linkedin px ads

Pokémon Part 02 – The Troubles of Localizing the Games

Pokémon Part 02 – The Troubles of Localizing the Games

Font size:

Translating Japanese games for English-speaking gamers isn’t a new endeavour.

Some of today’s most significant, memorable and beloved adventures in gaming were once Japan-only titles. From the streamlined gameplay to the soaring orchestral soundtracks, Japan has set a standard by creating both familiar and unique worlds gamers clamour to purchase. Pokémon is no exception, amassing over 440 million copies sold globally. These pocket monsters have crawled their way into the hearts and pockets of many fans.

When the Pokémon series began in 1996, people from America could only learn about the newly released franchise from the crumpled pages of videogame magazines. A lot has changed since then. With the games becoming global sensations, and the top gaming franchise of all time (quickly amassing over $90 billion), it stood the test of time. Game boy players gradually evolved into Switch owners, and 150 Pokémon became over 900!

If you haven’t read Part 01 – check it out!
The following blog examines the methods used and work performed by translators and Nintendo’s role in localizing for their foreign markets.

The first part of this blog will look at how Nintendo handles its localization process, including issues relating to game translation and cultural language differences between Europe and the Americas. The second part of the blog will investigate the challenges faced by fan translators in translating from Japanese into English and how most never even get close to completion.


Pokémon had difficulty with localization

The original Pokémon games, Pokémon Red and Green, were released in Japan on February 27th, 1996. Almost two and a half years later, Pokémon Red and Blue were released in North America on September 28, 1998, followed by Europe a year after that on October 5th, 1999. By the time a player picked their starter Pokémon for the first time in Europe, six spin-off Pokémon games were released, while the sequel games Pokémon Gold and Silver were almost a month away from debuting to the Japanese audience.
These weren’t the only delays for the series. Below are the release dates of the mainline titles and the time between the original Japanese, American, and European translated versions.
POKÉMON GOLD & SILVER(21/11/1999)(15/10/2000)(06/04/2001)329173
POKÉMON CRYSTAL(14/12/2000)(30/07/2001)(31/10/2001)22893
POKÉMON RUBY & SAPPHIRE(21/11/2003)(19/03/2003)(25/07/2003)247128
POKÉMON EMERALD(16/09/2004) (01/05/2005)(21/10/2005)138173
POKÉMON DIAMOND & PEARL(28/09/2006)(22/04/2007)(27/07/2007)20696
POKÉMON PLATINUM(13/09/2008)(22/03/2009)(22/05/2009)19061
POKÉMON BLACK & WHITE(18/09/2010)(06/03/2011)(04/03/2011)169-2
POKÉMON BLACK 2 & WHITE 2(23/06/2012)(07/10/2012)(12/10/2012)1115
POKÉMON X AND Y(12/10/2013)(12/10/2013)(12/10/2013)00
POKÉMON SUN & MOON(18/11/2016)(18/11/2016)(23/11/2016)05
POKÉMON SWORD AND SHIELD(15/11/2019)(15/11/2019)(15/11/2019)00
POKÉMON SCARLET & VIOLET(18/11/2022)(18/11/2022)(18/11/2022)00
As you can see, the days between the regional launches gradually shortened as technology, localization procedures and techniques improved over the years.
Gamefreak game director Junichi Masuda said in an interview, “The gap between the Japanese launch and the European launch is because we always try to make the best videogame experience for not only Japanese users, but the people in other countries who enjoy localized videogames.”
In the chart, you can see that the European release for Pokémon Black and White was released a whole two days before the North American version. This was because Gamefreak changed the scheme of how they organized the translation process. With the earlier games, they localized from Japanese to English and from English to the other European languages (Spanish, French, German, Italian). However, this time around, they translated Japanese directly to the European languages.
This made the regional launch timings much closer together, and eventually, they managed to perfect the process, and for the first time ever, with Pokémon X and Y, they had the first same-day release global launch.

Pokémon Part 02 – The Troubles of Localizing the Games

Importing games and the addition of more languages

The benefit of cutting down the time for the Pokémon games releases in the West allowed fans the world over to experience the story spoiler-free instead of having to resort to watching gameplay online, counting down the days for the next release.
They couldn’t even import the games to play on their consoles, as Nintendo enforced a strict region locking policy at the time (which stopped Japanese games from working on an American/European console and vice versa. So, unless the fans had the spare finances to ship out the game, the console and just happened to know how to read Japanese fluently – they were solely at the mercy of the localization team’s release date.
That wasn’t the only hurdle you had to bypass being a fan. If you didn’t understand the original six languages the earlier games came in (English, French, Spanish, Italian, German and Japanese), then your only options (besides learning a new language) were much shadier. Such as emulating the games on a computer and applying a poorly made language patch, or stumbling upon a bootlegged version of the game in a black market, that, most of the time, wouldn’t even be able to run correctly.
This was the case for Korean and Chinese speakers until Nintendo released a Korean version of Pokémon Gold and Silver in South Korea in 2002 and a Chinese version of Pokémon Sun and Moon in China in 2016 – once China lifted their videogame ban in 2014. This increased the total officially supported languages of the main Pokémon games to nine (Korean, Simplified Chinese and Traditional Chinese).

Pokémon Part 02 – The Troubles of Localizing the Games

Pokémon and its localization issues

Besides the significant regions of the globe, Nintendo has tried its best to increase the accessibility of Pokémon games to accommodate the demand of its ever-growing audience. However, not all of their decisions resonated with their die-hard fanbase. Besides the significant regions of the globe, Nintendo has tried its best to increase the accessibility of Pokémon games to accommodate the demand of its ever-growing audience. However, not all of their decisions resonated with their die-hard fanbase.
Below we will discuss some of the more noteworthy examples.


Most Chinese audiences grew up on fan-translated and bootlegged editions of the games alongside differently dubbed animated Pokémon TV shows depending on the three regions (Mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan). Due to this, there was a massive disparity of consistency within the series.
Because of this, when Nintendo released the first Pokémon game in China in 2016, they determined that it would be best if they unified the three languages – which might have been the most efficient way to cut costs on multiple variations of Chinese promotional material. In hindsight – it might not have been the best of ideas when the Pikachu protests began.
Unification is a good idea—as long as it doesn’t change the different localizations used previously. Fans in China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan had grown up with three different versions of Pokémon. The fans in these three markets have all had their own understanding of Pokémon, and naturally, any changes to that were not taken very well.
So, when Nintendo released Pokémon in China, for the Hong Kong players, for example, Pikachu was called “Bei Ka Chiu” after the unification. However, it is now known as “Pei Ka Yau”. This infuriated a large percentage of the fanbase, who took to the streets petitioning that Nintendo changes the names of all the Pokémon back to their Hong Kong versions.
Unfortunately, Nintendo decided to stand by the unified translation and encouraged everyone to use the English translation. However, they soon realised that their comment didn’t help the situation and subsequently postponed a majority of their promotional activities that were to be scheduled around Hong Kong, including the 2016 Pokémon World Championships.

South America

A similar incident happened in 2021, with the release of Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl in South America. The version released for that audience was the European Spanish version, which is spoken in Spain. The several hundred years of diverging and varied cultures meant that the Spanish dialects on either side of the Atlantic differed.
Some examples of Pokémon moves in the games can be seen below.
EnglishLatin AmericaMeaningEuropean
Tail WhipGolpe de cola Tail StrokeLátigoWhip
String ShotDisparo de sedaSilk ShotDisparo DemoraDelay Shot
Close CombatCombate cercanoClose CombatA BocajarroPoint-blank
Play RoughJuego rudoRough PlayCarantoñaPlay Rough
False SwipeGolpe falsoFake HitFalso TortazoFalse Punch
Poison JabGolpe venenosoPoisonous BlowPuya NocivaHarmful Point
Original List by ANMTV
As you can see, the differences in the moves are small but significant enough to be an annoyance for a Latin American Spanish speaker playing through the games.
The games had even more significant translation issues besides the moves and their inconsistencies with the locally dubbed shows. The most egregious example is that the games include mild words and phrases in European Spanish, considered profanities in Latin America. These are inappropriate for the game’s younger audience. For example, “Nos importa un pito” means “We care very little (about something),” but in Latin America, it has a much coarser meaning, something along the lines of “We don’t give a f*ck.”
This understandably led to an online petition to have the games localized for the Latin American audience, endorsed by the voice actors for Ash and Brock from the Latin American Pokémon TV show Gabriel Ramos and Gabriel Gama, respectively. Nintendo eventually acknowledged the petition and responded, “Although we do not always implement all the suggestions, we read and pay attention to each comment.”
With the upcoming release of Pokémon Scarlet and Violet later this year (which takes place in a world inspired by modern-day Spain), fans are hoping this will be the first game to offer a correct localized version for the Latin American audience.

Canadian French

Unlike China’s and Latin America’s issues with the games, Pokémon fans in Quebec share a generational disconnect within the naming conventions. Since early 1999, all Pokémon games were released in Canada solely in English until the release of Pokémon Heart Gold and Soul Silver in 2010. The games were always released on the same day as in the United States, as Pokémon games sold in Canada were direct imports of the American versions.
This meant spelling variations such as “color” and “center” were not changed to “colour” and “centre” for the Canadian releases and included bilingual packaging and instruction manuals, as required by Canadian law.
The confusion began, however, with the Pokémon TV show. Because the games were only available in English (unless you imported a European version with French available on the cartridge), Canadian players were only familiar with the English Pokémon names, as opposed to the French ones. So, to tie into the game releases more effectively, the version of the European French dub of the anime released in Quebec was redubbed to use the English names for characters and Pokémon.
This worked for a while, as most people in the region were bilingual, so when someone mentioned a Pokémon in French or English, they were on the same common ground and able to understand one another.
However, this changed in 2010, as Nintendo started releasing the games fully in French in Quebec, including French Pokémon names. Alongside this, they stopped altering the French TV show and released the episodes with the original French Pokémon dubbing. So, a generation of people who grew up knowing whom “Feraligatr” was suddenly had to come to terms with that Pokémon being called “Aligatueur” across the media instead.
This topic has become polarizing over the years, and the issue is brought up with every subsequent game release. There’s a clear divide in Quebec among Francophones who use the English names (usually older, bilingual and closer to Montreal) and the French names (generally younger, less likely to know English and further from Montreal). Many Francophones find the names unappealing and foreign. They claim that Nintendo is acting in a very revisionist way by scrubbing any record of the Quebec dub and acting like it never existed.
Nintendo most likely won’t make any concessions for localizing for a region with only 7.8 million French speakers. The French versions of the games have proved successful, with younger kids only knowing those versions of the names. Sadly, the older generation will have to contend with playing the English versions or attempt to find a Québécoise fan-translated version online for an emulator to embark on a nostalgia-fuelled experience.

Pokémon Part 02 – The Troubles of Localizing the Games

Fan translations and bootlegs

Fan translations are born from passion, with individuals and groups translating everything from the original Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest games to the current triple-A hits in Japan. Fan translations are made possible by a desire to get a Japanese game into the hands of a non-Japanese-speaking audience — an audience that, for one reason or another, would never get to experience games that get passed up for the official localization treatment.
One of the biggest challenges in working on an unofficial translation is dismantling and rebuilding another person’s work. Sometimes fan groups get very lucky and manage to find a script for the project they are working with online, or (in the worst case) they have nothing but a copy of a game. In the case of the latter, the game needs to be broken down entirely rather than working through the script and then inserting the translation into the ROM manually or with a patch. The script files are pulled out and dissected, which are usually hard to find, as they are scattered throughout the ROM and require a ton of legwork to compile.
Many prominent fan translation groups took their shot at trying to translate the Pokémon games before the official version in English was released. However, they were mostly severely written or included swear words and intentional bugs and glitches as jokes. And while most never got more than a third of the way through the translation process, a select few succeeded and got shared within the darkest depths of early 2000s forums.
One of the most notable ones was a fan translation of Pokémon Silver by an online group called Vida Translation. They somehow managed to translate the entire game from Japanese a full year before Nintendo’s official version was released in North America. The game came with a few bugs and some leftover garbage text. All the Pokémon had names with a maximum of five characters (due to technological limitations in that specific Japanese version).
However, it was completely playable, and for those with the technical know-how at the time, it pleasantly filled the longest gap between official translations in Pokémon’s history. It has now, however, almost 22 years later, mostly disappeared from the internet, but every so often, someone comes along with access to the ROM and shares it through those forums once more.


The Pokémon games have an extremely loyal and vocal fanbase, and as the games have evolved over the years, so has Nintendo’s stance on their localization practices and the effort they put into their games. After 25 years of Pokémon games, every new version now comes with all nine languages on the cartridge, isn’t region locked (so anyone can play the game from any appropriate system), and, most importantly, allows every player across the globe to explore the newest game together on launch day.
With bootlegs and cheat systems, the dark side of the ROM hacking world is extensive. Still, it is an integral part of Pokémon history for some fans. It continues to have a thriving community of fan translators and people pushing the older sprite games to their graphical limits, continuing the trend of unique Pokémon fan games.
After reading through this, you might feel inspired to learn more about the creative process of localizing a video game yourself! If so – then check out our guide.
And if you need assistance in ensuring that you avoid accidentally including swear words in your translations, starting a Pikachu-inspired protest, or just need a little professional help with your fan translation, feel free to contact us here.
Share this article!
Pangea Localization Services