Probably one of the most infamous video game translations of all time is from an old Sega Mega Drive/Genesis game called Zero Wing. Its “All your base are belong to us” line is still quoted regularly to this day!
I’m not sure about everyone else, but I first heard about this quote thanks to this amazing video by the goony denizens of Something Awful back in the early 2000s:
Anyway, I’m sure Zero Wing’s text has been analyzed and re-translated and all that stuff for a long time now, but just for fun I thought I’d take a look at this famous scene too!
We’ve seen before that old Japanese games would often write everything in English (example), so at first I assumed that maybe the Japanese version of Zero Wing was that way too. But nope, the Japanese version has a Japanese script… and it actually comes off as kind of cool when paired with the cinematics of the opening scene!
|Zero Wing (Japanese)
|Zero Wing (English)
So, let’s take a look at the text side-by-side:
|In 2101 A.D.
|In A.D. 2101
|war breaks out.
|war was beginning.
|A spaceship starts to explode
|Captain: What in the world is going on?!
|Captain: What happen ?
|Engineer: It appears someone has planted explosives.
|Mechanic: Somebody set up us the bomb.
|Communications Operator: Captain! We’ve received a transmission!
|Operator: We get signal.
|Captain: What !
|Communications Operator: Incoming visual on the main screen.
|Operator: Main screen turn on.
|Captain: It’s you !!
|CATS: You look busy, gentlemen.
|CATS: How are you gentlemen !!
|CATS: With the help of Federation government forces, CATS has taken all of your bases.
|CATS: All your base are belong to us.
|CATS: The end is nigh for your ship as well.
|CATS: You are on the way to destruction.
|Captain: Th-this can’t be…!
|Captain: What you say !!
|CATS: We are grateful for your cooperation.
|CATS: Treasure what little time you have left to live….
|CATS: You have no chance to survive make your time.
|CATS: Ha ha ha ha ha…
|CATS: Ha ha ha ha ….
|Communications Operator: Captain…
|Operator: Captain !!
|Captain: All ZIGs are ordered to launch!!
|Captain: Take off every ‘ZIG’!!
|Captain: Our only option now is to entrust this to them.
|Captain: You know what you doing.
|Captain: May there be hope for our future…
|Captain: Move ‘ZIG’.
|Captain: We’re counting on you, ZIGs!!
|Captain: For great justice.
The basic translation I’ve provided needs some polishing work, but it shows what the original script was going for… and possibly shows how the official translation wound up the way it did. Although some parts of the official translation still mystify me – like, what the heck is “You have no chance to survive make your time?” supposed to mean?
There are a couple other quick points of interest though!
- The captain’s Japanese line of “一体どうしたと言んだ！” actually appears to be a typo – it should really say 一体どうしたと言うんだ instead. So I guess the Japanese writers might’ve been a bit sloppy too, but the script’s overall quality is still way higher than the English script.
- The official English script has one line removed.
- Apostrophes are consistently placed around ZIG in the English translation. Japanese scripts often give this treatment to unique proper nouns, so it’s interesting to see that it’s the English script that got handled this way while the original Japanese text didn’t.
- The Japanese script makes heavy use of ellipses of varying lengths. This is pretty common in Japanese entertainment, as discussed in this previous article!
Just for further fun and future reference, here are screenshots of this entire scene in action!
It’s pretty clear that a non-native speaker was responsible for translating the script, and that nobody on the Japanese side of the project really batted an eye at the result. But I’m actually glad that this translation exists – it brought a lot of laughs and the response outside of Japan probably helped some companies realize the importance of hiring real translators.
You know, given how short this game is, maybe I should do a full, dedicated localization analysis of Zero Wing. I think it’d be fun to dig into it and maybe find some more info I never knew about!