The free, open-source emulation frontend RetroArch just received an artificial intelligence-powered feature in its latest update that could make retro games from Japan and elsewhere far more accessible to players left wanting translations, as well as to those in need of text-to-speech functionality.
Available today, version 1.7.8 of RetroArch rolls out the aforementioned AI Service integration along with a long list of other feature additions and changes. Just as RetroArch lets users choose to load various compatible emulators or "cores" for a given system, the on-screen translation and text-to-speech tools can be used with either a local server instance of VGtranslate or through the external service Ztranslate.net.
In "Image Mode," pressing a button assigned to the AI Service will pause the game, and then the translated text—captured by optical character recognition (OCR) and output via machine translation—will be displayed over the same part of the screen as the original text, more or less. The text-to-speech mode works similarly but does not pause the game, instead playing the audio of the text or translated output as captured from the screen at the moment the button is pressed.
Official or fan translations and built-in audio accessibility settings would be preferable in most cases, but adding this functionality to RetroArch's popular and well-documented suite of emulation tools could introduce players to rare games that will likely never receive that kind of support. The result today might leave something to be desired, but as machine translation advances, tools like these may one day automatically produce translations that rival today's non-localized efforts.
The 1.7.8 release also brings updates of interest to seasoned collectors and mobile emulation enthusiasts alike. Several RetroArch cores, including those for the Genesis Plus GX and 4DO, now support physical CD-ROMs, and the iOS and Android versions of RetroArch support multitouch tap controls for light gun games. Playing some classic Duck Hunt on-the-go, then getting home and loading up Fire Emblem: Thracia 776 in English? That's retro gaming meeting present technology, but it sure feels a little bit like the future.