It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes political commentary can seep into video game translations. It’s also possible for poor game translations to accidentally sound like amusing political statements.
This is a strange, surprising phenomenon in translation that I’d like to learn more about, so let’s take a look at some examples and see how some of them came to be.
Bloody Wolf (PC Engine)
|Japanese version||English version|
In this example, the main character says:
The president is in the enemy camp. He is a troublemaker.
This can be an amusing line when taken out of context, and I’m sure it’s led to some laughs over the years. It’s clear what’s being said though, despite the poor translation.
The original Japanese line is more clear on the details, though:
The president is being held in a detention camp?! Guess I’ll hafta go there, then… But, man, this president sure is high-maintenance!
Basically, there’s no overlap between different meanings of “camp” in the Japanese text, and the “troublemaker” part is in the sense of causing trouble for the main character all the time.
World Heroes 2 (Neo-Geo)
|Japanese version||English version|
In this translation, a superhuman character named Neo Geegus sometimes says this after winning a fight:
The strong rule. The winners are just. That is my belief. But then again, I think the Democrats can save America.
It’s surprising to see a Japanese fighting game talk about the United States’ Democratic Party, so I checked the Japanese version of the game to see what Neo Geegus originally said. Roughly translated, his line is something like:
It is the strong who hold the truth! Only the victors are just!! That is my law.
As we can see, the official English translation is actually pretty close to this original text, but someone at some point added the political joke. Old SNK fighting games are famous for changing text in funny, sometimes bizarre ways, with this being just one example of hundreds. It makes me wonder if any other SNK translations have similar political commentary anywhere.
Yokai Watch (3DS)
|Japanese version||English version|
This creature-catching series was aimed at a young crowd when it was released in English, but I’m guessing this particular joke was done with older audiences in mind:
I’m not in the government, so don’t expect another bailout next time.
This is presumably referring to the big United States financial bailouts that happened in 2008.
In contrast, the original Japanese line translates as:
I only saved you on a whim. Don’t expect it to happen again.
As we can see, the Japanese line didn’t include any jokes at all. The political joke was added into the English translation.
The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening (Game Boy, German)
|Japanese version||German version|
The original German translation of Link’s Awakening underwent some infamous changes. One secret line in particular reads:
!STOP THE WAR! GIVE PEACE A CHANCE!!
I’m not sure if this is a quote of something or if it’s referring to a specific war. But it’s genuinely written in English like that in the German release.
The Japanese line is quite different, however:
…That concludes this collection of R-Moto-isms. It has absolutely nothing to do with the game!
The Japanese line is the final part of a multi-part message from the developer, as we previously saw here. But because this was a batch of secret text of little importance, the German translator decided to have fun with the text in his own way.
Daikaijū Monogatari (Super Famicom)
This Super Famicom RPG received a fan translation several years ago. It’s an impressive project on a programming level and boasts some of the most whimsical writing I’ve seen from a fan translation. If you’re a fan of the Lunar games and their localizations, this is definitely right up your alley. It almost feels like it came straight out of Working Designs itself, including all the punched-up text and added pop culture references.
Besides references to real-life things like The Jeffersons, World War II, and the Beach Boys, the fan translation is also peppered with political commentary.
For example, in this scene, a slave owner rants about politics while beating a woman:
There’s various talk throughout the game about government intrusion and Soviets:
This boss scene has a little bit of everything:
A major story boss brings up the American Civil Liberties Union upon being defeated:
A side character provides commentary on the American health care system:
And a man being absorbed by an alien cocoon rants about government health care, job creation, taxes, and politicians:
Just to be sure, I checked all of these lines with their Japanese counterparts. None of the original Japanese lines feature political commentary – it’s all just plain, straightforward stuff.
If you know of any other examples of translations that had political stuff added in, let me know and I’ll add them to this article. Similarly, if you know of any translations that might have political silliness when taken out of context, let me know too.
I’ll try to update this article from time to time with new things as I find them, so check back once in a while!
If you enjoyed this article, check out this one about game translations with amusing religious quotes!
I’ve only seen a screenshot of the punchline, so I don’t know the entire context, but there’s an infamous line from the original release of Lunar: Eternal Blue on Sega CD in which an NPC makes a joke about then-President Bill Clinton.
There’s good localizations, there’s bad localizations, and then we have Daikaijū Monogatari. The story “editor” went far beyond what should be acceptable and turned the game into his personal ranting soapbox.
It’s one thing to inject a bit of humor. He dumped an entire train full of his opinions into something that didn’t need it.
I agree. One should have some class and do ones best to remain as neutral as possible.
Then again… ideologues on both sides sometimes are incapable of stopping themselves.
I blame Victor Ireland / Working Designs and his political “jokes” in both Lunar games about inbred rednecks and Bill Clinton.
The Daikaiju Monogatari “fan localization” editor cites him directly as an inspiration, and it’s not hard to see why. The mess that are the localizations of Fire Emblem Fates (some skits devolved into lectures about toxic masculinity and mary sue writing), Mighty No. 09 (a once saturday morning cartoon plot in japanese is suddenly all about bosses referencing twitter culture wars that are really not child friendly material), among others. Then you have the latest Zelda game where the monster parts salesman advocates for the fall of the capitalist establishment in the English version, then goes “haha just joking, the establishment already was destroyed by Ganon” in what was originally just two lines in the Japanese script. They experienced a controversy when an injected “Watergate” political “joke” was misinterpreted as a reference to a recent “-gate” online controversy, so I hope they can see some worth in stopping this practice altogether.
Then you have localization editors who disagree with the work’s politics and try to change it, even knowing it is against the wishes of the author, and go years later in interviews complaining if they fail that they couldn’t change his creative vision by trying to use the corporate structure interested in games as a commercial products with “safe” mass appeal as opposed to art, saying that author had “too much power” and was conceited and full of himself. I am naming Agnes Kaku, editor for many Metal Gear Solid games, which she wanted to edit out writing that sounded too much like “conspiracy theories” for HER own tastes, and instead have the American writing “pros” in the localization room show him how it’s done in Hollywood.
The gaming media of today (see controversies why Ubisoft doesn’t want to take sides with Far Cry 5) and many voices on twitter in this troubled political landscape want entertainment and art to be used as yet another political battleground and blatant political advocacy, so that the ignorant masses are confronted by politics every waking moment and suddenly have an epiphany and go the closest party center to register and join the cause, whatever it is. Yet… their very defense of these localization excesses in the past, or trying to get artistic visions changed appealing to the PR and HR departments in companies and talking to them “how it would hurt the sales”, it’s only natural new products will only ever focus on how sellable it is, and subversive and political art is much less likely to be made.
The world is better off without those “political jokes” snuck in without the developer’s consent or knowledge by rogue localization editors without regard to general tone or context (sometimes even contempt, “who the hell cares, it’s a shitty game, it will be elevated from mediocrity to finally find its true calling as a vessel for my political soapboxing”), then those developers have to bear the burden and responsibility for things they didn’t say when it inevitably becomes a viral controversy online.
I thought the Breath of the Wild Kilton example is okay. It’s a one-off said by a wacky researcher, and isn’t overly specific. More? That would be an issue yes. But the one time isn’t bad, a streak makes it seem not so joking, and therefore, not so belonging.
There is generally some kind of ethnical/societal message in games being promoted. Love peace, don’t discriminate- common to like 90% of JRPGs. I don’t there is a problem with the mere premise of this. The issue is when things become too real world political and slanted a certain way. Memes are 95% of the time bad as a side note. Overuse makes them go from lighthearted fun to trite tripe. Like a photon, they should come and go in a blink of an eye.
As for heavy serious content editing in the writing, this I agree is generally very very bad and shouldn’t be done. Although I do think the Bravely Second removal of the bad endings from the sidequests wasn’t a terrible move. It might slightly undermine the title’s meaning, but that is about it.
Also, the practice of serious changes go back centuries I believe. I read an English novel translated into foreign languages in the 1700s, made the female main character secretly descended from nobility, so something like her societal rise in love and status wouldn’t be controversial. Not that this makes it okay.
“Mighty No. 09 (a once saturday morning cartoon plot in japanese is suddenly all about bosses referencing twitter culture wars that are really not child friendly material)”
Can you go into more detail? This is the first I’ve heard of this.
One of the bosses rants about “ethics in game journalism”. I don’t want to open that particular can of worms.
Coming from Comcept, who had a few involvements with that internet conflict (namely, a community manager who proposed a godawful genderbent redesign of Beck, the main character in Mighty No. 9, and faced with backlash pushed back with accusations this was motivated by sexism and “GG” was involved) this was a tad bit too on the nose.
That’s the kind of stuff you saw Ninja Theory put in the game as a meta attack on someone they argued with online and didn’t quite get their fill so they went and used the characters as their mouthpiece (which, I may add, were for the most part patched out of the Definitive Edition because they made the product an poorer experience ultimately, and dated it incredibly a mere weeks after the events in question)
I’m not surprised in the least 8-4 disavowed their own involvement in the localization of Mighty No. 9 after bragging about it so much initially, not only because of the quality of the game but also that of the English script specifically. Such shenanigans did ultimately cause a client to ask them to redo the entire localization post release, after all.
Wait, I thought Mighty No. 9 was developed in the US
SNK went to the trouble of removing references to Che Guevara and Fidel Castro and obfuscating that “Guerrilla War” for the NES was about leftest revolution in Latin America…only to leave Che’s face in the intro with a message about revolution. The game’s name was changed from “Guevara”, but “Guerrilla Warfare” is a well-known book from him. I was a child at the time I played the game and was aware of the political overtones.
Now I’m wondering how many Cuban American families were exposed to the game only to freak out at it’s story…
I always wondered what Japan thought of Capcom’s 194X series, which were about a single U.S. plane shooting down thousands of Japanese air and sea craft in World War II’s Pacific Theater. In 1943 you even get to sink the Yamato, which is a cultural icon. Between the game’s subtitle “The Battle of Midway” and a message in the game itself, you can pinpoint the moment where you sink the Pearl Harbor carriers and bombers.
I had wondered about that, too
It seems like I heard Japanese audiences enjoyed them, surprisingly enough, but don’t quote me on that. I also seem to remember hearing that the Medal of Honor games were popular too, even Rising Sun.
The one of the last games in the series, 19XX, changed the setting to some generic future war. After that it moved back to World War 2 with 1943, but it was now about fighting Nazis instead of Imperial Japan. I think there was a version which had edits to take away some of the historical references, may be the Famicom version of 1942, but I haven’t seen that one to make sure. I haven’t really heard anything about a specific reaction to the game, but there was a clear pullback at some point.
It wouldn’t be surprising if some people were offended; there are still a lot of people now who are apologists for Imperial Japan. But even if some people were upset by it, that also doesn’t mean that there weren’t others who just enjoyed the game and didn’t care about or disagree with the political aspect of it.
Yeowch! I wouldn’t play anything with a translation that politicized, deviant from the actual script, and is heavily biased against one end of the political spectrum. People play video games to try to escape real world politics, not dive into tirades.
I’m not one for memes or pop culture references at all really being tossed into games. But if you’re going to include a political reference, and keep the number very very low, make them either politically neutral references/jokes and or balance things with light jokes of both sides of the spectrum.
Speaking of political references, there was this from Fire Emblem: Awakening:
I understand you’re a job-killing socialist…
It’s just thrown into a support conversation, the criticism being of a selfless charitable character from a greedy merchant (Anna was so much better to me the less we knew about her). Caught my attention, I have mixed feelings about it, but it is most certainly is a script deviation, Awakening of course had plenty o’ questionable instances of this. Although I do love most of Radiant Dawn’s script localization bits on the whole (I’ll leave out discussion of its issues).
It was things like that I remember in Awakening’s script that left me feeling iffy, not just due to its content but that it was pretty out of place with a lot of other lingo and such.
Oh wow… I’d heard that the “translation” for Daikaiju Monogatari was politicized, but I had no idea it was *this* bad… The cringe factor alone makes it look borderline unplayable. I hope someday, someone comes along and revises the script… yikes.
Hey! Are you THE Yelsey King “YK” of snesmusic.org?
If so, I have been wanting to thank you for quite some time for all your work!
He’s just a tabby slime doing his best.
Yup. That’d be me. Haven’t done much there in a while, but it’s nice to see people are still enjoying that site. I really should get back into it someday… got kinda burned out for a while.
Thank you again for all the work. I had downloaded the entire library of sfc music and have been going through every single track, making a best of for my fiancee and I (she is also really into 8 and 16 bit game music–on an interesting note her initials are also YK).
As I was going through, I would notice the comments on the id666 tags, and often times the games you had dumped and tagged were really good ones, ones I would often share with her. And I appreciated your writing style on the tags very much in the update notes. I can tell you gave things a lot of thought and tried to be thorough, and I wanted to find a way to thank you for all the effort.
I do understand about why you would get burned out. There is a lot of mediocre game music to wade through to find the real gems (which I did with the nsf files already), but some of those melodies are downright inspiring and magical.
Thanks again for all your hard work.
sfc… I meant spc! Haha…
Hah. Well, this is probably the last place I’d have expected someone to recognize me from SNESMusic.
You have no idea how much I appreciate your kind words, given how most of the feedback I’ve gotten over largely the same things you liked tended to be *incredibly* negative. I always enjoyed coming up with soundtrack-esque titles for the various songs… like, I can see how that might rub some the wrong way, but given the sheer amount of rage I’ve gotten over it, particularly via some very nasty drama on the forums regarding my tagging style, I just… stopped caring entirely.
But so it goes. I have no regrets; I enjoyed my time there, did a *ton* of work ripping/re-ripping/timing SPCs, and maybe I’ll go back to it again someday. For now, though… heh, you’ve made my day. And I’m glad you and your fiancee are enjoying the SPCs. SNES music rocks, and my love for *that* has not changed!
Anyhow, we’re like, way off topic here, so… 😛
Thank you for sharing about your process!
Glad I finally got to thank you.
Well, if for some reason you ever vacation in Kauai, Hawaii, we would be glad to take you out to dinner one night.
TalkStoryBookstore at gmail dot com.
All the best to you.
The amount of anti-left wing ideology crammed into Daikaijuu by Wildbill is downright embarrassing. Like yeah, I have my own issues with Working Designs’ tone deaf localizations (mostly juvenile humor and vulgarity where there doesn’t need to be, and unnecessarily messing with difficulty balance and gameplay mechanics for the sake of challenge), but they never did anything like this. I can understand a bit of Japanese, so I understand that original Japanese scripts can be quite dry, but filling them with right-wing nonsense is absolutely not the way to go.
I still found the World Heroes quip kinda funny, though.
The awfulness of Working Designs localizations is something else, and transcends politics (indeed they were more on the right side in the nineties then became on the left recently) for they have mangled the majority of NPC message beyond recognition to replace with “jokes”.
At the end of the day, these localizations are, just a few years later, as understandable and intelligent for the casual player as an arcade Quiz game from the late eighties, but I guess the short dopamine rush and few hundred meme retweets for the localization editor’s ego were worth it, huh.
I wonder if it ever occurred to the Daikaiju Monogatari fanslator that it proooobably wasn’t a good idea to go sticking their own politics into the mouth of a violet, innocent-beating slaveowner?
… wait, what?
Where’s the Clinton joke from Lunar Eternal Blue?
“If I had that kind of money, you’d call me Clinton and I’d be president.”
Sega CD version only, it seems?
Yikes, that last one was just bad. Yet another reason i tend to avoid most fan translations (Mother 3 being a rare exception).
Rest assured, this is far from the norm in modern fan translations.
I’ll take your word for it. There’s still several other reasons i tend to avoid those things, most notable being the legal and moral issues.
There’s always the modern fan “re-localizations”, that should be in theory fixes for games like Breath of the Wild 2 and Secret of the Stars to make the text grammatically correct and fix obvious mistranslated lines referencing Japanese original lines, and use consistent terminology with the best term in the series.
However in practice… it’s almost always a political rewrite, a joke rewrite, a fan canon rewrite, or a combination of those, and staying true to the original message or referencing the original lines is explicitly rejected as a goal (which is madness and only leads to cases like “Well come!” in Ocarina of Time fixed back to “Welcome!” in later revisions, because the editor didn’t bother to ask, check translation notes, or original lines, to realize that the character wasn’t supposed to be a fluent speaker, and was weird in general, hence that wording. Or in more extreme cases, mangled lines like “find that person fast” that started as partial translations then embellished by an editor who had no idea what he was doing resulting in something very… different. Or the J2E school of fan translations. But if you are going with a rewrite you have no need for that.)
One example that stands out in particular was a Zelda “relocalization” that used gender-neutral pronouns but insisted that Link’s gender was never specified in the game (it was, even disregarding the side material) and that was a conspiracy by evil Nintendo translators to erase a female/other character. Normally that would be called a rewrite but…
Yeah, ‘fixing’ stuff like “Well come!” annoys me. Another instance in Zelda is changing Richard’s dialogue in LADX from his delightfully British “Smashing!” to the incredibly dull “I am impressed”. It’s like, why???
Apparently “smash” is a euphemism, but I never learned that it was until talk about Smash Bros Ultimate, some it might be more recent than Link to the Past DX.
I know there’s at least one other political joke in SNK translations. In King of Fighters XI, one of Shen Woo’s win quotes is “You are one snoozefest of an opponent. Winning on defense alone? You’re a Democrat?”
I’m not sure what it was in Japanese because only the titles on the Neo Geo are easy to access in Japanese, and XI was the first KoF game to not be on the Neo Geo. So…maybe someday, when MAME supports it and I get actually good at KoF.
It is interesting that the line pops up after the original SNK and even the Neo Geo died. It’s not like SNK translations ever stopped being jokey, they just got steadily less and less weird about it.
In the fan translation of FEDA, an earlier villain is said to be worse than Saddam Hussein by the main characters.
… which, coincidentally, was edited at least in part by the same person who did Daikajuu Monogatari. The readme file suggests it was mostly his specific work.
There are a LOT of Iraq War references in FEDA, some of which are slightly disguised but even more jarring. Early you get to a neutral town and one of the main characters goes on an angry rant about how neutrality is cowardice and bla bla bla – clearly referencing France’s refusal to join in in Iraq, since that’s what WildBill was riled up about at the time and it doesn’t fit with the game at all (at this point you’re running from your own army, but you haven’t switched sides, so you’d think pro-war speeches would be the last thing on the protagonists’ minds…) I played through Shell Monsters Story, too, and the constant nonsense ruined it for me. I haven’t played a Dynamic Designs translation since.
I’ve played a ton of fan translations, though, and most were fine to good. This isn’t representative at all of the overall work being done.
Wasn’t Tomato himself involved with FEDA?
Yeah, I did some early translation work on it for Bongo in like mid-2001 I think, but the project fizzled out. If the final translation has Iraq War references, then I guess it must’ve been picked up and finished a few years after my involvement.
I remember liking the game quite a bit so I’ll have to check out this political FEDA patch someday.
this guy on romhacking clames all his stuff is like this https://www.romhacking.net/reviews/3158 ugh
Romhacking seems to approve of such “translations”. That link you reviewed doesn’t exist anymore and one I submitted one for Shell Story’s “translation” pointing out Wild Bills BS and referencing this page actually. Got a snarky rejection email from a Romhacking goon. We’re reviewing the translations, but apparently pointing out bad translations is too far? RH can get effed, I use Cdromance.com
I actually just removed all of D****** D******’ games from my collection of translations I’m going through. I’m interested in the preservation and enjoyment of videogames, not suffering some manifesto disguised as a translation (of any viewpoint, even those I may agree with).
I don’t really love the idea of adding in politics to game localizations, but that Yokai Watch line got a good laugh out of me.
Do you really think that what they did to Daikaiju Monogatari is acceptable, Mato? Or are you just trying to sound objective – saving personal opinions for comments and such?
He says at the top of the page that he’s staying diplomatically neutral on the subject:
“Please note that I’m not siding with any particular political message in this article – that’s not the purpose of this article. I’m simply showing examples of political messages that have appeared in game translations over the years.”
If you read his long FFIV comparison here, in particular the Mount Ordeals page, you’ll probably get the sense of what he really thinks about it. Which is say critical, but politely so, and wishful things had gone better.
This article is meant as a simple “here’s a list of examples” thing, so it’s not meant to be a commentary on the translation choices themselves. My detailed personal opinions and such would be better suited for one of my localization review articles, but I didn’t play alongside the Japanese version so I can’t really do one of those right now.
But to quickly answer your question, I’m not a huge fan of Working Designs-esque localizations but I also enjoyed the Lunar games back in the day, so I found this localization fun enough in general. I definitely feel it could’ve dialed back the over-the-top writing a bit, particularly with the political jokes. They mostly felt out of place and I felt like they detracted from the script more than they added anything. I also got the feeling that they’d turn some players completely off of the game through no fault of the game itself. Given that, I feel the political additions were a poor choice, but it’s also clear the translation team had a clear vision for what it wanted the translation to be like and stayed true to what it wanted.
I know that Super Shell looked like a game right up my alley, and this translation turned me completely off of it.
Games are an escape mechanism, not another avenue to shove politics down my throat.
So, I have to ask, is this standard cancer for Wildbill, or is this just one project where nobody kept an eye on things?
That fanslation of Daikaijū Monogatari is just painful. It’s one thing to add a few political jabs, but this is full-blown wingnut tirades.
Jesus, I know to skip that Daikaiju Monogatari translation now. I actually had it on my list of games to play. Thanks for the heads up. :\
… okay what the heck is up with the condom line? (It’s one of the ones from the link on the “stop the war” entry)
Those Daikaijū Monogatari examples…wow. There are a couple genuinely funny jokes in there, but then it goes full Fox News Grandpa.
I’m a Bernie supporter and I gotta admit that there are some games that just shouldn’t be political. FF7, Tactics Ogre, and Disco Elysium are very much political. But something like Harvest Moon or Fire Emblem isn’t. Or Daikaiju Monogatari, for that matter. If you’re going to push your politics through a game, try making it a game that actually has something to do with politics.
(However, for the Gamergaters, no, having a trans or black character isn’t “political”.)
And as for Mighty No.9, I just heard it was a bad game, but I don’t really know much about the controversy. Maybe if the genderbent MC had a better design it wouldn’t have been such a problem?
Thanks for this article, a question. Would you be able to tell me which lines are missing in Monogatari and a translation closer to the original game? With that information, maybe I can get someone to modify those parts to remove jokes about human politics from a fantasy game with talking animals. What is the serious point in talking about Soviets and liberals in a fantasy game with medieval overtones? The next thing will be to translate a steampunk game making jokes of feudalism and triumvirates.
Really? No one recognizes that “Give Peace a Chance” is a John Lennon song?
He’s been dead for 41 years, not exactly at the peak of the cultural zeitgeist anymore.