What River City Ransom’s Famous “BARF!” Quote Said in Japanese

18 Comments

Fans of the NES classic River City Ransom have fond memories of a certain line in the game: enemies will occasionally shout “BARF!” when they get hit. In fact, if you ever see someone mention the game online, you’ll almost certainly see a “BARF!” reference in there somewhere:

But why do all these characters in the game say “BARF”? And what do they say in the original Japanese release? Let’s start by taking a look at both versions of the line:

I'm gonna HURL you so far, Ralph!I'm gonna HURL you so far, Ralph!
Japanese VersionEnglish Version
Gehh!BARF!

In the Japanese version, characters shout “Gehh!”, which is more of a sound effect word than an actual word. It can have different meanings in different situations – in this particular case it’s a sound effect that indicates choking, gagging, or violently coughing something up. Based on this, I believe “Gehh!” in the Japanese game suggests coughing up blood rather than vomiting up food or stomach contents.

With this in mind, the “BARF!” line in the English version makes a little more sense. By itself, “barf” isn’t really an English sound effect word – unless there are rare people who shout “barf!” as they’re actually barfing – so something like “Argh!” or “Blergh!” would’ve been a closer translation to the originally intended line.

Even so, “BARF!” is a great example of how a translated line can unintentionally surpass its original version. I doubt Japanese fans have fond memories – or any memories at all – of the generic “Gehh!” line from the original game, but English-speaking fans still quote River City Ransom‘s “BARF!” line to this day. In fact, the line is so iconic that it was kept in the script in later games in the series:

I briefly looked into River City: Rival Showdown for the 3DS but couldn’t tell if they include a “BARF!” line or not. There are also lots of other games in the series I probably haven’t even heard of, so if you know of any other instances of “BARF!” please let me know!

I never really thought about it until now, but the continued life of “BARF!” almost makes it like a proto-Spoony Bard. I wonder what other long-living translation gems exist out there in the same way.

Still, just think – whoever came up with the “BARF” translation for the very first game probably never imagined it would become a key part of the series for the next 30 years. At the very least, hopefully they know that it still lives in fans’ hearts to this day.

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18 Comments
  1. It’s not a line per se, but the character in Ni no Kuni who gives out the “find my diary” quests looks *exactly* like Hercule Poirot ( http://www.agathachristie.com/attachments/uploaded-images/thumbs/DAVID__jpg_235x611_q95.jpg ) — there’s nothing in the localised version to indicate that this is an intentional reference (he just speaks in a garbage dialect), but I was curious if something in the Japanese made it clear whether this was pure coincidence or not.

    Reply
    1. Haven’t not played Ni no Kuni I can’t say much, but a quick search on Japanese sites shows that Japanese players strongly see the same connection too.

      Here’s an example – check for quest “81”: http://ps3avfunc.blog29.fc2.com/blog-entry-1220.html First they blog writer calls him Great Detective Poirot, then crosses it out and just writes “gentleman” 😛

      Reply
      1. Ah, interesting. The first time you meet the character, he has a bit of dialogue (in the English, anyway) about his “maiden aunt,” which, combined with his appearance, made me very suspicious — the “maiden aunt” bit seemed like it might be an oblique reference to Agatha Christie’s other famous detective, Miss Marple.

        A bit of research turns up an anime series based on Poirot and Miss Marple that ran in Japan a few years back: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agatha_Christie's_Great_Detectives_Poirot_and_Marple — perhaps what planted the seeds for Level 5’s character.

        Reply
  2. I was curious if you could use your expertise to shed some light on a debated legend from Pokemon Diamond/Pearl. In the game there are many folk tales mentioned in the library and the one most cited is The 3rd Sinnoh folk story that says:

    There once were Pokémon that
    became very close to humans.
    There once were humans and Pokémon
    that ate together at the same table.
    It was a time when there existed no
    differences to distinguish the two.

    It is said that the literal translation of the myth originally referred to Pokémon and people marrying each other. I was curious if this was the case or some fan just screwed up the translation and it became widely accepted as truth. Here’s the text that appears in Japanese version of the game.

    ひとと けっこんした ポケモンがいた
    ポケモンと けっこんした ひとがいた
    むかしは ひとも ポケモンも
    おなじだったから ふつうのことだった

    Thank you very much in advance. I love reading your articles and have been a fan of your work long before I ever even knew your name.

    Reply
    1. Well, if the Japanese text you posted there is legitimately from the Japanese game, then yeah, it says they used to marry each other. Here’s a quick translation:

      There were Pokemon that married people.
      There were people who married Pokemon.
      It was an ordinary thing because long ago people and Pokemon were the same.

      Reply
      1. Thank you very much for the quick reply! Most of Sinnoh’s legends deal with the cosmology of the pokemon world and the 3 folk stories seem to all vaguely imply humans evolved from pokemon without actually stating it. This kinda makes sense as localizing them literally would make some parents complain that pokemon is teaching kids evolutionary theory and bestiality, despite it being a legend in a fictional universe.

        Reply
        1. Actually, if you have any screenshots of this, I’d love to make this into a post of its own, as it sounds like a pretty big and interesting change. Unfortunately I’m not that well-versed in anything past the first generation of games so I can’t offer much more insight into it than what I have, but I think it deserves a post of its own 😛

          Reply
  3. I’m curious if you could do a quick comparison of “Jill sandwich” line from the 1st Resident Evil.

    Reply
  4. The GBA remake also adds “BIZARF!” to the list of defeat quotes.

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  5. When I saw げー I thought of ゲップー from Earthbound (Blecch.) I don’t know what the Onomatopaeia for throwing up is,but the two words seem so similar to e, it makes me think there’s a connection and the translators mistook that sound effect for BARF.

    Reply
  6. Do you guys remember that scene in FF6 where Locke gets seasick? In the SNES it said “I think I’m gonna…” whereas in the GBA it said “Blergh”, impliying that Locke indeed does throw up.

    Reply
  7. I am a French Canadian and as we were younger, we used to say «barf» all the time. We even «verbed» it up and say something like «Je viens de barfer» (translated «I just barfed up») which literally means «I just vomited».

    That was just schoolyard kid slang we used when fooling around and we would never say it in front of our parents of course. Also, it’s not a proper word in French which we knew at the time but we always assumed it was an anglicism which made the whole thing edgier. Well, it was the early 90s after all and we were pretty young after all 🙂

    I also played RCR back in the days with a couple of friend and no one ever questioned that particular line… we always thought the enemy vomited from being punched in the stomach too much… like in SF2 where you see the character vomit after being hit by some heavy blow.

    Long story short, it seems to corroborate the vomiting onomatopoeia theory. I find it perplexing that what an anglicism that we used quite often back then seems to be almost meaningless (at least from reading this post) to anglophones while still retaining it’s original meaning in french. Finally, I’m not sure kids these days still use that word, I’ll have to check out with my nephew one day or another 🙂

    Reply
  8. Wow, my comment from five years ago seems wildly off-topic divorced from context, hey? 😉

    More to the point, I’d like to mention that Natsume tweeted out “Ye Olde Barfe?” right before the release of River City Knights of Justice: https://twitter.com/Natsume_Inc/status/868844317179207682

    Reply
  9. “I briefly looked into River City: Tokyo Rumble for the 3DS but couldn’t tell if they include a “BARF!” line or not.”

    The line BARF is said in Tokyo Rumble right at the beginning and then never again.
    When the thugs beat your friend Hiroshi, Kunio comes out, the thugs leave and Hiroshi says BARF at the end.

    Reply
    1. Cool, I just updated the article with a pic from Tokyo Rumble. Thanks for the tip!

      Reply
      1. No prob!

        Reply
  10. Legends foretold of a day when secret alt text would return to Legends of Localizations. And I never stopped believing. Thank you, Mato. 🙂

    Reply

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