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This Upcoming Book will Show You a Side of Zelda You Never Saw

The differences between the Japanese and American versions of The Legend of Zelda are surprising. And Clyde Mandelin's book will show you why.

Analysis by Bob Mackey, .

If you've even dipped a toe into the fan localization scene, it's likely you've seen the name "Clyde Mandelin"—or at the very least, his online handle, "Tomato."

For more than a decade, Mandelin's been a key figure in this small-but-important subculture, as well as the EarthBound community. In fact, he headed up the Mother 3 fan localization released back in 2008, and has been responsible for several other notable projects, like Bahamut Lagoon, Live a Live, Star Ocean, and Wonder Project J. While his work in the fan scene has slowed down due to professional obligations, Mandelin maintains a great blog called Legends of Localization, which seeks to explain the often inexplicable choices localizers make when reshaping a game's script for an American audience. If you've ever wanted to know why that soldier in Bionic Commando calls you a "nerd" or how the Japanese version of Banjo-Kazooie handled Gruntilda's storybook rhymes, Mandelin's your guy.

He's taken on much more ambitious projects than these bite-size oddities, though: Mandelin has examined the entirety of a single game's localization as early as the late '90s with his in-depth look at the many, many differences between Mother 2 and EarthBound. The Legends of Localization site contains a handful of these extensive analyses, and soon, Mandelin's look at the original Legend of Zelda's localization will soon enter book form thanks to Fangamer.

Given the relative sparseness of The Legend of Zelda's dialogue, you might think there's not much worth noting. But Mandelin's exploration pays attention to the closest detail—from the packaging to the instruction booklet—and reveals things you've likely never known. Seriously, even if The Legend of Zelda is your life, prepare to be surprised by the many, tiny nuances that didn't make the cut for its 1987 English-language release. If anything, it's nice to know what the game's army of bearded, old hint givers were supposed to be saying.

While the book hasn't been released yet, you can sign up to have Fangamer let you know when pre-orders are available. A recent post on the Legends of Localization Facebook page shows that the contents of the book have already been sent to the printing company, so it can't be too far off.

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  • Avatar for cldmstrsn #1 cldmstrsn 3 years ago
    Deleted October 2015 by cldmstrsn
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  • Avatar for Pacario #2 Pacario 3 years ago
    Perhaps ironically, I've been told the best localizations are those that stray more from the original source material versus the titles that use a more literal approach. Nintendo of America's localizations, for instance, are superb, but they rarely follow the Japanese script in anything but the broadest strokes. These sorts of loosey-goosey translations have always bothered purists of other media--especially anime and manga--but video games are usually given a free pass.

    Never did understand that.
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  • Avatar for Frosty840 #3 Frosty840 3 years ago
    I was thinking about translations the other day and I remembered reading (I think somewhere on this site) a journalist talking to a developer on Castlevania 2, talking about the bizarre translation mistakes with the game's dialogue.
    The developer's response was something like "Wasn't that the game where all the characters told you lies?"
    It'd be nice to get some kind of follow up to that, if anyone remembers it or knows of a modern Castlevania 2 translation project. I know there was a mod that made the game "better", but I have no idea whether that had a truer translation, or just "fixed" it so that the villagers stopped talking cryptic bullshit.
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  • Avatar for KaiserWarrior #4 KaiserWarrior 3 years ago
    @Pacario It's worth noting that translation and localization are two very different things.

    There will always be people who just want the literal translation of what was said in the original work. But there's a good argument to be made that what matters is intent. Not the raw text of the dialogue, but rather the ideas being conveyed by that dialogue.

    For example, say you have a character that's generally an easy-going person, cracking a lot of jokes and such, and then at one point they throw out an off-color joke -- one that's not like their usual humor -- that lets the audience know that something isn't right. If you were to do a literal translation, it probably wouldn't come across, because the target language doesn't work with the humor of the origin language. The shift in tone might not come across properly because ALL of the humor is weird. A proper localization would find a way to make this change of tone come across, even if that might mean sacrificing the literal translation of the jokes or whatever.

    Or the scene in Battle Royale, with all of the girls in the lighthouse that eventually end up killing each other. In the original Japanese, the scene makes heavy use of the language's honorifics and levels of politeness in speech, with that politeness gradually breaking down over the course of the scene. A literal translation to English wouldn't work right, because English has no equivalents for those concepts in the first place, and even if it did, there's no language or cultural context for the breakdown of linguistic hierarchy like that. In order to get the same idea across, you'd have to alter the dialogue to reflect it in a way that English-speakers would understand.
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  • Avatar for Thad #5 Thad 3 years ago
    @KaiserWarrior Yeah, idioms usually don't translate, so literal translations don't make any sense where idioms (and puns, and cultural references, and...) are concerned.

    You bring up an interesting point with Battle Royale, which is that sometimes, if you're translating something that's got a lot of specific Japanese cultural references in it, keeping untranslated Japanese terms is the right thing to do. Persona 4, centered as it is around the Japanese school system, makes the right choice in keeping the -kuns and -senpais and such, but also knows when to swap out Japanese turns of phrase (and textbook knowledge) for English/American ones.

    It's the right call; it wouldn't make any sense to try and pretend the game took place in America. (For one thing, there's school on Saturdays.) The cultural references are important, but it's also important that Americans understand what everybody's talking about. It's a tough compromise to make, but P4 pulls it off.

    On the other hand, more literal translations can wind up simply boring. Look at Chrono Trigger on the SNES versus the DS -- I know which one I think is more fun.

    (On the other hand, I prefer FF6 Advance over FF3 SNES, and that's a subject that not everybody agrees on. I feel like the GBA version kept most of the flavor of the SNES original but significantly expanded the text in a way that helped to clarify it, but YMMV.)
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  • Avatar for Pacario #6 Pacario 3 years ago
    @KaiserWarrior Thanks for the input. I do think Nintendo takes great liberties with its translations--more than is probably necessary--but I generally don't mind, as they're still excellent stories. But I've also seen anime in which the American dub was very different from the original Japanese, but still very well done all the same.

    My point, though, is that purists would have disliked the latter example (the American dub of the anime), but not minded the former (the American localization of the game), despite that both stray greatly (and more than necessary) from the original script. That's what baffles me--this bias for one but not the other.
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