Video Game Localization: Anger, Hilarity Before The Internet


In a world that is consistently getting smaller thanks to the Internet, what is considered "normal" in one country is thrust onto social media and judged on a global level. Or demonized. Video games are no exception, as the recent controversy surrounding Fire Emblem Fates has proven.

When Fire Emblem Fates hit American shores, it did without the above Skinship mini-game, swapping out purported "anti-gay" powder with a blindfold and some mildly encouraging words, and a backstory-laden dialogue between Beruka and Saizo. The removal of these elements was a preemptive move on Nintendo's part to avoid causing a controversy among Western gamers, but causing one or three anyway, largely thanks to the Internet.

To be fair, localization is a tedious process that can be approached in a number of ways. Where some are given a full game to work with, others are given individual scenes with very little background on the characters or story. Of course, this can result on some stilted and awkward exchanges that don't quite mesh. However, with leaks and other terrible human deeds now fully accessible thanks to social media, problems can arise out of thin air, all because someone hit "Send".

Even though the Internet has the power to make everything infinitely worse, localization has been an ongoing battle since countries discovered each other and decided to barter. For example, you wouldn't have much luck pitching old Looney Tunes episodes overseas to audiences that may not grasp its often racist punchlines. Though localization can be steeped in controversy whether you decide to pander to a specific audience or not, it can also have hilarious ramifications at times.

And the best part? It all existed before the Internet! Below are some examples of each.

Mistakes were Everywhere

Now you're playing with POWER!

Oh man, where to begin? When Nintendo singlehandedly swooped in and saved the video game industry after the Crash of 1983, they didn't do it lightly. Salesmen had to convince reluctant store owners that the now wildly popular gray box was a "toy" and not a "video game console" by adding peripherals like R.O.B the Robot and the Lightgun. They also incorporated accurate box art a la Black Box games, limiting the amount of games a developer can release each year, and adding the Nintendo Quality Seal to each game.

Even with all of these safeguards, efforts to accurately translate early Japanese games even with a small amount of text were typically flawed. Many instances of what is now unfortunately regarded as "Engrish" were typically due to conflicting word order, the omission of subjects and outright lack of articles, along with trouble distinguishing between /l and /r sounds and cheap translators resulted in some now infamous instances of translation mistakes in early video games. You don't have to be an English major to see where this is going...

Now that notable and long-time Japanese developers have a little bit more money to work with, they're not forced to go with the lowest bidder anymore and instead can spend that time on character development that parodies the whole debacle!

However, with the majority of these games being dubbed "NES hard", many of us never even saw these screens, much less take Snappies of them. Given that players had to complete Ghosts 'n Goblins twice to get the best ending, the only thing "snapping" at this point would typically be the controller.

Removal of Unknown Intellectual Properties

Out of all of the games that fall into this illustrious category of localization, Super Mario Bros. 2 has to be the most popular example of Japanese developers removing properties from a game before it hits the Western market. A lot of this was due to Western audiences not being familiar with the source material, while some were caused by licensing issues. In the case of Super Mario Bros. 2, the Japanese release of the same name was deemed too difficult for Western audiences, so the big heads at Nintendo had to think of something fast.

Enter Doki Doki Panic. After some mild cosmetic changes, Doki Doki Panic was re-released in the North American market as Super Mario Bros. 2, where it went on to be one of the Top 10 best-selling games of all time, while Doki Doki Panic remained forever on Japanese shores.

So why did this happen? As this was the age before the Internet, it was a pretty safe bet that nobody knew about Japan's Fuji Television and their technology expo, Yume Kojo. The characters in Doki Doki Panic highlighted the mascots and theme present at that expo, which ultimately would be unfamiliar to Western gamers.

However, Super Mario Bros. 2 isn't the only game that endured this fate. The much less successful Dragonpower was a full-blown Dragonball Z game in its native Japan, but when Bandai decided to send the game overseas, they removed all the recognizable DBZ parts and left behind a hot mess rife with kindergarten level graphics, abysmal gameplay and Stone Age level Engrish.

At least the Internet and Netflix have made it easier to track down and binge watch exotic properties and that elusive tentacle hentai you've been waiting your whole life for! Unlike Bandai, however, many other property owners didn't think they'd have an interested audience overseas, and as a result...

Niche Titles Got Passed Over

Have you ever played Advance Wars for the Gameboy Advance? It's an absolutely amazing game that garned universal acclaim and has become a mainstay in almost every GBA collection I've ever encountered personally. But did you know that it had an earlier iteration called Famicom Wars? And did you also know that over in Japan, it was added to Famicom Tsushin's Best Games of All Time? Given the series' later international success, it would seem a given to release it overseas to a new and rabid market, right?

Sadly, this didn't happen. Intelligent Systems' Kentaro Nishimura stated that at the time, they did not feel that international audiences would be interested in turn-based games. Given that 1988 was a year where Nintendo was still playing it safe, this may have been a smart move, but in a move to appease fans, the game has since been released on Virtual Console.

And if the game had religious overtones? Forget it. Some of the most famous omissions are in Legend of Zelda, where the Famicom's "Bible" is replaced with "Book of Magic" but oddly leaving Link's cross shield alone, and the Pac-Man like Devil World never seeing a North American release. It should be noted that the latter was released in 1984, when Nintendo's policies were very strict. But hey, at least Europe got it, and without all that pesky punching each other out over Twitter.

In the end, localization take a lot of effort and costs a lot of money, so before you fire up your Facebook account for a full-blown assault against any developer for not including/excluding x group or jiggle mechanics, just remember that it took a lot of meetings to get where they're at now. Put down your pitchforks and play some games!