If you want an example of dedication, look no further than video game fan communities — in this case, for the Japanese action-RPG series Yakuza.
Digital Trends reports that while most of the Yakuza titles are available in English, two games on Sony’s long-outdated Playstation Portable game console remain officially released in Japan only. But thanks to franchise fan John “AugmentedSmoke” — who asked Digital Trends to leave his last name unpublished — and his team, Team K4L, English-speaking Yakuza fans will have the chance to play unlocalized titles Black Panther: Like a Dragon New Chapter and Black Panther 2: Like a Dragon Ashura Chapter. After almost a year of work, the fan translation for Black Panther 2 is available now, and AugmentedSmoke intends to start on Black Panther next.
“Game preservation is extremely important to me and translation projects are definitely a big part of that,” AugmentedSmoke told Digital Trends. “The fact that eventually people will be able to pick up this game at any time and enjoy it makes me extremely happy as it wasn’t exactly the bestselling game at its official Japanese release. Now, it has a second chance of people getting enjoyment from it.”
Fan translation patches for unlocalized games are a complicated effort. Not only do you have to accurately translate the text — you also have to make sure the translation fits into existing art assets and dialogue boxes or bubbles. English- and Japanese-language characters have wildly different space requirements, which can be vexing for localization of any media. The translation must also play well with a game’s technical limitations.
“There are quite a lot of technical issues that you go through when trying to translate a game like this,” Augmented Smoke told DIgital Trends. “I would almost describe it as having the game trying to work against you at some points.”
Despite the difficulties, fan translation is a gamer subculture that goes back decades. Especially in the late ‘80s to mid ‘90s, Japanese game publishers were much more selective about the types of games they thought would appeal to American and European audiences. Even games in popular franchises — for instance, Seiken Densetsu 3, the third game of Square Enix’s Mana franchise — went unlocalized for years, leaving fans to pick up the slack.