The most recent issue of Retro Gamer included an interview with Junichi Masuda and Ken Sugimori, the producer and main character designer behind Pokémon Red and Blue. The pair discussed many of the problems that Game Freak had with developing the first Pokémon games, from the lack of space available on the Game Boy cartridges to the difficulties of coordinating the games with the anime. One of the most interesting parts of the interview deal with the localization of Pokémon Red and Blue, and the difficulties that Game Freak had while translating the games to English.
Surprisingly, one of the biggest challenges that the development team faced while translating the game was storage. The English language, with its Latin alphabet, takes up much more space than Japanese script, so the English version of Red and Blue didn’t fit into the Game Boy cartridge. In Japanese, the description for every Pokédex entry fit into a single page; in English, this had to be expanded into two pages for most Pokémon. Because of this, the developers had to spend some time changing the names of several Pokémon and changing much of the text to make it fit, which delayed the English versions of the games considerably.
“With the capacity problems mentioned earlier, one thing that we found is that English takes up more space on the cart than Japanese. We had no room! Everything was so full on that cartridge and there was little space to implement English at the time we created it. So we had a lot of memory problems to solve – things like changing Pokémon names and even the name entry screen, which was all designed in Japanese. To change that to accommodate English was really difficult and something we hadn’t considered when first designing the game. We really had to spend a lot of time working on all of this.
“Another example is the Pokédex. In the original Japanese versions, you just had one screen and everything was displayed there whereas in the US and European versions, it had to be changed to have two screens with the names and details of the Pokémon. Doing all these great changes took a long time, so that was what contributed to the delay. We never expected things to be so popular abroad, either – we had no idea this would be such a phenomenon so that was really amazing. But yes, it took a long time to make all the changes needed to get the game into different markets.” — Junichi Masuda
What do you guys think? Would you have expected that English would pose such a challenge for translators?