During the SNES and Mega Drive heyday, games coming across from Japan to the west often had highly amusing errors in translation.
Many of these have gone down in legend. Rightfully so! And here’s a celebration of the ’90s sentences that went a bit wrong.
Broken English in Video Games: All your base are belong to us
To be clear, this isn’t some derisory post laughing at Japanese games developers being dumb. Translating is tough.
Heck, take a look at the complexity of the Japanese writing system. We could not do that, even with years of training. We are morons.
But due to the nature of the games industry in the ’80s and ’90s, many developers took on the task of translation in-house. And didn’t have much time to do the checks.
That, unfortunately, led to some poor, hapless sort having to give it their best shot.
The NES era was a particular offender. James Rolfe, the Angry Video Game Nerd (AVGN), has documented the many instances of translation errors in Nintendo games.
Metal Gear on the NES had some excellent lines. Such as, “Uh-oh, the truck have started to move!” and “I feel asleep.”
We couldn’t find a video of that, so here’s a lovely picture.
You must also couple these many errors with the legendary difficulty standards of NES era games.
Remember, technology limitations meant these titles were extremely short (compared to modern games). To artificially improve their longevity, developers decided to make the titles super tough.
Some of them, such as Capcom, went a bit overboard. The notorious Ghosts N’Goblins has to win awards on many levels for difficulty and broken English.
That’s the 3:35 mark—it boasts the following legendary text:
“Congraturation. This story is happy end. Thank you. Being the wise and courageour knight that you are you feel strongth welling. In your body. Return to starting point. Challenge again!”
From the many NES and Mega Drive titles (the latter is where “All your base are belong to us” comes from) there’s one interesting thing.
Japanese developers had a really big problem translating “Omedetō”—おめでとう. That’s “congratulations”.
Here’s the ending of the utterly horrendous cash-in title for Ghostbusters.
Now, that one is so epic we really need to document it verbatim on this site:
“Conglaturation !!! You have completed a great game. And prooved the justice of our culture. Now go and rest our heroes !”
From our experiences, and watching the AVGN’s videos, there are some remarkable attempts at getting “congratulations” right. Many went wrong.
Now, it’s easy to mock. But when we worked for the government during the 2011 UK census project we came across thousands of English people getting certain English words wrong.
The spelling of “maintenance” was particularly all over the place. Basics grammar was also a no-go zone.
A lot of the individuals assigned with the task of an English translation will have had extremely limited time to complete their duty.
There’s a term in the industry called “crunch time”. This is where project milestones aren’t met, so everyone has to go overboard with their hours to get the game finished.
Now, it may seem a dream job for many to work in the industry.
But the reality is hours are often long and arduous. Pay is low. Job security uncertain. Lay offs commonplace.
And it was no different for Japanese developers in the ’80s and ’90s. Take this example from the Akari Warriors ending (again on the NES).
And we think our all time favourite is “Welcome to die!” from the 1992 arcade game X-Men.
Now you’ll note many of these are from the decades we’ve pointed out.
This is because most modern games now have the time and budget to ensure they can make the translation work. So, it’s very rare to come across issues these days.
Although, there’s “You’re winner!” from the 2003 disaster on the PC—Big Rigs.
But, again, it’s now common for developers to have more designated teams to ensure translations go ahead properly.
We saw a “You defeated” in a Dark Souls video. Which we’re sure developer FromSoftware fixed soon enough.
Otherwise these examples are now just part of yesteryear gaming legend. Part of the lore that makes up retro gaming. And, for us, that’s a glorious thing.
The Reasons Behind Gaming Translation Errors
We remember reading an excellent feature in N64 Magazine about how these things could come about.
It explained the common misunderstandings over certain words. We’ve not read that feature in pretty much 15 years, but remember “back” proved a real problem.
Mainly as developers could easily confuse going backwards with the body part.
Another example cited how a developer for a flight-sim had stuck Nazi swastikas on the side of one plane. Then packaged the title ready to send off to Germany, oblivious it would be an issue.
A translator spotted the symbol, flagged it up, and there were some pretty hasty amends.
But many of the errors above were simply down to a lack of time. It was at a time without the internet, remember, and the east and west hadn’t become as entwined through globalisation.
In fact, gaming was still pretty new. Certainly with home consoles, with Nintendo’s NES offering something no one had ever seen before.
The mysterious eastern world sending across this digital wonders to wow us all.
But contained within, amongst the cutting-edge technology, were some fundamental errors in diction and grammar. Oh well, you can’t get everything right.