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Does Anyone Else Miss Bad Translations in Video Games?

Do you remember the days when the average video game translation was enough to make English teachers despair en masse? Bad video game translations have left a lasting legacy, with phrases such as “Winner Is You” and the classic “All your base are belong to us” worming their way into popular culture. The latter remains popular on memes all over the internet and can even be found on road signs around the world in countries where signage officials have a sense of humor and a fondness for retro video games.

However, as funny as bad video game translations are, they can ruin the immersion of the gaming experience. Nothing takes you out of an in-game world faster than trying to figure out what that garbled sentence is supposed to mean. Thankfully, video game translation services have become far more sophisticated and competent over the years.

For old time’s sake, let’s take a wander down memory lane and look as some of those truly amusing games that were produced before translation and localization skills became such an integral part of video game production.

Bad Video Game Translations: A History

Before we get into some of the funniest video game translations, let’s consider what led to such amazing mishaps in the first place.

Today, gaming is a such a juggernaut entertainment industry, it’s hard to imagine terrible translation and localization being so commonplace. However, in the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s, bad video game localization was so common that it was simply accepted as a charming part of the industry. The problems came from translating these games out of their original Japanese, in most cases. Japanese to English translation is an art. The Japanese characters often don’t translate into English perfectly, so some creativity in finding the right terminology and grammar is required. 

Plus, before the gaming industry become as mainstream as it is today, many of those early companies were seriously underfunded, producing their wares on shoe-string budgets. Localization services often got the short end of the stick. That meant translations done by developers with a phrase book and a looming deadline. Specialty video game translation services didn’t become mainstream until gaming did.   

This led to some truly charming errors, which have given gamers plenty of amusement over the years. So without further ado, let’s take a look at some of the best video game translation errors of all time.

Remembering the Best of the Worst Video Game Translations

Before the modern era of dedicated localization services, the gaming industry ended up with some really botched translations: 

“All your base are belong to us. You have no chance to survive make your time”

The list wouldn’t be complete without the iconic, worst video game translation of all time. It came from the arcade top-down shooter “Zero Wing” in 1989 and makes gamers smile to this day.

“A Winner Is You”  

This congratulatory scene was from Nintendo’s “Pro Wrestling” in 1987. The real reward was this hilarious proclamation of victory.

“You are the very prevailer that protect right and justice” 

This was the closing message at the end of Nintendo’s difficult “Ikari Warriors” from 1987.

“You Spoony Bard”

Not sure how an eating utensil became an adjective? Nor are we, but rumors abound. This iconic line is from “Final Fantasy IV.” It was released on the SNES in 1991 for North American audiences under the title of “Final Fantasy II.”  

“X-Men… Welcome to die!” 

This hilarious line really took the edge off the popular villain Magneto is the 1992 arcade version of “X-Men.” 

“I am Error”

This text, introducing a character in the NES game “Zelda II: The Adventure of Link” in 1988, had gamers scratching their heads. Was this character’s name Error? Really? Rumor has it that the character’s name was actually Error, which makes sense, given some wordplay around the terms “error” and “bug” in the original Japanese.

“Remember to flash the toilet”

This unfortunate reminder was given by a professor-type character in a 1997 Game Boy “Tamagotchi” video game. Consider yourself reminded!

“Fry to the rain forest and save the nature”

Huh? Those poor trees… should we save them or fry them? This line came from the “Aero Fighters 2” arcade game in 1994.

Bad Video Game Localization Today

Today, despite the rise of professional, specialist translation services, video game localization still isn’t immune to bad translations. The most infamous bad translation of the modern gaming era is “Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment.” It was released on the PlayStation Vita in 2014.

Some of the game’s bizarre lines include:

“Klein became to one who did the fight without everyone noticing it.”

“Would not doing other thing else and focus on attacking be better?”

“(She’s very serious at training and absorbs very fast)” 

Speculation seems to state that the game was text-only in English, so the company didn’t focus on the translation and localization as much.

The modern industry also has a few other examples of poor gaming translation. For instance, Frank West in “Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite” became Flank West in 2017, as a result of the Japanese confusion over the letters R and L. 

Video game translations have come a long way over the years. Luckily “Hollow Fragment” and its ilk are now the exception to the rule, in an industry that has become well served by skilled video game translation and localization efforts.

Author Bio

Louise Taylor was gaming almost before she could walk. Nowadays, when she’s not playing video games, she can be found managing content for Tomedes, a translation agency that provides video game translation and localization services to clients around the world.








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