Retro Gaming and Japanese Translations

Hi Everyone,

Lately, I’ve been playing a lot of “retro” games from the NES, or famikon (ファミコン) in Japanese, using my Nintendo Wii. Anyhow, one of my favorite NES games of all-time is Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest. In Japanese the game was called dorakyura tsū noroi no fūin (ドラキュラII 呪いの封印) which loosely translates into something like “Dracula 2: The Seal of the Curse”.

I’ve played this game countless times since I was a 11, but now that I am older, and can read Japanese, it’s interesting to notice the differences.

Like many early NES games, Nintendo had problems translating the text into English:


The text here should say “possess”, not “prossess” (prossess isn’t even a word). 😉

But then I found this helpful website, and I realized that some things are lost in the translations.

First of all, it’s interesting that the Japanese version of the game uses only Katakana text. My guess is that the katakana text is easier to read for younger players, and requires less memory on the Famicon, which had limited computing resources in those days. Using hiragana and kanji probably would use too many resources.

Anyhow, as for the translations, here’s a screenshot I took early in the game when you buy a new weapon in the first village:


The same scene in Japanese is (screenshot available on the Japanese site linked above):

イバラノ ムチヲ カッテユカヌカ?
Won’t you buy a thorn whip?

The text is pretty much the same, but the English version sounds very flat and normal, while the Japanese text has a little more personality. The last part katteyukanuka? (買ってゆかぬか) sounds a little more like old-fashioned slang. Since you’re playing a dark, Gothic game, you expect people to speak more old-fashioned, so this makes sense. But the “atmosphere” (funiki 雰囲気) was lost in the English translation a bit.

Another example is when the game often between day and night. The English text is:


The Japanese text is fairly different:

ソシテ センリツノ ヨルガ オトズレタ
…and a terrible (or hair-raising) night has come

The English translation is correct, but notice that the meaning is now somewhat different (the Japanese text doesn’t even mention the “curse”).

Nintendo probably didn’t realize how popular the NES would become, so translation resources were pretty limited. Still, as a kid, none of this bothered me anyway; the games were super fun and they still are. 🙂


Author: Doug

A fellow who dwells upon the Pale Blue Dot who spends his days obsessing over things like Buddhism, KPop music, foreign languages, BSD UNIX and science fiction.

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