A few items were changed slightly during Zelda’s localization process. Let’s take a look at them!
A list of all the items in the game is displayed during the game’s introduction sequence. I’ve put both versions side by side for reference here.
It turns out what I had always called a “Heart Container” is technically called a “Container Heart” in both versions of the game. I wonder when the “Container Heart” to “Heart Container” change took place in the series.
Also, the Japanese text here actually literally calls it a “Life Container” and not a “Container Heart”.
The Zelda series’ currency has a bit of interesting stuff to it, so let’s take a look.
First, in both versions of the first game, the “Rupy” is the currency used to buy things. The plural form is “Rupies”. For some reason, as a kid I always thought it was just a mistranslation of “Ruby”, but it looks like that wasn’t the case at all.
But maybe my confusion was due to the fact that the instruction manual translated them as “rubies”:
At some later point in the series (around the third game, I guess?), NOA translations start calling them “Rupee” and “Rupees” instead. And as far as I know, this is the spelling still used to this day.
Despite this change in English, they’ve always retained the same name in all the Japanese games.
Later English ports of the first Zelda game had a number of text fixes, one of which was the change to “Rupees”:
Incidentally, I also remember learning as a kid that rupees are a real type of money. I thought that was strange but neat.
Potions o’ Plenty
The English text given with these two potions are “Life Potion” and “2nd Potion”.
Technically, though, the Japanese text calls them “Blue Water of Life” and “Red Water of Life”.
At first I thought the change was made due to limited screen space for the text. But some other item names are clearly longer and take up two lines, so I don’t know anymore.
Bait and Switch
This hunk of meat item is called “Food” in both versions of the game. The Japanese word actually specifically refers to “food for animals”. As such, it also often means “bait”, which is why animal-like enemies will run straight for the food when you place it on the screen.
I think in some guides they translate it as “Bait” instead of “Food”. As a kid, I always wondered why this was, so this clears up that question.
Whistle While You Work
The musical instrument item in the game is called a “recorder” in both versions of the game. This is fine and not really confusing – I even played a recorder in grade school so I knew exactly what it was. But the Japanese term usually translates to “whistle” or “flute” instead; “recorder” has its own word (“リコーダー”) that they could’ve used if they wanted to be that specific.
Actually, most kids I knew at the time called it either “flute” or “whistle” too, so somehow the official name didn’t stick with us back then. I’d be curious to know what other people called it back in the day. If you grew up with the game, you should share your own experiences!
The Good Book
Now we come to the biggest difference in the bunch. What we NES players knew as the “Magic Book” was actually called a “Bible” in the Japanese version!
This isn’t necessarily for promoting Christianity or anything – Japanese entertainment often blindly grabs religious and cultural stuff (foreign stuff especially) to suit its needs without much care about underlying meanings. That’s why Japanese games are often full of random religious stuff that makes little sense in context, or why some games have you basically defeat God as a final or secret boss:
That’s also why stuff like this is common in Japan:
Culturally-sensitive localizers will usually pick up on these things and try to steer them in the proper direction (such as this), which is maybe what happened here with Zelda.
Still, I find it interesting that NOA didn’t like the Bible reference but had no problem with the crosses on the shields you carry around with you for 100% of the game. Maybe they didn’t change the reference for religious reasons, but because it’s silly to think the Bible has the power to make magic wands start fires?