Lufia packaging originally designed by Taito Japan in 1993

Lufia packaging originally designed by Taito Japan in 1993

In mid-April, 1993, Taito Japan decided to green light the North American localization of Lufia and the Fortress of Doom for SNES. I felt kind of a rush when I was told about the go-ahead. This was the first time in my life that I successfully championed a major release title for publishing. My intuition for selecting great games was validated. Little did I know that there was more going on below the surface. My Japanese managers congratulated me on being so tenacious. Then they informed me that I was responsible for localizing the game.

Having the responsibility of localizing Lufia was a double-edged sword.  Taito was making a big investment to publish this game in North America. I was now the point man between Taito America, Taito Japan, and Nintendo America for this game meeting all the development and submission requirements. If this game missed its deadlines, or if Nintendo failed to approve its submission, then my head was on the chopping block. I was also responsible for working with the Neverland team and the Taito QA team. Neverland was easy to work with. The Taito QA team were difficult – they didn’t like being told what to do by someone they viewed as an ‘outsider’. It was an eye-opening experience about international relations.

I won’t get into all the nitpicky development details. Taito America wanted Lufia and the Fortress of Doom ready for the 1993 Summer Consumer Electronics Show in Chicago, which was held in mid-June. Nintendo wanted the beta evaluation EPROM set and full game documentation by early July. I had slightly less than two months to get the translations completed, documentation written, game packaging organized, and ‘cultural issues’ in the game revised. What were the cultural issues? Nintendo’s submission guidelines for SNES games were very strict. Games were prohibited from showing all kinds of things that could be construed as offensive. In Estpolis, the Sinistral Shrine originally displayed a Christian crucifix on the altar (no religious symbolism allowed). I’ll never forget how the Taito Japan team wondered why Americans would be so sensitive about a crucifix in a videogame. References to alcohol, drugs, tobacco, or sexual suggestiveness were taboo. Estpolis originally contained a tobacco reference, a few alcoholic references, and one particularly famous drug reference involving my favourite video game odd couple – Aguro and Jerin.

Here’s one of their famous ‘discussions’ starting at 02:50:

I really liked the character of Jerin – she was the precocious, stubborn sister to Aguro’s brave and stoic sense of duty. But man, could those two argue with each other! Jerin always managed to needle Aguro in the just the right place. Of course, she was also a bit of a brat. I’m sure the die-hard Lufia fans remember the famous exchange between them about that magical tonic to make Jerin’s hair grow. In the original Estpolis dialogue, it had nothing to do with hair. The potion was meant to make women’s breasts grow bigger. I still remember Jerin’s famous last words on the subject:

“Right. We’re not here to talk about breasts!”

My Australian translator Dianne and I snorted in laughter when we read that line. She was an awesome Japanese translator and a wonderful friend. We spent many hours reviewing the dialogue, changing names, and looking for cultural fixes. She was a joy to work with. I learned that there were quite a few Australians in Japan who were masterful Japanese translators.

My biggest challenge was rewriting the story of Lufia for a North American audience. It was a delicate balancing act. On the one hand, I needed to stay within the story guidelines of the original Estpolis. I couldn’t make wholesale story changes. Then there were the expectations of the North American audience, many of whom were fantasy RPG fans. The big advantage given to me by the game was having a text buffer for 112 ASCII characters. I could write the story of Lufia so it read like a real fantasy adventure. In 1993, this feature was something new and unique. I  was also responsible for reviewing the names of every item, every weapon, every spell, every town, and every special game location. By the time we finished translation, the complete rewrite document for Lufia was contained on 112 pages of 8.5″ X 11″ paper.

Of course, guess who was responsible for typing all the ASCII characters and saving several hundred text files for the game? I spent many long spring evenings getting everything completed.

Next Time – Lufia and the Fortress of Doom debuts at the Summer CES Show

Doctor ArkanoidDoctor Arkanoid

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