Friday, August 21, 2009

Rice Cracker Mountain

Consider this a follow-up of sorts to the “It’s a Secret to Everybody” post about video game name etymologies. This one, however, will be much shorter — because how could it now be? — and is drawn from the list of translations posted on the Mushroom Kingdom website’s “Mario in Japan” posts. Nothing too revelatory in this post, but some neat insight into the designers’ original intentions and the thought processes of those who translated the games.

First, the one for Super Mario World recently posted translations for the game’s stages. Among others, it notes that what we English-speakers call Cookie Mountain was originally Rice Cracker Mountain. Seems like a necessary switch, given the fact that American kids probably wouldn’t have known what a rice cracker was at the time. In keeping with the theme of food names, the level known to English-speakers simply as Sunken Ghost Ship is known to Japanese-speakers as Ramune Trench Sunken Ship. A footnote explains that Ramune is a “citrusy soft drink in Japan,” and therefore the name could be practically translated as Soft Drink Trench Sunken Ship. And this would be appropriate, given that the game’s other specially named underwater level in both English and Japanese versions is Soda Lake. Finally, the levels in Special World — the unlockable, super hard world — are also strange. In English, the eight levels all get names that smack of early 90s surfer and skater slang: in order, Gnarly, Tubular, Way Cool, Awesome, Groovy, Mondo, Outrageous, and Funky. The original version only has four names, each applying a pair of courses. The first two are Pleasure Course, the second Mario Staff Is Also Surprised Course, the third Specialist Course, and the final pair Champion Ship Course. Odd.

There’s a neat instance of censorship in the list of place name translations for Super Mario RPG. The coin-filled body of water that English Speakers know as Midas River is actually Nearby Wine River — a food name that didn’t make the cut. And the cloud kingdom English-speakers call Nimbus Land is Cloud Kingdom over in Japan. Why the food theme was dropped on this latter one, I have no idea.

As far as actual character names go, I thought it was worth pointing out a minor character named Bahamutt in the English version.


In the big name post, I mentioned an “evil Yoshi” character from Super Mario RPG who actually follows a pattern established by Wario, whose name is a portmanteau of Mario and warui, the Japanese word for “evil.” The pattern isn’t apparent in the English version, as the character is just called Boshi, but it in original Japanese, he’s Washi — a shortening of what would more correctly be Waruishi, essentially “evil Yoshi.” It seems like Bahamutt was also conceived of as a Yoshi reference, as his Japanese name is Doshi. (“Dragon Yoshi”?) As you can see on the right, his character model is also pretty damn similar to Yoshi’s. As it stands now, Bahamutt is instead a reference to the recurring Final Fantasy dragon character Bahamut. Squaresoft, which makes Final Fantasy made Super Mario RPG jointly with Nintendo. One more small oddity: There actually exists another Mario character named Doshi — the friendly sea serpent character who’s shown up in a few games. In the U.S., she’s called Dorrie instead. Not sure why Nintendo seems keen on omitting references back to Yoshi.

Lastly, the list finally explained a Super Mario RPG villain whose name had confused me. In the game, many bosses are based on weapons. (And, indeed, the big bad is an evil weaponsmith.) Bowyer is a bow and arrow, Mack is a knife, etc. One that didn’t quite make sense is a late-in-the-game boss named Yaridovich. He’s obviously a spear, but what’s up with the name. The list laid it out: a yari is a type of Japanese spear. So there we go. But, again, it’s always weird to see what Japanese-specific elements get edited out and which ones leak through to the English product. In the Japanese version, his name is Yaridovihhi. I can only imagine that the -ovich ending got tacked on because, well, time was Americans were supposed to think Russians were evil. Right?

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