Non-Japanese Fan Translations

By John Szczepaniak

Page 1 (Intro)
Page 2 (top 10 games)

Fan-translations are produced in most languages (even Serbian and Vietnamese) where that society has PCs capable of emulation. While information is sparse, there have been no reported serious attempts to fan-translate large English-only games to Japanese.

Derrick Sobodash gave a fascinating account of things in China, "Over here, a lot of low-quality hacks are done on PSX games and sold on CD together with an emulator. Two years ago I found a partial Chinese translation of Langrisser IV. I ended up doing a comparison against my Japanese disc to create a patch file for the Chinese. Most of the older cartridge games are very poor translation hacks done in Taiwan and Hong Kong. I also have a fascinating Chinese fan translation of Terranigma initially released in ROM form rather than sold on cartridge (meaning it's likely a hobbyist project instead of a pirate)." His described PSX scenario is very similar to the one in Russia.

Slowly there is increasing interest in translating Korean and Chinese titles, to the point that localisation group Super Fighter Team have done it commercially. Their officially licensed game, Beggar Prince, was the first Western Megadrive release in over eight years. Of course going commercial has brought about many problems, including the wrath of the online translation community who for the most part never sell their translations - though some do solicit donations. This contrasts with the MSX community which sells translated games at fairs. These though are more than mere patches, and have been reprinted with colour boxart and manuals, so in effect you're getting an entire game as you would in stores. It's worth noting that despite the prolific localisation work in the MSX fan-community, it's seldom mentioned outside of itself. Also, because the translations exist as physical games and not disk images or patches, the MSX listing at RHDN is only a fraction of the true number available.

Regarding Chinese/Taiwanese Mega Drive games, other titles have been translated, such as Barver Battle Saga - The Space Fighter, which was translated into Russian (along with a Cyrillic font) and renamed Final Fantasy (presumably for brand recognition) for sale on the streets of Moscow. According to native speakers though, the Russian in it was gibberish, likely the result of someone using a machine translation. The English fan-translation had to be done using the Chinese original. According to RHDN, it was developed by the same team which made games such as Yase Chuan Shuo (The Legend of Arthur) and Fengshen Yingjiechuan (Heroic Legend of Sealing Gods).

There is a huge amount of genuinely excellent games (especially RPGs) developed only for China and Taiwan, which for various reasons are never officially released in other countries. So it falls to lone scribes such as Derrick Sobodash and Brandon Cobb to correct matters. Derrick's Heroine Anthem (see below) has some of the most captivating 2D visuals and, despite being Chinese in origin, actually deals with Norse mythology. An incredible side-scrolling RPG with unique battle system, it's sad to note that due to the workload of translating it, Derrick has had to abandon the project.

The first (and defining) Chinese RPG is generally believed to be Xuan Yuan Sword, developed by Taiwanese company Softstar Entertainment and released in 1990 for DOS computers. It's one of China's longest running and most respected series, now totalling around 14 titles (including side-stories and spin-offs) - the success of which makes it perhaps analogous to Japan's Dragon Quest. The first game borrowed heavily from Japan's school of RPG-thought, but the sequel began nurturing its own unique style which was deeply influenced by indigenous culture and mythology. Pictured here is the side-story Xuan Yuan Sword III: Scar of Heaven which, along with its "III: Beyond Clouds and Mountains" forerunner, utilised Asian calligraphy-art years before Okami was even envisioned.

Softstar Entertainment's success with the Xuan Yuan Sword games served it well. It developed and in 1995 released the first game in an entirely separate series, Xian Jian Qi Xia Zhuan (known as Chinese Paladin in English), set in ancient China and featuring a young kung-fu adventurer on a quest. This had 3 sequels released (plus side-stories and a remake), spawned a live-action TV series, and went on to become the biggest selling and most famous of all Chinese RPGs. So obscenely popular it's one of only a few Chinese RPGs to be officially translated into another language for commercial sale - in 1999 it was translated and released in Japan on the Saturn, renamed Senken Kikyouden. Other examples are the aforementioned Beggar Prince, and Fantasia Sango 1&2 which were translated into Japanese by Falcom for the PC, later receiving an official translation into Korean.

In 2001 the original Xian Jian Qi Xia Zhuan was remade with updated visuals (having Xin added as a title prefix). On a more modern system, hobbyists took to translating it into English. The original name is difficult to interpret literally, but the group settled on "Chinese Paladin: The Legend of Sword and Fairy" and made a demo of the game with early work of their translation legally available (all mirrors are now dead).

Unfortunately two years after starting the project, the group disbanded, though not before encouraging others to take up the mantle and work with their assets. As stated on their website in July 2008:

I don't want to tell a lie, but the project progressed little in the last two years. That's because we all felt lost in the great amount of work which had to be done in the full version, especially me. I just could't find a solution to balance between the project and my daily life. So we just paused, as we don't want the project to chain ourselves too much. I have a new idea after thinking it over for a long time. I decided to open the project to the public, like all open-source project, to those who're willing to help. I'll release the full Chinese text (item names, descriptions, scripts, etc. ) on a wiki at first, so everyone can discuss it, translate it, edit it and argue on it. Now it's just a rough idea. I'll try to see how much we can make it though no one has any experience on doing it.

Fire Emblem 3 (Vietnamese) - SFC

Breath of Fire 2 (SNES) underwent a fan-translation into German

A partial translation of Langrisser IV for PS1 was found in China

Fengshen Yingjiechuan (Heroic Legend of Sealing Gods) - Mega Drive

Barver Battle Saga - The Space Fighter (aka: Final Fantasy in Russia) - MD

Xuan Yuan Sword II: Dance of Maple Leaves - DOS, part of China's answer to Dragon Quest

Xuan Yuan Sword III: Scar of Heaven - PC

Chinese Paladin: The Legend of Sword and Fairy - PC

Chinese Paladin: The Legend of Sword and Fairy - PC

Chinese Paladin: The Legend of Sword and Fairy - PC

Legend of Sword and Fairy items and magics List Viewer

Xian Jian Qi Xia Zhuan - PC

Xian Jian Qi Xia Zhuan - PC

Chinese Paladin the TV show

Text taken from a Chinese TV show website:
Based on a popular RPG of the same name. The story takes place in a fantasy medieval China that's full of kung fu action, CG special effects, and whacky humor.

Li Xiao Yao, a "Stinky Punk" journeys to Dream Island to find a cure for his sick aunt. There he meets and marries the love of his life Ling'Er. On his way back home with the cure, he discovers that he's been tricked by the Lunar Sect Cult so that they can kidnap Ling'Er.

He awakens in his bed, having forgotten his entire trip to Dream Island but having saved his aunt. He rescues Ling'Er from the Lunar Sect Cult and is in turn rescued by a mysterious stranger who teaches him kung fu. Xiao Yao and Ling'Er travel to the capital to meet her father.

Along the way, they meet various people, get harassed by the Lunar Sect Cult, discover both of their histories, save the world and fall in love with each other all over again. It starts off sweet and light hearted but ends with plenty of tears.

Audio - Mandarin / Subtitles - English / Year - 2004 / Genre - Wuxia / Episodes - 34

Chinese Paladin

Chinese Paladin

Chinese Paladin

Heroine Anthem: The Elect of Wassernixie

Windows PC
Released - 2002
Translation - Abandoned
By - Derrick Sobodash

Please click the images for full sized ones.The visuals are exquisitely 2D (some of the best around), while the story and grid-based strategy combat are fairly unusual. Heroine Anthem is actually a Chinese-language series of RPGs, about a woman drowned at sea and then resurrected, which is being worked on by Derrick Sobodash. One of the first to translate from Chinese, he encourages the community to follow suit and also move beyond the SNES. Unfortunately at the time of re-publishing this article, work has stopped on Heroine Anthems 1 and 2 - the game though is fully hacked and the tools have been released to the public domain. I hope that others take up the mantle of translating non-Japanese East Asian language games into English, and applaud Derrick for the work he's done. He adds, "Anyone can go to my website, grab the tools, dump the scripts, translate them and jam them back in the game. The documentation may be a little weak, but I'd be willing to answer any support questions via email if someone was to put in a serious effort. The only technical limitation of either game is the StarForce 3 encryption on Heroine Anthem II."

Cinnamon Pirates in Beijing

I interview former lecturer of English-language composition at a Chinese university, Derrick Sobodash (pictured), aka D, regarding a turbulent life in translations plus his work on Beggar Prince and Heroine Anthem. As promised, he has moved on from fan-translations, though has made all his files freely available. Currently he's the ranking copy editor at Beijing Today. His personal website can be seen HERE.

JS) Tell us about yourself.

DS) I've been involved in fan translation since 1996, when I was part of RPGe (known as Shadow). That was the last time I ever worked with a group, and the last time I ever released a work-in-progress patch. I want to move on when I finish Der Langrisser and Heroine Anthem. As of my 25th birthday, one in five days of my life was spent translating Der Langrisser; two in five were spent translating any game. Time to move on! I've made available a programming library with all the code I've written for game translations. Consider it a useable farewell gift instead of the usual cryptic documents.

JS) The community focuses on Japanese, but you've encouraged other translations?

DS) I've encouraged not only Korean and Chinese translations, but any language other than Japanese. The groups Lakuuna and Revolve started some Korean-language projects, but today they are "mostly dead." The obsession with Japan is the second most dangerous limiting factor for the scene. It cuts off thousands of games from becoming potential projects.

JS) Most people work on FC/SFC games. Your views?

DS) If obsession with Japanese games is the second most dangerous limiting factor, this is the first. FC and SFC only have so many games, and they're almost tapped out. I'm sure a few people will scream there are more great games left. These are the same people who would translate Bazoo! and Traverse Starlight & Prairie. Unless the scene branches out onto more systems, you will see increasingly poor games translated. When the scene is putting out games only the [we-must-translate-everything] crowd cares about, that will be the end of things.

JS) Tell us about Heroine Anthem.

DS) Heroine Anthem was started in 2003. At that time, I was playing a lot of Chinese RPGs. I had just finished You Cheng Huan Jian Li, a fairly fun one by Dynasty, also Xian Jian Qi Xia Zhuan II, sequel to the game I helped with L.S.F. English Project. A Chinese guy on my forum suggested I try Heroine Anthem. It struck me as a good project because of its amazing graphics and music, and its incredibly non-Chinese setting. In other words: the perfect vehicle for exposing people to Chinese games. While people don't bat an eye to strange words and phrases like anime and kabuki, words like wuxia are labelled too strange for 'the Western ear', and jingju gets mutilated into 'Chinese Opera'. I've reluctantly accepted anything requiring cultural background to appreciate, people often ignore.

The sad reality is that despite the game having incredible visuals the series remains incomplete. After finishing Heroine Anthem II, WindThunder fell on very hard times. The company had existed for years as a development team and produced several games published by TGL. The Guardian Sword series has very similar graphics to Heroine Anthem and fantastic music. After years as a developer WindThunder decided to strike out on its own as a publisher. The result was Heroine Anthem and a few other titles.

Since they failed to turn a real profit, even with the combined mainland and Singapore distribution licensed by Unistar, WindThunder (by then renamed WinKing) folded up. Today it is one of many former developers that now survives as an outsourcing studio making parts of games for its former competitors.

JS) Piracy seems to be a serious problem for these companies.

DS) Taiwan has an even sadder history of piracy than the mainland, because the court decisions have been so absolutely empty. On the mainland, there was less of a smackdown from above because pirates rarely sued other pirates. In the few cases developers have ever brought to court against pirates, the Taiwanese courts essentially laughed at them and informed them that in the eyes of the government game companies are in the same class as non-governmental organizations. Their works are created for entertainment, so why should they be entitled to money? For one of the most horrifying examples of this you can look into the C&E vs Panda Entertainment case of the mid 1990s. China has gone from 257 RPG releases per year to 3 in the span of a decade

JS) You were involved with Beggar Prince, correct?

DS) I was hired by Super Fighter Team as the lead programmer for the Beggar Prince project. The reason the scene seems to be crying is because Death Adder sent a rather insulting message two years ago. As none of us forget anything or move on, the scene still cries whenever Beggar Prince is even mentioned. This was exacerbated by a rant posted by someone hacking it before Death Adder got the license. The rant was picked up by Amitrius of who reposted it. You know, because the internet doesn't have enough drama. In the end, if someone wants to make money on a translation project and actually acquires the license for it, more power to them. At least Death Adder never hid his commercial goals. I find soliciting donations far more devious.

JS) Where do you see the future of fan translations?

DS) If things stay the same, I don't see anything bright. If you just stare at the moon, you'll miss all the stars. Japan is the motherland of video games - but only when you disregard everything except console games. There is a lot of material out there in other languages; people on the internet speak these languages. The solution should be the translation scene. Even if you stay within Japanese, there are hundreds of games on dozens of systems still ignored by hackers as the emulators for those systems lack a debugger as convenient as ZSNES's. This is a way for the scene to branch out and reach more people. If new ideas and new members stop entering a scene, it's dead.

Heroine Anthem: The Elect of Wassernixie - PC

Heroine Anthem: TEoW - PC

Magna Carta (Korean to English) - PC

Heroine Anthem: TEoW - PC

Heroine Anthem: TEoW - PC

Heroine Anthem: TEoW - PC

Sango Fighter - DOS/Super A'can. A lawsuit by C&E (Super Fighter) stopped Panda Entertainment from distributing it.

Heroine Anthem: TEoW - PC

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