Nintendo has released Pokémon X and Pokémon Y for its 3DS console this week, and in doing so has unveiled a new localisation and translation process. For the first time, a Pokémon game is being made available in the player’s choice of seven languages, no matter where they buy it from.

Pokémon languages

Previously, Pokémon was available in the language of the region it was sold in, but now gamers will be able to swap between English, Japanese, French, Spanish, German and Italian should they wish. This meant translating the Japanese into each of the additional six languages straight away, which was a departure from the usual process of translating the Japanese to English and then the English to the other languages.

Speaking to Nintendo’s Iwata Asks‘ blog, Junichi Masuda, director of Game Freak – the video game developer behind Pokémon – said the team made the decision to release the games around the world simultaneously for the first time, after wanting to do it for a while. However, there was a moment where they believed this goal would be “impossible” to achieve.

Executive producer of the games Tsunekazu Ishihara explained: “We didn’t make different games in different languages for different countries. Instead, we took a seven-in-one approach. In other words, we put all seven languages – Japanese, English, French and so on – into one software, and the players can choose whichever language they like.” He added that at the end of the project, he wanted to congratulate himself – even though he played no role in the translation and localisation. Although the seven-languages-in-one approach to the game made sense, the makers still felt a “strong sense of accomplishment” upon achieving it.

Masuda revealed that getting the translation process for the new games right was difficult, with the script presenting the greatest challenge. However, while this was a hurdle because all of the translations were done directly from the Japanese, the whole process was quicker than it has been in the past.

Pokémon translation

The translation of Pokémon

Pokémon X and Y were not only translated but also localised for each audience they were being aimed at. While translation is the process of transforming text from one language to another, localisation means adapting this content for the people reading it. This means taking into account their culture, slang, idioms, traditions and a whole host of other factors.

When the subject of the translation is a fantasy game series, localisation can be tricky. An area that proved especially difficult for the translators was the character names, with Masuda revealing that choosing new names in each language practically left the team “in tears”. Not only did they have to be careful of copyright infringement when naming such a glut of new characters, but also Pokémon names have to describe one of their physical characteristics. “We wanted to make the names the same in every country around the world if possible, so those put to the task really struggled. However, the sense of accomplishment was incredible,” the director concluded.

Pokémon X and Y marks the first time Nintendo has released a game simultaneously in all of its key regions. While the internet has made it easier for gamers to buy products from different countries, there are still occasions where games have not been localised for all markets.

In April, a translator offered to provide a free English translation of Nintendo’s role-playing game Mother 3 if the company released it in the west. While the first two parts of the Earthbound series were launched in North America, fans are still awaiting the third instalment.

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