During the oh-so-long process of putting all this info together, I’ve come to appreciate EarthBound’s localization more and more, particularly from a very technical perspective. It’s very clear NOA put a lot of time and effort into staying true to the original intent of the text, even down to the atmosphere of the text. That was pretty rare for the time.
Besides translation, I also did a lot of reprogramming work on the MOTHER 3 translation It was a ton of work, and now I can truly appreciate just how much programming work NOA put into localizing EarthBound. They went the extra mile for all sorts of things you might not notice, from “his” and “her” pronouns working in the appropriate situations to greatly-expanded enemy name lengths all the way to having the word “the” in front of some enemy names but not others. The polish is always in the details, even if it’s not consciously noticed.
Only at the tail-end of this project did I realize that the raw translation NOA’s editors worked off of might have been REALLY raw. The raw translation was never available to see, of course, but portions of it were printed in the official MOTHER 2 guide book as you can see here, and many of the strange phrases there actually show up in EarthBound’s script 100% as-is.
If my assumption is correct (and I’m fairly certain it is), then NOA’s editors were absolutely INCREDIBLE at the job, like a million times more than I imagined before. To be able to go from that kind of raw translation to sensible, well-polished English is amazing. It would also explain why so much nuance was left out of so many lines, and why some lines were partially correct but still like 90% wrong.
I fully understand why things were censored in the localization, and why some things were removed for legal reasons. It’s kind of lame, but in the end – even with its genuine translation goofs and flaws – I don’t think it really hurt anyone’s enjoyment of the game. In fact, if I hadn’t created this comparison site I don’t think many people would’ve known or cared that the game was edited as much as it was. It’s just that good of a game with that good of a script.
EarthBound’s localization was top-notch for its time. Very few other console games got the level of treatment EarthBound got. Granted, there are all kinds of minor issues everywhere, but nothing too terrible.
All in all, I give EarthBound’s localization a personal rating of “Good”. It was second-to-none (except maybe for Final Fantasy III) at the time and it helped raise the bar for quality game localization. In fact, if we were still in the 90s I’d give it a “Great” for sure. The only reason I don’t now is that there are some amazing localizations nowadays that are sort of at the “next level”, for a lack of a better term. Who knows, maybe someday I’ll dig into those localizations too!
I do feel the game’s translation could be improved a tiny bit, I have no doubt about that. But it’s not really necessary – especially since this site documents most of the big changes already. I actually get asked all the time to make a translation patch of my own, but the amount of work would be insane for what amounts to little net gain. Most people wouldn’t know what lines were different or changed anyway 😛
There are a few things I didn’t cover in this comparison stuff that I wish I could, but in the end doesn’t really matter much. The biggest thing is battle text. The only way for me to do this sanely is to dump all the Japanese battle text, which I probably could given a free afternoon and some coffee, but I honestly don’t expect to find anything interesting that I haven’t already covered. Maybe I’ll come back and compare them someday though.
I’d also love to take a more detailed look at the more technical aspects of stuff – we’ve uncovered plenty of unused stuff in the EarthBound ROM over the years, but I wonder what kind of unused stuff didn’t make the localization jump. Maybe some of that “unused” stuff still has hooks set up in the MOTHER 2 programming. Or at least just more clues to how things were planned. But that’s a LOT of work and not something I feel the need to tackle. So for now it’s just a dream.
I first started documenting the differences between MOTHER 2 and EarthBound back in 1999. At the time I only had a few years of college Japanese under my belt and was a lot more critical of things I didn’t really understand.
Years later, after lots of learning and lots of professional translation experience, the project’s changed in many ways. The level of detail, the overall tone, and even just the amount of stuff has changed a lot, for the better I think. In the simplest sense, the project’s been about comparing the two games, but for me it’s also been a way of comparing my younger self to my current self. It’s been an interesting experience, I recommend trying it sometime. Whether you’re working with languages like me or striving to become a better artist or anything else, every once in a while it’s nice to look back and see how far you’ve come. It’s good for motivation, and a good way to break out of a plateau if you get stuck in one.
I’ve had a lot of fun with this project, and since it’s taught me a lot about how to handle this sort of thing, I’m hoping to start doing similar comparisons starting with older, simpler games. There are a lot of fan sites out there that compare games superficially, but it’s a lot of fun to dig deep into games’ localizations like this. If you’ve read this far, hopefully you think so too. If so, keep an eye out for my future localization exploits on Legends of Localization!
This section of the EarthBound Legends of Localization book also includes:
- A more insightful look back at EarthBound’s localization, how it succeeded, how it failed, and my thoughts on a modern localization of the game
- A comment from Itoi on what EarthBound’s localization and EarthBound’s fans mean to him
- A look at the enormous pile of research material used to compile all the info in the book
- A peek at what other fans have used all of this EarthBound localization info for
- A note on EarthBound’s localization and how it continues to connect with my own professional career
- A brief look back at how EarthBound itself has evolved every few years
The EarthBound Legends of Localization book also contains a few more sections at the end, including:
- A list of game sites and resources that I recommend for readers who crave more info like what’s found in the book
- A list of good EarthBound sites that I recommend visiting for more EarthBound overload
- A big list of everyone who helped
- A “Smiles and Tears” photo collection of our own that nice shows moments from the book’s journey to completion – you can find more pics and the context behind them here too!
- A list of potential games that could get Legends of Localization books of their own