiru Samanā Souru Hakkāzu, Devil Summoner Soul Hackers), the game didn’t see an English release for almost 15 years! When it finally did come to the 3DS in 2012, it was under the ridiculously long title of Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers.

While I’m always grateful for a new localization, the 3DS version unfortunately omitted content from a bonus disc made for the Saturn version (and included in the later PlayStation port). This omission has led to a bit of confusion. Let’s take a look at the problem, which involves a character named Lunch. He’s a member of Spookies, a group of hackers the player character is aligned with.

A screenshot of Lunch's introduction from Soul Hackers' 3DS release. It shows his full name (Junnosuke Kitagawa), his handle (Lunch), and describes him as a member of Spookies.
Lunch, as he is introduced in the 3DS version.

Given the cyberpunk setting, and that he’s a hacker, Lunch of course has a cool online handle so he doesn’t need to expose his true identity. However, there’s a little debate around if “Lunch” is an appropriate translation. The debate centers around the name’s similarity to “Launch”, which sounds quite a bit more appropriate for a hacker. On the other hand, he’s often seen eating, so that also makes “Lunch” plausible. Let’s dive into the Japanese, and why things that seem obvious aren’t always so simple!

A screenshot of the same introduction as above, but in the PSX version, which is Japanese-only. Next to ハンドルネーム (handle name), we see ランチ (ranchi).

As we can see from this PSX screenshot, Lunch’s Japanese handle is given as ランチ (ranchi). Being rendered in katakana, the name is meant to clue the reader in that it’s non-Japanese, though it’s also cooler than the hiragana equivalent (らんち) due to its sharper appearance, and more “computer-y” as well.

Ranchi can indeed be read as “launch”—as seen in another loanword, ランチャー (ranchā, launcher)—but the most common reading is “lunch”. Since there’s two valid readings, it’s no surprise English-speaking players gravitated toward the one that makes the most sense to them. But it turns out there’s a bit more to this story.

As mentioned above, the original Sega Saturn release of Soul Hackers received a bonus CD about a month after it launched, titled 悪魔全書 第二集 (Akuma Zensho Dainishū, Demon Complete Set Second Collection). In it is contained a bonus scenario taking place before the events of the game itself. During this scenario, the player gets more backstory and development for various members of Spookies, including Lunch.

A screenshot of the bonus scenario from the Saturn version. Lunch's portrait is displayed. The Japanese text shows a back-and-forth exchange concluded with the description that, in contrast to Lunch's visible anger, Dinner seems to be steeling his resolve.

A character who doesn’t appear in the main game is mentioned a couple times in this prequel. His name is ディナー (dinā), which unmistakably evokes the English “dinner”! According to this scenario and some other supplementary material, prior to his involvement with Spookies, Lunch had formed a hacker duo with Dinner. That explains the in-universe origin of their handles, at least!

The scenario portrays Dinner as a bit more cool-headed than his short-tempered counterpart, so they had a yin-and-yang sense to their personalities (or maybe red oni, blue oni is more appropriate for a Japanese work?).

If you’re still unconvinced, the name Lunch (as well as Dinner!) appears in a couple more Japanese-exclusive places. For example, the trading card series features not only Lunch, but Dinner, as well. On top of that, their hacker handles are written in plain English, despite the cards being Japanese!

A trading card featuring Lunch. His handle is prominently displayed as "LUNCH".
A trading card featuring Dinner. His handle is prominently displayed as "DINNER".

And, lest anyone think this was a retcon, the Sega Saturn version’s opening movie also features Lunch’s name in plain English. With that all out of the way, you might think that’s where the story ends, but it’s not! According to Shōgo Isogai—the Main Planner for Soul Hackers and Scenario Writer other Atlus games such as the Trauma Center series—Lunch’s name was, in fact, inspired by the English loanword “launcher”. So, we’re left with the conclusion that the name is actually a double entendre, intentionally evoking both “lunch” and “launch”. No wonder English-speaking players were confused!

A side-by-side shot of Launch from the first two episodes she appears in in Dragon Ball. On the left, blonde Launch is casually holding a tube-shaped energy launcher. On the right, dark-haired launch holds a general-purpose kitchen knife.
Readers might already be familiar with Dragon Ball‘s Launch. Her name (also ランチ in Japanese) has a similar double-meaning pun, relating to her destruction-loving blonde persona (left) and the demure, dark-haired persona (right), who is often seen cooking.

It’s a pretty interesting coincidence that both Dragon Ball and Soul Hackers feature a character whose name is an identical Lunch/Launch pun. Even stranger, the split personalities of Dragon Ball‘s Launch bear a striking resemblance to Nemissa’s possession of Hitomi at the start of Soul Hackers! Are there any other examples of this pun you know of, or perhaps a name that you think might be a similar pun? Let me know in the comments below!

For more tricky-to-localize names, I highly recommend our article on what Castlevania was trying to do with the name Belnades. You might also be interested in how Paper Mario’s Russ T. tutorializes a non-existent mechanic, since that article also briefly touches on puns that were changed in English.

Also, if you’re interested in localization in general, might I recommend following our Twitter? While we post articles at least once a week, we also post localization trivia not meaty enough to merit an article as tweets. For example, this week we posted about a long-standing misconception regarding the meaning of “kaizo”, as well as how Japanese players reacted differently to the reveal of Ghost Terastal in the upcoming Pokemon Scarlet & Violet.

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