How the Metroid Series’ “Varia Suit” Was Originally a Mistranslation


In the Metroid games, Samus can get a suit known as the “Varia Suit”. It usually provides extra defense and lets her explore high-temperature areas. It’s been a staple of the games since the very first game, even. What you might not know is that the name “Varia” is actually a mistranslation of the word “Barrier”.

In the very first Metroid game, the English instructions call it “Varia”. Looking at the Japanese instructions, we see that it’s spelled バリア, or “baria”.

Ooh this takes me back to my Zelda comparison days!
(Image courtesy of Metroid Database)

Basically, バリア is the English word “Barrier” written in Japanese:

Green Goddess to the rescue!

The word is used in actual, real-life Japanese too, so it’s not some entirely crazy word for Japanese players. But because going between Japanese and English and back can cause problems, when the name was translated back into English the translators must’ve thought it was just some made-up word and went with “Varia”, which is a completely understandable choice to make. It just wasn’t what the creators originally intended.

Still, the “Varia” translation has remained intact ever since, which is actually really cool. Here’s a look at it in Super Metroid, for example:

I love this game it is a good game

(Say, does anyone have any other screenshots of the “Varia” name on-screen? I’ve had a hard time locating any…)

Anyway, I’m glad Nintendo never felt the need to go back and fix that like they did with things like Princess Toadstool/Princess Peach – in my mind “Varia Suit” does sound cooler and more sci-fi than generic old “Barrier Suit”.

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  1. The morph ball was originally called Maru Mari in english- is this a similar case to the Varia Suit? Looking forward to whenever the metroid comparison hits- huge metroid fan here 😀

    1. Also interesting that the varia suit description directly calls Samus “he”!

      1. Yeah, I thought that was either a cool misdirection by the translators or possibly a genuine lack of knowledge that Samus is a girl. I assume the former but the latter is possible too, given some of the strangeness in Zelda’s manual translation.

        1. The Great Klaid

          I’m not positive, but I thought the manual uses he all over the place. I think it is supposed to be a misdirection thing. But reading this site makes me realize that it is entirely possible that the manual people had no clue.

          1. My understanding is that the manual was intentionally obfuscating, since it’s supposed to be a big surprise at the end of the game when you find out Samus is a woman.

            Also: check-plus on your screen name.

  2. If you want, I can get screenshots of the Varia Suit in Metroid Fusion and Zero Mission. I would do Metroid Prime also, but I couldn’t do a good screenshot, the best would be a camera photo which owuld probably be really bad.

    1. Yeah, if it’s not a lot of trouble that’d be cool! But it’s not important or anything, so don’t go out of your way or anything.

      1. I would definitely like to, but I’m not sure how I can take screenshots off of an actual GBA SP. If you know how, let me know, because it would definitely be no problem if I could do that. I have completed game saves on both of those games.

      2. Ignore my other comment, I got a couple for you. Took them from walkthroughs on YouTube.
        Zero Mission:

        1. Thanks, although I should’ve mentioned that I usually prefer actual in-game screenshots rather than video stills, since video stills have all sorts of artifacts and such.

          1. Yeah, I assumed, though getting in-game screenshots would’ve been tough to get considering I don’t have any save files on my computer and would have to play through them manually to get to the Varia Suits.

  3. A question: is the name of the Japanese item still the barrier suit, or has Varia made it in print in any Japanese titles?

    1. I haven’t played any of them in Japanese except Super Metroid, which is because it has the Japanese text option. But that just adds subtitles to special scenes; everything else is still the same as English Super Metroid. It’s very odd that way, but I recall my old Japanese copy of Super Metroid having had the same option, so in that sense “Varia” probably showed up in Japanese Super Metroid.

      1. Super Metroid is strange in that the Japanese cartridge contains the same exact ROM as the American cartridge, probably to save time making different versions. I don’t remember the Japanese original Metroid(on the Disk System) being like this.

      2. Emulator screens, both JP versions.
        The Japanese version of Fusion was actually released after the North American version, and it includes a Gallery mode unlocked after beating the game. I think it also includes extra an difficulty and more ending images.
        Both of them use the English names when you get the items, with katakana next to them.
        Sadly, finishing the JP version of Zero Mission will also unlock the NES version of Metroid and not the FDS version.

        1. Yes, the Japanese version of Fusion has an extra Easy difficulty with it’s own ending images. These images (and the other Fusion ending images as well as some promo art) get unlocked in a gallery in the NA version of Zero Mission by linking with another game, can’t remember if it was Fusion or Echoes, also don’t remember if said gallery was in the Japanese version as well.

  4. Wow, I’m actually quite surprised to learn about this! I agree though, the Varia name is stuck in my head now, and I wouldn’t have it any other way, mistranslated or not. But still, very cool to know what the original intention was. Everything makes THAT much more sense now.

  5. I always thought that “varia” was a shortened version of “varia(ble temperature)”… the more you know!

    1. Ah, your first metroid was Super,then? It wasn’t until Super Metroid that extra heat protection became a thing that Samus needed.
      The Varia originally just halved all damage and was completely optional, as were most powerups in the first game. If I’m not mistaken, morph ball, bombs, and some missiles are the only things you actually NEED(ignoring the door glitch). Though if you value your sanity, you’ll also grab the long beam, a few e-tanks, probably the high-jump boots, and make sure to snag an ice beam before Tourian. The varia, incidentally, is very easy to miss if you don’t have a walkthrough.

  6. The old “v” and “b” mixup eh?

  7. stone cold steve austin (scsa)

    I was stunned for a second when I originally found this out. It’s the easiest thing ever, how did they get “Varia” from “Barrier”?! But I never batted an eye at Varia because it’s kind of a cool word.

    1. 1. Were you Stone Cold Stunned?

      2. “V” and “B” are interchangeable in Japanese. Thus, “baria” (barrier) = “varia”.

      1. Yeah, it’s like how Viewtiful Joe’s Japanese title is ビューティフル ジョー (byuutifuru joo). Except that wasn’t a mistranslation. I think. Although sometimes you may see ヴァ、ヴィ、ヴ、ヴェ、ヴォ (va, vi, vu, ve, vo) instead of バ、ビ、ブ、ベ、ボ (ba, bi, bu, be, bo) sometimes.

        1. Double post, but I also think バリアー is probably more common than バリア for “barrier”.

  8. I’ve been playing the Bionic Commando games recently and there’s a specific bit I’d like to read an analysis of. An enemy soldier in Area 16 infamously says “GET OUT OF HERE, YOU NERD!”, which is obviously a result of NoA’s censorship. I’ve been playing the Game Boy version of the game, and there’s a similar character in that game’s Area 02 who says something along the lines of “Leave here immediately before I really get angry!”. Could you check if it’s the same in both versions?

    Come to think of it, BC in general would be an interesting game to look at. Its english script has this weird feeling like it was translated by a native English speaker and proofread by a Japanese person or something.

    1. In my childhood I played the GB version like crazy, from a Dutch kid’s the game is nearly unintelligible. For instance: I never knew that you could use a special flare item in level 03 to light everything up, I just adjusted the brightness level to compensate for the darkness xD

  9. I always though “Varia” came from “variable”, since the most prominent feature of the Varia suit (in the Prime games, at least) is its modular nature, being able to implement all the various add-ons and modifications that you find throughout the game.

    1. Aaaaactually, the varia is a defensive upgrade for the power suit, not the name of the base suit, which is simply “the power suit” or “Samus’ power suit.”

      The only time I’ve seen the suit given a proper name was in the Prime 2 LRA reboot sequence, which displays the identifier of “Chozo Battle Suit Ver SA1-446B-VM6-P”
      I don’t know if the version string is the suit firmware or hardware identifier, though. Either way, nobody calls it a chozo battle suit.

      I’m seriously nerding out here.

      1. Heh, I remember those Rezbits that glitched out your suit. I never could actually read any of the text that appeared after rebooting. It’s interesting what kind of canonical information one can find in the smallest of places.

  10. Interestingly enough – or not, depending on how much you nerd out over this sort of thing – the manual for Metroid 2 uses “Varia” and “Barrier” on the same page in a blurb about the power suit specs:

  11. I think they retconned the meaning by Metroid Fusion into it reffering to Variable Climate, since every dialogue there has been about it since has reffered specifically to that. (Rather than mainly takling about it being a defensive boost they put more weight into the temperature regulation, with the extra defense being nothing but a simple bonus)

    Further non-english localizations (that started at this time) have ditched “Varia” in favor of other names with this meaning, too. However they have been rather inconsistent with it.

    But either way, “Varia” does sound like an appropiate Sci-Fi thing name.

  12. Late to the party… I knew about this translation error but your article made me finally curious to check out how they handled it in Metroid II – Return of Samus.

    The in-game message when you obtain the suit-upgrade only says Varia. Just like its sequel on SNES, the game is apparently identical in Japan. But the small amount of text there is, is only available in English in this game, so maybe some Japanese Metroid fans wondered why the suit-upgrade was suddenly called Varia.
    Game Boy screenshot:

    I also decided to check the English manual, and interestingly enough it mention the Barrier Suit, “Barrier Suit – Becomes enabled when Samus finds the Varia.”
    Manual screenshots:

    Would be interesting to know what the Japanese manual says there but I was unable to find any scans or pictures of it.

  13. Apparently in the manual for Metroid II, it is correctly translated as the Barrier Suit.

  14. Like most people I assumed “varia” meant “variable.” As in “variable temperature”. Or possibly a variety in the amount of environments Samus can traverse. Surely that must’ve been what the translators for Super Metroid thought at the time. It may only add damage resistance in the first game, but it was given its Super properties in the remake Zero Mission as well as immunity to acid. And in Metroid II it’s actually named “Barrier Suit” and only adds damage resistance, implying it’s not the Varia Suit at all but a different suit entirely. So really it’s like they turned a mistake into a totally different meaning.

  15. Metroid is funny like that. The Morph Ball was originally called Maru Mari (literally “round ball” in Japanese), and Chozo is simply the Japanese word for “statue”. So Chozo statue = “Statue statue” O_o

    1. That’s not correct. 彫像: “Chouzou” can mean “carved statue”, but that’s not what Chozo from the Metroid games means.

      In the Metroid manual, the Chozo statues were simply known as 像: “zou”: “statue”.
      In the Metroid 2 manual, they were called 鳥人の像: “choujin no zou”: “birdpeople statue”.
      In the Super Metroid manual, they were again called 鳥人の像: “choujin no zou”: “birdpeople statue”.

      So, by this time, we can see why the translators might have chosen “Chozo” as a shortened form of “Choujin no zou”. However, at best this means, roughly, “bird statue.”

      In Metroid Fusion they’re called both 鳥人文明: “choujin bunmei”: “birdpeople civilization” and 鳥人族: “choujin zoku”: “birdpeople race”

      Finally, in Metroid Prime, they’re officially now just called チョウゾ: “chouzo” which seems to be derived from 鳥人族: “choujin zoku”: “birdpeople race”

  16. I don’t know if you’re still looking for instances, but in Metroid: Other M, you can see it being called “Varia”. I don’t own the game, but I’ve watched Maple Leaf’s LP of it. In that, it’s about 14 minutes into Episode 7. First, Adam calls it that, then at about 14:09, it lights up on the active upgrades screen, and is also named in the middle of the screen. (For those who needed that warning about swearing at the top of another article, the co-commentator gets pretty angry at Adam for the timing of his granting of authorization, i.e., after having her run through a few hot areas, but right before she fights the Goyagma (Thanks, Wikitroid!).)

  17. I noticed this recently when playing through zero mission in Japanese, and I suspected it was a mistranslation. Varia definitely sounds cooler, but I always wondered if it was supposed to be the name of a place or person.