Monday, July 19, 2010

Fan Translations: The Past, Present, and Future

Many games never see the light of day in America and reduce fans to tears in the process. In the older console generations, hundreds of awesome RPGs and adventure titles would be considered "too Japanese" to even consider releasing in the US or Europe. Upset fans eventually started to take up the mantle of translating and hacking import games to be presented in their own native language. These days gaming enthusiasts can usually find someone working (or attempting) to translate almost any niche title America was denied in the past. It is good times that we live in.
Picture is from the translation of Segagaga in progress courtesy of James Howell.

Let's take a trip to the 16 Bit and 8 bit era...


My first experience with fan translations came around 2000. I started to take a growing interest in games I saw in the import section of Gamefan and online, so the hunt began for English versions of these mysterious gems. Soon I had an English rom of Seiken Densetsu 3, the sequel to Secret of Mana. The game blew my mind! The translation was good and made me wish for a commercial release ( I am still waiting BTW.)
Fast forward to today and I have played many great fan translations on all manner of consoles. Here is a brief look back at some early fan translations:

SD Snatcher As far I know, this is the first fan translation. The game is a mini MSX version of Kojima's brilliant Snatcher, which originally appeared on the Sega CD. The translation was modified this year to fill the opening sequence. Overall this is a cool game and a must download for fans of Snatcher or RPGs in general.--->
Final Fantasy V This unpopular title was originally released on the Super Famicom in 1992, then skipped for US distribution until Final Fantasy Anthology came overseas many years later. Fan group RPGe translated Final Fantasy V to English and gave many gamers their first look at the "lost" title in the series. It has been released several times since then on platforms ranging from the PSX to the GBA, but as this was one of the first full RPG translations, it still remains very memorable to players even today.---->

Seiken Densetsu 3 Another early triumph over the cruel bastards at Squaresoft that decided to pass on an English release. The only Mana game to never be released outside Japan, is also the best (go figure.) The graphics are stunning, the music is amazing, and Neil Corlett's script is excellent. You need this translation if you like video games.----> Home Capcom's Famicom RPG is a creepy horror game that some say is an early idea for Resident Evil (although I have also heard it is based off of a Japanese movie) that deserves your attention. Gaijin Productions did a nice job finding this obscurity and placing it into English. Remember, Capcom and Famicom almost always means joy for the player.---->

With emulation being possible for pretty much any system imaginable, fans have pulled off some amazing projects. There have been so many great and recent fan translations released, that it is tough to narrow a few, but here are the true stand outs:

MOTHER 3 Simply put, this game rocks! Earthbound fans were very sad when Nintendo passed on official distribution of Mother 3 in the states. The game is amazing, and the fan translation is equally amazing. This is one of the best games ever made for the GBA, and it should be a sin that Nintendo kept this baby in Japan, but that is how big business goes sometimes. Check out the translator's site for tons of information on this masterpiece.----> Innocent Sin Persona fans clamored for a translation to this PSX classic since playing Eternal Punishment and wandering just what the hell was going in with the missing plotline. Expert translator Gemini saw fit to bless us with an exceptional translation for what maybe the most interesting prequel in gaming. Rumors say Sony passed on official release of this game to due to themes like Neo Nazis, homosexuality, and Hitler. You shouldn't pass on this translation, as it is one of the best ones available.----> This is Hideo Kojima's only big title to never be released outside Japan. Policenauts' gritty story follows a washed up space cop on a job that leads him back to his past. The translation for this game took an immense amount of time, but it was well worth the wait. The game reminds me of a cool retro anime, and also Snatcher since it is also from Kojima-san. The translation is for the PSX version only.---->
Namco X Capcom Ever wanted a strategy RPG with Ryu from Street Fighter beating the shit out of Klonoa? Then this is your dream game! This odd PS2 collaboration between Capcom and Namco, which features tons of characters from each universe duking it out in a manner similar to last year's DS hit Endless Frontier, will rock your fanboy world. The script on this one isn't the best, but this game is really cool for fans of both companies so I still recommend it.----> of Innocence This is a very intriguing fan translation as it for a modern portable system, the Nintendo DS. Tales of Innocence only came a few years ago, but a team saw that it would be left in Japan and decided to step up and translate it for the fans. The game is a main series Tales title, so the story and world design are great. The team, Absolute Zero Translations, also went out of their way to fix glitches included in the original game. Amazing job guys!---->

The future could be a very interesting place for fan translators. Recently the translation of Ys: The Oath of Felghana for PSP was purchased by Xseed. I hope more publishers pool the talents of fans and developers to make quicker and easier localizations available. I know smaller companies are open to this, but how long before the big companies like Nintendo and Square Enix give in?

As pictured above, the long awaited translation of Segagaga is slowly underway. Here are some more translations to keep an eye out for in the near future:

Samurai Shodown RPG The translator Deuce, also responsible for the Ys translation, is working on this one. Progress seems to be coming along, so hopefully this one releases by the end of the year. This is one of those "lost" RPG classics that deserves more attention. Sadly, he chose the super obscure Neo Geo CD as the platform of choice for the translation. On the bright side, it is the best port of SamSho RPG.
ASH Archaic Sealed Heat This is a cool looking Nintendo DS RPG that seems to be out of the translation phase. Beta testing began some time ago, so it shouldn't be too long before we get some official word on the patch's release. Try GBAtemp's forums for news or google the English patch for more details.
If you do intend to download the newer DS game translations, please try to buy the Japanese version from a retailer. These companies need your money to survive, so don't be a dick and just pirate new games to save a buck. If you like a game vote with your dollar. Maybe this will convince the company to release the next game in the US if sells are good enough.

In closing, I am eager to see what happens with fan translations. Really great games like Mother 3 are now available in English through unofficial channels, but it is interesting to think what cult classics and obscure gems could look like re-released legally on platforms like the Wii Virtual Console or Steam. My personal hope is someone gets these game companies on board with Xseed's plan of hiring fans for fans. I guess it all depends on how well Y's: Oath of Felghana sells in the US.

Now if only the Sega Saturn game Wachenroder was easier to hack and translate, I have wanted to see this game in English since it was released in the late 90's. Hopefully one day it will happen!

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