Editorial: Fan Translations

As some of our readers may have noticed, I am a big fan of retro RPGs, especially those released for the SNES. As such, I often find myself in possession of a game that, quite frankly, I should never have been able to play. I am talking about games that were never released in North America, such as Terranigma, or never translated into English, such as the previously mentioned Rudra no Hihou.

I ought to pause here to mention that pirating games is legally and ethically not-so-very-awesome. However, as the games that I am referring to are not and have never been available for sale in North America, I think that we can be forgiven. I will spare you all the semantics of copyright law and what does and does not constitute loss of income for the copyright holders in these cases.

How anyone could mistake this for a man ...
How anyone could mistake this for a man ...
Legal and ethical dilemmas aside, these unofficial translations are often very enjoyable and well-done, often better than what an official import would offer. I would like to offer Final Fantasy V for your consideration in this regard, with the character of Faris being Exhibit A. In the unreleased translation available only as a ROM patch, Faris is fairly, well, normal. As normal as a cross-dressing female pirate can be, anyhow. The character is delightfully nuanced, and subtle enough that her unbelievable persona actually is believable. In the official release that came many years later in Final Fantasy Anthology, however, Faris transforms into an over-the-top reject from a bad 1960s pirate movie and is not at all relatable or endearing. Effigies of Ted Woolsey are still burning in some fans’ yards for that one.

Rawwr, it's a dragon!
Rawwr, it's a dragon!
The plain and simple truth is that the dedicated teams who work on these fan translations do it primarily out of love for the games and the sheer enjoyment of the process. They are under no deadlines, have no corporate taskmasters breathing down their necks, no ESRB to worry about, and so on. They can translate some of the more risque Japanese humor without fear of censorship, and unlike the corporate monkeys doing some of the official translations, they actually understand the genre they are working with. An example of this, we’ll call it Exhibit B is Bahamut Lagoon, particularly the character of Sendak. He is, to be blunt, a creepy, filthy old pervert. He is not too in-your-face about it, but make no mistake, he would have been butchered by an official localization team.

If by chance you are interested in fan translated games, I would highly recommend Bahamut Lagoon, Rudra no Hihou, Mother 3, Star Ocean 1 and Tales of Phantasia. Of course any measures that you can take to support the official developers and publishers of these titles is encouraged. As always if you have any recommendations, please leave them in the comments.

Lucas wants you to play Mother 3!
Lucas wants you to play Mother 3!


  1. Ooo, now I want to play this fan translation of FFV. I’ve only just started the PSX version and I’m really enjoying it, but I DID have those problems you mentioned with Faris. I’m intrigued!

  2. @Lusi: Hai, that is Amano-san’s concept art. ino, rite?

    Ethos: Faris is way better in the ROM. There’s no arrrrr matey pirate talk. >.>

  3. Why would anyone play the PS1 version of FFV? Seriously? Esp. when there is a much better GBA release widely available.

  4. @Lusipurr – I’ll do that then. I’m not a fan of emulators, and I imagine the GBA would be better with loadtimes if not much more.

  5. @Ethos: I played about 1/2 way through the PSX version of FFV and stopped. I picked up the GBA port years later and played through it. I think FFV lends itself much better to a portable system. And yes, the load times are much better on the GBA version.

    RE: Amano artwork – It’s impossible to determine the gender of about 90% of Amano’s FF concept art. I’ve always kind of wondered if Faris started as a very subtle jab at that trend.

    @Lusipurr: I think Blitzmage is trying to make a subtle request for a link, perhaps (honestly not sure, though, correct me if I’m wrong, Blitz)?

  6. @Blizmage: Yus there’s a translation. There are a few, actually. When I re-acquired the game last year it took me a few tries to find the most current (and better) version. So if you find one and it’s sucky and dumb, it’s probably old. ^_^;

  7. Yeah I think that was the one I played, it read a lot like someone posting on the Gamespot forums D:

    Needless to say, I ceased playing it in short order.

  8. No discussion of SNES fan translation must go without mentioning Seiken Densetsu 3, the finest Mana game EVER and one that doesn’t seem like it will leave Japan soon (if ever). The fan translation is top notch letting every single one of the various characters shine beyond their archetypes into well developed, believable individuals.

    The truth is most fan translations, just like Ginia has mentioned before, are better than their official counterparts, with the unfortunate flaw that they may stall for months/years or just end up incomplete.

    A special mention goes to the Ar Tonelico 2 re-translation project that is cleaning up the mess that NISA made with their nonsensical, sloppy, buggy, official release.

  9. Oooh! SD3! Thank you! I must get that again, I never DID finish it. (I got quite far, stopped playing for awhile, then when I went back I couldn’t figure out wtf I was doing)

    Hawk’s a cutie. =3