While we often think of localizations as the final word in game development, the truth is that language is so fluid and malleable that there’s a good amount of subjectivity in every translation. Such is the case with a groundbreaking Game Boy game from Star Fox creators Argonaut Games, which recently saw both “official” (leaked) and unofficial translations released on the same day.
Last week, a massive Nintendo “lotcheck” leak—seemingly another part of the infamous, ongoing “Gigaleak”—appeared online, providing access to numerous unreleased Game Boy and Game Boy Color games. One such game was Lunar Chase, a canceled English localization of the Japan-exclusive, vehicle-based, first-person shooter X. Surprisingly, a nearly complete fan translation of X appeared online the same day, and the project’s developers tell me that wasn’t a coincidence.
“When I saw that an official version had been leaked, I didn’t feel as compelled to wait until mine was 100% complete,” Yado of translation duo anthropogon told Kotaku via email. “I also thought it would be interesting to be able to compare both versions—it’s not uncommon for fan communities to retranslate games that have already been localized just to see what was lost or changed along the way. I think someone at Romhacking was very interested in my submission as well. They moved it to the top of the queue for release, and posted it only an hour or two after I submitted the file.”
This is the first project from anthropogon, which consists of Yado on programming and Kari on translation. Yado said work began early last year after Kari listened to a Retronauts interview with Star Fox developer Dylan Cuthbert, during which he also spoke about his time programming X.
Disappointed in the lack of an English version, the pair started dissecting the inner workings of the X ROM to create their own. This was fortuitous because, as Yado explained to me, X’s ROM already included the full English alphabet, and the small size of the game made it easier to pick apart.
That said, anthropogon still has a few bits and pieces of X left to be translated. The various dialogue boxes and cockpit prompts are in English, but there are instances in the game where text is stored as graphics rather than, well, text, which was a tricky roadblock for the novice game hacker. Fortunately, the game is still fully playable as-is, but Yado plans to take another crack at getting what he described as “a few rarely-used menu items and descriptive pictures” carried over.
As for how their X translation compares to Lunar Chase, Yado noted that the unreleased localization omits all references to the main character’s space tank, VIXIV. In his mind, this makes anthropogon’s release “play better” with the DSiWare sequel X-Scape, as VIXIV plays a much larger role in the follow-up. Feedback from the community has been largely positive and Yado is happy that more people are able to check out a game as historically important as X, but anthropogon plan to take this situation to heart when deciding on their next project.
“We’re investigating new projects now and have some possibilities identified for SNES and Game Boy,” Yado added. “It definitely makes you think about things a little differently now though. If I think Nintendo might already have an English version sitting around unreleased, I’m less likely to take that on as a project.”