Wednesday, July 24, 2013

A fascinating look at EarthBound's localization

I haven't finished it yet (I know, I know), but that hasn't kept me from professing my undying love for Shigesato Itoi's EarthBound (aka Mother 2) anyway. As such, I tend to glom onto any article I come across that's related to this treasure of an RPG.

Few of them are as fascinating as the one Wired published yesterday, though. That's because this one features a Q&A with Marcus Lindblom, the man who translated--and in many cases, re-wrote--the game’s text from Japanese to English.

Here's my favorite passage in the piece--in which Lindblom chats about the difficulty of this particular localization--although there are a number of other sections that are just (or nearly) as compelling.

"We had to go back and forth and figure out what would be the best thing to do in some of the stranger situations in the game.

I believe this illustration was created
by the person behind this tumblr.
"For example, you know the part in the game where there’s an iron pencil and eraser statue blocking your path, and you need to get an item called the 'pencil eraser' and the 'eraser eraser' to progress? In the original version, the pencil was an octopus and the eraser was a Japanese kokeshi doll.

"So those two objects, I knew just wouldn’t play in the U.S. I mean, I couldn’t do an octopus because people here don’t really care about octopi (laughs). Whereas they’re really important in Japan and they’re this… You know there’s a group of people in Japan where octopus and sealife is a big deal in their life and culture.

"Then the kokeshi doll was more of a play on words in Japanese, because the word keshi means to erase. So Mr. Itoi did this clever pun in the Japanese game where you get an item called the 'kokeshi keshi.'

"So when I was trying to figure out how to handle that, the guy from Japan was like, 'I have no idea what you want to do here. You can make it weird if you want.'

"Then I said 'Well, there needs to be something that’s an eraser,' and I thought, 'Well, if the item is called the ‘pencil eraser’ then it’s kind of funny if there’s just a big metal pencil.' So that worked and then the next thing was like, okay let’s just call it the 'eraser eraser.' Which ended up playing off the 'kokeshi keshi' idea.

"It worked out but that was one of those cases where I had to come up with something odd that didn’t really have all that much to do with the original Japanese."

Another series of questions and answers reveals that Itoi himself wasn’t all that involved in the localization process, which I find more a bit shocking considering how much the game has always seems like such a labor of love for the famed writer.


Drew said...

Bryan, I saw this too! it was awesome.

Do you know if there's any relationship between octopuses and these dolls in Japan? I'm curious to understand the original joke better.

kidicarus222 said...

Bryan, I saw this too! it was awesome.

Do you know if there's any relationship between octopuses and these
dolls in Japan? I'm curious to understand the original joke better.

Justin Difazzio said...

I heard that story several years ago in a different interview he did. The whole thing is incredibly interesting...all the bits they changed and why. It's a game that really benefits from some close study, which is something I can't say about many games at all... said...

Hey there, Drew! Sadly, I don't know if there's a relationship between them. Too bad Marcus didn't explain that in the interview :( said...

Ah, double comment! Yay :) Anyway, I answered your question above, Drew! said...

I agree, Justin. This is the first interview I've read with this guy, I think--which means I now have to track down the one you mentioned here...

diaglyph said...

Interesting :)

I'm thinking I'll be trying out this game (since it never came out in PAL regions to begin with), but maybe at a latter date. said...

Oh, right! I always forget that you guys never got it officially. And you've never tried playing it via a ROM, Igor? That surprises me. Anyway, yes, play it at some point--and let me know what you think of it when you do!

Jyr-completeityet? said...

'It’s a game that’s meant to be played all the way through'

T'was funny, considering.

Have you seen that snazzy remake the Starmen guys are doing of the original Mother? It being done in the Earthbound engine makes the similarity between Giygas and Mewtwo all that more striking.

Thank you for the article.

. said...

Hush, you :)

I've heard about the remake you mentioned here, but haven't heard much about it in a while. It sounds interesting, but I'm not sure I'll play it myself, as I don't really mind the aesthetics or even gameplay of the original version.

Anyway, you're welcome. And rest assured that I *will* finish this damn game at some point :P