What’s Up with River City Ransom and Barf?

A question I’ve been asked a couple times lately is one I’ve wanted to know about for a long time too: “Why does everyone say, ‘Barf!’ in River City Ransom when you beat them up? What does the original Japanese version say?”

Well, I finally sat down to look into it last night and here are the results:

It actually took me a long time to get someone to say “Barf” in the English version, I guess I was just unlucky 🙁

Basically, in the Japanese version they go something like, “Geh!” which is more of a sound effect word than an actual word. It can actually signify a few different things in different contexts; in this particular situation it’s onomatopoeia that indicates vomiting or choking/gagging. My personal take is that it’s signifying coughing up blood rather than actual food or whatever, but it’s pretty much up to interpretation.

So “Barf!” actually makes some sense, although it’s not really onomatopoeia in English, so I’d probably have gone with something like, “Argh!” or “Blergh!” or something like that myself. But “Barf!” is one of those localization gems that will always have a special place in fans’ hearts, so maybe it’s better to leave it as-is 😛 I wonder if they changed it in re-releases or remakes…

UPDATE: It looks like it was kept as-is for the GBA remake! Thanks to Tonch for the info and screenshot!

So there you go! Now you know the truth behind barf!

Actually, quickly playing both versions of the games, this is definitely a game I’d like to dig into and make a proper localization comparison write-up about someday!

Have any lines in games you want me to take a look at someday? Let me know in the comments or contact me!

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  1. It’s not a line per se, but the character in Ni no Kuni who gives out the “find my diary” quests looks *exactly* like Hercule Poirot ( http://www.agathachristie.com/attachments/uploaded-images/thumbs/DAVID__jpg_235x611_q95.jpg ) — there’s nothing in the localised version to indicate that this is an intentional reference (he just speaks in a garbage dialect), but I was curious if something in the Japanese made it clear whether this was pure coincidence or not.

    1. Haven’t not played Ni no Kuni I can’t say much, but a quick search on Japanese sites shows that Japanese players strongly see the same connection too.

      Here’s an example – check for quest “81”: http://ps3avfunc.blog29.fc2.com/blog-entry-1220.html First they blog writer calls him Great Detective Poirot, then crosses it out and just writes “gentleman” 😛

      1. Ah, interesting. The first time you meet the character, he has a bit of dialogue (in the English, anyway) about his “maiden aunt,” which, combined with his appearance, made me very suspicious — the “maiden aunt” bit seemed like it might be an oblique reference to Agatha Christie’s other famous detective, Miss Marple.

        A bit of research turns up an anime series based on Poirot and Miss Marple that ran in Japan a few years back: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agatha_Christie's_Great_Detectives_Poirot_and_Marple — perhaps what planted the seeds for Level 5’s character.

  2. I was curious if you could use your expertise to shed some light on a debated legend from Pokemon Diamond/Pearl. In the game there are many folk tales mentioned in the library and the one most cited is The 3rd Sinnoh folk story that says:

    There once were Pokémon that
    became very close to humans.
    There once were humans and Pokémon
    that ate together at the same table.
    It was a time when there existed no
    differences to distinguish the two.

    It is said that the literal translation of the myth originally referred to Pokémon and people marrying each other. I was curious if this was the case or some fan just screwed up the translation and it became widely accepted as truth. Here’s the text that appears in Japanese version of the game.

    ひとと けっこんした ポケモンがいた
    ポケモンと けっこんした ひとがいた
    むかしは ひとも ポケモンも
    おなじだったから ふつうのことだった

    Thank you very much in advance. I love reading your articles and have been a fan of your work long before I ever even knew your name.

    1. Well, if the Japanese text you posted there is legitimately from the Japanese game, then yeah, it says they used to marry each other. Here’s a quick translation:

      There were Pokemon that married people.
      There were people who married Pokemon.
      It was an ordinary thing because long ago people and Pokemon were the same.

      1. Thank you very much for the quick reply! Most of Sinnoh’s legends deal with the cosmology of the pokemon world and the 3 folk stories seem to all vaguely imply humans evolved from pokemon without actually stating it. This kinda makes sense as localizing them literally would make some parents complain that pokemon is teaching kids evolutionary theory and bestiality, despite it being a legend in a fictional universe.

        1. Actually, if you have any screenshots of this, I’d love to make this into a post of its own, as it sounds like a pretty big and interesting change. Unfortunately I’m not that well-versed in anything past the first generation of games so I can’t offer much more insight into it than what I have, but I think it deserves a post of its own 😛

  3. I’m curious if you could do a quick comparison of “Jill sandwich” line from the 1st Resident Evil.

  4. When I saw げー I thought of ゲップー from Earthbound (Blecch.) I don’t know what the Onomatopaeia for throwing up is,but the two words seem so similar to e, it makes me think there’s a connection and the translators mistook that sound effect for BARF.

  5. Do you guys remember that scene in FF6 where Locke gets seasick? In the SNES it said “I think I’m gonna…” whereas in the GBA it said “Blergh”, impliying that Locke indeed does throw up.

  6. I am a French Canadian and as we were younger, we used to say «barf» all the time. We even «verbed» it up and say something like «Je viens de barfer» (translated «I just barfed up») which literally means «I just vomited».

    That was just schoolyard kid slang we used when fooling around and we would never say it in front of our parents of course. Also, it’s not a proper word in French which we knew at the time but we always assumed it was an anglicism which made the whole thing edgier. Well, it was the early 90s after all and we were pretty young after all 🙂

    I also played RCR back in the days with a couple of friend and no one ever questioned that particular line… we always thought the enemy vomited from being punched in the stomach too much… like in SF2 where you see the character vomit after being hit by some heavy blow.

    Long story short, it seems to corroborate the vomiting onomatopoeia theory. I find it perplexing that what an anglicism that we used quite often back then seems to be almost meaningless (at least from reading this post) to anglophones while still retaining it’s original meaning in french. Finally, I’m not sure kids these days still use that word, I’ll have to check out with my nephew one day or another 🙂


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