A few years ago, I heard a rumor about The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past – that the “Cane of Somaria” was quietly renamed the “Cane of Somasoa” in the Japanese Game Boy Advance version.
Is the rumor true? If so, why’d the name change? And is it only “Somasoa” in the Game Boy Advance version, or has it been “Somasoa” in Japan ever since? Surprisingly, my research into the matter led to a larger, weirder mystery than I originally expected.
In this article we’ll look at this Somasoa rumor, examine two common theories about the name change, check lots of Japanese re-releases and strategy guides for more info, and try to get to the bottom of the mystery.
Toward the end of A Link to the Past, Link finds an item called the “Cane of Somaria”. When used, it creates a block out of thin air that can be pushed or thrown.
Here’s how it appears in the English Super NES version:
The cane goes by the same name in the Japanese Super Famicom version:
So far there’s nothing out of the ordinary. But when we check the Japanese Game Boy Advance version, here’s what we get:
The “Cane of Somaria” has indeed become the “Cane of Somasoa” – in three different places and in two different languages, no less!
Nintendo has never officially commented on this name change, so fans have come up with two main theories about it.
Theory #1: The Name Was Changed to Avoid Referencing Somalia
Because of the infamous L and R problem in Japanese, the word ソマリア (somaria) can be written as “Somaria” and as “Somalia”. So some fans suggest the name was changed because unintentionally referencing the recently war-torn Somalia in a lighthearted video game would’ve been in bad taste.
Theory #2: “Somasoa” Is Actually a Typo That Got out of Hand
The original word ソマリア (somaria) and the new word ソマソア (somasoa) look pretty similar if you’re not paying attention. In fact, the difference between リ (ri) and ソ (so) is one of the first big challenges Japanese language students run into. The two characters look especially similar in the game’s font:
|Cane of Somaria||Cane of Somasoa|
So this theory suggests that someone misread the name during the GBA game’s development and it just stuck. One mistake is understandable, but three different mistakes all in separate areas of the game’s programming is surprising.
Surely someone would’ve said something, between all the developers and the quality control guys, including the prestigious Super Mario Club. Or maybe someone did say something and it wasn’t considered important enough to fix?
Originally, I had only planned to discuss the theories in this article, but I decided to do some research of my own to help clear things up as much as possible. The first logical step was to check all the other Japanese versions of A Link to the Past.
First, do any Japanese re-releases say “Cane of Somasoa” too, or is the Game Boy Advance version the only one? Finding out for sure will be tedious for a few reasons:
- Fan sites and wikis are reliably incorrect, so I try to confirm everything personally when possible
- Nintendo keeps changing games in tiny ways that most people never notice
- Modern ROM dumps aren’t very reliable
- Nintendo has made weird, illogical choices with other re-releases in the past
Because of all this, the only way to be 100% confident is to play every version up until Link gets the Cane of Somaria.
Wii Virtual Console
The Japanese version of A Link to the Past was re-released on the Wii Virtual Console in December 2006. After a few hours of playing, we see the item is back to being called the “Cane of Somaria”.
Wii U Virtual Console
The game was re-released again on the Wii U Virtual Console in February 2014. After playing far enough into the game, we see the item is called the “Cane of Somaria”.
New 3DS Virtual Console
The game was re-released yet again in March 2016 on the New 3DS’ Virtual Console. I don’t own a Japanese New 3DS and can’t really justify spending $200 to import one for this article alone, so I can’t confirm anything with this version yet.
Super Famicom Classic Mini
The Japanese version of A Link to the Past saw a re-release in October 2017 on the Nintendo Classic Mini: Super Famicom. It was one of 21 games available for the standalone system. As expected, the cane item is still called the “Cane of Somaria”.
Super Famicom Nintendo Power
I almost forgot that the game saw a re-release way back in 1997 via Japan’s Nintendo Power service, which is unrelated to the Nintendo Power elsewhere. Basically, you could download Super Famicom games onto blank cartridges at shops for a smaller fee than buying the full, normal release.
After personally checking every current version of the Japanese version of A Link to the Past that I could, it appears only the Game Boy Advance version uses the name “Cane of Somasoa”.
It seems only the GBA version uses the “Cane of Somasoa” name… but the fact that it’s spelled that way in three separate parts of the game’s programming is still very odd. Normally I’d chalk it up to being a persistent typo, but this time feels different.
With that in mind, I imported the three main Japanese strategy guides for the GBA version of A Link to the Past.
Famitsu’s GBA Strategy Guide
Nintendo Dream’s GBA Strategy Guide
Official Nintendo GBA Strategy Guide
From all this, we’ve learned that:
- The unofficial guides by Famitsu and Nintendo Dream use the old “Cane of Somaria” name
- The official Nintendo guide uses the mysterious new “Cane of Somasoa” name
Wow, I wasn’t expecting that at all. Did only the official guide team get a memo about the new name, or did the Famitsu and Nintendo Dream people purposely put “Cane of Somaria” back in after noticing the mistake? It’s clear the unofficial guide writers had access to the full GBA game, so they surely saw the “Somasoa” name too.
I picked up these guides to help solve the original mystery, but now there’s just a new one added to the pile!
Unless Nintendo makes any official comments on the Somaria/Somasoa name change, I don’t think the mystery will ever be fully solved. I feel like the Somalia theory is pretty weak, but it also seems weird for the “Somasoa” typo to happen in so many different places and only in Nintendo’s strategy guide.
When A Link to the Past was ported to the GBA, all sorts of little things got changed. Some changes were obvious: Link shouts every time he swings a sword, menus had to be compressed, etc.
Other changes were less obvious, like a room that got changed in the Ice Palace, or occasional lines of text getting revised:
|Original Japanese script||GBA Japanese script|
|Uu… Link, you’re the one person I didn’t want to involve in this…||Kah… That voice… Is that you, Link?|
|I told you not to leave the house, and yet…||I told you to wait at home.|
|I guess there’s no escaping fate after all…|
|…T-take this sword and shield and go.||In that case, take this sword and shield.|
|I will teach you the special sword technique that’s passed down among the clan of knights.|
|Listen well… Hold the B Button to fill the sword with power.||Listen carefully… Hold the B Button to build power in your sword.|
|Do so, and you should be able to use the secret sword (technique) only passed down in a certain clan…||Let go and that power will manifest itself.|
|Link. If anyone can do it, you can…|
Rescue Princess Zelda.
|Link… You must save Princess Zelda.|
|Y-you are the princess’… …||That is the fate burdened by those in the knight clan…|
|But, do not… give in… to fate…|
|…Link… I enjoyed… our time… together…|
I guess all this is to say that since the GBA developers clearly had no qualms with changing gameplay mechanics, dungeon layouts, audio clips, and even important and famous dialogue, it’s no surprise that a little old cane got changed too.
The question remains, though: why did the cane get its name changed? Who made the decision, and why? If it wasn’t an out-of-control typo, it seems like such a random thing to rename out of everything else. And why was it only changed in Nintendo’s official guide too?
So although there’s still no answer to these mysteries, it’s been a weird ride trying to solve it. At the very least, I hope it’s been an entertaining look at how detailed my professional work and my Legends of Localization research is behind the scenes. And if you have any ideas, theories, or leads of your own, definitely share them in the comments or on Twitter. Who knows, maybe someday I’ll get to update this article with the final answer!
If you enjoyed this inside look at my game research process, you'll like the time I used an old computer to confirm a rumor about kangaroos and the time I uncovered 32 secret endings in Japanese Zero Wing!