Let’s Take a Peek at Zero Wing’s “All Your Base” Translation!

Probably one of THE most infamous video game translations of all time is from an old Sega Mega Drive/Genesis game called Zero Wing. Its “All your base are belong to us” line is still quoted regularly to this day!

I’m not sure about everyone else, but I first heard about this quote thanks to this amazing video by the goony denizens of Something Awful back in the early 2000s:

Anyway, I’m sure Zero Wing’s text has been analyzed and re-translated and all that stuff for a long time now, but just for fun I thought I’d take a look at this famous scene too!

Intro Script

We’ve seen before that old Japanese games would often write everything in English (example), so at first I assumed that maybe the Japanese version of Zero Wing was that way too. But nope, the Japanese version has a Japanese script… and it actually comes off as kind of cool when paired with the cinematics of the opening scene!

So, let’s take a look at the text side-by-side:

Japanese TextBasic TranslationOfficial Translation
西暦2101年In 2101 A.D.In A.D. 2101
戦いは始まった。war breaks out.war was beginning.
A spaceship starts to explode
艦長:一体どうしたと言んだ!Captain: What in the world is going on?!Captain: What happen ?
機関士:何者かによって、爆発物が仕掛けられたようです。Engineer: It appears someone has planted explosives.Mechanic: Somebody set up us the bomb.
通信士:艦長!通信が入りました!Communications Operator: Captain! We’ve received a transmission!Operator: We get signal.
艦長:なにっ!Captain: What?!Captain: What !
通信士:メインスクリーンにビジョンが来ます。Communications Operator: Incoming visual on the main screen.Operator: Main screen turn on.
艦長:おっお前は!!Captain: Y-you!!Captain: It’s you !!
CATS:おいそがしそうだね、諸君。CATS: You look busy, gentlemen.CATS: How are you gentlemen !!
CATS:連邦政府軍のご協力により、君達の基地は、全て CATSがいただいた。CATS: With the help of Federation government forces, CATS has taken all of your bases.CATS: All your base are belong to us.
CATS:君達の艦も、そろそろ終わりだろう。CATS: The end is nigh for your ship as well.CATS: You are on the way to destruction.
艦長:ばっばかなっ...!Captain: Th-this can’t be…!Captain: What you say !!
CATS:君達のご協力には感謝する。CATS: We are grateful for your cooperation.
CATS:せいぜい残り少ない命を、大切にしたまえ....。CATS: Treasure what little time you have left to live….CATS: You have no chance to survive make your time.
CATS:ハッハッハッハッハッ...CATS: Ha ha ha ha ha…CATS: Ha ha ha ha ….
通信士:艦長...。Communications Operator: Captain…Operator: Captain !!
艦長:ZIG全機に発進命令!!Captain: All ZIGs are ordered to launch!!Captain: Take off every ‘ZIG’!!
艦長:もう彼らに託すしかない..。Captain: Our only option now is to entrust this to them.Captain: You know what you doing.
艦長:我々の未来に希望を...Captain: May there be hope for our future…Captain: Move ‘ZIG’.
艦長:たのむぞ。ZIG!!Captain: We’re counting on you, ZIGs!!Captain: For great justice.

The basic translation I’ve provided needs some polishing work, but it shows what the original script was going for… and possibly shows how the official translation wound up the way it did. Although some parts of the official translation still mystify me – like, what the heck is “You have no chance to survive make your time?” supposed to mean?

There are a couple other quick points of interest though!

  • The captain’s Japanese line of “一体どうしたと言んだ!” actually appears to be a typo – it should really say 一体どうしたと言んだ instead. So I guess the Japanese writers might’ve been a bit sloppy too, but the script’s overall quality is still way higher than the English script.
  • The official English script has one line removed.
  • Apostrophes are consistently placed around ZIG in the English translation. Japanese scripts often give this treatment to unique proper nouns, so it’s interesting to see that it’s the English script that got handled this way while the original Japanese text didn’t.
  • The Japanese script makes heavy use of ellipses of varying lengths. This is pretty common in Japanese entertainment, as discussed in this previous article!

Intro Screenshots

Just for further fun and future reference, here are screenshots of this entire scene in action!

In Summary

It’s pretty clear that a non-native speaker was responsible for translating the script, and that nobody on the Japanese side of the project really batted an eye at the result. But I’m actually glad that this translation exists – it brought a lot of laughs and the response outside of Japan probably helped some companies realize the importance of hiring REAL translators.

You know, given how short this game is, maybe I should do a full, dedicated localization analysis of Zero Wing. I think it’d be fun to dig into it and maybe find some more info I never knew about!

Get the Very First Legends of Localization Book!

My very first Legends of Localization book is now on sale! Check it out!

This book covers the original The Legend of Zelda and includes tons of new content, updated info, and more! It features a hardback cover, 208 full-color pages, a reversible book obi, a localization survey card, and many extras!

Whether you're a fan of the Zelda series, a fan of Legends of Localization, a retro gamer, or even just an aspiring translator / localizer, this book is for you!

Related Reading

Read more articles »


  1. Haha, I remember Science Court/Squigglevision, I used to watch it like every week. Wasn’t the most popular show, though…

    1. I’m confused how Science Court and Zero Wing go together, but nonetheless Home Movies was an awesome show. I think it was a lot better once they dropped the squigglevision effect, however.

  2. There’s actually one or two more interesting things going on here, I think, beyond even what Tomato mentions.

    First, that removed line. That’s seriously a “WHOAAAAAAAA, what’s going on here?!” moment. You see, until very recently, text-string alternation like that was actually relatively rare – it could further mess with the size and format of the ROM, and so translators were usually instructed to keep the number of strings consistent. That’s not to say it didn’t happen – Dragon Warrior 1, for example, was almost completely reworked from the ground up (and, note, Tomato, that’d be a fascinating one to look at) – but it was still very, very uncommon. It’s far less of an issue now, with most systems being PC-esque and thus the data being stored in a far more modular way, but for Zero Wing’s era, it wasn’t something you saw often.

    Which sort of brings up the other thing… I actually don’t think Tomato made it quite clear just *how* out of left field “You have no chance to survive make your time” is, even after emphasizing it. With pretty much everything else, you can sort of see where it came from – like “通信が入りました!” becomes “We get signal!”, yeah, sure, okay – but there is nothing, and I mean NOTHING, in those two lines of CATS’ to even suggest “You have no chance to survive”. There’s a reference to time, yes, but that’s about it!

    It almost feels like whatever native Japanese speaker was translating this tried a hand at “localizing” that little segment and thought it would work better as one line and rearranged – with the problem that they really didn’t have the skill at English to even make a proper attempt. It’s really interesting and I can’t help but wonder what the thought process there was. Perhaps they thought English readers wouldn’t get CATS’ snide remark about “cooperation”?

    Anyway, despite all my words :V, great article, Tomato. I am *REALLY* looking forward to your take on The Tiger Incident, by the way. I have my own thoughts about that, but I’ll be curious to hear your take on it.

      1. I think it follows from the original line, “Treasure what little time you have left to live….”…
        Maybe “what little time you have left” to “You have no chance to survive” is a BIT much, but I think it still makes sense.

    1. Neat, I hadn’t heard that about Dragon Warrior 1!

      I also hadn’t considered the technical dangers that leaving out a line of text in a cut scene posed, you’re totally right. I do wonder if the “you have no chance to survive” and “make your time” lines were originally meant to be separate lines but accidentally got joined for whatever reason.

      And yep, I’m still trying to get more screenshots of the tiger line from other Tales of Phantasia ports. I almost wanna hire people to play through them for me, heh.

  3. On a half-related note the anime Outbreak Company from the previous season referenced the All Your Base line twice. I find hilarious Japan would reference a meme from the English-speaking world a lot of them wouldn’t get.

    1. Anime making references to more American-oriented cultural phenomena and memes happens more often than you might expect. One instance that has in itself gone memetic is that the anime “Zettai Karen Children” threw in well-known (in the English-speaking world) Internet reviewers the Nostalgia Critic and the Angry Video Game Nerd in as background characters:


      As the Nerd himself noted, a bespectacled guy with wavy hair in a white button-down could be coincidence… but the Critic’s distinctive loose tie is a dead giveaway who they are!

    2. Half Minute Hero has a boss called “CATS” that references the Zero Wing lines (and his level “Good Ol’ Days” is filled with even more references than standard for the game).

      I’m tempted to find the original script for the level (which shouldn’t be too hard as the PC version can freely be changed to Japanese and you can replay levels at any time) and look at what he originally was, but I suspect it would be full of Japanese retro video game references I would completely miss. Never know until I try though…

      1. That actually sounds amazingly interesting, seeing how our memes and references got handled in a localization into Japanese. I’m not very familiar with the game, though, even though I’ve always wanted to get into it.

    1. The music in that video reminds me of the opening sequence to the Chinese pirate game Super Mario World (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wmzrrhrP6Pk)!

      Super Mario World was hacked from the Russian pirate game Squirrel King, which itself was a remake of Chip & Dale: Rescue Rangers for the NES.

      Is there an original version of that song? The base version from which both the Zero Wing and Super Mario World versions were remastered?

        1. It’s actually the intro to Galop Infernal (sometimes erroneously named “Can Can”)? I had no idea. I never listened to the full song before, just the intense part that was featured as the Super Mario Land invincibility music.

  4. > what the heck is “You have no chance to survive make your time?” supposed to mean?

    Well, “You have no chance to survive” is self-explanatory, and “make your time” is probably supposed to be “have a good time” or something.

    1. I assumed while reading it that it might have been going for “make your peace” then something really REALLY wrong happened with the sentence.

  5. Well, the original is:

    CATS: Treasure what little time you have left to live…

    It implies they are all going to die (“you have no chance to survive”), so they should treasure whatever time they have left.

    To me, “make your time” was probably supposed to mean “make (the best out of your) time”, from the “treasure what little time…” line.

    1. Yeah, that’s the best explanation I’ve seen. I’m curious about the translator’s thought process, like where did they learn the English phrase “make your time” or how did they arrive at that particular choice, I wonder. Even in Japanese I can’t think of a phrase that would equate to “make your time” that means this sort of thing, heh.

      1. Yeah, it’s pretty weird.

        Maybe I just arrived at that conclusion because I’m not a native English-speaker myself, ha ha!

  6. Opinionated Vector Chimera

    Apparently, Something Awful got hacked in 2008 and the original Zero Wing thread was lost permanently.

    If that’s true then that’s a shame.

      1. that was SNK vs Capcom for the Neo Geo Pocket Color: http://www.engrish.com/2004/03/bad-situation/
        “excrement!” not being properly capitalised does kinda suggest it was probably translated as “Shit!” originally though, and at some point someone did a global search/replace without regard for capitalisation. (which actually ties in with some of the comments on your previous post as well!)

  7. My question is why they get non-native speakers to do this sort of thing. They obviously don’t know a thing about English translation, so just why?

        1. Perhaps. Do you think the game would have sold more copies if it had been translated more fluently? Also worth noting: would anybody remember it in 2014?

          1. I’m no judge of how marketing is affected by game factors, but there are gamers out there who want their dialogue to read like normal. This kind of poor care is not looked upon that kindly. Sure, it becomes a silly joke but it gets tired out too.

            1. Sure. But… I mean, I think you just *did* pass some kind of judgment, yes? When you described them as “ignorant” for not spending more time and money on it? My guess is that very, very few people buying ports of arcade shmups on the Genesis cared about the quality of the dialogue enough to make it worth investing too much money in fixing it.

    1. I think pretty much the prevailing mindset back then was like, “Hey, we need to translate this into English, who do we know that knows English? Oh, that receptionist girl spent a month in Hawaii? Okay, let’s have her translate this entire game.”

      I mean, it’s not too farfetched – whenever I need art help I’m usually like, “Who do I know that’s good at art?” rather than, “I should go through the long process of finding and choosing professional artists that suit my needs and vision.”

  8. Yatt "Uno10" Zach


    “Of course, I couldn’t start a conversation about Toaplan and fail to bring up Zero Wing, a Mega Drive game that is famed in the West for its rather atrocious localisation. I ask the translator if [Cave CCO and former Toaplan member, Tsuneki Ikeda] had any involvement with the game, and before speaking in Japanese he asks me to remind him of the internet meme that Zero Wing inadvertently created – ‘All Your Base Are Belong to Us.’

    Ikeda reacts like he’s taken a bullet, laughing hysterically as he’s probably fearing that the foreign journalist and company translator have ganged up on him at this point. ‘No, I don’t know anything about it,’ he yells, unconvincingly. ‘All that happened while it was being localized… it happened so long after the original game came out that we didn’t know about it for ages.'”

    See also: http://www.vgmuseum.com/end/arcade/c/zerow.htm

    1. Absolutely, there’s definitely more charm and enjoyment to be had in the official translation. The actual, intended text is otherwise a pretty generic and forgettable scene, I feel.

  9. There is a version with an engrish ending as well (The arcade version, I think). I’m unsure of the notoriety of it, or if there is a japanese equivalent, but it’d be interesting to compare it.

    It is interesting how it is made clear “CATS” is the name of the organization in the japanese, that also seemed to involve some sort of government corruption. Pretty generic sci-fi stuff though.

    While at first sight you’d think CATS’s snide tone was lost on translation, I think the way some of his lines are handled may be, in part, a result of trying to deliberately retain this:
    Such as how he introduces himself with a mockingly casual “How are you”, or how the “make your time” part might be trying to covey a “make yourselves comfortable, enjoy your time” kind of expression. Not exactly trying to say that, but it does seem like having that kind of mocking tone.

    Seeing they went as far as to remove a line, I do think someone unskilled actually did try their hand at a localization rather than simply translating.
    And… well, they sure succeeded in making a memorable localization.

  10. This game intro’s meme status is legendary, and deservedly so. There are so many great lines in here that I’ve repeated in my head or online in the 6 years since I first saw this. I’m not talking about the common “bases” line, but the stuff surrounding it, like “WHAT YOU SAY !!” or “set us up the bomb”. Even the “It’s you !!” and “How are you gentlemen !!” lines before it are memorable (it’s worth it to watch this scene in action, I just LOVE how these lines are read so monotonously, so robot-like), and don’t forget the epic closer: “For great justice.”

    God, why is this game so… BASED? The game developers should definitely compensate Microsoft Sam and the robot who voiced the villain for their parts in helping to make this game live in Engrish infamy.

    FAUX EDIT: I AM AN IDIOT ANd assumed the intro was legit voiced, but apparently the voices were done by Something Awful themselves. Very clever of them, but I knew something was up when I looked this game up on Wikipedia and saw that the game got a release in the West on cartridge format (regular Mega Drive) and not the Sega CD, which is what I assumed in the first place. I am too lazy to edit my post above, though, so it will remain for the sake of embarrassment.

    HOWEVER, this game DID get a re-release in Japan on the PC Engine CD-ROM², featuring an actual voiced intro cutscene, and you can watch that here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AkccW6BqCDI Hey Mato, mind if you can help translate this one as well? 😉

    Finally, if you want to look at a slightly more detailed look at this game and its mechanics, you can check out the HG101 article here: http://www.hardcoregaming101.net/toaplan/toaplan3.htm As I guessed, the version that came out on CD inevitably contains redbook remixes of the music! I might have to hunt these down when I have the time.

  11. Ages and ages ago, I made a fix patch to Zero Wing that made the intro at least make sense. It wasn’t meaningfully more accurate than the original translation, granted, but it was coherent. I think it’s still floating around my site somewhere…

  12. This is hilarious. I even heard this line just the other day.
    Now there’s something new to quote and have my friends ask me what I’m on.
    I love how funny translations can be.
    But… Who translated this? They need to go back to grade-school English…
    Also, does anyone know how to learn Japanese? I’d use a dictionary with translations, but I can’t find one… Are there any good alternatives?

  13. I kind of wonder if the terrible Engrish version made its way back to Japan in one way or another… like as a reference or a meme in things. I do remember seeing a few Cheetahmen references in anime, as well as some Japanese memes, for example.

  14. Ah, start of the first comment (before super-scrolling down to Post) confirmed it: Science Court was my first introduction to “Squigglevision”, which I later recognized in Home Movies…before that switched to less twitchy animation.

    Anyway, move that apostrophe from “90s” to “N[‘]Syn– Wait, a quick Google Search gave me a multitude of renderings. Why can’t this be simple, like B*Witched?

  15. I know that it’s been a while since this was posted, but AD is indeed supposed to go before the number (at least the official translation got something right)l

  16. Actually, “A.D. 2101” is one thing the original English translation got right. “A.D.” is an abbreviation of the Latin phrase “Anno Domini” meaning “In the year of our Lord,” and thus in traditional usage, the numeral follows: “A.D. 2101” = “In the year of our Lord 2101.” It seems people are putting the “A.D.” after the year more often these days, probably as a parallel to “B.C.” (for the English “Before Christ”), which does belong after the year: “1000 B.C.” = “(year #)1000 before Christ” or “1000 (years) before Christ.” (I have also heard that some people think it stands for “After Death (of Christ),” which WOULD warrant putting the abbreviation after the year, but using it for “After Death” doesn’t make sense because then there wouldn’t be any numbers for the years between Christ’s birth and death. A.D. 1 was the year immediately following 1 B.C.)

  17. Hi! I’m from Poland, so issues of mistranslated English is kinda familiar to me. Sometimes it’s interesting or straight fun to read about translating issues between two languages, none of them being my native. Like here.

    What’s really funny, is when I find that Japanese translated badly to English is kinda more understandable to someone who wasn’t born in English-speaking country. For example, this bit of the article was quite fun to me:

    “Although some parts of the official translation still mystify me – like, what the heck is “You have no chance to survive make your time?” supposed to mean?”

    Translated directly to Polish it would be: “Nie macie szans na przezycie, wykorzystajcie swoj czas”, which is in fact a proper sentence and makes perfect sense. The only thing that it’s mising, is a coma.Now, you mentioned somewhere that Japanese language doesn’t usually use commas. So, we need to add one, where the meaning of the sentence suggests it would be:

    Nie macie szans na przezycie, wykorzystajcie swoj czas.
    You have no chance to survive, make your time.

    Now, the first part of the sentence is pretty straightforward, the second part is what I guess is a mystery to English speaking people?.. Now, bear in mind that I might produce equal gibberish, but I’ll try. So, from Japanese translated to English, from English to Polish, and back from Polish to English… it would mean: “Take advantage of the time you have left”. The whole sentence would be:

    You have no chance to survive, take advantage of the time you have left.

    I don’t know if it makes it ANY more understandable (or less gibberish sounding), but again – I just wanted to mention, how something that seems messed up to English speaking person can seem perfectly understandable to someone who doesn’t 🙂


Post a Comment

Your email is kept private. Required fields are marked *