“Mario” localization clarifies character’s gender after 20 years

Thanks to a newly released remake and an updated localization, Nintendo is introducing new depth and insight to a character in the classic video game Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door. 

Originally released in 2004, Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door introduced Vivian, a bullied individual who leaves her cruel home environment to join Mario on his adventures. Back in 2004, American players knew Vivian as a victim of bullying, but due to localization choices at the time, they didn’t know why she was being bullied. According to Destructoid, the recently released remake retains what was already clear in the original game’s Japanese script: Vivian is bullied for being a transgender woman. 

It’s a character dynamic that fans have known for years with a little internet sleuthing. Just ask awjeezrickyaknow, a Reddit user who discovered the translation difference for themselves four years ago. 

Thousand Year Door is one of my favorite games of all time, I just beat it for the millionth time. I’m totally obsessed. But honestly, I had no idea Vivian was written as a trans character in all versions except the US version until recently,” the user posted. “Anyways I know a lot of you are gonna be like ‘yeah duh’ but I never knew because the US version changed it. Love Vivian even more now,” awjeezrickyaknow added. 

The localization update was revealed in a Nintendo Life video review featuring the operative line of dialogue. “Truth is, it took me a while to realize I was their sister… not their brother,” Vivian tells Mario. “Now their usual bullying feels heavier.”

Players always knew that Vivian joined the kind Mario to escape her sister Beldam’s cruel bullying. And many Americans, like awjeezrickyaknow, discovered the full intent for the character when they discussed the game with other fans online. Nintendo’s choice to universalize the character’s gender identity across all regions represents a step toward honoring the original development team’s artistic choice — something the company opted not to do with the American localization in 2004.

“When the game was localized and released in the West, this aspect was rewritten; Beldam was still a nasty bully who belittled Vivian’s appearance and clumsiness, but any allusions to Vivian’s gender were excised,” Destructoid reports. “For the remake, though, the updated script goes out of its way to ensure there’s no room for debate or alternative reading; Vivian is unquestionably trans.”

The creative choice lands at a time when culture war issues are an increasingly visible part of online video game discourse. For instance, the Korean action-adventure game Stellar Blade recently released as the centerpiece of an ongoing debate about representations of female characters and sexuality in video games. And the announcement of the latest Assassin’s Creed video game, subtitled Shadows, sparked controversy among some gamers for its choice to feature the historical figure Yasuke, a black man who journeyed to Japan and became daimyō Oda Nobunaga’s retainer, as one of its protagonists.

“Shadow’s trailer also generated backlash from some gamers, who criticized the choice of Yasuke as a main character over a native Japanese protagonist,” the BBC reports. “Opponents have accused those critics of being racist, and have pointed out that Yasuke is based on a real-life person.”

Cameron Rasmusson
Cameron Rasmusson is a writer and journalist. His first job out of the University of Montana School of Journalism took him to Sandpoint, Idaho as a staff writer for the Bonner County Daily Bee. Since 2010, he's honed his skills as a writer and reporter, joining the MultiLingual staff in 2021.

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