Sunday, September 27, 2009

It’s a Secret to Everybody, Part Fifteen: The Worst Names in Video Games

(This is a reposting of just one section of my overlong “It’s a Secret to Everybody” post on video game etymologies. Click the link to see the whole shebang. Links to other sections are at the bottom of this post.)

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And, to end this series on names in video games: the most wacked-out video game characters. Many of these I came across in researching the original post, and, often, I couldn’t fathom an explanation for why they exist. I just have to stand in awe of the their bizarre nature.

The Worst Names in Video Games
(with worst meaning poorly thought out, nonsensical,
whacked-out or just plain inappropriate)

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Pizza Pasta
Punch Out!!

Some Nintendo staffer’s best effort at creating an Italian-themed boxer for the 1984 arcade installment of the Punch Out!! series: a Sylvester Stallone-looking cretin. Never appeared again. At least he fared better than the series’s representative of Russia, Vodka Drunkenski.

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Caffeine Nicotine 
Samurai Shodown

His opponents may draw their names from historical personages and crude Japanese puns, but Caffeine Nicotine takes his fairly obviously from two addictive substances. I couldn’t tell you why, but his creators chose to drive the theme home with the back story that he hails from a temple known as Koka-in, or “Cocaine.” Which is cute. My best guess is that Caffeine Nicotine represents some distortion of the Capuchin Monks, but that wouldn’t take into account the nicotine element — unless you consider the fact that one of this grizzled, knee-high sensei’s attacks involves blowing tobacco smoke in his enemies faces. Bizarre, all around.

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Pudding
Dragon Quest II

Enix — a video game-developing company that has since married Squaresoft and created the entity now known as Square Enix — has a series that in its day rivaled Final Fantasy. In the U.S., it was initially called Dragon Warrior, but the longtime Japanese name, Dragon Quest, has now caught on worldwide. Early in the series, the American versions of the game made quite a few adjustments for non-Japanese audiences. Among them: the names of the cast of the second game. The singular heroine, known superficially as Princess of Moonbrooke, gets a proper handle when the player chooses it, and one of these possible default names is Purin. In subsequent appearances, unfortunately, she’s stuck not with Purin but with this Japanese word’s translation into English: Pudding. This is problematic for several reasons. First, while video games have a rich history of naming women after edible, nice-smelling or aesthetically pleasing objects, calling someone Pudding takes it too far. Second, the existence of the Japanese word purin makes it possible that the aforementioned female characters I tried to associate with the Jewish holiday Purim may actually be associated with pudding. And thirdly, Purin happens to be the Japanese name of the Pokémon character Jigglypuff. And that just sucks.

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Devilotte de Satan III
Cyberbots: Fullmetal Madness

And then sometimes the pendulum swings too far in the other direction. Devilotte de Satan III — who’s sometimes known as Devilot and whose middle name, really, should be Subtlety — is a maniacal princess who appears as a playable character in the mech fighter Cyberbots and again in the Capcom crossover title Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo. As her name suggests, she’s pure evil — over-the-top evil, in fact. Well, at least her name’s not Pudding.

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Marth
 Fire Emblem

Had Nintendo never taken the Fire Emblem series outside Japan, poor Prince Marth might not be on this list. But they did, and they shoved Marth into Smash Bros. Melee, exposing non-Japanese players to the franchise for the first time. For some inscrutable reason, the translators chose to interpret the Japanese name Marusu as Marth instead of Mars, even though the latter sounds a hundred times cooler and had already been used as the character’s English name in a dubbed version of a Fire Emblem anime. No luck for the video game version of the character. He became not Mars, but Marth — as in some back-formed masculine version of Martha. Doesn’t Nintendo realize that guys who wear headbands need the most masculine names they can get?

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Wander
 Shadow of the Colossus

The hero’s names don’t go all femme-y only in the U.S., however. For English-speakers, Sony’s awesome adventure title Shadow of the Colossus centers on a man named Wander who darts across beautiful landscapes Legend of Zelda-style and then fights various towering monsters. In Japan, however, both the game and hero’s names are different: It’s Wanda and the Colossus and the heroic monster-fighter is Wanda, at least in how the Japanese characters representing this name would be translated. (It should be noted that commenter Josef points out that the Japanese release of the game includes English text that clearly states Wander, not Wanda.) A hero being named Wanda, even if only in specific contexts, amuses me. I guess that’s what you get for naming your character after a verb.

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Rungo Iron
Toshinden

If a name like Devilotte de Satan III qualifies as less than subtle, consider that it takes at least one small mental leap to move from Devil and Satan to evil. With Rungo Iron — often represented even more obviously as Run-go Iron — there’s even less distance between the name and the thing the name refers to: “run,” “go,” and “iron.” The references are appropriate in that the stone club-wielding fighter is less like his blade-toting opponents than he is a freight train, hitting fast and hard. To make matters worse, Rungo is the sole American combatant in the original Toshinden — the Guile, in more ways than one — and none of the other characters throughout the entire series are nearly as dumbly named. I’m not sure whether this says more about video game developers or their attitudes toward Americans.


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Tiny Kong
 Donkey Kong Country

In the beginning, Tiny Kong’s name made sense. After the first three Donkey Kong Country games, Rare saw fit to dispense with a lot of Donkey Kong’s hangers-on and replace them with new ones. The substitute for Dixie Kong was a character introduced as her kid sister: the beanie-wearing Tiny Kong, who had the magic power of being able to shrink down to a minuscule size — for fun and adventure! As time passed, Dixie proved more popular than Tiny, but Nintendo brought Tiny back years later… and did so in a way that made her name doubly irrelevant. She no longer could shrink, for one, and she now stands a head taller than her former big sister, for another. Tiny grew up in other ways, too: She also happened to now be a lanky, tube top-wearing teen whose form suggested an attempt at sexiness that simply should not be. Despite this anthropomorphic unpleasantness, Tiny Kong persists. Ew, Nintendo. Ew.

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Exdeath
Final Fantasy V

I suppose you can’t expect much from an anthropomorphic tree — and Exdeath is just that, a tree so possessed by evil that it gained sentience, took a vaguely human form and attempted to conquer the world — but for a character who serves as Final Fantasy V’s big bad, his name sucks. Exdeath. What is that? The official spelling is at least better than what’s offered in the fan-translated version of the game, released before the real deal hit U.S. shores: X-Death. Literally, it could be taken to mean “out of death,” but that doesn’t even make sense, especially considering that “out of tree” would have been more appropriate. Even worse: Many have posited that his name should have actually been Exodus, which still doesn’t work all that well but at least could be taken to refer to his trek out of the forest and into to the realm of villainy. Really, I don’t blame Exdeath for having a bad temperament. In addition to coping with the realization at some point that he, despite sentience, was only a tree, he has a stupid name. And life is rough for those with stupid names.

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Tiaramisu
Wario: Master of Disguise

For reasons I’ll never understand, the universe of the Wario games is oddly more populated with female characters than is that of the Mario games, from which the Wario ones spun off. Consequently, Wario has faced off against a lot of female big bads. Among these is Tiaramisu, a character who initially appears in the form of a tubby, masked woman in a red dress and who ultimately reveals her true form as a evil, bloated Princess Peach clone. Furthermore, as a big bad, she’s known as Terrormisu, which stretches the pun in the original name far enough to break it. Tiramisu is a thing. Tiaramisu is an attempt to make tiramisu more “princessy.” Terrormisu is just stupid. Other characters introduced in Wario: Master of Disguise — and likely to never be seen again, given the game’s unpopularity — include chaps named Carpaccio and Cannoli, so clearly Nintendo had Italian food on the brain when making this game. But the theme falls by the wayside with this one, who just has a little much going on in her name. Sometimes puns just go too far.

Trevor Pearlharbor
Killer7

I’ll admit right now that I’ve never actually played the Capcom-produced, multiple personality-themed shooter Killer7. I’ll also say that I’m not an excessively politically correct person. However, the fact that a character with the last named Pearlhabor exists in a video game does stretch the limits of good taste. If anyone can provide any elucidation as to why his name should not be considered inappropriate, I’d be happy to hear it.

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Princess Yoyo
 Bahamut Lagoon

She’s not just the heroine of a Squaresoft-developed Super Nintendo game that never made it out of Japan, she’s also another great example of what can go wrong with the trend of naming female characters after objects. Perhaps it’s best that Bahamut Lagoon never officially made it out of Japan, where the word yoyo can refer to the toy but can also just mean “idiot.”

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Ax Battler
Golden Axe

Where to begin? Ax Battler is one of the three playable characters in Sega’s sword-slinging beat-’em-up Golden Axe, the other two being Red Sonja rip-off Tyris Flare and feisty dwarf Gillius Thunderhead, the latter of which himself has a pretty terrific name. Upon hearing the name Ax Battler, you might think the name is actually a description of the character. It’s not. You might also think he’d be the one of the three characters who fights with an axe — if not the very axe referenced in the game’s title. Nope again. Mr. Battler carries a sword; it’s Mr. Thunderhead who carries the axe. Finally, there’s the strangeness in the fact that the game officially spells the character’s name Ax — that is, without the “E” at the end. Now ax is an acceptable spelling of the word more commonly represented as axe, but the fact that both would feature in the game so prominently is just stupid. Matters got even worse when a later spin-off that focused specifically on Ax awkwardly included both spellings in the same title: Ax Battler: A Legend of Golden Axe. Fortunately, this title is now remembered as little more than a rip-off of Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, even down to the structure of the title. Sequels Golden Axe: Revenge of Death Adder and Golden Axe III replace Ax with clones with equally awkward names: Stern Blade and Kain Grinder, respectively.

Yoko Harmageddon
Street Fighter Alpha 3

An extremely minor character appearing only in certain scenes involving a marginally less minor character, included here only because the name Yoko Harmegeddon needs to be recorded for the ages. Yoko is the frowsy manager and trainer of R. Mika, an impossibly buxom, blonde-haired Japanese woman and professional wrestler who appears as a playable character in Street Fighter Alpha 3 and who looks like a cross between Baby Spice and Bubbles from Powerpuff Girls. As far as I know, Yoko only appears in R. Mika’s win poses and does so riding a golf cart. Amazing.

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Geese Howard
Fatal Fury

Most write-ups of Fatal Fury big bad Geese Howard note that he has an ill-fittingly comical name considering the extent of villainy. He’s like James Bond villain evil, to the point that most of the crime that drives the plotlines of the early Fatal Fury games — and in one existence, bad goings-on in the sister series, Art of Fighting as well — can be traced back to him. I haven’t got a clue why his name is Geese, however, or even why it would be the plural instead of the singular. The matter is further complicated by the existence of another Fatal Fury character, a lunatic in raver pants named Duck King. Drugs can account for that name; I can only surmise that Geese is a mistranslation of something, though I’m at a loss for what. The name irks me to the point that I’m actually focusing on it for this concluding list of bad, inexplicable names rather than that of another Fatal Fury fighter: a guy named Marco Rodriguez in the Japanese release but changed for English-speaking territories to be Khushnood Butt — literally cush, nude and butt — for literally no good reason that I can think off. A good result of Geese’s odd name is that it makes for accidentally funny related merchandise. For example, one of his theme songs is titled “Geese ni Kissu,” or, in English, “A Kiss for Geese.” And a manga centered on the character bears the title Geese in the Dark, which is misleading if you aren’t familiar with Fatal Fury.

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King
Art of Fighting

The short version: Despite what you might expect, King is a girl. The long version: If SNK’s Fatal Fury games are that company’s attempt at an answer to Capcom’s Street Fighter, then SNK’s Art of Fighting games are another attempt at an answer, if maybe you didn’t like the first one. The first Art of Fighting game features only one female character: a kickboxing bouncer named King. The character is initially depicted as fairly butch but has gradually been feminized in later appearances to the point that no one would mistake her for a man at this point. And that just makes her name more of a head-scratcher. She has never been given a last name, as far as I know, and I’m fairly certain she shouldn’t have been born with the name King. (This anonymous commenter points out that drag kings might have some bearing on the character, her name and her style of dress.) To confuse matter more, one of her motives behind entering fighting competitions is to win enough money to pay for an operation for her younger brother, who, in keeping with what could be a family tradition of bucking gender traditions, is named Jan.

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Pretty much everyone in Saturday Night Slam Masters

A nearly forgotten Capcom fighter known as Muscle Bomber in Japan, Saturday Night Slam Masters and its cast has mostly fallen by the wayside. Save for Mike Haggar from Final Fight, none of the characters have appeared in other Capcom fighters. And that’s a shame, really, because if quality were determined by the strangeness of their names, then these guys would be regulars. Often, the Japanese names are loonier. Take, for instance, the character known in the U.S. as Alexander the Grater — that’s right: Grater and not Greater. In Japan, he’s Sheep the Royal. The guy the English version of the game calls King Rasta Mon is known in Japan as Missing IQ Gomes. That’s not to say that some of the American appellations aren’t uniformly better. The series protagonist, known in Japan as Aleksey Zalazof got saddled with the name Biff Slamkovich in the U.S. Similarly, the rotund Kimala the Bouncer was renamed Jumbo the Flapjack, which is evocative, if nothing else.

And that’s it. I honestly never would have expected that this article would have grown to such an unwieldy length, but it did — and now I can say that it represents literally everything I can think of to say about words in video games. I’m sure there’s stuff I’m missing, and I fully expect the kind of people who will read this thing through to tell me what significant bits I missed. Please do. I hope that, other than proving that this much can be written on the subject of video games and etymology, I’ve demonstrated that video games are just as wired into every other facet of culture as any other medium. They may not be held in as high regard as literature or film or music, but they draw on the same sources, even though you might not expect them to do so.

The whole “It’s a Secret to Everybody” series:

3 comments:

  1. You forgot two more examples... the horribly named non translated Super Mario Land bosses, unless you think say, 'Biokinton' sounds even remotely cool to anyone outside of Japan.

    And the Barfatronic Lavachomper from Wario Master of Disguise. Your examples are subtle, this is about as nice a name as being called 'Moron'. I wonder how much toilet humour could come from this...

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  2. Anonymous9:03 AM

    Actually, the name of King's brother is a misspelling on "Jean", which is a very common French boy name.

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  3. For some inscrutable reason, the translators chose to interpret the Japanese name Marusu as Marth instead of Mars, even though the latter sounds a hundred times cooler and had already been used as the character’s English name in a dubbed version of a Fire Emblem anime.

    Marusu would indeed be Marth, while Mars, in Japanese characters, would be written differently: Ma-su.

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