A phenomenon that goes hand-in-hand with Emulation, Fan Translation (or “Fanlation”) is pretty much what it says: The translation of media (almost always video games) that only appeared in other languages (almost always Japanese) into the player's native language (almost always English) as a fanmade Game Mod or ROM Hack.
This most often occurs on Japanese RPGs that were released prior to Final Fantasy VII. Before that game's breakout success, American publishers shied away from Japanese RPGs because of their relatively poor sales compared to action games. In fact, the fan translation hobby largely began from the efforts to localize Final Fantasy V and Seiken Densetsu 3, Square Enix games that were heavily hyped as coming to the US, then mysteriously canceled.
Licensed games can also receive this treatment. Often, it takes years before an Anime series is brought over and becomes popular in the West, and the Japanese games based off that series are now obsolete in the eyes of the distributors.
While no legal dispute over a fanmade patcher has ever occurred, a handful of cease and desist orders have been issued regardless of any actual validity. Since ROM patchers contain no assets from the original game and no derived assets that are viable without it, no likely basis for arguing infringement is known. Plus, No Export for You already garners enough bad PR, so exacerbating it among fans would definitely not be a good idea. The resulting translated ROMs themselves, of course, fall under the same rules as any other ROM dump if distributed.
- The first two novels of the Digital Devil Story series, the original source material for the Mega Ten video game series, have received completed fan translations by a fan working under the screen-name weaK_willO.
- A fan translation of The Nutcracker and The Mouse King can be found on Springhole's website. (As the original story is in the public domain, there are no legal issues.)
- The Light Novel and webnovel scene of China, Korea, Japan and other Eastern Asian countries is plagued by a lack of exports, leading to plenty of fan translations popping up on the web. Of course, sites that collect these efforts have popped up as well, with two particularly ambitious examples being:
- Baka-Tsuki, which collects various Fan Translation efforts for light novels in a wiki format, with (allegedly) over 200 translation projects available. While most of their translations are from Asian languages to English, they have sections on their site for translations to other languages as well.
- Novel Updates serves as a central hub to find and track translation efforts, with a more elaborate tagging system than the above.
Notable Fan translation groups
While many groups gather because they want to translate one series (or even just one entry), this section talks about some groups or people that have decided to translate a larger amount of games. Some of these become known for their quality (whether high or low), while others are listed here due to the amount of projects and/or other interesting details about them.
- As of mid-2020, the group Aeon Genesis have managed to release translations of 93 different games on Romhacking.net. Just a small sample of the games they have translated would be:
- Super Robot Wars 3, Alpha Gaiden and EX.
- Cave Story.
- Live a Live.
- Shin Megami Tensei I, its sequel, andShin Megami Tensei If.
- Treasure of the Rudra, which not only translated the game but reworked the magic system entirely (since it was originally based on Japanese words).
- Warning Forever.
- A fan translation group called Dakkodango has two important translations to its name: the original Windows version of Tears to Tiara in 2009, and a worksafe Windows version of Eien no Aselia the year after. In fact, they became Ascended Fans in 2011, when JAST licensed Aselia and chose to work with the group in order to publish the official English translation, which was released in November that year.
- The group DeJap has a long and sometimes infamous history:
- On one hand, the group released translations of games such as Star Ocean years before the remake received an English version, as well as Bahamut Lagoon which appear to have had a decent reception. They also collaborated with another group to release Dragon Quest V, and attempted to translate Dragon Quest VI before someone else managed to "finish" it first. These translations appear to still have a good reputation.
- On the other, their Tales of Phantasia translation became controversial shortly after Nintendo's official translation came out. At first, people disliked Nintendo's translation for supposedly not living up to the fan translation's standards; after all, Nintendo changed some characters' names, arguably for the worse (e.g. Cless Alvein -> Cress Albane), had strange errors like mistranslating Ragnarok to Kangaroo, and supposedly toned the adult language down... But eventually, it came out that Nintendo had been Misblamed for that last part. What actually happened was that DeJap had added most of the adult language to the fan translation, and also surgically extracted subtlety from certain scenes in the name of humour, leading people to become more sceptical to both of the versions.
- Huncraft Interactive have only released fan translations of StarCraft media (and Warcraft 3), but still deserve a mention in this section due to them adding a lot of content to their releases apart from simple translations. In fact, they created a wholly new campaign for their translation of Starcraft which took a different direction from the official Starcraft lore, which would later become its own expansion pack/GameMod, Huncraft-Genocide. Both their translation and the expansion pack are available for free downloads, in accordance with Blizzard's policies.
- A group called Matt's Messy Room has translated a number of games, including a Slayers Super Nintendo game which predates the anime TV series, a Maison Ikkoku Licensed Game, and the PC-FX version of Welcome to Pia Carrot.
- Takamichi Suzukawa is a Japanese->English translator who has translated several games for the MSX; while he occasionally asked hackers for assistance with actually inserting these translations into the game, he appears to have done the actual translation by himself. Among other things, he translated both Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake and published a fan-translation of Metal Gear after the backlash against the famously horrible official translation. He also translated the original Parodius for MSX; interestingly, he chose to render Vic Viper's name as "Big Viper" due to the fact its name in katakana would be closer to "biggu baipaa" than "bikku baipaa".
- Clyde "Tomato" Mandelin is, unusually enough, a professional translator that also works on unpaid fan-translations in his spare time, or when licensing issues prevent him from working on official licenses:
- Mother 3. A victim of Troubled Production in its original Nintendo 64DD incarnation from a series chronically Screwed by the Network, itself loaded with Suspiciously Similar Song versions and other material saddled by numerous licensing issues, released brand new on a dead platform: a perfect storm of commercial infeasibility. Faced with this situation, Tomato and a few other translators coalesced around STARMEN.net, the series' major fansite to produce their own non-commercial translation. The result, released on October 2008, is one of the most widely heralded fan translations ever and has received praise from members of the game development community.
- Then they did it again for the Compilation Rerelease MOTHER 1+2, though they only fully translated the MOTHER 1 half.
- Aside from Earthbound-related material, Tomato is also behind translations of more obscure games, such as the Super NES Famicom Detective Club remake. (This may have been inspired by the protagonist, Ayumi Tachibana, being a trophy in Smash Bros. Melee, leading to more English-speaking people getting interested in the series despite it never leaving Japan).
- Romhack Hispano is a portal for fan translation groups striving to translate games into Spanish. Currently, their front page features 18 translation groups have contributed between 1 and 30 translations each. One of their better-known translations is one of The World Ends With You which also added a full re-dub of the game audio.
- Yugisokubodai has as of this writing translated 12 games, including two parts of the Fire Emblem series, the PC version of Resident Evil 5, and Silent Hill, to Vietnamese. Interestingly, unlike most of the other translators listed on the page, they tend to work solo, doing all the hacking as well as the translation.
Game- and series-specific Examples
This section covers games and series with notable fan translations by people/groups that haven't been mentioned above. (Semi-alphabetical order.)
- In the early '90s, Russian and Ukrainian programmers often translated games to Russian (before you ask, there was no widespread Ukrainian font at the time) - something which is reciprocated today by western fans translating much of the burgeoning Eastern European game industry's niche genre output. While the translations to Russian haven't always been credited properly, some translations that became well-known for their quality are:
- Ace Attorney:
- According to one of the translators behind the official English version of Trials and Tribulations, Dahlia Hawthorne's nickname "Dollie" is a tribute to an cancelled fan translation which named the same character Dolores "Dolly" Willow.
- Ace Attorney Investigations 2 has never officially left Japan, but two separate groups have managed to create fan-translations of it. The English version was created by some members of the Court-Records forum who subtitled their version Prosecutor's Path; the Spanish version was instead translated by a group calling themselves Ace Attorney Spain. (The latter patch is still going through beta testing, but can be found here).
- Bare Knuckle III, the Japanese version of Streets of Rage 3, was fan-translated in response to the unnecessary changes to the American version.
- Battle Golfer Yui is a Sega Genesis game released exclusively in Japan around 1991 because Sega thought it wouldn't sell well in America, but it received a Fan Translation in 2017 by Supper and filler.
- Aroduc is a one man Battle Moon Wars translating machine.
- The SNES version of Breath of Fire II received an impressive one in German by d4s, which not only translated the game but added a new opening video (with vocals) and changed the look of the dialogue windows. Later on, a fan called Ryusui who was frustrated with the poor quality of the official English release decided to use 4ds' hack as a basis for a remade English script. (A Spanish translation was also provided by Vegetal Translations, who also translated the prequel, but does not feature the bonuses of the other two versions.)
- Dragon Slayer Jr.: Romancia has fan translations for both the NES and MSX versions, the former by DvD Translations and the latter by MSX Translations.
- Dragon Quest Monsters Caravan Heart on the GBA was the only Dragon Quest Monsters game not to get released in the West, so a group spearheaded by KaioShin decided to compensate for it by spending two years on translating it.
- Fallout 2 has received a translation to Brazilian Portuguese which had been worked on since 2004. While it is hard to find info about the translators behind it, it has nevertheless been published in a very advanced state and can be found floating around on the 'net to this day.
- Due to the cancellation of the US and European releases of the game, Fatal Frame 4 is only available in Japan; however, a group released a patch that runs off of the SD card on the Wii instead of patching the game itself (the developers have stated that they did this because they didn't want to promote piracy). Still, people have figured out how to patch the game anyways using their files.
- Final Fantasy has received plenty of these over the years, despite not suffering from No Export for You as much as some other franchises on this page:
- The original NES version of Final Fantasy III has benefitted from translations in Portuguese, Spanish, Korean, French, and six different English translations. It's possible that the eventual English version for the DS remake only fueled the fire further, due to significant alterations to the game's story compared to the original.
- Final Fantasy IV is yet another case of the above. It already had an official American release known as Final Fantasy II (no relation), but differences between the American and Japanese versions as well as a Porting Disaster on the PlayStation prompted for several different fan-made English patches of the original (some complete, some not). Like the above, it also got two translations in other languages, namely Korean and Spanish.
- Final Fantasy V did eventually receive officially translated remakes on the PlayStation and Game Boy Advance, but fans of the series who don't speak Japanese but would like to play the SNES version anyway will have to do with fan patches. Apart from the original English patch by RPGe, people have also translated the game into Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Korean, and Swedish.
- Final Fantasy VI was retranslated by a group called RPG One, although it has a tendency to be credited to only one of the group's members, Sky Render. However, this translation has received some scrutiny for being overly literal.
- Because the first six installments (and their spin-offs) of the Fire Emblem series never got released in the west, Fan Translations became particularly common after the trope naming incident of Marth Debuted in Smash Bros:
- Fuuin no Tsurugi (sometimes called "the one with Roy in it") received its first translation patch in 2006, translating the game's title as Sword of Seals. This was done by the group Dark Twilkitri Net Translation Division; that said, another user called Gringe eventually released an updated version of this without the original group's input, claiming that "[t]he old translation patch served its purpose in translating the game well enough, but for a lot of people, the glitches and often grammatically strange script left a bad taste in their mouth." On another note, the game also received a translation to Arabic in 2019 by the translator Eternal Dream, who appears not to have translated anything before or since.
- Seisen no Keifu (occasionally called Genealogy of the Holy War in the West) has a history of unfinished or faulty translations floating around. A duo calling themselves Jay & Boo attempted to translate the game in 2002, but had to cancel their translation due to scheduling issues, urging others to finish what they had started. The above mentioned Twilkitri would finish the patch a few years later - but then a third iteration of the patch was released by Gharnef, who updated the patch to accomodate the Dub Name Changes a few characters from the game had been given when making appearances in the officially licensed Fire Emblem Heroes.
- Fire Emblem: Mystery of the Emblem, the SNES remake/sequel to the original Fire Emblem, has an even longer history of fans trying and failing to translate the game than Seisen. Between 1999 and 2002, three separate groups tried translating the game but never complete their translations, with the longest-lasting only getting to Chapter 5. While two people called RPGuy96 and VincentASM finally managed to translate the full game in 2008, their patch has received two separate revisions by other people since, with the latest being by RobertTheSable in 2020.
- Finally, Fire Emblem Gaiden has been translated several times. The most complete version was released by Artemis251, who according to the credits did not do the translation himself; rather, someone credited as Shimizu Hitomi gave him a translation, which he edited heavily (presumably without her input) to make sure all the information fit into the game's small-ish textboxes.
- There used to be a translation team named after the Front Mission Series, which sought out to translate not just the games, but other media from the franchise which never made it out of Japan. Unfortunately, their only finished translations at the moment appear to be Front Mission 2, 5 and the radio drama series Gun Hazard; while they started working on translations for Alternative as well, these were never finished. Their archived homepage can be found here.
- The '80s-to-'90s Glory of Heracles games were not localized when they were current. However, as January 2012, there are fan translation patches for the first three games in the series (two from the NES era, one of the SNES games), as well as a Gameboy spinoff called Snap Story.
- Grandia Parallel Trippers for the Gameboy got a translation patch by the (at the time newly formed) group Adventurous Translations in September 2011.
- Magical Doropie (better known in the States as The Krion Conquest) has a fan translation by Video Smash Excellent that keeps the Ninja Gaiden style cutscenes of the Japanese version, which were removed in the American version and are generally considered the saving grace of an otherwise unoriginal game. It even comes with a readme detailing the long story of the game's creation and later localisation.
- Majin Tensei I and II have been translated by a group called DDSTranslation.
- Namco X Capcom received one of these by TransGen (via PPF patch); since then, another fan called irvgotti452 has attempted to fix perceived problems with it as well as patched a replacement font in for the dialogue text that would be more pleasing for the eye.
- Phantasy Star Gaiden has a particularly controversial fan translation by the group SoA, which mistranslates the revelation that Minima is a clone of Alis. This has been heavily scrutinized due to the translators apparently implying that they deliberately mistranslated it because they disliked that section of the plot.
- With the Pokémon series being popular worldwide, it's no wonder that people are willing to release these:
- There is a fan translation hack of Pokémon Green into English. Unusually for a fan translation, an updated rerelease of the game already existed in English, and the fan translation's grammar and spelling was full of errors in comparison.
- Poor quality translations appearing a few months before English releases ws practically a staple of Pokemon games for many years (although some members of Project Pokemon made a superb, 98% complete translation of Pokémon Black and White before it was released, breaking the trend somewhat). For reference, a new main series game would come out in September in Japan; then it would come out in March, April, or May of the next year in America, depending on the amount of new terms to translate, and over the summer everywhere else. However, around Gen VI the games started getting localised more or less during development so they could be released worldwide more or less simultaneously, causing the trend of quickly-done fan translations to fall out of fashion. Still, there are projects floating around to translate Pokémon into even more languages, such as a partial release in 2020 by Kaifi, who translated Fire Red into Esperanto.
- A translation patch for Policenauts, an early Hideo Kojima adventure game which has managed to elude export since 1994, was translated by the group Junker HQ in 2016. This translation has already been dubbed by some gaming news sources as the most important Fan Translation ever produced.
- The Portopia Serial Murder Case was released only for the Famicom in Japan, but quickly became famous there to the point where references to it are akin to The Butler Did It in Western media, getting referenced in as different works as The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya and Umineko: When They Cry. A group called DvD Translations has translated the game twice (the last time in 2011) so Westerners also can see the famous Twist Ending for themselves.
- The DS game Soma Bringer, which has not received any Western releases, has a mostly completed patch in the slightly unusual format xdelta. It is sometimes credited to DarthNemesis, although the user actually collaborated with more than five translators to release it.
- Radical Dreamers, the other sequel to Chrono Trigger received one in English by the group Demiforce; there were also plans by others to create French and German translations based on the English one, but these seem to have been abandoned.
- Sailor Moon: Another Story, the Sailor Moon RPG for SNES, was translated into English twice by the same group, Bishoujo Senshi Translations, 20 years apart. Interestingly, their first version from 1999 was also used as a basis for a French translation, by a nameless group spearheaded by Hiei-.
- A full translation of Super Robot Wars Judgment, or Super Robot Taisen J, was released by The Romhacking Aerie right after Christmas 2010. Amusingly, the only translation patch available before then was one which only translated the unit names, and nothing else, because the patcher "kept on deploying the wrong units".
- As mentioned on top of the page, the original Seiken Densetsu 3 was set to receive an official overseas release, only for the release to get cancelled. Fortunately, three translators and one hacker were able to pick up the slack and release a full translation patch for the SNES version.
- Tales of series:
- Although there already are two translations of Tales of Phantasia listed above, those who want a third option which remedies many of the problems the other translations had can find one which is patched to the PSX version instead.
- The group Absolute Zero has published a full translation patch for Tales of Innocence; the .zip can still be downloaded through the Wayback Machine, even though their site appears to be down.
- Kajitani-Eizan's Tales of Hearts translation started getting some wide-spread attention before ultimately getting cancelled (due to the news that an official localisation would be released later). Unfortunately, the translator ended up disliking the official localisation so much he wrote a lengthy blog post about what they should have done better and still didn't return to his own translation to do something better.
- There is also a years-old project translation of Tales of Destiny 2 by Phantasian Productions, but it seems to be suffering from lack of active staff to work on it.
- A relatively anonymous group (as in, even their official site doesn't appear to list who they are) have managed to fantranslate the PS3 version of Vesperia. Strange enough for a fan translation available for free, they appear to have affiliate links, meaning for each purchase done through a link on their site, they get a small cut of the money.
- The Tenchi Muyo strategy RPG Tenchi Muyo! Game-Hen, like several other examples on this page, has received one translation in the early 2000's which got polished by someone else years later. The latest revision of that patch is by borderLine[sic].
- Tokimeki Memorial games have had a history of people attempting to translate them only to give up after the first few screens, which has since changed. The first full, bug-free patch (for Girl's Side) was finally published in December 2010. Then, in May 2011, a complete TMGS2 patch was released, and translation patches for the PSP and the DS versions of TMGS3 were released in 2014 and 2015 respectively.
- Touhou Project fans have to rely on Fan Translation because of ZUN's reluctancy on licensing the series to the West. Even when he decided to start publishing some of the later games in the series on Steam, they are still Japanese only. Touhou fans being as dedicated as they are, they have also created fantranslations of Japanese Touhou fangames such as Labyrinth of Touhou, Sengoku Gensokyo, Touhoumon, Touhou Pocket Wars Evolution and probably more.
- White Gold: War in Paradise and The Precursors by the developers of Boiling Point: Road to Hell were only released in Eastern Europe, but fans have released an English translation patch on Deep Shadow's official English forums. That said, The Precursors had already been translated to English by the developers, and the patch merely unlocks it.
- There is a Hungarian translation of Unreal Tournament floating around the internet which includes anexcellent Fan Dub laced with Double Entendres and Hungarian puns.
- The Nintendo DS Video Game Remake of SaGa 2 received one by Crimson Nocturnal, which they revised several times until stopping at version 2.11.
- Master of Orion 2 and 3 have both been translated into German. The patch for 2 had a modest release (the translator simply posted it on the GoG forum with instructions on how to patch it for that release, while the one for 3 appears to have gone missing apart from a short blurb about it in a German gaming news site recommending it.
- Kaeru no Tame ni Kane wa Naru (For the Frog the Bell Tolls), the Japan-only Game Boy adventure/platforming game which is the Spiritual Predecessor of Link's Awakening, finally received a fantranslation in 2011 by ryanbgstl.
- SD Snatcher was the first MSX game to get this treatment, being translated by the group Oasis in 1993. (Although the team themselves were Dutch, they translated the game to English instead.)
- RapeLay was never going to be released outside of Japan due to controversy over its content, but a (slightly buggy) fan translation can be found if you know where to look.
- A Spanish translation patch by Wave for the NES version of Valis is available, which may have come with a Game Mod intended to make it less frustrating to play.
- Amaterasu Translations has translated a number of visual novels, including CROSS†CHANNEL, Sekien no Inganock, Shikkoku no Sharnoth, Muv-Luv, and Muv-Luv Alternative.
- There used to be a site called TLWiki which facilitated various translation projects for visual novels and Dating Sims. While the site is no longer active, a list of their finished translations can be viewed through the Wayback Machine here. Their translations of Saya no Uta and YU-NO bear special mention; Nitroplus eventually worked the former translation into official releases of the game. Meanwhile, the YU-NO patch goes above and beyond; not only did it translate everything, it also added the voice acting and other content from the Sega Saturn version, the FM soundtrack from the PC 98 version, and removed the awkward textual and visual censorship that had been inflicted on the Windows version.
- Between 2005 and 2008, a group known as Insani translated several demos of commercial visual novels, and several freeware/independent visual novels. (The demos made it clear that the full games had harem plots, and often adult content; however, the freeware VNs had no harem elements, and few of them contained offensive content.)
- MangaGamer do not create their own fan translations; however, they have a history of seeking out fan translators and using them as a basis for official English releases. For example, their release of Ef: A Fairy Tale of the Two. uses a translation by the group No Name Losers
- Mirror Moon has created translation patches which still require the original Japanese game for several games like Fate/stay night, Utawarerumono, and Tsukihime. There are even voice patches for the former two, which rip the audio from the PS2 version (that you have to provide, of course); Mirror Moon also helpfully provides links to distributors who will sell the games to you. In April 2020, the group has officially retired, with patches for seventeen games still available on their site. This includes the 6 eroge translated by the subgroup Yandere Translations, who among others translated Swan Song and Sengoku Rance).
- Sekai Project started out as a fan translation group, but after 0verflow decided to endorse their patch of School Days, things started going up for them. Nowadays, they have become Ascended Fans of the genre, working together with Japanese companies to produce and officially localise VNs in English.
Individual translation efforts
With the low amount of VNs making it out of Japan, the VN scene is full of these, with a few (as noted above) having the chance of becoming officially licensed translations later on. Links to many of these can be found on sites like VNDB; however, it should be noted that the game developers don't always approve of them, issuing cease and desist letters or otherwise taking legal action.
- Canvas 2: Niji-iro no Sketch received a fan translation in October 2010. This has also been complemented by a scanlation of the manga adaption, as well as Fan Subs of the TV anime which later were released on Crunchyroll.)
- A fan translation of Starry Sky in Spring was released by an anonymous group called Oge during December 2010. Fans wondered if the anonymous release was done in order to prevent a cease and desist request.
- The Higurashi no Naku Koro ni sound novels for PC have received three official translations, two in English and one in French. Still, there are two problems with these translations: the occasional bad grammar, and the fact they don't include any of the voice acting and graphical updates from more recent updated remakes that stayed in Japan. The latter English version also suffers from some music swaps brought on by licensing issues, and using a limited updated rerelease that didn't update nearly as much as the PS2/PS3/Switch remakes (which of course were Japan-only). The group 07th-Mod has been trying to compensate for this by creating patches that add the Japanese-only materials to the latest English release (whether on Steam or the DRM-free version), as well as other QOL improvements.
- Likewise, Umineko no Naku Koro ni was translated by the unofficial group Witch-Hunt soon after the first volume's release; the series' creator was impressed enough that he included a Shout Out to them in later volumes, and they would later get the chance to collaborate with MangaGamer on a new, officially licensed, translation.
- Fans managed to translate the five first games in the Sono Hanabira ni Kuchizuke wo series years before MangaGamer started publishing the series under the localised title A Kiss For The Petals.
- For the record, its successor game Treasure Hunter G got a mostly-complete translation by a group called Metalhawk instead.
- Finish within quotation marks due to the other translator, NoPrgress, claiming it only translated 90% of the game with the rest being "random strings here and there that have no real bearing on the game".
- many years before an official translation appeared as an Embedded Precursor game in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater
- The only difference is a few of the sprites, Pokémon encounter rates, etc.; the Bonus Dungeon map used in the international Red and Blue were pulled from Green anyway.
- For the record, the game was later remade for the Switch and released in 2020 under the name Trials of Mana, with an official translation and dub.
- Something interesting about their Swan Song patch is that it was intended solely for the CD release, but that it unintentionally works with the digital version published two years after the final version of the patch came out
- The main reason for this theory is that translations of games such as Yosuga no Sora and AIR were affected by such requests earlier that year; some cancelled, some continued "underground" on places like /jp/.