We’ve looked at lots of notoriously bad game translations into English over the years, so a common question I get is: Does Japan have famous bad game translation quotes too?
I’m hardly an expert on the subject, but I’ve listed a few bad English-to-Japanese game translation quotes that I’m familiar with.
This is probably one of the most famous and most widely known bad game translation quotes in Japan. It originates from the Japanese version of S.T.U.N. Runner, an old Atari arcade game that was developed in English first.
The actual phrase is コインいっこ いれる (koin ikko ireru) and is supposed to mean “Insert Coin”, one of the most common arcade game phrases of all time. Japanese players are already familiar with the English phrase (see why here), though, so it didn’t need to be translated at all, plus the fact that 95% of the rest of the game is entirely untranslated makes things weirder.
But most of all, the phrase koin ikko ireru is not how any normal Japanese person would ever say “Insert Coin” in this context. It’s not a grammatical disaster, and it’s obvious what it’s trying to say, but it comes off as so silly and wrong that it’s instantly memorable.
It’s difficult to explain in simple English how this Japanese phrase is wrong, but I feel it’s somewhat similar to our famous “A Winner is You!” line. In that sense, I might vaguely parallel it with a phrase like “Entering the Coin”.
But just when you think koin ikko ireru on the title screen is memorable enough… it keeps showing up everywhere else in the game too!
As a result of all this, koin ikko ireru has become so memorable that it’s still fondly remembered and referenced today:
There’ve been some coincidentally similar mistakes in other games too, including Hard Drivin’, the predecessor to S.T.U.N. Runner:
This is another notoriously bad translation that Japanese gamers like to poke fun at. It originates from Pit Fighter, an Atari fighting game from the early 1990s.
In the English version of the game, if you defeat an opponent badly enough, you’ll receive a message that says “Brutality Bonus” at the end of a stage. In Japanese, this was translated as 残虐行為手当 (zangyaku kōi teate).
|Pit Fighter (Arcade, English)||Pit Fighter (Arcade, Japanese)|
The thing is, it does roughly mean “brutality bonus” in the intended sense of getting extra money for being brutal, but it’s such a bizarre, over-the-top, and memorable phrase in Japanese that it’s akin to our famous “You spoony bard!” line – it’s not “wrong”, but boy does it stand out.
As a bonus to sounding hilarious, the translation can also have somewhat different meanings depending on the context or how you parse the phrase, including “cruelty medical treatment” and “atrocious action benefits package”. And on top of all that, the same line was used in multiple versions of the game! This further solidified Pit Fighter‘s reputation for having a hilariously bad translation.
|Pit Fighter (Sega Genesis, English)||Pit Fighter (MegaDrive, Japanese)|
As you might expect, zangyaku kōi teate is still referenced to this day:
There are so many language issues in Pit Fighter, S.T.U.N. Runner, and other Atari games that a new word was born: アタリ語 (atari go, "Atari-isms").
This one’s a little different from the others. It’s not so much a popular bad translation as a notorious bad translation that got people upset. It’s from Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, during a mission called “No Russian”.
|Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (English)||Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (Japanese)|
The idea of this mission is that you’re trying to make an attack on a Russian airport seem like it was perpetrated by Americans. So at the start of the mission, this guy says, “Remember, no Russian.” meaning, “Remember, don’t speak anything in Russian.”
The Japanese translators misunderstood this line as “no Russians”, so the text wound up saying, “Kill them. They’re Russian.” Even the Japanese voice actor says this incorrect line. Here’s a video of both versions:
I’m not really familiar with the Call of Duty series, so I’m not sure what this translation mistake results in. I’ve heard that this scene was already incredibly difficult and controversial around the world, so I imagine this mistranslation made matters worse. I do recall seeing a lot of frustration and Japanese articles about this mistake at the time, and I see it referenced frequently whenever the topic of bad game translation comes up on Japanese sites.
I’ve only covered a few examples here, but hopefully this article has given you an informative look into the Japanese world of bad game translation. There are certainly many more examples out there that deserve a spot on this list, so if you know of any infamous bad translations into Japanese, let me know and I’ll update this page from time to time.
Also, if you speak a different language, what bad translation quotes are famous where you’re from? I bet every culture has its own “All Your Base” stuff that the rest of the world would love to learn about!
If you liked this look at English-to-Japanese translation problems in video games, you'll definitely love this article about specific causes and this list of popular/unpopular Western game localizations into English!