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Game Localisation: Local Errors, Global Impact

Game Localisation: Local Errors, Global Impact

Mar 22, 2013

This article is the first in a two-part featurette on localisation

I have been a long-time casual gamer with a massive interest in the industry as a whole.

I remember my first console was the SNES and at the time it was the best thing I had ever played; even to this day I still think that it is in my personal option the best console to date, with games to match.

Zelda 2 - I AM ERROR


At the time I thought that I was able to walk into any game store and buy a game which simultaneously was being played by other people across the world. Recently however I have noticed that were I to pick up a copy of one of those games that I loved back then, it would not necessarily be the same as I recall.. At first I put this down to my memory playing tricks on me, but after several occurrences a closer look revealed that the games were actually different. Sometimes subtle variations in the game like names of characters, but in some cases the whole game had been changed.

“i am error” – any gamer of that era would be able to recall this line from “Zelda II: the Adventure of Link”.

To the world this appeared to be a mistake, when in fact this line was an inside joke by the developers. This was meant to go hand-in-hand with complimentary line “I am bug” spoken by another character, however during the localisation process this one was misinterpreted as an accidental error and removed, damning “I am error” to be forever seen as the error it claims to be, rather than the deliberate nod to game bugs intended.

This is just one example of how game localisation can both create misnomers and remove Easter eggs accidentally, and occasionally give rise to some of the most famous memes in game history.

Let’s take a look back at one of my personal favourites, where a group of friends work together in a quest to save the world – EarthBound.

EarthBound was released in Europe in February 1995, following the original Japanese release in August 1994. An RPG that pitted a group of kids against a world corrupter by evil was not a new concept, and with its clear Japanese roots did not have a fantastic Western release, with sales only approaching 50% of those in the East.

EarthBound on the SNES

EarthBound on the SNES

While this game performed fairly poorly in the market at release, in recent years it has developed a cult following thanks to its tongue-in-cheek approach, and in no small amount to the increasingly popular retro trends. Nevertheless it has presented a fresh opportunity to take a look at how this heavily Japanese game was ported to the West.

The American stereotypes and translation errors that feature in the game were viewed as negative aspects of the game by the Western world when it was released, suffering from a reduced localisation and QA budget thanks to lower-than-hoped sales figures, however these same traits are now no doubt responsible for its modern cult following. So much so that there may even be Japanese re-release of the game on the virtual console – let’s hope the European market also gets a chance!

So now, looking at the gaming world in 2013 with the Nintendo virtual console, Playstation Network and XBox Live, how will localisation be handled? With QA/QC being an increasing focus and consumers being far less forgiving than they were twenty years ago, will we see loc-based memes the like of “all your bases…” again?

If you can think of any good examples, please do let us know in the comments section below. Stay tuned for part two of our localisation featurette soon!

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