A reader named Ryan sent me a question a while back that I’ve had on my mind for a while, so I’ll share it with everyone!
Hi there. As long as you are on a Metroid streak with your last few posts, I thought I’d bring this up. I recently dusted off Super Metroid and played through it (beating it in a little over 5 hours — I think it took me the better part of a year when I was a kid).
On a whim (and after reading your site), I turned on “Japanese text” mode for the first time, expecting it to replace everything with Japanese localization. I was surprised when I found literally all of the UI and gameplay text was still in English, with a little (but not all) of the story and announcement text subtitled in Japanese. If I didn’t know better, I would have guessed Super Metroid was developed by an American team, then hastily given a Japanese once-over.
Were there any other games of the time given this sort of treatment?
I was actually pleasantly surprised when I first realized that Super Metroid had a Japanese text option. I had juuust started to get into studying Japanese, but with so little Japanese stuff available where I lived I took whatever scraps I could find. As a result, the Japanese word for “Metroid” was probably among the first few dozen Japanese words I learned 😛
Anyway, to briefly recap, Super Metroid has an English language option and a Japanese language option:
I’m not 100% sure since I don’t have my Japanese copy anymore, but I was under the impression that the Japanese version of Super Metroid is THE exact same as the English version, with every single bit and byte the exact same in both versions. If so, this was probably done to save on manufacturing costs, and because there’s so little text in the game to begin with, having a text option in both versions wasn’t a hassle. I might be wrong, though, so if I am please let me know!
So, when you select the Japanese text option, you’d think the game would change all the text and audio into Japanese… but it doesn’t. Instead, it adds Japanese subtitles to the bottom of the screen whenever special English text appears on the screen. Here are some examples from the intro story:
Even the present-day stuff gets this treatment, including text that appears while you play:
It looks like the only time Japanese text fully replaces English text is in the config menus:
The equipment menu and all that remains in English regardless of the language setting, as we’ve seen before.
So, in all, the Japanese text option is basically the exact same as the English option but with Japanese subtitles added to the bottom. From a Japanese player’s standpoint this actually gives it a really cool, cinematic vibe, like you’re playing/watching a Hollywood sci-fi movie or something. It’s pretty neat! And the English text compared with the simplified Japanese text does make me wonder if big parts of it were developed or written outside of Japan.
Anyway, the question is, “Are there any other games from this time that do this sort of thing too?”
Off the top of my head, I can’t really think of any. The very first thing that came to mind was Super Punch-Out and its secret name registration screen – if you hold X and A when you start a new game, you can enter your name in Japanese instead of just English. And since it was a Nintendo-made game from the same time, this dual-language thing probably wasn’t a coincidence. But this trick doesn’t change the game’s language or add subtitles or anything, so it’s not quite the same.
…So it’s time to open this question up to everyone! Do you know of any Japanese games that are basically entirely in English but have a Japanese option that still keeps everything mostly in English? There’s gotta be some more out there, so I’m really curious to know!