Matt S. sent in an e-mail a while back about a line in Dragon Warrior IV for the NES:
I have a specific question about one joke in the game. It’s so stupid that I have never forgotten it. Actually it may have been one of the first times I ever saw an attempt at telling a joke in a video game.
In chapter 2, you are playing as Princess Alena and her retainers. You visit a town where girls are regularly offered as sacrifices to a monster, and Alena decides to put a stop to this by offering herself and kicking the monster’s ass. As the town shaman loads you into a litter as the offering, he tells you “don’t ever litter the litter.” Here’s a screenshot of it:
I’d like to know what this was in the original Japanese. However, I’ve been unable to find a Japanese script of the game, a playthrough video, or anything like that.
I haven’t played much of any Dragon Warrior/Quest game beyond the first game, but luckily it wasn’t hard to find this scene in the game. Here are screenshots of the Japanese and English line, side-by-side:
|Dragon Quest IV (Famicom)||Dragon Warrior IV (NES)|
And here’s a look at the translated Japanese text when compared with the official localization:
|Japanese Version (basic translation)||English Version|
|“Oh, may you have God’s divine protection!”||‘Don’t ever litter the litter.’|
|“This isn’t the time for puns, Father.”||‘This is no time for puns, Shaman.’|
First, it’s immediately obvious a lot of the potentially Christian content here has been stripped:
- The reference to God and divine protection was removed
- The priest is no longer a priest but a “shaman”
- The crosses in the room have been replaced with pentagram-like icons
With that aside, we see that the Japanese text also mentions that a pun is being told. But what’s the pun?
Basically, the Japanese word for “divine protection” or “divine grace” is “kago”. But “kago” can also mean “palanquin”, which is one of those things for carrying people around:
Since you’re about to leave and risk your life for everyone, it makes sense that the priest says, “May you have God’s divine protection.” And comically enough, since you’re being carried away in a palanquin, this “kago” pun applies. That’s why the other guy tells him to stop goofing around. It’s just a silly little joke.
Like Matt, I’m surprised that the English localization kept a joke in this scene. With the religious content cut and altered, the focal point of the pun was lost. But the localizers did a pretty clever job despite that setback – “litter” is another word for “palanquin”, so they decided to make the joke revolve around the multiple meanings of “litter”. The joke isn’t as natural as the Japanese pun, though – it’s just a goofy phrase that comes out of nowhere. As such, it probably confused some English-speaking players at the time.
So there we go – the litter joke made more sense in Japanese, but it’s clear the localizers put some real thought into how to keep it intact rather than expunge it entirely. More than ever, this makes me want to play through both versions of the game sometime!