How Games Lost In Translation Got It Right

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While project managers want the best possible localization for their games, sometimes it seems that the universe conspires against such outcomes. After all, games riddled with shockingly bad translations are a dime a dozen, one of the most famous being Toaplan’s scrolling shooter, Zero Wing, featuring the “All Your Base Are Belong To Us” quote that became a widespread meme.

These wonky and oftentimes hilarious translations are commonplace among Japanese-made games localized for western markets. Action-oriented titles are the biggest offenders, but story-rich JPRGs are no strangers to this phenomenon either. We’ll take a look at some of these, hopefully shining a light on what makes them so endearing even though they lacked polished and professional translations.

1. Bad Dudes Vs. DragonNinja

Few games capture the over-the-top nature of 80s pop-culture more eloquently than Data East’s arcade title – Bad Dudes Vs. DragonNinja. The era’s ninja craze and machismo popularized by Hollywood and B-grade movies were obvious influences behind this side-scrolling action game. However, what grabbed everyone’s attention are the references to Ronald Reagan, humorously inserted into the game’s sparse plot.

The game’s intro sequence instructs players as follows, “President Ronny has been kidnapped by the ninjas. Are you a bad enough dude to rescue Ronnie?” Unsurprisingly, this rather cheeky message spawned plenty of crazy internet memes. Saving the president is worthwhile though as he announces the following, “Hey dudes thanks, for rescuing me. Let’s go for a burger…. Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!” Yes, it’s quite cheesy yet incredibly funny.

2. Fatal Fury Special

Fighting games never shy away from creating a spectacle, as they often feature colorful and muscular characters with stunning attack moves. But this is also a genre that’s plagued with plenty of puzzling translations that make us wonder if fighting game developers spend their entire budgets on character animations, leaving little left for decent localizations.

Tung Fu Rue, the master of the unusual fighting style known as Hakkyokuseiken, enjoys taunting his opponents with the following line, “Your fists of evil are meet my steel wall of niceness.” This certainly seems like a rushed translation job, which somehow turned out funnier than SNK probably envisioned.

3. Final Fantasy IV

The beloved Final Fantasy JRPG series is renowned for its cool characters, plot twists, and excellent localization. This doesn’t mean that the series has a spotless track record, as Final Fantasy IV features one of the most memorable and hilarious translation gaffes in gaming lore, namely Tellah’s outburst “You spoony bard!” to the character who ran off with his daughter.

Nevertheless, this faux pas has only given birth to a ton of internet memes and t-shirt slogans while giving Final Fantasy fans much to discuss on Reddit.

4. Zelda II: The Adventure of Link

If you’ve played any recent Zelda title, you’re likely impressed by the massive scope, cleverly designed puzzles, and high production values of this seminal action-RPG series. Unfortunately, earlier iterations of Zelda lacked the same attention to detail resulting in a few questionable translations making it through Nintendo’s legendary quality assurance.

The English translation of Zelda II: The Adventure of Link features a non-player character that introduces himself as “I am Error.”  While this line caused plenty of NES gamers to scratch their heads, it’s actually a faithful translation of the original Japanese text that comes across oddly in English.

5. Metal Gear

One series that’s chockful of unique characters and plot devices is Hideo Kojima’s Metal Gear Solid, which captured the imaginations of gamers everywhere. An early iteration of the series, Metal Gear on the NES, based on 1987’s Japanese MSX 2 computer version gained infamy for its unique stealth gameplay but also for its shoddy English translation.

There are several notable mistakes throughout the game. The first being early on in the Jungle field where Snake encounters an enemy soldier who proclaims, “I feel asleep!” Things become progressively worse with the following lines, “Attempt to contact missing our Grey Fox” and “The truck have started to move.” While these errors would be unacceptable for any commercial title released today, there’s no denying that the Metal Gear universe is responsible for a fair amount of funny memes.

Bad Translations For All The Right Reasons

Goofy translations are often the by-product of a rushed or low-budget localization process; at times, it’s a matter of a literal translation without considering metaphor and nuance of the source language. Sometimes these missteps can lead to interesting and funny results, where getting things wrong seems so delightfully right.