The Art of Video Game Localisation


Localisation is the art of preparing games for their respective releases across different areas around the globe. There are many reasons for localisation, but the most important one is to make sure no group or individual is culturally alienated within the game. The most common example of game localisation can be seen through translation and replacing slang with its regional equivalents. However, the process is so much more than just translation; it can include changing idioms to reflect cultural understandings, localising cultural or historical references which would otherwise not be understood, adding new voiceovers, changing music and soundtracks to fit more with the culture, changing or removing some plot lines to fit with other countries censorship laws or even redesigning characters. There are many ways in which localisation transforms and adapts games to international audiences. The Battle Rangers (also known as Bloody Wolf), a 2D run-and-gun game released by DataEast in 1988, is a clear example of translation gone wrong and conveys the importance and art to localisation. In one scene a character says: “You! Invaders! Get you the hot bullets of shotgun to die!” The sentence makes entirely no sense, though the game is thankfully not text-heavy and so this did not ruin the gaming experience as it would if it were an RPG.

Character and game redesign are also quite common in the localisation process. An example of character redesign can be seen in Final Fantasy X where character Zidane was renamed in the French release, so they were not to be confused with the famous footballer of the same name. A more major change came from the localisation of Renegade, also known as Nekketsu Kōha Kunio-kun in Japan, which completely changed its setting. The difference between the settings of the game are clearly apparent especially in the first stage of the game; in the Japanese version, the scene takes place in a typical Japanese outdoor train station, whilst in the American version, the scene takes place in a subway station similar to what you would see in New York. Character modifications can also be seen. In the Japanese version, the street gangs are dressed in Japanese high school uniforms representing yakuza gang members, while the American version sees the gang members’ attire inspired by movies like The Warriors, showing the influence of American popular culture on the localisation of the game.

Another example of localisation can be seen in the front cover of the game Kirby: Squeak Squad – also known as Hoshi no Kabi Sanjo! Dorroche Dan. For the American version, the localisation team completely redesigned the cover art to fit the American audience. For example, in the Japanese version, we see the protagonist Kirby running away from a small villain looking cute and childish. However, in the American version, Kirby crosses over the game’s box image and has angry eyebrows, with the villain also appearing to be much bigger. This edition makes the game appear more high-action and aggressive than its Japanese counterpart.

In all, the goal of localisation is to create a product that appeals to an international audience. By editing or tweaking the content of the game it allows a bigger group of people to play and appreciate its gameplay — important for branding and success.


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Editor 2020/21 and a History student with a Britney Spears addiction.

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