On the MOTHER 3 localization.
First and foremost, you should probably read Tomato’s official MOTHER 3 translation notes, because he is a consummate professional. This also, unfortunately, means that he is often too busy being professional to do write-ups on personal side projects, especially ones that are finished. I myself would love to see notes covering beyond the beginning of the game. On the other hand, his site is still awesome overall. Gotta love stuff like the Super Mario Bros. manual write-up. Fascinating stuff.
So yeah. Please allow me to lay my credentials on the table. I was the translation guy for the now-long-since-defunct mother3.org translation, which got started a good bit before Starmen.net decided to enter the game and essentially blow us the hell out of the water. Long story short, most of our team was frankly not ready for the project, though the hacking talent (Jeffman, if memory serves) turned out to be super awesome at things. I emailed the project leader at the time, volunteering “I’m majoring in Japanese here in college,” with all the linguistic skill level that that level of confidence would imply, and that was essentially enough for the project at the time. It wasn’t an especially fancy group at the time, and they were looking for pretty much any talent that could conceivably help out on basically any level.
Then Starmen.net decided it was long enough after the game’s release to safely dive in, and the projects merged, and Tomato is a way more talented translator than I am, given that he does that kind of thing professionally, like for money, to eat and pay for housing, so I basically took a back seat and watched the thing fall together, which was pretty impressive, though perhaps not so story-worthy overall (“Then the guy who is good at a thing did that thing that he’s good at, well!”). However, Tomato decided to keep a good number of the name translations/localizations1 that I’d done prior to the merge, which I figured I should probably write about at some point. So that’s this.
A word of caution: none of this is organized in any meaningful way, and my memory of a project that was now about half a decade ago2 is gradually fading, so I may have some factual errors or conflations. There are almost certainly cases where I take credit for something that wasn’t, strictly speaking, me, but I’m not in contact with any member of either translation team at this point, and much of the pre-merger stuff was pretty much just me translating and/or tossing out ideas to the rest of the team. I do apologize in advance if anyone else from either team sees something I inaccurately take credit for. Furthermore, I think that it’s been long enough since the release that I can probably safely talk about What Could Have Been without having to worry about sparking any alternate-continuity concerns, given that the Starmen.net translation patch is very nearly official canon at this point, at least among the people who actually care about the series in non-Japanese-speaking countries.
Also, I make no guarantees that any of this will be even remotely interesting.
So here we go.
A lot of people seem fond of a lot of the enemy name translations, and they’re generally among the things I’m proudest of. A lot of them were just plain tough to translate, because, despite the overblown stuff you’ve no doubt read by Tim “I’m in love with my own importance for Living In Japan” Rogers and decided to think better of,3 Itoi really is a pretty good writer and likes to play with portmanteaus and other wordplay.
These aren’t in any real order other than when my memory gets jogged. It’s also partially that I’m looking at them in the order they’re stored in the game data, which is all jumbly.
- Mr. Generator was, at one point, going to be called Gene Rator. This was kind of a tough one for us4, as the name in Japanese, Jenetta-kun (ジェネッタくん) was kind of a play on words inasmuch as it was a modification of “generator” but done so as to sound like a name or something.
- The Oh-so-Snake was going to be the Vanelizard early on. This requires a bit of explanation: there was never any real clear indication of what “Osohe” (オソヘ) in the original was intended to mean, so we interpreted it as a sort of inversion of “navel” (おへそ), and wound up with “Vanel.” This also worked nicely, because the boss enemy was named the Osohebi (オソヘビ), with “hebi” meaning “snake” in Japanese. In the end, though, “Vanel” was nixed and it’s unclear whether that’s even a bad thing. Granted, this is all what-could-have-been stuff, since a large part of this stuff has essentially become canon by this point.
- While everyone seems to love the name “Navy SQUEAL,” the fact is that the Pigmasks don’t really have special names at all in the original Japanese. This guy was originally just something along the lines of “Submarine Pigmask,” which obviously isn’t memorable or delightful at all. In the mother3.org days, we were going to use “Pork Trooper” (you know, like storm troopers) instead of the more literal “Pigmask” (ブタマスク) and have different names for the different ranks rather than the eventual, more direct translation. The change back to “Pigmask” was probably for the best in the end, though I’m really glad they kept “Navy SQUEAL,” since that was one of my favorite name change ideas in the whole project.5
- A lot of the enemy name translations were just things that fell into place. There’s nothing in the Japanese that would suggest “Top Dogfish” (“Nushi Wanwan”/ヌシワンワン) for the tougher version of the Dogfish (“Wanwan Fish”/ワンワンフィッシュ), but a bit of knowledge of common (if slightly outmoded) English expressions leads that sort of thing to seem a natural fit.
- Another one that seemed only natural was the Beaten Drum, which (if memory serves) translates more accurately as “punctured drum.” On the other hand, I was too enamored with my own cleverness to realize that my original “Wailing Guitar” was nowhere near as good as “Gently Weeping Guitar,” given Itoi’s fondness for the Beatles. Tomato definitely made the right call on that one, unambiguously.
- One enemy that I’m not really satisfied with the name of, in either my own stuff or the final translation patch, was the Bitey Snake (“Kamu toki wa kamu hebi”/かむときはかむヘビ), which I’d translated as “Snake that Might Bite.” Both of these have issues in terms of accuracy of the translation, though given the actual picture of the Bitey Snake, that seems almost fine. The issue is that the name translates most accurately to something like “a snake that will bite when it’s time to bite” or “that bites when the situation calls for it” or something equally unwieldy to express in English. That one was frankly a mess and I can’t really think of anything that would have actually worked better than Tomato’s “Bitey Snake.”
- One that I still actually prefer my original name for is the Ten-Yeti, which I’d originally translated the name of as “Cowabungable Snowman.” Yes, the word is kind of dated (to say the least) but I’m apparently not the only one to have missed the intended wordplay involving “ten-eighty” (which, to be fair, works better in Japanese: compare テンエイティ and テンイエティ, though that didn’t stop me from missing it entirely in Japanese too). Maybe it was meant as a nod to Nintendo’s now-essentially-defunct snowboarding game series.
- Speaking of silly and awkward puns, the Boa Transistor is victim to those on both ends. Obviously the English name is a play on “boa constrictor,” but for the longest time it was just such a challenge to think of a decent translation for the Japanese “Hebii Metaru” (ヘビーメタル), a play on “hebi” (snake) and “heavy metal.” Eventually I decided to pull the trigger and write in “Boa Transistor,” which I’d thought was just unforgivably contrived, and it was received way better than I’d expected by basically everyone.
- Barrel Man (“Taruman”/タルマン) was originally going to be “Casked Man,” because, once again, I was a little too in love with my own cleverness. You see, because it is a play on “masked man,” and there’s a masked man in the story, and oh I’ll just show myself out
- The Pseudoor basically named itself — the Japanese name (“Tobira-modoki”/トビラモドキ) basically translates to “pseudo-door” and it was only a small jump from there.
- The Sara-Sara-Sahara was frustrating, because it was clearly meant to resemble plates (“sara”/サラ) but the silliness of the name was just lost in English. The mother3.org translation had been using “Desert Plate” but that name is arguably hard enough to catch at a glance that it probably wouldn’t have been much better in the end.
- The Artsy Ghost was originally going to be the Abstract Ghost. The name (“Geijutsu na obake”/げいじゅつなオバケ) really does translate to “Artistic Ghost,” so “Artsy Ghost” is a more accurate name overall, but I just liked the ring of “Abstract Ghost.”
- The Whatever was originally going to be called the Halfhearted Attempt. Probably a better translation of the original “Tekitou” (テキトウ) in the end anyway.
- The Really Flying Mouse is worth noting just because of the Japanese name, which took a minor liberty with grammar to be pretty clever (“tobimasu tobi-mausu”/トビマストビマウス — literally it means “flying flying-mouse” but it’s fun to say).
- The Return of Octobot was one of my favorites (and I was glad that it got kept for the final). The Octobots all have weird names in the original Japanese, and the Japanese name in MOTHER 3 (“Tako Fu Tatabi”/タコ・フ・タタビ) basically translates to “Octopus Again,” though with needlessly weird spacing to make it look/sound unnatural or foreign or something. I figured that “The Return of Octobot” was sufficiently cool-sounding, and I guess other folks agreed.
- I’m ambivalent whether the change from our “Loose Screw” to “Screwloose” even makes much of a difference. In the original Japanese, there wasn’t any pun of the sort involved, so it’s not like either one is more accurate.
- On the other hand, the Punk Rock Lobster became the Rock Lobster, making the clearly intended pun more obvious, though I still think those sunglasses are less rock ‘n’ roll and more punk rock.
- The Pasta with a Past is just about the only food name worth mentioning, really.6 The original Japanese “Wake-ari Pasta”/わけありパスタ wasn’t really a joke in the name: the phrase “wake-ari”/わけあり refers mainly to the sort of mildly damaged goods you’d find at a store with a handwritten price tag and a minor discount. It literally means, essentially, “there’s something about this item.” On the other hand, the item’s description is where it becomes a joke, stating that an “unspeakable circumstance” surrounds the pasta, rather than the usual meaning. While the innocuous name couldn’t be translated while keeping the joke, a bit of wordplay was entirely within the bounds of possibility for the English version.
- The Bufferizer and Defense Spray were originally named the Beefener and the Turtler, mostly because the actual items were named like energy drinks and there’s no clear right choice. “Turtler,” incidentally, was derived from fighting game terminology (e.g. to turtle, being the action of playing very defensively). On the other hand, the final version’s Defense Spray is a neat call-back to EarthBound/MOTHER 2.
- First and foremost, the mother3.org team had noticed that the game, much like EarthBound/MOTHER 2, allowed for a substantial number of “Don’t Care” names to be stored. In the final game, this was only used for favorite food and your special PK power’s name, but all of the characters had the same number of slots available for “Don’t Care” names; they were each simply filled with a bunch of copies of the official name. We basically tried to take advantage of this as a sort of personalized easter egg, with each member of the team basically getting their own “set” of names to assign. These were generally named after friends and family, though I tried in vain to use my own set to follow a clever theme of some sort. Naturally, I never thought of anything particularly good.
- Hinawa is named after a type of gun, along with Flint (Flint being named for flintlock guns, and Hinawa being named for matchlock guns, in Japanese). Obviously, while Flint is a nice, manly-sounding name in English, Hinawa is simply a no-go. Until the translation patch projects merged, the plan was very definitely to rename Hinawa to Amber, in order to provide a name that was actually a name in English, as well as keeping to a motif of some sort (in this case, types of stones). Un(?)fortunately, in the end the official translation wound up being Hinawa, though this was, in fairness, because the Starmen.net translation team preferred, whenever possible, to keep the names accurate to Nintendo’s official translations they’d made public at various points.7
- Ocho the octopus was originally Hachi (ハチ) in the Japanese. While the story of Hachiko is famous enough (and was even made into an American remake-of-a-movie movie starring Richard Gere), we8 figured we could do better for the English release. For one thing, the pun between the name “Hachi” and the fact that it means “eight” would be lost. For a while we just sort of hoped that maybe “Octo” would be an acceptable name, but it was pretty obvious it was kind of lazy and didn’t have much cleverness or even giving-a-crap to it. As luck would have it, I stumbled upon an Addams Family retrospective around this point, and found out that, at least at some point, Pugsley had a pet octopus named Ocho. Perfect!
- Following this “replace one old pop-culture reference with another” pattern, a lot of people have noticed that Achato and Entotsu (アチャト and エントツ, with the latter literally meaning “chimney”) were renamed Bud and Lou, after Abbott and Costello. Incidentally, the original characters were also named after comedians from the early to mid 20th century: Achako and Entatsu.
- Fassad’s English name has a surprisingly unexciting origin. The Japanese name Yokuba/ヨクバ is basically derived from the word for “ambition” or “greed” (“yokubari”/欲張り), and that just didn’t work in English. So I asked a friend of mine, one night, to help bounce ideas back and forth. I figured he was studying Arabic in college and could help out, so I asked him what various words were when translated into Arabic. After a couple of nonstarters, I tried, “What’s ‘corruption’ in Arabic?” and his answer, “fassad,” sounded sufficiently Arabian-y (given the character’s appearance), as well as just being ever so perfect on multiple levels (given its Arabic meaning as well as the fact that it sounds a whole lot like “façade,” which is ridiculously appropriate on, itself, at least two different levels). And that’s why Ben Cocchiaro is credited under “Special Thanks.” Thanks, Ben.
- Frankly, we never had anything good lined up for Kumatora. We had her name as “Jackie” for a while, since it kinda sorta sounded like maybe it could also be a guy’s name (c.f. Jackie Gleason), but we never felt particularly confident in it. “Violet,” though, was picked for her cover identity later on, because we figured it had a “good, diner-y sounding” ring to it. We kept that in the end.
- Salsa’s name was kept, though the pun on “saru” (“monkey”) was lost, so we figured that we should probably keep to some sort of name motif for his girlfriend-monkey too. “Saruko” just didn’t work, so I wound up suggesting “Samba” for her name, partially inspired by Samba de Amigo. This is another case where one motif was switched out for another with the translation, though this one was kept in the end by the post-merger team.
- There was a brief time when we considered changing Lighter’s name to “Bic” or “Vic,” but we eventually thought better of the idea. It’s not as though EarthBound/MOTHER 2 wasn’t full of silly names like Mr. Spoon, either.
- For the longest time, the Sunshine Forest was just called the Terry or Telly Forest, because of the way the Japanese name was written (“Teri-no-mori”/テリのモリ). At some point along the way, I got bored and looked up whether “teri” was even a word, and it turned out that it meant “sunshine” or “clear/dry weather,” and there was a sort of collective OHHHHHHH among the team. Given the idyllic setting of the prologue, it seems only natural that that was the intended meaning. Tomato initially opposed it, but eventually relented, since it did make more sense as the name of a place.9
- A lot of the other place names were way more contentious, though. The name of the town was the source of some reasonably substantial debate within the post-merger team, since the mother3.org team had been using “Dragonstep” for its translation of the admittedly fairly ambiguous “Tatsumairi”/タツマイリ. Tomato vetoed it based on the fact that the Japanese is far from 100% clear on what the name’s derivation would be, and looking back the “Tatsu”=”dragon” thing really only applies to very limited contexts in Japanese. Still, between that and the money being called DP (for “Dragon Points”) Tomato thought it was just too blatant as dragon-related foreshadowing, and I eventually conceded the point, since he was the guy with professional experience and who could actually, you know, speak Japanese fluently at the time.10
- Most of the place names were, at one point or another, going to be translated into at least some semblance of English. Tanetane Island (“Tanehineri”/タネヒネリ) was going to be something like “Twisttrick Island,” given that “tane” can mean “a secret” or “a trick,” and “hineru” can mean “to twist,” or “to puzzle over something.” On the other hand, Twisttrick kind of sucked as a name, so the Starmen.net team rightly chose to discard it. Plus, in the debug menus it was already referred to as Tanetane anyway — the final Japanese name appeared to be a fairly late change.
- The Sunset Graveyard was, in the mother3.org translation, going to be the Chowding Graveyard, because of the original name “Misoshire” being an apparent play on “miso-shiru” (miso soup), treating it as a verb instead of a noun. If memory serves, this is another case where we wound up going with an internal debug name instead in the end. “Chowding” wasn’t very good anyway.
- Looking back at the notes, it’s clear that we just didn’t have any good ideas for a lot of the places in the game, though we probably would have worked something out in the end. Honestly, though, the Starmen.net team’s approach of leaving all but the most egregious obviously-meant-as-wordplay names intact was probably the best option in the end.
So that’s about it, really.
I just want to finish this up with a big ol’ THANK YOU to everyone who did the real work and heavy lifting on the patch, especially Tomato for his insanely great translation work, and the hackers who found a problem that we thought at first would be literally impossible, and then fixed it, to a degree that their fix went beyond the impossible. Thanks again to Ben Cocchiaro, all-around swell guy and owner of an Arabic-English dictionary, for helping to provide the ridiculously appropriate name of a major character in a cult hit, and thanks to @gigideegee, whom I promised via Twitter that I would actually write all this stuff up, and that gave me the motivation to do it because TWITTER PROMISES are SERIOUS BUSINESS. I also highly recommend her great webcomic, Cucumber Quest, especially if you liked her older “Let’s Destroy Metal Gear!” and the like.
Thanks for reading.
"Localization" is a fancy term that means changing a name or a joke so that it makes sense in the target language, especially when it comes to wordplay in the source language. Sometimes the changes are also just kind of arbitrary, though that can at times be in order to avoid potential lawsuits and the like. ↩
!!!. Actually, looking at the files I still have on my computer, they generally show a “last modified” date in April of 2007, so that’d be about five years ago now. Dang. ↩
Factual errors I can think of off the top of my head in his EarthBound/MOTHER 2 article alone: the phone call asking for your name happens on a specific tile in Summers, not “at a number of steps that’s about halfway through the game,” and there’s no obscene pre-set name set. The guy’s a prolific writer but he needs an editor and a fact-checker, because the editor will already be busy enough trying to cut 60–70% of the length of any given article he writes. TAKE THAT, FAMOUS PERSON! SAYS RELATIVE NOBODY ↩
By which I mean, over the course of this write-up, primarily me, because after the projects merged Tomato basically took over all translation duties, and before the merge I was basically the guy doing all of the translation stuff for the mother3.org project, if memory serves. ↩
Your run-of-the-mill, never-studied-Japanese anime fan will probably pitch a fit for my suggesting this, but English is a WAY richer language for nuance, wordplay, and just generally enjoying words. Japanese nuance can be hard to translate in certain circumstances, but 90% of English-language movies are subtitled into Japanese with what are basically just factual translations of the content of what each character said, with virtually no effort taken to preserve nuance and color. In other words, you’re damn right I’m proud that I made a pun that was impossible in the native language, but that works perfectly. ↩
With the possible exception of the Fizzy Soda, which was called the Extreme Soda in the mother3.org translation at the time. There, now you know the entire story of that one. ↩
This includes places like Nintendo Power previews of the then-not-yet-canceled 64DD release, as well as the bits and pieces of text in Smash Bros. Brawl for the Wii. ↩
See footnote 4. ↩
Have I mentioned what a consummate professional and just generally swell guy he is? ↩
Whereas now I look back on my attempts at translation in the various files I still have stored on my hard drive, wondering what on earth was I even thinking? at roughly one in three lines. Funny thing, language acquisition. ↩
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