Fat, Beauty, and A Link Between Worlds’ Localization

50 Comments

A few years ago I documented the Japanese and English versions of The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds in great detail. I’ve been meaning to write about some of my findings, so let’s consider this the first in a small series of ALBW articles.

This time, we’ll look at how references to fat and beauty were changed for the North American localization.

Scene 1: Meeting the Zora Queen

Link visits a waterfall where the Zora queen and her underlings live. The queen suddenly grows fat after a thief steals her magical stone. Her underlings explain the situation to Link, but one in particular underwent some localization changes:

Is there no fat fairy in this game? I thought there was but I must be mistaken. I guess this Zora queen fills that role this time aroundIs there no fat fairy in this game? I thought there was but I must be mistaken. I guess this Zora queen fills that role this time around
Japanese Version (basic translation)English Version
Zora Underling 1: This is terrible, zora……Zora Underling 1: It’s getting worse by the second!
Zora Underling 1: The secret of the queen’s beauty, the Smooth-Smooth Stone, has been stolen, zora…Zora Underling 1: I can’t believe that guy came in and stole the smooth gem right out from under our gills!
Zora Underling 2: As long as the Smooth-Smooth Stone is gone from the fountain, there’s no telling what’ll happen…Zora Underling 2: That finless jerk probably thought it was just some sparkly thing! But the queen needs it to contain her power!

In the Japanese version, we see that the stone is the source of the queen’s beauty, and she turned fat when she lost it. In the English version, the references to beauty and fat were dropped, and the stone was given an all-new explanation involving the queen’s power.

If you talk to Zora Underling 1 immediately after this, he has another line of interest:

Image 1Image 2
Japanese Version (basic translation)English Version
But I actually kinda like her even looking like that, zora…We’ve got to get it back in her pool before all is lost!

The Japanese line implies that she’s probably not what most Zoras would consider beautiful. The English version removes this concept entirely and replaces it with a line about the urgency of the situation.

Scene 2: Saving the Zora Queen

Link retrieves the magical stone and tosses it into the Zora queen’s fountain. She turns skinny and thanks Link for his help.

The Zora underlings have new lines of dialogue, two of which have changes similar to the ones above.

Image 1Image 2
Japanese Version (basic translation)English Version
The queen has regained her beauty, zora…The queen’s bloating stopped.
…But I actually kind of liked the way she was before, zora…I wish the queen would do away with the pool and that magical gem.

A third underling has a line that changed too:

Image 1Image 2
Japanese Version (basic translation)English Version
What a relief, zora…What a relief!
The queen has regained her beauty, zora…

As before, we see that the references to the queen’s beauty were removed. In the first instance, a beauty reference was replaced with completely new text. In the second instance, the reference to beauty was dropped without any replacement at all.

Scene 3: At the House of Gales

After Link completes the House of Gales dungeon, a Zora appears outside the entrance. He talks about the Zora queen and how she’s a fast swimmer:

Image 1Image 2
Japanese Version (basic translation)English Version
Nice weather today, isn’t it, zora? I just went swimming with the queen, zora.Nice weather today, so I swam here with the queen.
…Now that she’s slim, she swims so fast. Before I knew it, I got left behind.But she swims so fast…and I got left behind.

In the Japanese line, the Zora directly references the fact that the queen wasn’t skinny before, but now she is. The implication is that slimming down has improved her. The skinny reference and implication aren’t present in the English version.

The Zora goes on to talk about his feelings:

Image 1Image 2
Japanese Version (basic translation)English Version
Talking about it like this, it actually sounds kind of sad, zora.I’m hurt, to be honest. The queen left me behind…
…I guess she really did leave me behind.I feel abandoned.
…The realization that I got left behind has really hit me, zora.
Oh, my queen… Oh, my slim queen…My queen… My queen…

Once again, a skinny reference in the Japanese script doesn’t exist in the English script.

Potential Reasons for the Changes

Without asking the localization team directly, we can only make guesses at why – and at what stage in the localization process – these changes were made. Two possibilities come to mind, although there are surely more.

Possible Reason #1: Internal Policies

For decades, Nintendo of America has had internal rules and guidelines to ensure its games are wholesome, family-friendly, and inoffensive. So, given Nintendo’s history of content changes, these changes don’t really come as a surprise.

As I recall, Nintendo faced heavy criticism for its handling of same-sex marriage in Tomodachi Life around the same time that A Link Between Worlds was released.

I also recall that there’d been several fat-related controversies years before. For example, the PSN game Fat Princess received a lot of criticism when it was released, and there was some mild criticism involving Nintendo’s Wii Fit and the way it called players fat.

There’s also the concern that impressionable kids might get the wrong idea and grow so obsessed with being skinny that they resort to anorexia or bulimia. This has been an issue for localizers for decades. For example, in one episode of Sailor Moon, the main character discovers she’s gained half a pound in weight. She considers herself ugly now, so she spends most of the episode skipping meals and exercising like crazy. To counter this, the localizers added a message at the end about consulting a doctor and that real beauty comes from the inside.

With all of these concerns in mind, it makes sense that Nintendo would want to avoid offending players with the idea that only skinny is beautiful. Or, from a different perspective, perhaps the changes were made to fit the idea that big is beautiful.

I seem to recall there were other similar controversies around A Link Between Worlds’s release. If you can think of any from before 2014, let me know!

Possible Reason #2: Transcreation

When a Japanese game is released in English, we tend to assume that the game was written in Japanese, released in Japan, and then translated into English. This is the case most of the time. But a newer thing these days is something called “transcreation”, in which localizers work side-by-side with creators during the development process and help shape the final product. I believe Nintendo has commented on this approach before (probably by a different name), so it’s entirely possible that these dialogue changes weren’t technically translation changes but a result of transcreation.

Personally, I feel Reason #1 is far more likely, but I’m still curious if this game got the transcreation treatment or not. Of course, it could be a combination of both things, or maybe even some other reason that I haven’t considered.

Sources

I’ve uploaded all 8000+ of my A Link Between Worlds screenshots and videos as part of my Game Translation Catalog Project here. If you’re interested in seeing more from these scenes, they’re listed under “Hyrule Exploration 1” and “House of Gales”.


While these text changes in A Link Between Worlds don’t affect the game much, I feel they’re a good example of how game translations can have quiet changes that go unnoticed for years. At the same time, they offer insight into some of the deeper issues that localizers have to consider. It also makes me wonder how other companies might’ve handled these same scenes.

In any case, I’m curious to see how these lines were translated in other languages, so if you’ve played the game in a different language, let me know in the comments or on Twitter. And was Nintendo of Europe’s English translation different from the American one? If so, I’d love to take a look at it too someday!

If you enjoyed this, check out Legends of Localization Book 1: The Legend of Zelda, my book dedicated to the very first Zelda translation and how it has affected every Zelda game since! (free preview PDF )
50 Comments
  1. Spirit Tracks is the only Zelda game with two radically different English translations.

    Also, know any other examples of transcreation? All I can think of that sounds similar to that is how recent Sonic games were written in English first, and how Code Lyoko was dubbed into English in-house.

    Reply
    1. I’m terrible at keeping up with gaming news, but a quick search brought up this article that indicates Xenoblade X and Xenoblade Chronicle 2 got some form of the transcreation treatment: https://kotaku.com/xenoblade-chronicles-xs-director-on-localization-change-1796157409

      I know there are other examples from NOA, but again I’m terrible at following news so I don’t have any details handy. Mario Odyssey comes to mind for some reason, but I’m not sure why. It sounds like it might be a good idea for me to start cataloging this stuff, so I’ll start making a list for a future article. The problem is that like a lot of things in this industry, there’s no solidly defined terminology that everyone uses the same way. It makes it tough to track.

      I guess for now if you’re interested, here are some agency sites that offer or discuss game transcreation:

      http://www.gamescribes.com/game-translation
      http://www.paspartu.gr/en/1/transcreation-services-c87.html
      https://www.todaytranslations.com/video-game-localisation
      https://atatranslation.com/services/localization/game/

      Reply
      1. That transcreationism thing means they international versions were made alongside the original Japanese versions, right? Cuz the main series pokemon games have been doing that for a few years now, ever since X and Y versions.

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    2. It’s not just the most recent Sonic games. They’ve been written and voice acted in English first for quite a good number of years now. Sonic is less popular in Japan and has become more equated with U.S. gamers for a long time now.

      As for Code Lyoko, I did not know that. The English voices are all really good though.

      Reply
  2. That’s interesting to know, but it makes sense that they changed it. That whole scene was pretty weird in the first place.

    To answer your question from the alt text, there’s no fat fairy in the game, but a Kakariko Village NPC known as the Stylish Woman looks a lot like her – maybe that’s who you were thinking of.

    Reply
    1. What was his question? He seems to have deleted it.

      Reply
      1. It’s still there, it’s the alt text for the first set of images:
        “Is there no fat fairy in this game? I thought there was but I must be mistaken. I guess this Zora queen fills that role this time around”

        Reply
  3. This is pretty interesting. Now I’m wondering if the other translations do the same. Welp,only one way to find out. *digs out 3ds and copy of the game*

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  4. Boy, i’m pretty bummed out about the whole fat and beauty being mutually exclusive sort of message the game has going on, if I understand it right. It would have been a pretty nice character moment if Oren came to terms with her true form and her appearance wasn’t played like a joke.

    Reply
    1. Persona 2 had a somewhat similar message that always bugged me too. The chubby student becomes skinny when she reaches the end of her character arc.

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    2. Yeah, that’s kind of uncomfortable. But there is that one Zora who totally digs her as all large and in charge.

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    3. Come on, dude, you got Uncle Nintendo rewriting the scene for you so you wouldn’t see all this terrible stuff and you STILL find the need to get offended on behalf of the original audience half a world away?

      Reply
      1. The fact that it was even originally written that way in the first place is still problematic. Just because it happens outside our country doesn’t mean we’re not allowed to care.

        Reply
        1. According to MY standards, foreigners playing world police like you’re doing now is extremely problematic, and you seem to agree I am perfectly in the right to tell you that you should stop doing this. Your standards do not apply to everyone, and you pushing them on people with entirely different cultures is extremely problematic. Let the Japanese decide for themselves whether they should be offended by this, don’t decide for them. This kind of holier-than-thou attitude is offensive to ME.

          Reply
          1. Dude, you’re allowed to say “this part of a culture is shitty” without being part of that culture. And Japanese culture’s obsession with conformity and being thin can be genuinely harmful to people who live hating themselves because they can’t change.
            It’s hardly “playing world police” to feel concerned about something.

            Reply
            1. People not finding a fat person attractive is not problematic, and none of you have any right to be offended. Find some real problems to complain about, or better yet, get help, because it’s not healthy to want the world to revolve around you (or your fat friends who have given you this mindset) like this. Most people are not attracted to morbid obesity because it’s a sign of poor physical and mental health, and they are not required to be. And there was STILL someone who did find her attractive, so it’s not like they were treating “beautiful” and “fat” as mutually exclusive!

              You know what’s ACTUALLY problematic? My country’s glorification of obesity, calling anyone with a healthier body type “not real” EVEN IF THEY ARE REAL, getting mad at people for losing weight or avoiding gaining an unhealthy amount, and fighting back against any attempt to point out that obesity is not a positive or even neutral trait. For crying out loud, no one even shamed her here for being fat! An overweight character losing weight is a sign of mental growth and positive character development, just like someone who stopped drinking or stopped gambling would be, so I’m proud of that Persona game for showing that! Overeating is an unhealthy compulsion that should not be glorified or accepted as an innocuous difference, it should be a sign that a person needs help and treated, just like anorexia or bulimia! If anything, what’s problematic about this scene is that her fat vs slim forms were magical rather than organic in nature, meaning that they made it seem like your body fat is out of your control, when it isn’t in the slightest–it’s determined by the food you eat and your exercise! I know this because I have been thin, and I gained weight due to overeating partially due to being on an appetite-increasing medication; my physical health was at risk, so I had to change medications, and I had to work to lose weight. It’s not magic and it’s not uncontrollable. “Can’t change” my ass. Do some damned research about nutrition and health. Yeah, I get that the standards for being “fat” in Japan are ridiculous, but the character in question was clearly fat by anyone’s standards.

              No culture is perfect, but I think the west is the culture being shitty here. Japan has problems with conformity, but this isn’t what you’re saying it is. This is some people not thinking a fat woman is pretty, but one person prefers her that way, and you guys are super mad that it’s not the other way around. No one is forcing the queen to conform to their beauty standards; if anything, THEY have to conform to HER whims, because she’s the QUEEN, and absolute obedience to certain authorities is still a theme something that is expected to happen in the west.

              Reply
  5. The French version is closer to the Japanese version! They say the gem is the secret of the Queen’s beauty, and one of the Zora still likes her in her fat form. I don’t remember what they say at the House of Gales though.

    Reply
    1. I can confirm that also another translation from Nintendo of Europe (the Italian one) is a direct translation of the Japanese original. It appears that only Nintendo of America had issues with the perceived “fat shaming” of the Japanese dialogue.

      Looking from here, it seems clear that the public discussion in the US about individual rights and gender discrimination is quite exacerbated – a product, perhaps, of the hyperindividualism of a country without a radicated left-winged culture. But this is a topic that really exceeds this conversation.

      Reply
  6. There was still a bit of kerfuffle about this scene! And I agree – despite the dialogue changes, the scene is still equating the Zora queens weight loss to a return of normalcy. (To use the pretentious jargon:) the scenario still treats being fat as being abhorrent.

    It is nice to know Nintendo tried though. I hope that if translation teams keep working together, i hope scenario planners can too, to prevent awkward scenes like this in the future. 🙂

    Reply
  7. They have people praising the fat form and STILL change this? Despite the queen being not just fat but massively so?

    Typical American censorship pandering to people who don’t even play video games…

    Reply
    1. I’m pretty sure there are plenty of fat people who play video games.

      Also, the one guy praising it was pretty clearly supposed to be a case of “ha ha look at this loser who thinks fat people can be attractive!” than anything else.

      Reply
      1. The crowd they were talking about wasn’t fat people, it was woke people. A fat person with a brain could watch this scene, see that no one is being shamed, and carry on in life. Woke people, on the other hand, see this scene, get furious that the fat character isn’t being seen as the same or even more beautiful for being fat (even though there is a character who does, they write him off as a joke, because they refuse to admit that they’ve overreacted), and don’t generally play video games anyway because they think gamers are evil and everything that comes from Japan is sexist lolicon or something, and if they do (even if they don’t) they demand that all games be censored and never have any “problematic” elements because writing this scene means you have made so many fat children commit suicide, you monster. (I’m not even exaggerating, I’ve had it explained to me that the reason it’s okay to “punch up” is because the people they have decided are “privileged” and “oppressors” cannot be hurt by jokes but you can’t “punch down” because the “underprivileged”, “oppressed” “marginilized” “minorities” will literally die if you make any kind of joke that could in any way be misconstrued as offensive toward them. That’s why you can say “kill all white people” or “kill all men”, because even if they unironically mean it they refuse to believe it could ever be attempted, or generalizations and demonizations about them don’t matter–I guess they just don’t have feelings–but any kind of fictional character who likes money or has a big nose is clearly a Jewish-coded antisemitic stereotype and you must be supporting Nazis if you have or like a character like that. Again, not exaggerating.)

        Reply
    2. Considering that NOA will always uphold the family friendly image, keeping in the lines that wanted the queen to stay fat would come off as encouraging kinks, which is kinda not family friendly.

      Reply
      1. Romaji M. Amulo

        Yeah, it definitely seems like a joke about kinks more than body positivity.

        Reply
        1. Not sure why you see a character attracted to an unusual beauty standard and automatically assume it’s a joke, rather than just, you know, characterization?

          Reply
      2. The assertion that every Nintendo game in the USA is 100% squeaky clean and has never had any kind of suggestive line like this is… laughable.

        Reply
  8. I have so many feelings on how weight gains and losses are just normal/inoffensive to talk about in Japan. On the one hand, it’s great that people don’t take offense to others talking about their weight. On the other hand, I’m sure many folks are secretly upset by it but put on a brave face to keep up the atmosphere. There are so few truly overweight people in Japan that I’m sure it hasn’t been much of an issue until the western diet started to take hold. I wonder if weight changes will become more of a sensitive topic now that there are more overweight people in Japan.

    Reply
    1. I think your second theory (people are just putting on a brave face) might be more common. Or rather, I think part of the issue is that fat-shaming and bullying people into conformity are so pervasive in Japan that fat people are more likely to think “I’m bad for being fat and deserve whatever ridicule I get” rather than “I can’t believe someone would be so mean to me.”

      Fat-shaming comments might be inoffensive in the sense that people don’t think to be offended, but they are offensive in that the pressure to be thin is just that—pressure to be thin at any and all costs, including through starvation, exercising to exhaustion, and mistreating anyone who doesn’t conform. Not the best combination for physical and mental health! That Sailor Moon episode were Usagi freaks out over such a tiny weight gain was barely an exaggeration of girls’ and women’s attitudes and behaviors, based on what I saw in my four years living in Japan.

      Reply
      1. That’s such a depressing thing. I think people should be encouraged to be at a HEALTHY weight, but bullying people over it is definitely not the way to go, neither is making the issue exclusively about what others think of your appearance.
        Japan’s social conformity is something that really bothers me about the place, as it seems unhealthily restricting in some instances.

        Reply
  9. Censorship for political correctness is the worst kind.

    Reply
    1. Specific Certainty

      Paranoia’s worse, buddy.

      Reply
  10. I’m glad I playing this in Japanese rather than English. That localization just seems sloppy.

    Reply
    1. I meant, I’m glad I PLAYED this…

      Reply
  11. I don’t see it as mocking the fat lover, really.

    And sure, fat people play vídeo games, but if they are smart they can tell being ridiculously fat like the Zora Queen isn’t traditionally very popular. Really now…

    Reply
    1. Well, if people are willing to get upset over Wii Fit telling people they’re fat… (Think about it for a sec; Wii Fit is, as the name implies, a fitness piece of software, where the aim is to get fit. Technically speaking, and no offense to those reading this, but being fat is commonly a sign of being unfit, so to be called fat by the game should be a given.)

      Reply
      1. Specific Certainty

        Spoken like someone who’s never worked with a personal trainer… calling someone fat when you’re helping them get fit is much more likely to get someone to drop their exercise program than continue it. It’s just ineffective, and that’s empirically proven.

        Reply
        1. Romaji M. Amulo

          Having used Wii Fit, yeah I’ve noticed that it says “that’s overweight” every day, which is… kinda irritating given that I’m in the middle of that BMI class so it’s not like it’s going to change from day to day

          Reply
  12. I am reminded of the fat queen dungeon in Breath of Fire II. I remember Poe was like “I didn’t think we’d spend so much time in… I’m not going to go there.” 😀

    Reply
  13. Was the English script different in the North American and European versions of the game? I’m reminded of a particular line in Tri Force Heroes that received some coverage for including a meme reference in the North American edition. http://www.nintendolife.com/news/2015/10/zelda_fans_vent_anger_at_nintendo_of_america_over_doge_memes_in_tri_force_heroes

    Reply
    1. According to one of the comments above it’s the same? But I haven’t confirmed it for myself so I dunno. That was the first thing I thought of too, which is why I asked at the end of the post.

      Reply
  14. That whole scenario is odd all-around, and easily one of the weaker parts of the game.

    In both versions it’s never really explained why the Smooth Gem makes Oren beautiful. And the “contain her power” aspect of the US version is even more confusing as it’s never brought up again after the gem is returned.

    Reply
    1. The confusing translation that doesn’t make sense (4Kids-tier rewrites about “magic”) aside, the Zora river zone was supposed to be included but was cut. Gems that make older powerful magic users youthful again is a common plot device in Japanese popular fiction (Hunter x Hunter’s Bisky for example, who does that because she hates her older self that’s too old *and* too macho. NoA “editors” would have a field day with that.)

      Reply
  15. Interesting mention about transcreation, because the first game that came to mind when it comes to this is Paper Mario: Colour Splash. I suppose when there is not “pipes” situation in Thousand Year Door, it’s a marked improvement. With that said, the washing machine replacement for Europe is rather strange.

    This is the link where I got the impression (10th point): https://www.usgamer.net/articles/risa-tabata-on-paper-mario-color-splash

    Reply
  16. Shouldn’t the second line of Scene 3 have been left alone? He’s not fat-shaming her by calling her slim, he’s literally saying that she swims faster since she lost weight… which she did, and as anyone would be if they lost weight.

    Reply
  17. In One Piece there’s the “smooth smooth fruit” (sube sube no mi) whose user gained powers related to slipperiness–and it also changed her from fat to thin.

    Given this, I would guess that “smooth smooth” is a specific reference to something in Japanese related to fat

    Reply
    1. Apparently so:

      “Sube” means “smooth” in Japanese. “Sube” may also come from “suberin”, a fat that can be found in cells. “Sube sube” can mean “young and sexy”.

      Reply
  18. I wonder WHY the implication that being healthy is better than being obese would be removed for the primarily American English speak audience? https://www.oecd.org/unitedstates/Obesity-Update-2014-USA.pdf
    I wonder why?

    Reply
  19. This article is so underlooked by a lot of people, even Did You Know Gaming (DYKG) never mentioned this translation change in their video on A Link Between Worlds. We have got to spread the word.

    Reply

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