Games with Famous Bad Translations INTO Japanese

51 Comments

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.

I hope to update this article once in a while, so if you know of any other examples that belong on this page let me know!

Bad Translation #1: koin ikko ireru

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”.

If you’re studying Japanese and wonder why the Japanese phrase is a problem, it’s primarily because it’s a plain verb and not a command or request. It almost feels like some random guy was like “hmm I wonder how you say ‘insert’ in Japanese”, looked it up in a dictionary, and used the first thing that they found, without considering how verbs actually work.
This line from Pro Wrestling (NES) is one of the most famous bad game translation quotes in English, but imagine trying to explain why it's so weird to someone who doesn't know much English

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:

Bad Translation #2: zangyaku kōi teate

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).

Image 1Image 2

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.

Image 1Image 2

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").

Bad Translation #3: “Kill Them, They’re Russian”

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”.

Image 1Image 2

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.

And Many More

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!

51 Comments
  1. I love that the first two examples are both from Atari Games arcade titles.

    Reply
    1. Me too. I also love that in STUN Runner, it appears to be the ONLY text they translated. Why even bother at that point when the only words you’re translating are words the audience already knows?
      And even if they didn’t know… it isn’t exactly HARD to figure out that flashing words on an arcade screen always mean either “game over” or “insert coin”.

      Reply
  2. Out of curiosity as a very poor Japanese speaker, how would you phrase “please insert coin”? I don’t see anything wrong except that I think 枚 is used for coins and maybe it missing a ください on the end.

    Reply
    1. I would write it as “koin o ireyo,” but I’m an ancient samurai, so I’m allowed.

      Reply
    2. I’m also a pretty poor Japanese reader, but I’ve been wondering the same thing, about this and about a similar comment on the last post.

      In this case, I think part of the problem is that 入れる is the plain form of the verb, so the phrase is more like a factual description of what’s being done to the coin, rather than an instruction to do something with it. “You’re inserting a coin,” perhaps.

      You’re correct that a fairly standard way of making it an instruction or request in polite Japanese would be to make it 入れて下さい, but then it reads more as “Please insert a coin,” which at least in English would come across as unnecessarily polite and wordy and would probably also seem awkward on a game’s title screen.

      Now, the last post includes a screenshot of another game that instead uses the imperative form to write “PUSH START” as スタートを押せ, which the subtitle explains is a really pushy way of commanding someone to do something. So that verb form isn’t great for this purpose either.

      So I’m not sure what else that leaves as a good native Japanese equivalent of “PUSH START” or “INSERT COIN.” There’s probably some clever colloquial way of phrasing it that they just don’t teach you in basic Japanese lessons, though.

      Reply
    3. From what I can tell it’s almost always been “Insert Coin” even since the 1970s. There are variations but they’re in English too, like “Deposit Coin” or “1 Coin = 1 Credit”. It’s actually hard to find any examples of it written in Japanese, even in the most insanely Japanese culture-heavy arcade games it’s always just “Insert Coin” everywhere I look. But I imagine it’d be something like コインを入れてください or a variation of it.

      If anyone out there knows of any Japanese arcade games that don’t use English for “Insert Coin” let me know!

      Reply
      1. Here are a couple. Neither is quite straightforward, but yeah, pretty much that.

        http://www.system16.com/hardware.php?id=510
        Kosodate Quiz My Angel 1&2: コインを入れてね

        http://www.system16.com/hardware.php?id=733
        PT Reach Mahjong: コイン マタハ メタルヲ イレテ クダサイ

        Reply
  3. In one pirated russian translation of Startcraft, Overmind was translated as “Nadmozg” – that is, “above-brain”. It’s got so memetic that it became a slang term for bad translators.

    On a less videogame-related note, one fansub for Death Note translated “God pisses me off” as “Piss on me, God”

    Reply
  4. I find ‘Totally studly!’ silly enough. (Maybe that’s an age-related and/or geographical thing though.)

    Reply
  5. Recently i have been playing Zone of The Enders HD Collection and i have been noticing some really bad translations mistakes in portuguese. Mostly the text is translated literally (and it change the meaning of certain phrases), one phrase in the ‘st game suddenly change to spanish at one point, but the most remarkable error is a “text temporary” text in one of the cutscenes of the 1st game. Luckly, the game is enjoyable even with that.

    (Sorry for my english)

    Reply
  6. What Dragon Quest game was that screenshot from? I’ve been playing through the series over the last year, and currently up to VII. Even though i’m still a bit new to the series, i’ve quickly become fascinated with it and am super curious if that screen came from one of the later games i haven’t gotten to yet, or from one of the bajillion spin-off titles.

    Reply
    1. Given that the phrasing mentions “a Dragon Quest player,” I’m compelled to assume it’s from DQ10 — the only series entry to be an MMO, and thus the only one that allows for player text entry.

      I also don’t recognize it, and I’ve played every other entry in the series. 🙂

      Reply
      1. Oh, I guess that makes since.

        It sucks that that’s the only numbered entry that hasn’t gotten a US release yet, but then, I don’t really like MMOs, so i’d likely have still skipped it anyway.

        Reply
        1. I expect I’d have tried it out, since I’m a huge Dragon Quest fan, but, yeah, my MMO days are mainly behind me.

          Reply
      2. Yeah, it’s 10, which is oddly enough the one DQ game I’ve spent the most time playing. Although it was only so I could get 3DS screenshots for my Funky Fantasy IV book 😛

        Reply
  7. Interesting article. It’s hard to understand why the Japanese find those particular lines so funny without knowing Japanese, I wonder if they feel the same confusion with our “All your base” and “son of a submariner/spoony bard” famous lines and why we find them funny.

    Reply
    1. That’s actually a common comment I see: “Why is ‘all your base are belong to us’ wrong and apparently funny?”

      I also often see people try to explain why it’s wrong, but the explanations aren’t quite right either. Explaining how language works is hard, but explaining how wrong language works is much harder in my experience 😯

      Reply
  8. Jean-Baptiste Tell

    Not a native speaker, but let me take a shot at explaining why someone might find those lines to be kinda hilarious.

    1. Literally, a reader will interpret the line to mean “You will insert a coin,” like the game is a fortune teller telling you about something that’s about to happen in the near future or a hypnotist trying to get you to do something (“You are getting very sleepy… You will insert a coin…”)

    2. The word for bonus they chose (teate) is very corporate. Think words like “medical benefits,” “housing allowance,” “year end bonus,” and the like. So when used within the context of a “brutal act bonus,” it might conjure up images of someone reading through their very boring employment contract and going down the list like, “Medical benefits? Yup, that’s there. Relocation allowance? Yup. Per diem is good. And the brutal act bonus. Yeah, everything checks out.”

    Reply
    1. For #1, your reading is incorrect. The “commanding” forms would be 入れ 入れろ 入れよう, least to most polite. 入れる which is plain form just looks like an incomplete sentence.

      But there is something like that in a Japanese game. Tsukihime has a line あなたは犯人です (you are the villain) which was typo’d to あなたを犯人です… which is not really grammatical but sounds like “you’ll be made into the villain”. So the joke is the speaker is hypnotizing you.

      Reply
      1. *more to less direct, none of them are polite

        Reply
      2. I actually think you might be misinterpreting the person you’re responding to here.

        They’re not saying that 入れる is a command, they’re saying “You will insert a coin” in the same sense as “Jim will insert a coin.”

        Saying “Jim will insert a coin” doesn’t mean you’re *commanding* Jim to insert a coin, but it does imply that you know he will insert a coin in the future, as if you’re some sort of fortuneteller.

        As far as I know, this reading would be valid for the original Japanese, where there is no distinction between present and future tense. “You insert a coin” would be another possibility, and similar things along those lines.

        Of course, it can be confusing to explain this distinction in English, where the imperative form of a verb *is* the plain form.

        Reply
  9. Some Swedish ones I can think of, no idea about notoriety, but here goes.

    In the subtitles of one of the Lethal Weapon moves, the phrase “Internal Affairs”, as in those who investigate the police themselves, internally, was translated as “Inferno Affären”, as in the translator misinterpreted the word internal as inferno. This wouldn’t necessarily even be an incorrect phrase, assuming it regarded some kind of investigation of something named, or nicknamed, Inferno (a word which means the same thing in Swedish), but comes across as very goofy and out of place.

    One episode of The Simpsons had the words “deep-fry” somehow become “djupfrysa”, as in to put something in a freezer until frozen solid.

    A particularly quaint example was that in the 80’s, someone decided that they would try to localize Hokuto No Ken, or Fist Of The North Star, into Swedish, at a time of stricter censorship, the result feeling like they were intending to pass off a VERY violent seinen anime as a children’s cartoon.
    Using the English translation as a starting point, which at that time very peculiarly titled it “Bearfist Ken”, or something along those lines, coming out as “Ken, Björnnäven”, meaning the same thing, and being as awkward.
    You have narration which is supposed to be describing two celestial bodies, somehow turning out into the sentence “I universum finns två planeter.” meaning “There are two planets in the universe.”, presented as if they were saying there were literally only two.
    The hero Ken, describing his famously gory martial arts, says “Shinken har inga fiender.”, the translator COMPLETELY failing to understand the phrase “Has no equals” to mean “Has no enemies”, with Ken thus saying his martial art having no enemies, making zero sense in Swedish.
    The famous “Omaeu Wa Mou, Shindeiru.”, “You are already dead.” becomes “Du är redan död.”, correct, but delivered in a VERY peculiar and informal manner, the word “är” reduced to basically the letter E, pronounced as a short “eeh”, and the last d in “Död” ommitted, sounding very informal and ill fitting for the character (the voice the actor was putting on, being very ill fitting and sounding more like something fit for children’s cartoons).
    You wouldn’t deliver it like this to someone you just fought to the death, it sounds more like something you’d say casually, in an almost upbeat manner, to someone you beat in a videogame.
    Of course, since this was also censored, as Swedish media at the time interpreting anything animated as only for children and youth, ever, the famously graphical shots of heads and other bodyparts rupturing violently and viscerally, are fully censored and cut out, frames edited to make the characters in question just limply and anti-climatically fall over, with no blood, not even using the less visually graphic silhoutted monochrome shots.

    To nobody’s surprise, Fist Of The North Star with all the graphic violence edited out, and with a very awkward and unfitting dub, didn’t garner any market interest, and they only released one VHS tape with three episodes.
    If you want to see how out of place a lot of the voice acting is, or how censored it was, you can find clips of it on YouTube, search for “Ken Björnnäven”, or plain “Fist Of The North Star Swedish”

    Reply
  10. In Russian-speaking countries, many older games had unlicensed machine translation, which resulted in a whole bunch of weird stuff (that I wish I had time to gather and research) but the most memetic one is probably how “Wasted” from GTA San Andreas became “Потрачено” (Potracheno) – which sort of means “spent” as in, money. Not only was it completely unrelated to the event it was tied to, it also has an unusual for it grammatical form (passive voice and neutral grammatical gender), so it really stood out. In Russian-speaking gaming (and not only) circles it’s been serving the same semantic function as “F/Press F to pay respects”

    My personal favorite though is the one from Sonic Adventure 2 copy that I had, where “I’m Shadow the Hedgehog, the ultimate life form” became “I’m shadow of the poorcupine, the only life from there”. Or how Rouge the Bat became “blushing bludgeon” in the same translation. Those are not as famous but they’re dear to my heart.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *