(One thing before you read: the sizes of my pictures are ridiculous, I’m sorry)
Recently, my household acquired a Super Famicom. Basically, the Super Famicom is the Japanese version of the Super Nintendo, with the difference being that the games that were released for each console weren’t always the same. A lot of games were released exclusively in Japan for the Famicom, and since the consoles were not universal, you wouldn’t be able to play those games on an SNES . Thus, we (for future reference, by we, I mean my boyfriend and I) bought one with the intention to play all of those cool “you’veprobablyneverheardofit” titles.
Throughout our trials with the Famicom thus far I have noticed something that probably seems sort of weird: for most of the games, the fact that I do not know Japanese hasn’t mattered very much. When we bought it I thought this was going to be a huge issue, and that we’d need lots of outside translation help in order to be able to even figure out the basics of these games. But this is not the case.
The question then is, when does the actual text matter in a video game? Well, the first time we even encountered a serious problem was when we popped in Chrono Trigger. Chrono Trigger is an RPG, therefore there is quite a bit of story, and therefore a lot of text. But it’s not just the story in CT that’s the issue, it’s the battle system. It’s turn based, so think Final Fantasy, and all the moves and options are written out in Japanese. In a way, you could say that Chrono Trigger not only a video game, but it is also a text adventure for the reasons I have mentioned above. Almost all of your dynamic decisions in the game operate on selecting a textual option, something impossible for a non-native speaker without using a translation.
However, like I said, this is the only instance where we have encountered trouble with the language barrier. The example I have for this is Super Mario World, where little to no Japanese text is present in the game. The only time you ever really see Japanese is when the hopping Yoshi egg tells you the princess is in another castle (I’m assuming that’s what he says anyway).
One thing I find really interesting about Super Mario World on the Famicom is the amount of English youencounter. In fact, this isn’t just for SMW; it applies for the majority of the games we purchased. Donkey Kong Country 2 and Street Fighter Turbo are primarily in English (except where it matters, like the Settings page).
Is text really that crucial to our understanding and enjoyment of video games? I’d have to say yes and no based on my experience. Originally I assumed that video games were pretty much unplayable in foreign languages, and while some of them still are, you find that it’s really not all that important. The enjoyment you get from video games does not stem from their semantics, but rather their syntax. Unless you’re playing turn-based RPGs.