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:
|Downtown Nekketsu Monogatari (Famicom, 1989)||River City Ransom (NES, 1990)|
|Japanese Version||English Version|
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 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.