Video Game Localisation Is Not Bad

In recent weeks, localisation (the practice of changing video games and other media for different markets) has gotten a pretty bad rep. With Xenoblade Chronicles X removing character customisation options for… questionable reasons, Fire Emblem removing content that a certain minority at Nintendo of America consider ‘offensive’ and The Legend of Zelda Tri Force Heroes shoehorning memes for the sake of it, there’s been a prevailing attitude that any changes made to a game when it’s translated are a bad thing. Or in some cases, that games should somehow be translated word for word from their ‘original’ versions, as if some ‘pure’ original is something that needs to be preserved at all cost.

zelda meme fail

Above: The worst thing in a Zelda game?

But it really, really isn’t. Censorship? Yeah, that’s a bad thing in any video game. But localisation is not the same as censorship, and as we’ll illustrate below, can actually make a game much better than it used to be.

For starters, a game can actually have a significant amount of new features and content added during localisation. Sure, it’s not the most common occurrence in the world, but it’s happened. Like here in Luigi’s Mansion for Gamecube, where the PAL version got a massively improved Hidden Mansion mode with changes to boss attack patterns, new sets of enemies in different rooms and the whole layout of the mansion being mirrored.

Here’s a video showing some of the changes.

Similar examples to this include the well known case of Super Mario Bros 2 (where a much more interesting game called Doki Doki Panic was turned into a Mario title instead of the somewhat samey Lost Levels), and the less known case of Wario World. The latter game was delayed for its Japanese release, during which time they added a new phase for the final boss battle complete with new music and attack pattern. This made it significantly better than the poor excuse for a finale that other regions got:

There are some minor examples where games are improved too. Like Super Mario 64, which in its original Japanese release, didn’t have the dialogue from Princess Peach in the intro. Nor the ending for that matter. Compare to this:

Other changes existed as well, though most of these were just minor glitches being fixed for the international versions of the game. With the exception of the coin overflow bug being sorted out (it used to mess up and go into negative lives past about 255 coins, but caps at 255 in the non Japanese versions), there’s not really anything that’s too noticeable in that respect.

In addition to games with significant features additions and design improvements, there are some cases where the localisation and local management teams made a decent decision by simply not releasing a shoddy product. Pokemon Stadium is a good example of this.

*Angry mob with torches and pitchforks approaches*

No, not THAT Pokemon Stadium. The OTHER Pokemon Stadium. The one we got was actually Pokemon Stadium 2 (and Pokemon Stadium 2 was really Pokemon Stadium Gold/Silver).

Pokemon Stadium Japanese

Above: The terrible game you never got to play

You see, what we didn’t know was that Japan already got a Pokemon Stadium game years early. But it was a bad Pokemon Stadium game. There were practically no options (Gym Leader Castle and the mini games weren’t even present in this one), you could only use 42 Pokemon (out of 151 in total), only two cups in the tournament mode, no additional mode after beating the last cup for the first time… Basically, it was a very obvious beta for the next game, and it was being sold at full price to boot!

But how about other, less obvious changes? Ones where content isn’t being added or improved?

Well… those aren’t always bad either. For instance, Wario Land 4 got a different ending song in each version of the game.

Above: Top is English, bottom is Japanese. The songs after these are played (As heard in video 1) are from the rest of the game’s soundtrack, in an ending medley.

Both are by the same composer and presumably exist in the files for both versions… and to be honest, both are pretty damn good. And the game has examples (in both regions) of songs in English and Japanese too.

Above: A translation of the Japanese song is here:

Does this change make the game worse? No, not really. The only issue is that neither the Japanese or English players can ever technically hear the whole soundtrack without Youtube.  Neither audience is getting a worse product than the other.

And there’s always the WarioWare series. Ashley’s song in the game was completely different in Japanese and English. As can be heard below:

In this case, it’s pretty clear the English one is simply a more interesting song. It becomes even more clear when you translate them both:


CHORUS: Who’s the girl next door living in the haunted mansion?

ASHLEY: You’d better learn my name, ’cause I am–

CHORUS: ASH-LEY! She knows the darkest spells and she brews the meanest potions

ASHLEY: You might be the ingredient I seek

CHORUS: Don’t let yourself be fooled by her innocent demeanor

ASHLEY: You should be afraid of the great–

CHORUS: ASH-LEY! She doesn’t play with dolls and she never combs her hair

ASHLEY: Who has time for girly things like that?

ASHLEY: Eye of newt, I cast a hex on you Grandma’s wig, this will make you big Kitten spit, soon, your pants won’t fit Pantalones giganticus! Oh, no! Not again…

CHORUS: She can rule the world and still finish all her homework

ASHLEY: Everyone knows I’m the greatest–

CHORUS: ASH-LEY! You better watch your step, or she’ll cast a spell on you

ASHLEY: I turned my teacher into a spoon

ASHLEY: I’m a slave to my spellbook, and yes it’s true,

I don’t have as many friends as you
But I think you’re nice, and maybe we could be friends
And if you say “no”, you’re toast!

CHORUS: Who’s the girl next door living in the haunted mansion?

ASHLEY: You’d better learn my name ’cause I am–

CHORUS: ASH-LEY! Just remember this when you see her on the street

ASHLEY: I’m the cruelest girl you’ll ever meet.


She’s everyone’s favorite person in the world
She’s all about
Everyone is taking a look that will turn around
Obviously, it’s Ashley
Around the world, everyone admired her
She’s all about
Ashley’s magic is the greatest
It’s a party tonight!

ENOR EBMU N — it is a laughter spell
SIO IRA UN — what could be that spell?
I ED AM — I don’t remember this one
Oh no! I’m getting bored!

She’s everyone’s favorite person in the world
She’s all about
Ashley’s magic is the greatest
Nothing is scary to me!

The sea of the night sky has plenty of stars
I am all alone.
I want to make friends with everyone.
What should I do?

She’s everyone’s favorite person in the world
She’s all about
Ashley’s magic is the greatest
It’s a party tonight!

The English one makes the character out as somewhat menacing, the Japanese one has her come across as somewhat desperate. Either way, it did wonders for her popularity, since she’s arguably the most popular character in the series in both Japan and Western regions.

But how about text changes? A lot of people are complaining that a lot of text changes in recent Nintendo games are being done poorly. Shouldn’t that be kept mostly the same?

Well… not always. Have you ever played a Mario RPG? Like, ever?

If so, think of it like this:

Absolutely every line of text in the game is in some way significantly different to what a direct translation would be.

And guess what? That’s what makes the games funny.

Cause you simply cannot translate humour directly. Oh sure, you can translate certain aspects of a scenario or a comedic sketch, or certain characterisations. But if you try and translate everything word for word, then most people are just going to wonder just what the hell is going on or what anything even means. So they went through various changes that TV Tropes calls ‘Woolseyisms’.

This refers to Square’s main translator for their SNES titles, Ted Woolsey. He frequently modified the scripts to render them accessible to American audiences, and in general, those changes worked. They actually made the games more memorable and entertaining.

Final Fantasy 6 Kefka

Above: If it wasn’t for localisation, you wouldn’t give much of a toss about Kefka in Final Fantasy VI

Some examples of his impact? Well, Kefka was a rather crap villain in Japan, perceived as a ‘laughing idiot’ that many saw as the scrappy. In America? He was rewritten as a misanthropic sociopath in the same vein as the Joker from Batman. It’s also why Frog speaks in old style English instead of his rather bland way of speaking from the original version.

Either way, that’s basically how Mario RPGs are translated. The core concepts and characters are kept the same, but the text is made to be funny in each different country. So Fawful becomes an amusing narcissist who speaks in Engrish in the English versions… and then gets a different verbal tic in every other language. In French, that means a strong accent, in German, that means stuttering, in Italian, he makes up his own words at random.

As a result, he’s the most popular character in the series. Seriously, he became the main villain for the third game because he was so beloved outside of Japan, and the creators realised their main market lay in English speaking regions.

And his moments (well, some of them):

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Without a decent localisation, you’d lose out on the humour from other characters in these games. Geno. Popple. Dimentio. The Massif Bros. Midbus, Prince Peasley, Antasma… you name it. You’d lose out their unique lines and humour that wasn’t present to the same degree in the Japanese version. Super Mario RPG, Mario & Luigi and Paper Mario would have likely failed if they were ‘directly’ translated.

So why some moments might be seen as ‘questionable’ for certain humourless types:

Above: Though a lot of Mario RPG fans still consider it one of the funnier moments in the game (myself included)

Many others make the characters a lot more interesting and engaging.  Like Mr L’s personality here, or Dimentio’s use of weird similies.

Or Antasma’s vampire esque speaking pattern and personality…

And it just goes on and on…


complaining francis

The most memorable characters and moments in the Mario RPGs are pretty much entirely down to how the games are localised.

As for other examples… well, again, anything that’s funny in a Nintendo game in the last few years is an example of localisation done right. Like the tons of funny descriptions and comments in the Wario Land series. They’re minor, but damn, they’re always more amusing than the bland straight forward ones other games might have.

For example:

“Rare” Collectable Figurine

This super-rare Cannoli figurine is one of only 65,535 in existence. It emits a somewhat oily scent when rubbed. Order yours today! Supply is limited!

Spangly Celebrity Garb

Some believe that simply donning this spangly outfit will transform you into a famous movie star! Others think such things require actual talent.

Paranoid Bear Carving

It may look like a nice little bear carving, but it’s actually a malevolent alien robot sent to spy on your every move. Don’t turn around.

Game & Watch 9000

An amazing handheld game unit with FIFTY screens! When unfolded, it takes up as much space as a timeshare condo.

Vengeful Robot Controller

This remote allows you to summon a giant robot hidden deep within the bowels of the earth and unleash him on your unsuspecting enemies. But it’s out of batteries.

Really Boring Firework

This looks like a dull firework, but many feel it to be a true piece of avant-garde art that expresses the depth of the human search for existence in ways heretofore unseen. …But it’s still dull.

Above: Aka, indie games by SJW types.


Hypnotize your friends! Hypnotize your enemies! Basically, just hypnotize everybody!

Hotter Sauce

Hotter than any normal hot sauce. No, hotter than that. Hotter. Keep going…

Message in a Bottle

“Send help! I’m trapped in a bottle factory! Right next door to the fortune-cookie place!”

Ghost Potion

One sip and you’ll turn into a ghost… Wait, isn’t that just poison?

Either way, text changes can be a good thing if done well, and can elevate otherwise boring characters or jokes or descriptions to something that’s actually memorable for the audience the game is aimed at.  Surely you’d prefer that over a game which is more technically ‘accurate’ but puts off everyone in its target audience, right?

That doesn’t mean all localisation is good (removing things like blood because the translators or moral guardians got ‘offended’, or taking away customisation options and mini games because you’ve got SJW types on staff is ridiculous), but it’s not always a bad thing either. It’s about context, about whether that meme type joke you’re making actually does fit the game you’re translating. It’s about whether your changes add to and improve the game or make it worse by removing functionality to please the easily offended.

It’s more nuanced than ‘direct translations good, any edits bad’, and I hope people will finally understand that.


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