Modern gamers are quite fussy about how Japanese games - RPGs in particular - are localised. Back in the 16-bit era, translations were often hack-jobs riddled with errors, but more recently we've seen a rise in quality which is all down to the tireless efforts of localisation teams who seek to maintain the tone and humour of Japanese games - a very tricky job, given the huge difference which exists between Japanese and other languages.

What if these individuals didn't exist, and our games were localised entirely using machine translation? That's the question that Legends of Localization's Clyde Mandelin asked, and to that end we have Funky Fantasy IV, a project which takes the Japanese Super Famicom version of Final Fantasy IV and turns into English using nothing but Google Translate.

As you can imagine, the results are incomprehensible at best, downright hilarious at worst. It's not just for entertainment value, however - Mandelin says that one of the objectives of the venture is to help expose where commercial games have resorted to machine translation, something which is more common than you might assume.

Here's Mandelin explaining the process:

I've written a custom program that extracts all of the text data from the Japanese game. I run this program, then take the results and run the text through a machine translation tool. Any one will work, but in this particular case I've only tried it with Google Translate. My custom program then takes the translated text, does a lot of reformatting and technical magic, and plops the English text back into the Japanese game. The translated text is almost always too big to fit into the original game, so I also have some custom Super NES programming code that works some magic to get all of the new text working.

I ran the Super Famicom game's introduction through Google Translate, and then I ran the same text – but with the kanji included this time – through Google Translate. I then showed the two results side-by-side on stream for others to see live. As I expected, the kanji script was translated much more logically most of the time. I used this as a good example of why students of Japanese shouldn't shy away from learning kanji, and why context is always at the core of the Japanese language.

Of course, this is also a good demonstration of what to expect from machine translations, and when they perform better in some situations than in others. For example, Japanese-to-English machine translations are generally better at handling small bits of text and short sentences with proper grammar. Anything beyond that, and all bets are off, especially given that "entertainment Japanese" is very different from normal, everyday Japanese!

At the moment, Mandelin is working on eliminating bugs, but the end goal is to release a patch which will allow players to actually experience this unique localisation of a classic title.

[via engadget.com, legendsoflocalization.com]