The Legends of Localization series takes a detailed look at video game translation and how games change during the translation process.
You know how the news media gets things hilariously wrong whenever they talk about video games, science, or the Internet? Well, the same thing happens when they talk about translation too.
Similarly, you know how couch potatoes will watch sports on TV and yell at players as if they were super-experts who could play a million times better? The same thing happens all the time when some gamers and general audiences talk about translation and localization.
At best, most online discussions about translation only focus on things non-translators can pick up: punctuation, grammar, spelling, graphical changes, and anything else that’s an “afterthought” of the translation process.
Because of all this, I thought it’d be neat to use my professional experience to take a deeper look into how certain games have been translated. Together, we’ll:
- Look at hundreds of games and see how the translation process worked for each one (example)
- See how things were changed for the better or the worse, as well as the reasons behind those changes (example)
- Dig into the text of popular games and see what meanings and nuances got changed (example)
- Uncover game info that never left Japan (example)
- Solve gaming mysteries that have confused players for decades (example)
- Document game history that we’ve all overlooked (example)
I also see this project as a way to revisit old games I played as a kid, this time with a completely new view. Who knows, maybe it’ll be a nice, nostalgic ride for you too!
My name is Clyde Mandelin, although I usually go by “Tomato” or just “Mato” online. For the last 17 years I’ve professionally translated Japanese games, anime, movies, and the like into English. A more complete list of my work is available here, but a few things I’ve worked on include:
I’ve also been a fan translator for even longer. Some of my bigger fan projects include:
Basically, I just really like translation and enjoy sharing that passion with others.
Legends of Localization was originally just a hobby thing I did on the side, but it has recently leveled up and gained some new party members.
Heidi Mandelin (aka Poe)
Poe manages the business-y side of things and handles lots of production, research, and editing matters too.
Tony is a professional graphic designer. His clever book layouts help me explain complex topics to ordinary, non-translator readers. He’s also helped me bring this site’s design out of the 1990s.
We recently put together a small team of paid volunteers who play games and meticulously catalog them (hence “GameCats”) for articles and projects.
This guy kept showing up whenever we needed stock photos, so we gave him a name and a home in every book we do.
I’m considering hiring guest game translators in the near future to write about topics outside of Japanese-to-English translation. I’ll do a formal call for help someday, but for now if you’re someone I already know and are interested in this, let me know on Twitter.
It took some twists and turns, but Legends of Localization has been around a long time!
- 1999: I started a small webpage to compare the Japanese and English versions of EarthBound for the Super NES. It was fun, but I didn’t go too far with it.
- Late 2000s: I revisited EarthBound and rewrote my translation comparison of the game. I now had a degree in Japanese and years of professional translation experience to take a much deeper look into the translation.
2011: I hit a bit of a rough patch – my regular translation work suddenly dried up for a while, and finding other steady translation work was frustrating. So one day, I decided, “It sucks having to scavenge for decent translation work. I’m gonna make it so translation work starts coming to me.”
I remembered my old EarthBound comparison page and how popular it had been, so I decided that I’d do something similar with a few other games: Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, and Final Fantasy IV.
- 2012: My new comparison projects grew popular enough that I moved them off of my personal blog and gave them a dedicated site. And so, in late 2012, Legends of Localization was born. All my time and effort paid off – steady work started coming my way.
- Legends of Localization grew quickly and proved popular enough that I was able to release a book in 2015. This led to even more books, articles, and projects. Today I actually turn down great translation job offers so I can focus on Legends of Localization full-time. Of course, this success was only possible thanks to all the loyal fans and readers over the years. I thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Today, Legends of Localization materials are used in schools around the world, cited in academic papers, and referenced by industry professionals.
Legends of Localization has been featured on sites like Game Informer, WIRED, ShackNews, IGN, Kotaku, and Slator. My work has also been covered in international publications like New York magazine, Retro Gamer, Aniway, and Nintendo Force. Most importantly, though, I’ve done lots of interviews for student reports, class projects, and PhD dissertations. (Hopefully they all got good grades!)
If this is your first visit to Legends of Localization, here are some great places to start exploring!
- Free preview PDF of my second book
- My ever-growing catalog of bad video game translations
- Some of my favorite articles for newcomers
- My excessively detailed look at Final Fantasy IV‘s translation
- What happened when I asked Google Translate to translate an entire game for me
Even if you don’t care much about translation – or even video games – I think you’ll find some fascinating stuff on Legends of Localization. Thanks for reading!
I try to post at least one new article each week, if not more. If you’d like to keep up with all the latest updates, consider following!