Retronauts Volume III Episode 8: The Fan Translation Scene

Retronauts 8 cover

Hey, it’s your old buddy Bob again. I’m a little ashamed to admit it, but Retronauts often acts as an excellent outlet for self-indulgence — though really, what other purpose does a podcast serve? And while I’m committed to spending way too much time on every episode I put together, some receive a little more attention than others. Like this one, for instance; I’ve been following the fan translation scene since its infancy, which means episode 8 is chock-full of as many facts, music breaks, and weird tangents as I could cram into its oversized running time. So even if the topic of fan translations doesn’t seem all that interesting to you, please, indulge me. You just might end up liking it!

Now, a little more about the episode itself. I decided to break up the format slightly, so the first chunk of this podcast contains a discussion of the fan translation scene in general, and the remaining 90 minutes count down the top 12 fan translations you should play before you die or lose interest (whichever happens first). Helping us out on this one are special guests Brett Elston and Chris Antista, who you may know from their time at GamesRadar, or their podcasts on the Laser Time Network. We’d like to thank them again for helping out, and tolerating the frequent Garage Band crashes that plagued this recording. And this episode wouldn’t even be a thing without listener Aaron Davies, who generously donated (and allowed me to suggest a topic) to make it happen. That said, please download, enjoy, and be sure to leave us your comments about this episode!

Libsyn (1:53:46 | MP3 | 82.3 MB) | SoundCloud

This episode’s description:

“On this episode, we examine the achievements of gaming’s true heroes: the selfless hackers who spend weeks, months, and years translating some of the most amazing games that never left Japan — and for free! Join Bob Mackey, Ray Barnholt, and the Laser Time Network’s Chris Antista and Brett Elston for a discussion of the fan translation scene, and a thorough countdown of the top 12 fan translated games you should play.”

This episode’s musical breakdown:

Note: If you’d like to skip to a discussion of an individual game, take note of the timestamps associated with the bolded titles below. You can also find each game’s fan translation by following the links.

  • 6:47 | Seiken Densetsu 3 “Little Sweet Cafe” (Hiroki Kikuta)
  • 20:14 | Policenauts “B.C.P. HQ” (Tappi Iwase, Masahiro Ikariko, Motoaki Furukawa)
  • 26:00 | Metal Wolf Chaos “Good Feather” (Kota Hoshino)
  • 34:00 | iS — internal section “Knock on Wood” (Shinji Hosoe)
  • 37:45 | Wonder Project J “Land of Song” (Akihiko Mori)
  • 41:18 | Gunman’s Proof “Scenario 1”
  • 44:53 | Clock Tower “Death in the Elevator” (Kouji Niikura, Kaori Takazoe)
  • 50:57 | Famicom Detective Club 2 “Opening” (Kenji Yamamoto)
  • 57:05 | Sweet Home “Battle” (Junko Tamiya)
  • 1:03:15 | Radical Dreamers “Days of Summer” (Yasunori Mitsuda)
  • 1:08:18 | Seiken Densetsu 3 “Can You Fly, Sister?” (Hiroki Kikuta)
  • 1:16:52 | Policenauts “28 Years” (Tappi Iwase, Masahiro Ikariko, Motoaki Furukawa)
  • 1:22:14 | Mother/Earthbound Zero “Bein’ Friends” (Keiichi Suzuki, Hirokazu Tanaka)
  • 1:32:03 | Mother 3 “Mom’s Hometown” (Shogo Sakai)
  • 1:48:33 | Policenauts “End Title” (Tappi Iwase, Masahiro Ikariko, Motoaki Furukawa)

Relevant Links:

Chris’ Metal Wolf Chaos video

A 2010 1UP article I wrote about the fan translation scene

Phenomena vs. Clock Tower

The history of EarthBound Zero

Legends of Localization

Next time: Our special Halloween-themed episode combines two scarifying licensed games.



Filed under Retronauts

35 Responses to Retronauts Volume III Episode 8: The Fan Translation Scene

  1. Hell yeah! Now this is the type of episode that makes me love Retronauts. I haven’t even sunken my teeth into this episode fully, but I intend to do so tonight. I *HOPE* you mentioned Shining Force III. (stern look)

    The fan translation scene is wonderful. I remember back in the day thinking that I’d never get to play games like Seiken Densetsu 3. The fans who dedicate their time to translating these games deserve a lot of gratitude.

  2. Zeether

    The bit about internal section reminded me that there is one other Squaresoft game from that “experimentation” period without a fan translation that I remember hearing mentioned on an older Retronauts episode: Racing Lagoon. I’m really hoping for that to happen at some point as I have played the game and gotten relatively far with just some basic knowledge of the menus but I would love to understand the story. I’d love to play Metal Wolf Chaos at some point, I remember watching videos of it and loving it. Michael Wilson is supposedly in Ninja Blade, another FROM title, for a little bit too. Oh, and MAJOR props for repping Policenauts, I remember when the final patch came out and Slowbeef and Marc did an excellent job.

  3. I’ll be honest, I don’t normally listen to podcasts, but I think I’ll have to make an exception for this one.

  4. Lentfilms

    I was hoping that someday Retonauts would do an episode on this topic. Video game fan translations has been somewhat of an obsession of mine for a long time now and my bother has even worked on a few projects himself (including the Earhbound logo hack that is linked to in the post). I was especially happy to hear Famicom Detective Club 2 get some love since that was one of the earliest fan translations I played and is still one of my favorite adventure games. Really great episode!

  5. econmara

    Dear Retronauts,

    I enjoyed listening to this podcast very much.

    Yours Sincerely,

  6. JROA

    Pretty good episode. I hadn’t heard of games like internal section, Famicom Detective Club 2 or Gunman’s Proof before, but I definitely intend to check them out sooner or later.

    For many years, my own personal holy grail of fan translations was Der Langrisser, a tactical RPG for the SNES with branching paths, which eventually did come out after all sorts of ups and downs.. After that release, I haven’t really kept up with the majority of new developments or at least not on a consistent basis.

    Then again, that’s something which goes both for gaming and anime in my case. I mostly play old games and watch old shows, though not just for nostalgia purposes, since there’s always a lot of stuff from years past which I’ve never directly experienced.

  7. NextGenCowboy

    I also don’t listen to podcast very often, but this is something that I have to make an exception for.

  8. Sam Derboo

    Seiken Densetsu 3 / Secret of Mana 2 was the single most important fan translation for me personally, cause it made me aware of and care about the existence of fan translations. Clock Tower was also quite meaningful for me.

    Another interesting one that wasn’t mentioned (I think? I got distracted by something else at one time while listening) is the retranslation of Cybernator / Assault Suits Valken, cause it had much of the story cut out of the official English release.

    I’ve been doing fan translations since 2010, and it’s kind of a soul-crushing experience for me. Having to squeeze in work every once in a while in my free time to maybe complete this really interesting RPG that maybe 10 people will actually play (cause what I’m translating are obscure Korean games hardly anyone cares about) after like two years, when translating the same amount of words freelance for some off-the-mill MMORPG is enough to sustain myself financially for 4-5 months…

    • Lentfilms

      “Soul-crushing” is certainly the right word for it. The amount of work that goes into creating a translation is almost never equal to the appreciation one receives when it is complete. After watching my brother work on a few big projects last year I understand that a little better than I did in the past.
      I really appreciate the time creators sacrifice to make these games accessible to the English speaking world. Thank You!

    • The rewards of translating obscure games may not be apparent at first, but people do appreciate it in the long run. Once the English translation is out there, it’s out there, and anyone looking for a fresh experience will have an expanded library to discover, thanks in part to people like you.

  9. Miles Jacob

    Good choices and breadth overall, but “Shadow Tower: Abyss” the predecessor to Demon’s Souls should not have been overlooked! A great translation to a great game. In the untranslated category, Fantasy Type-0 and Brandish Dark Revenant are my favorite PSP games and neither one has been translated.

  10. Great episode, but I was really hoping you guys would talk about Live A Live. That’s a wonderful fan translated game that I played earlier this year. It amazed me how good it was.

    Still, wonderful show.

  11. As a side tangent, I never liked staggering sequel numbers, like Seiken Densetsu 3 being referred to as Secret Of Mana 2. I’ve always preferred calling it Sword Of Mana 3. Even if it means that it’s namesake is a GBA remake filled with Square-itis drama (hand-wringing over whether or not Dark Lord is actually evil), I still prefer that to having this 2-is-actually-3 numbering system.

    Even more so, I can’t stand the title Earthbound Zero. I think it’s weird that people have retroactively assigned “Zero” as a chronological value, even though the number zero denotes a lack of value. I just refer to it as Mother.

    And there’s a special place in Hell for people who refer to Mother 3 as “Earthbound 2”.

    • I’d actually speculated some on this. Given that the series in the USA has exclusively gone by the “______ of Mana” nomenclature (fill in the bank with Secret, Sword, Children, Dawn, or Heroes) my personal belief is that, if this were localized today, it would go by “War of Mana.” You know, what with the three different factions all fighting for control of the Tree, and all that. Pure speculation, but I like to think it’s got some merit!

    • Final Fantasy Adventure 3?

    • I’m fine with changing the names to whatever will catch people’s attention. EarthBound Zero is fine by me because the game really feels like a prototype for EarthBound.

  12. Drew

    I sent a query to 1up a couple years ago about doing a feature article on the rom hacking scene and never got a response. Think of all the insight we could have received on Super KKK Bros and Fagaman! Thanks Jeremy!

  13. pasha

    Simply glorious.
    Well done, Retronauts!

  14. Jon

    While I have been into Emulation since the early to mid 90s thanks to BBC Micro emulators on the Amiga, I have never really gotten into fan translations (strange as I watch fan subs of Anime all the time) so I shall definitely be checking out some of these!

    Another excellent episode – I am still really glad you guys are back doing this 🙂

  15. Sean C

    Great article. I guess there are a lot of games I’d love a fan translation for. Of course the mentioned Sega Ga-GA game. But also tthe Mega Drive And Dreamcast Rent a Hero games. And the most wanted would be Shining Force 2 and 3 on the Saturn. After playing the first one, the other two, which work together with the save file and tell the complete story of the game were never released in the US.

    Also the have released a fan translation for the PS2 Phantasy star 3D remake. And are eigther finished or nearly finished with the Phantasy Star 2 one.

    • There IS a fan translation of Shining Force III, Scenarios 2 and 3, my friend. Go to Shining Force Central, and you’ll find the translation patcher download.

      They also fixed the translation of Scenario 1, adding back in the true ending and fixing the abbreviated enemy names so that you never run into a SWRDSMN ever again. And they even translated the Premium Disc!

      I’ve played the whole thing, and it’s awesome! I highly recommend it.

      There’s one catch, though. The way the patcher program works, you technically need disc copies of the untranslated versions of the games. There is a way to get around that, though.

      • Sean C

        You sir have blown my mind. I had no idea people were still working on this. I think I can now die in peace lol. I’ll be checking it out definetly when I get my Saturn up and running again.

  16. Oh, I forgot: Did you know that fan translation exists since the 80s? Boris Schneider-Johne (then just Boris Schneider), an early icon of German video game journalism and later head of Microsoft Germany’s Xbox division made an inofficial German translation of Murder on the Mississippi on C64, before being hired by LucasArts to translate all their early adventures (from Maniac Mansion to Fate of Atlantis).

    I’ve played the game in German as a kid, but of course at the time I was neither aware of the fact that it was fan-translated, nor of the concepts of software ownership and piracy altogether.

    • Nope, but thanks for the info. I know that fan translations and emulation existed before Nesticle and the like, but I wanted to concentrate on the translations brought about by the emulation boom of the mid-to-late ’90s.

  17. Chris F

    On the topic of Mother 3’s musical battles — Breath of Fire IV’s fishing mini-game actually used its background music to teach you the different fishing techniques. Timing your button presses to the drums in the soundtrack will get you “tech” bonuses to make the fish bite more easily. You could do the techs at any time during the song, but it was a neat way of teaching you the correct rhythms.

    And the Breath of Fire II re-translation is fantastic, so check that out.

  18. Cathars

    This post sounds more critical than it’s meant – a tiny complaint over-explained. It’s regarding how Policenaut’s juvenile-type perviness was talked about. Since the issue surrounding what I’m talking about is serious, I want to make it clear that that this instance isn’t. Just a little thing I’d rather Retronauts didn’t do.

    So: there’s “weird sexism because Kojima” and the potential to go lady groping, but “all Japanese games had these weird hidden pervy things.” It’s relevant that this sort of humor is normal for the dev/time/place and I’m quoting because I want it to be clear that there is nothing wrong with what was said. I just wish the framing were different. Context is treated like a conclusion: this isn’t unexpected, the intent wasn’t malicious, so whatever. Which is a bit off because it being normal is the problem. Japan has a groping problem and, since most folks don’t think of themselves as criminals, thereby has a non-zero minority who don’t see their behavior as harmful and get that misconception verified through pop culture. And to a large degree – who cares? Policenauts is an infinitesimal (if even) part of that vast problem, dated, and has a LOT else going for it as a game. But when specifically addressing its sexism, couching the statement in cultural relativism (or low expectations?) seems disingenuous. More was said so the observation would mean less.

    It shouldn’t be a big deal to call something out on sexism – it’s common in any medium, down to the classics. Great games can have bullshit elements. Policenauts is gross, Policenauts is enjoyable and there’s no contradiction there. Please don’t hedge your opinions.

    Anyway: Thanks for the episode!

    • I understand what you’re talking about and didn’t mean to dismiss or normalize Policenauts’ sexism — which is gross, puerile, and seriously out-of-place for the atmosphere the game is trying to create. I just wanted to let people know about that content up-front before I recommended the game. Retronauts is a conversation and sometimes words don’t come out of our mouths the right way.

  19. Cronin

    Have not had a chance to listen, but expecting the usual Retronauts gold.

    Bob, question for you. You have said before that you listen to more movie podcasts then gaming. I think the Retronauts Movie Month podcast are some of my favorite episodes. Can you recommend any movie themed podcasts with the same format/vibe as those?

    • Yeah, I’d recommend We Hate Movies, The Flop House, and How Did This Get Made? in that order. Yeah, It’s that Bad is another good one, if you don’t mind listening to a dead podcast.

    • Lentfilms

      Another good movie podcast is “The Greatest Movie EVER.” Every episode is an entertaining listen and it is still being released on a regular basis.

  20. JohnLearned

    I haven’t really followed it for a while, but the last I had seen, the translation for the Samurai Shodown RPG kind of stalled. I guess I’ve read that it really wasn’t that great of a game, though, so it might be for a good reason. But I guess I’d still like to play it.

    I’m a big Shining Force fan, too, and I’d like to see a complete translation its Super Famicom quasi-counterpart Feda. I’ve played an incomplete and buggy translation before, and it turned out to be a good way to waste an afternoon if you’re in to that kind of thing.

  21. Ted

    The Mother 3 strategy guide is nothing short of pure love manifested into reality. It truly is amazing and I was delighted to hear its mention. To that end, I’m grateful I had the opportunity to personally thank Jon Kay for his involvement when I met him at PAX Prime a few years ago.

    Since Jeremy couldn’t chime in this time around, I’m curious about what his translation wish would be. 7th Dragon, perhaps? It’s the only game I’ve ever imported and I muddled my way through, picking up some katakana along the way, but to this day I still have no clue what’s going on plot-wise.

  22. Progearspec

    Great podcast guys keep it up.The first fan translation id ever played was,Ys IV the Dawn of Ys for the Turbografx 16.I was a long time fan of the Ys series and i remember hearing&seeing there was a part four,and being disappointed it never had a u.s release.When i found out it got a fan translation id play it asap.aId say it’s a worthy follow up to Ys 1&2.The game even has a fan-dub as well now to.

  23. Chris Cates

    Great episode. I like what each host brings different to their episodes. Bob, I always appreciate how professional your episodes feel. It always feels like I’m listening to an NPR show about Retro video games.

    That said, I also secretly enjoy when you get guests on that are so A.D.D., that you have a hard time wrangling them and keeping them on track. You had one episode in the previous incarnation where you co-hosted with two women from IGN, who couldn’t have been less interested in the topic, but you tried your damned hardest to keep them on topic. Same thing with this episode:
    “Do you guys have anything to say about Earthbound Zero?”
    “I love Candy Corn!!!!” Bob gives his polite laugh.