EarthBound has taken on a variety of meanings to people. For some, the game reminds them of their childhood, or serves as a way to connect with others. It has inspired an entire generation of creators to pursue their passions, and believe it or not, this game is how some people found their significant other. The MOTHER series is a unique trilogy of games that have truly taken on a life of their own, but EarthBound, known as MOTHER 2 in Japan, was America’s introduction to the series.
EarthBound is an RPG that released on the Super Nintendo back in 1995. You play as Ness, a seemingly ordinary kid with psychic powers, and throughout the game you’ll join up with three other characters, Paula, Jeff, and Poo, as they travel to various parts of the world in order to prevent an evil alien force, led by a creature named Giygas, from taking over. EarthBound is an amazing game, but due to its lengthy story, massive world, and the cultural differences between Japan and America, it took an incredible amount of effort to bring it to the United States. In Legends of Localization Book 2: EarthBound, author Clyde “Tomato” Mandelin is our guide through the process of turning Shigesato Itoi’s MOTHER 2 into the game we now know as EarthBound.
Legends of Localization opens with a Foreword from Marcus Lindblom, who served as the Localization Director for EarthBound, and also introduces us to the author, Tomato, who has worked for roughly fifteen years as a professional Japanese-to-English translator. Next, we’re treated to a detailed overview of localization. This is a multi-step process of taking a project’s script, whether it’s a game, film, or anime, and adapting it from its original language into another. For EarthBound, it meant translating every single line of text in MOTHER 2’s Japanese script into English, and then reinterpreting the meaning behind the words into something that makes sense for an American audience. MOTHER 2’s script is packed full of pop culture references and jokes that make sense to a Japanese audience, but remember, this was back in the 1990s and before the internet existed, so the Nintendo of America localization team had their work cut out for them when they made EarthBound.
Just looking at the book, you can immediately tell that Legends of Localization is a labor of love. The book’s hardcover has foil graphics and an EarthBound icon stamped into it, as well as an appropriately bizarre texture. It comes wrapped with a small, reversible dust jacket so you can track the release dates for the MOTHER games throughout history, and includes a scratch-n-sniff postcard that emulates the cards found in the EarthBound Player’s Guide that came bundled with the original SNES game. I can’t tell you how happy that extra detail made me.
It’s astounding to see how much content is contained within Legends of Localization. This book is the result of over seventeen years of studying the differences between EarthBound and MOTHER 2. Tomato started his research all the way back in 1999, and throughout that time he has remained a figurehead in the EarthBound/MOTHER community. In order to create as thorough and complete a book as Legends of Localization is, the author worked with the fans, the Nintendo of America EarthBound localization team, and even MOTHER series creator Shigesato Itoi.
No detail was overlooked in creating this book. Every page comes to life with unique layout features, images, and commentary from Tomato. At over 400 pages long, this is a massive book that commands respect, and earns it throughout your time with it. If you’ve ever spent any amount of time wondering why certain things were the way they were in EarthBound, chances are you’ll find your answers in here. You’ll also come across quotes from key players of the MOTHER series, learn why Mr. Saturn speaks the way they do, and even get a history lesson on not only the games, but the influences that inspired the games.
Tomato walks us through a painstakingly detailed, case-by-case comparison of the entire Japanese and English game scripts. It’s a very thorough report to be sure, and there are a lot of wonderful highlights to be had (such as discovering how we went from MOTHER 2’s “Gourmet Tofu Machine” which produces strawberry tofu, to EarthBound’s “Gourmet Yogurt Machine” that produces trout yogurt) but not all of the book’s revelations are equally exciting. But with the staggering amount of detail Tomato has included here, that shouldn’t come as a surprise.
Legends of Localization does a great job of being informative while dissecting the information, without ever staying on a particular subject for too long. I appreciated how the well the information was explained through the eyes of someone who can see it from both sides. Tomato and the team at Fangamer did a wonderful job of breaking down all of the cultural complexities into meaningful ways. They explain the information in such a way that you not only understand what each line means in both English and Japanese, but also the approach each writing team took when writing it. For example, a line in MOTHER 2 might contain a pun only a Japanese speaker would understand, so the EarthBound localizers crafted something of equal value for the English script.
Tomato also compares EarthBound’s script with numerous other examples of game localization, to demonstrate the lengths the EarthBound localization team went to in order to make the game as quirky and unique as its Japanese counterpart. Legends of Localization’s success stems from the author’s deep knowledge of linguistics, but it’s important to also mention that Tomato is a programmer (he’s responsible for the MOTHER 3 Fan Translation) and gives the reader an unprecedented look into the minute details of EarthBound, such as a complete list of all of the possible Hints you can buy from the hint man, to the name changes of enemies and items, to unused game content. Tomato leaves no Sound Stone unturned.
EarthBound is a wonderful, unique game whose influence remains strong in the gaming community. It’s a game that has inspired an entire generation of artists, game developers, musicians, and countless other creators to pursue their passions in life. EarthBound’s legacy tells two remarkable underdog stories; one within the game and another in our world, and it’s thanks to dedicated fans like Tomato that EarthBound continues to inspire fans new and old to this day.
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Who is this book for, anyway?
Fans of the MOTHER/EarthBound series, Undertale fans, gaming historians, game theorists.
What if I’ve never played EarthBound?
Give it a chance! It’s available on the Nintendo eShop for Wii U and New Nintendo 3DS.