How The “Litter Joke” Was Reworked in Dragon Warrior IV


Matt S. sent in an e-mail a while back about a line in Dragon Warrior IV for the NES:

I have a specific question about one joke in the game. It’s so stupid that I have never forgotten it. Actually it may have been one of the first times I ever saw an attempt at telling a joke in a video game.

In chapter 2, you are playing as Princess Alena and her retainers. You visit a town where girls are regularly offered as sacrifices to a monster, and Alena decides to put a stop to this by offering herself and kicking the monster’s ass. As the town shaman loads you into a litter as the offering, he tells you “don’t ever litter the litter.” Here’s a screenshot of it:

Vulcan Raven? Is that you?

I’d like to know what this was in the original Japanese. However, I’ve been unable to find a Japanese script of the game, a playthrough video, or anything like that.

I haven’t played much of any Dragon Warrior/Quest game beyond the first game, but luckily it wasn’t hard to find this scene in the game. Here are screenshots of the Japanese and English line, side-by-side:

A localized pun involving litter boxes might've also been an interesting direction to take tooA localized pun involving litter boxes might've also been an interesting direction to take too

And here’s a look at the translated Japanese text when compared with the official localization:

Japanese Version (basic translation)English Version
“Oh, may you have God’s divine protection!”‘Don’t ever litter the litter.’
“This isn’t the time for puns, Father.”‘This is no time for puns, Shaman.’

First, it’s immediately obvious a lot of the potentially Christian content here has been stripped:

  • The reference to God and divine protection was removed
  • The priest is no longer a priest but a “shaman”
  • The crosses in the room have been replaced with pentagram-like icons

With that aside, we see that the Japanese text also mentions that a pun is being told. But what’s the pun?

Basically, the Japanese word for “divine protection” or “divine grace” is “kago”. But “kago” can also mean “palanquin”, which is one of those things for carrying people around:

It's strange, I think I knew this was called a 'litter' way before I learned the word 'palanquin', but now I prefer the latter. Maybe because it's more unique and doesn't have multiple definitions

Since you’re about to leave and risk your life for everyone, it makes sense that the priest says, “May you have God’s divine protection.” And comically enough, since you’re being carried away in a palanquin, this “kago” pun applies. That’s why the other guy tells him to stop goofing around. It’s just a silly little joke.

Like Matt, I’m surprised that the English localization kept a joke in this scene. With the religious content cut and altered, the focal point of the pun was lost. But the localizers did a pretty clever job despite that setback – “litter” is another word for “palanquin”, so they decided to make the joke revolve around the multiple meanings of “litter”. The joke isn’t as natural as the Japanese pun, though – it’s just a goofy phrase that comes out of nowhere. As such, it probably confused some English-speaking players at the time.

So there we go – the litter joke made more sense in Japanese, but it’s clear the localizers put some real thought into how to keep it intact rather than expunge it entirely. More than ever, this makes me want to play through both versions of the game sometime!

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  1. > The crosses in the room have been replaced with pentagram-like icons

    So… they basically replaced Christianity with Satanism. Take that, Nintendo censors!

    1. The pentagram in itself isn’t related to satanism. It is merely a five point star that’s been in use since ancient times to represent a variety of things. Some Christians even used the pentagram to represent the five wounds of Christ. Nowadays, it is commonly used by magic cults. The Satanists turned the star upside down to look like a goat’s head. It’s kinda like how the Nazi’s didn’t invent the swastika, they simply altered it’s design slightly and used it as their national symbol.

    2. This is exactly what I was thinking, haha! And, I think they actually made it more potentially offensive by changing the priest into a shaman. xD

    3. Although I don’t remember any specific games off hand unfortunately, I swear there are at least a few 8/16 bit games in which any crosses within the Japanese version were censored and replaced with a Star of David for the Western release. To me this is a weird form of censorship; if you’re going to censor a Christian religious symbol within a game, why replace it with a Jewish symbol that still has religious connotations?

      Granted, the Star of David is identical to the hexagram used in modern day magic belief systems, although that actually makes it a bit more confusing when trying to determine which interpretation of the symbol the localization team was going for.

      1. Well, I did a little research, and it looks like my memory may have been faulty. I’ve glanced at some old RPGs, but can’t find any instances in which a cross was replaced with a Star of David for a Western localization. There may be at least one example out there in which that happened, but until I find a specific example, it’s probably best to assume I was incorrect in that last comment.

        In fact, Nintendo’s original localization for the English version of Final Fantasy censored both the crosses AND the Stars of David featured in the Japanese release:

        Also a little info on the hexagram, in case my previous comparison of the Star of David to the hexagram sounded ignorant without the proper background information (I apologize if so)…

  2. Oh, man. In the year 20XX, when you have an army of robot masters to help you maintain the site, you should definitely do a comparison of the original NES Dragon Warrior 4 and the hack job done on the DS remake. That’s fertile ground for a localisation analysis, that is.

  3. When religious imagery gets involved, you know they’re going to cover it up somehow or whitewash it completely when it comes here. Personally, I don’t know why game companies were so afraid of Christians getting offended by crosses or references to God in video games back then. Japan’s been throwing around crosses in anime and games for years like it’s going out of fashion. The reason? It’s because Christianity is just another thing to them and it doesn’t concern them one bit. They use crosses in things like holy spells and fantasy world churches because they think it probably looks cool, much the same way they think spouting out random English is cool. In addition, when Japan says “kami” in their media, certain folks shouldn’t be so presumptuous and think they mean their precious “old man with a beard in the sky” concept of God.

    On the positive side, the localization pun is pretty clever in this case.

    1. Nintendo America was marketing every game released on their console towards children at the time, hens the censorship policy they put in place to make sure it’s suitable to children. I think they were afraid they’d receive complaints they’re brainwashing the children into supporting a specific religion.

      (Said censorship policy eventually started to bite them in the neck with, among other things Sega taking the opportunity to successfully market their console towards teens and up.)

      1. You’re not wrong. I distinctly recall arguing with friends about whether the Genesis or SNES Mortal Kombat was better; the SNES had tighter control, but the Genesis had dudes ripping each others’ spinal columns clean out.

      2. Funny, these days I’m seeing lots of blame heaped Christianity for trying to brainwash people into fearing a magical fire place that doesn’t exist. That concern about brainwashing was existent even that far back?

        1. You wouldn’t be an atheist by any chance? It’s hard to tell when you are so subtle.

          1. And what do you care what I chose to believe or not believe in? It’s none of your business anyway.

    2. I find it interesting that Japan doesn’t treat their majority belief of Shintoisim as “just another thing” to be used in anyway whatsoever and “not bothering them one bit.” If American game developers would misuse the Shinto belief in anyway,they would have the PC police up their ass. “Old man with a beard in the sky?” What other stereotypes do you have and what other prejudices do you justify?

      1. Sigh, another one of these.

      2. By the way, why are you replying to a post from three years ago? Are you just a troll with nothing better to do?

  4. In the original context it is also worth noting that the priest’s line is the same line every priest uses at the end of speaking to them in every game up to that point (and probably every game since). This makes the pun particularly amusing in the original Japanese.

  5. I’ve…never even heard the term ‘litter’ used by this definition. That pun/joke/thing would have been completely lost on me even now as an adult. Wow.

  6. Removing religious references for a country which has the legend “In God we trust” on its bills. Funny.

  7. Here’s the DS version’s take on the line:

    “I pray that Goddess does safely carry you.” Pretty close to the original Japanese script, retaining both the religious element and the pun. Of course, wacky accents, but it’s a modern Dragon Quest localization.

  8. I just got my hands on an original NES cartridge of this game (previously I had only played the DS version), and when I got to this point in the game just now, I was immediately reminded of this article.