Memes and References in Video Game Translations


We’ve already looked at many examples of how pop culture references and Internet memes were added into video game translations. For example:

Since this is such a common topic of discussion, I thought it’d be helpful to compile a big gallery of examples for reference purposes and just for fun.

Quick Note

I’m only focusing on references and memes that were added into official game translations. In other words, if a game originally had a reference and it was replaced by a different reference during the translation process, I won’t include it here.

I’ve only just started this gallery, so it’s pretty bare at the moment. I hope to update it from time to time with new examples, so if you can provide any example screenshots of your own, let me know in the comments or on Twitter!

Breath of Fire (Super NES)

Disgaea 2 (Multi-platform)

Dragon Warrior III (Game Boy Color)

Etrian Odyssey Untold: The Millennium Girl (3DS)

Final Fantasy (Multi-platform)

Final Fantasy IV (Game Boy Advance)

Final Fantasy V (Game Boy Advance)

Final Fantasy VI (Game Boy Advance)

Grandia II (Multi-platform)

The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes (3DS)

Lunar: Silver Star Story (PlayStation)

Phantasy Star Universe (Multi-platform)

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Trials and Tribulations (Multi-platform)

Rune Factory 4 (3DS)

Tales of Zestiria (Multi-platform)

Xenoblade Chronicles (Multi-platform)

Xenoblade Chronicles X (Wii U)

Yakuza 0 (Multi-platform)

Yoshi’s Island (Super NES)

So Many More

This gallery barely even scratches the surface of all the references and memes added into game translations over the years. I plan to update this article from time to time with more examples, so if you have any screenshots of your own, let me know in the comments or on Twitter.

Also, if you like this sort of stuff, check out my book This be book bad translation, video games! - it looks at the history of bad game translations from the 1970s until today, and how bad translations have actually evolved over time!

  1. In the Italian translation of Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, the Pianta lovers are named Romaletta and Guiliano after Romeo and Juliet. In the Spanish translation, Rawk Hawk is called Hawk Hogan (after Hulk Hogan), and makes fun of Super Smash Bros. Melee.

  2. You sure about the Something awful reference? Doing X “something awful” has been a thing in English since long before the website ever existed.

    1. I agree. I know the folks who worked on that translation, and I don’t think any of them hang out on that site. I also use that phrase in my work without referencing (at least not consciously). It seems to date back to the early 20th century (1903 at the earliest).

      1. Also, I used a Planet of the Apes reference in Arc the Lad: Twilight of the Spirits, but they changed it before publication. 🙁 It’s in the guidebook, though!

      2. The FFVI Advance “Cefca” example probably isn’t a reference to the fan translation. As has been mentioned a few times on this site, his name has always been spelled that way in Japanese material.

        1. oops, replied to the wrong comment again, this site’s layout is confusing

    2. SA users are called “goons”. It’s a little too much to be a coincidence.

    3. Yeah, I’m like 99% certain. The Something Awful community is collectively known as “goons”, and there are a handful of other Internet references added to the script.

      Also, in answer to Nora’s question, I don’t have any links handy, but I also vaguely recall reading that these references were done by an editor who hangs/hung out on SA and not necessarily by the translator.

  3. whew, I personally find most “modern”(let’s just say like 2004-) internet memes very hard to stomach when playing a game. This is a really entertaining and informative read though, thanks.
    one random reference I know of (but of which I don’t know whether it was *added* in the translation – so this may well be useless info, apologies in advance) is in valkyria chronicles 4: a gurren lagann reference from raz that you get from the mess hall on the ship sometime

    1. And, while not a meme exactly, the localization named most of the side chapters with names close to famous war movies. I meant to do an article on that, but time…!

      1. heh, I guess these things are almost the norm. I think there was a very obvious “saving private x” one, naturally.
        Thank you so much for all your translation & comparison work, really appreciate stuff like that!

  4. Great collection of examples! I think within these we can see two approaches to pop cultural references here – some are dropped in so obviously that you’d know it *must* be a reference even if you don’t know what it’s referencing, and others are more subtle, such that you’ll only notice if you already know what it’s referencing. I’m a fan of the more subtle approach. Make it too obvious, and your gam starts to read like an episode of Family Guy. In these examples, the Final Fantasy IV GBA references are very tastefully done, while the Final Fantasy V ones are a bit glaring.

    There’s also a difference in what you can get away with based on the setting. Phoenix Wright is set in a roughly contemporaneous setting to the modern day, so it can get away with more references (although it still generally manages to keep them tastefully underdone), whereas hearing somebody talking about pizza in a Final Fantasy-style high fantasy setting is hugely immersion-breaking.

    1. Interdimensional Observer

      Think I have to agree that subtle is best, ideally so subtle, that you might not even be able to tell they’re memes. Some of the things above I just brushed aside as normal lines or slightly creative “original” ones not knowing the truth.

      As for FFV, I’m not fond of memes in the slightest and don’t pay any attention to them, but it does try to add a little zest to the plot. Perhaps it’s because it’s sandwiched in retrospect between the generic-but-dramatic IV, and the more creative and still dramatic VI, but V’s plot is dull, and a little humor spices this up. Still one of my favorite FFs though, because gameplay-wise, Job System >>>> any combat system from 3, 6-8, or 10 (haven’t touched IX or XII yet).

      By the way, what of Bartz’s “cheese biscuits” line? I forget how it completely went, nor when it was exactly, but I know it was early, maybe by the time you get the Fire-Powered Ship?

      And Lunar looks like translation lunacy to me. Referencing the Skittles slogan via a minor NPC is within the line, outright naming a modern branded mass production candy, not one, but twice, is crossing it without the slightest care. If I ever had the chance to emulate this glorious JRPG of yesteryear (but first comes TearRing Saga), is there any legendary-liberties-free version? Would that GBA retooling suffice?

      And as for that “burninate” thing, if that is a meme, well I’m surprised there is not a pict of Riki using his Burninate art in Xenoblade Chronicles. An actual attack (accompanied by an icy “Freezinate”), and not just a one-off item description or line of dialogue, referencing a meme, is perhaps significant.

      1. You referring to this line from FFV?

        Is that a reference to something?

      2. As a long-suffering Lunar fan, I can only endorse the SegaCD games, which have only a Working Designs translation(which isn’t near as bad as everyone likes to pretend).
        I say this as someone who considers the original version of Lunar II: Eternal Blue to be one of the best JRPGs ever made, whose introduction to JRPGs was actually Lunar: The Silver Star, and who originally bought a PS1 explicitly for Silver Star Story.

        The Saturn remake(Silver Star Story) that all subsequent versions are based on missed the complete point of the game, and it is less of a masterpiece than it is a slap to the face.
        Say what you will about Working Designs inserting a Tootsie Pop reference, but GAME ARTS is the party responsible for turning Nash from an arrogant prodigy into an ignorant buffoon, then writing out his epic badass triple-cross so they could STUFF HIM IN A CHICKEN SUIT.

        The best thing Game Arts has done with Lunar since series creators Studio Alex folded is NOT remaking Eternal Blue again. At least the BEST game has been spared more of their merciless hackjobs.
        On the other hand, Game Arts was also the company that forced Studio Alex into bankruptcy, so… no forgiveness.

        To answer your actual question, the GBA reremake should be a fresh translation(I think it was localized by Ubisoft).
        But even ignoring that it is a blasphemous mockery of Althena’s holy word, it is a poor adaptation that is ineptly executed. Hell, the title screen uses music from a different game, and music with a somber tone ill-fitting the happy-go-lucky adventure presented. Poorly-rendered music, on top of it all, which is particularly galling given how important music has always been to Lunar, both in terms of in-game setting and real-world marketing.
        In short, it is a BAD GAME(which is why WD opted not to bring it over themselves).

        And this is the SHORT version of my post. I accidentally hit something and lost the much larger rant I’d originally produced. Now if you’ll excuse me, the memories of Nash in a friggin’ chicken suit have sent my blood pressure through the roof.

    2. I agree. I’m not opposed to references being added to translations, but I prefer that some thought actually go into them so they actually make sense in the context of a game world. The Something Awful reference in FF IV is one that’s not too bad, as its not immediately obvious and actually sounds like something Cid might say.

      On the other hand just having characters reference something from our world that shouldn’t exist in the game’s, (Bill Clinton and Oscars in Lunar for example.) or having them suddenly say a Engrishy line from an old 8 bit video game breaks immersion and tends more often than not to just come across as cringy. It also comes across to me as a really lazy way to try to inject humor into a game’s script.

  5. When I saw this article, I immediately thought of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: All Star Battle’s reference to The Room.

  6. In ther 3DS game “The Alliance alive”, one character says “Yippee ki yay, mother ducker” during a major story event.

  7. I remember seeing a “For great justice” in Neptunia mk2. And honestly – with a character always talking about “justice” this and “justice” that, in a game with tons of references including memes, I thought it was just a matter of time before she would drop that line – and I wasn’t disappointed

  8. Xenoblade Chronicles for Wii had an achievement that referenced the Jem TV series. Think it was called “Truly Outrageous”.

  9. Around half of the stage names in Splatoon 2’s Octo Expansion are references to ’80s stuff, like MC Hammer, Back to the Future, Ghostbusters, Jem and the Holograms, and more. It’s honestly a little impressive.

  10. I’ll have to break out the Sega Saturn version of the first Lunar game. I’m relatively sure there’s a line in the starting city where you inspect a cow and your little cat-dragon friend references the “Milk: it does a body good” campaign.

  11. The Lunar games and Final Fantasy XIV are so chock-full of them that I wouldn’t even know where to begin giving examples.

    1. I’m trying to think of some from FFXV, but there aren’t many. One thing I remember is Prompto singing the beginning of “We’re in the Money” just because it’s so bizarre. It’s a song from a 1930s movie that I have literally never heard referenced anywhere else.

      1. We’re in the Money has been used in the Merrie Melodies cartoon of the same name as well as other productions. It’s actually pretty popular.

  12. I can’t do all of SNK’s references, I haven’t even started with KoF yet. But I’ll do what I can. – “Wubba wubba. I’m in the pink today, boy!” Terry Bogard standard win quote, Fatal Fury Special (1993). I believe this is a reference to Downtown Julie Brown, who made “wubba wubba” a catchphrase of hers in the early 90s. – “Oh Andy, you’ve become so strong. Not!” Terry Bogard win quote against Andy, Fatal Fury Special (1993). I’m not sure if this is a proper reference, since you can make the argument that “…not!” passed into standard American lingo instead of always being a reference to Wayne’s World. I bring it up because SNK /kept doing it/. “…not!” is there all the way up to SNK vs Capcom: Chaos in 2003. – “Challenge me? ya hot, spunky kid. I hate spunk.” Wolfgang Krauser standard intro quote, Fatal Fury Special (1993). Mary Taylor Moore Show reference. – “To challenge me is to listen to Madonna at a celibacy meeting!” Wolfgang Krauser’s intro against Billy Kane, Fatal Fury Special (1993). Madonna reference. – “Why, by the hairs of my chengny, cheng, cheng… It’s Cheng!” Terry Bogard after fighting Geese, Fatal Fury 3 (1995) Goldilocks reference. – “Well, if it isn’t Rambette. Hon Fu, Hong Kong police.” Hon Fu intro on the Blue Mary route, Fatal Fury 3 (1995) Rambo reference. In Japanese the line is “おいら、ランボー者やなかぞ”, which could be read as a Rambo reference or not. (I am, honestly, a bit unsure about how to handle that one myself.) – “Mr. Ryo Sakazaki? The police commissioner would like a word with you. Could you walk this way?”/”If I could walk that way…sure. I’ll come along.” Ryo Sakazaki getting picked up for the secret boss fight in Art of Fighting 2 (1994) Not sure how much this counts, but I’ll toss it in anyway. SNK used the same “walk this way” gag twice in Art of Fighting 2, with Mr. Big getting the reply “Hmm. Okay. I’ll go with you but I can’t walk that way. Bad leg.” (I don’t have screenshots of this yet)

    There are, of course, tons more I don’t have screenshots of yet, from “feed me Seymour!” in KoF2002 to “Did you see me, mom?! I… I won! King of the world!” in KoF98 for the things I know about. Then there’s the stuff where I don’t know if it’s a reference or not. Anyone know where “that’s the pepper!” came from?

  13. Project X Zone 2 has, among many other references, a reference to Action 52/Cheetahmen:

    “Hey, now! You’re an all-star!” from Superdimension Neptune vs Sega Hard Girls:

    1. Project X Zone 2 is almost the same in Japanese. Xiaomu references lots of game and anime in general, but the localization took the time to turn the references up to 11 and higher. XD

  14. Great list! Here’s one from Radiant Historia (Nintendo DS): – Reference to the song “I Ran”

    Dynamite Headdy could also account for a list unto itself, since all the stage names were changed to movie references.

  15. As much as I like the GBA Final Fantasy translations, the pop culture references felt a little forced. Not “Working Designs” bad, but cringe worthy at times. On the other hand, various Mario pop culture references just kinda work for me, probably because most of the time even if someone doesn’t “get” the reference, it still usually works as a goofy name. Boo Diddley for example.

  16. Hey Mato, I’ve got some more references from FFV GBA that you missed, and a request!
    (Sorry for phone quality)

    I’d like to know if you could go through the whole cutscene that last screenshot is from, because I suspect it’s got a lot going on as far as localization goes. Ghido spends a large chunk of it making fun of Bartz’s “Metal Gear???” habit (repeating a noun from the other person’s sentence as a question). This happens a lot in JRPGs that I’ve played, and it always makes the character sound some level of stupid, at least it does in English. My suspicion, given the tone of the rest of the GBA version’s localization, is that the Japanese “played it straight”, but I’d love to know for sure. I actually had a separate save file so that I could send you pictures of the whole thing in English, but apparently loading a quicksave resets the file the save menu selects by default; meaning I accidentally saved over it. D’oh!

    I’m also curious to hear more generally what you think about the localizer’s philosophy for this port. I know FFV is often forgotten, or remembered as being bland, so I can see the motivation for them to make things more fun. I know that the playfulness of the dialogue absolutely improved my enjoyment, although I could have done without the pop culture references themselves.

    Also, here’s hoping someday you give FFV the same treatment that you gave IV and VI. Looking forward to finally reading through those articles once I finish those games.

    1. I’ve actually sent him screenshots of most of the main script in English, so he should at least have that already.

      1. That’s awesome! I hope that means he’ll have time to look into it.

  17. Ugh, I think we have gone a bit overboard with the memes for one lifetime.
    Come up with some original material folks, please. :/
    And most of em aren’t even funny, but nonetheless good article.