One simple question made localising Pokemon Crystal a lot more difficult than you would think

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Pokemon Crystal was the first game to introduce gender options for the player character, but that made it a touch tricky to localise.

The first question you’re faced with in Pokemon Crystal is potentially a simple one: “Are you a boy? Or are you a girl?” Granted, that isn’t exactly the easiest question for everyone, but Pokemon Crystal only gives you the two options, so the process is still simple overall. It’s not something you’d think about much these days, but was a pretty big deal for video games back in the day. However, the original localiser behind the Pokemon games right from the original Red and Blue right through to Platinum, Nob Ogasawara, has shared a neat little behind the scenes look into the process of localising such a choice, which turned out to be a bit more difficult than you might first expect.

Upon seeing the option, Ogasawara initially thought “‘Hot dang, this is progress. It opens up gaming to girls.’ (Yeah, naive. I’m glad they’ve gotten better.)” However, as he notes, “reality sank in. There’s no gender-specific text. No options for, ‘What’s [v1] doing here?’ v1 = he, she.” What Ogasawara means by that, is that because Japanese isn’t a gendered language in the way English is, and doesn’t have specific pronouns that change depending on gender, there wasn’t anything programmed to make the player character’s pronouns change automatically based on whether they choose boy or girl, because that wouldn’t be the case in Japanese.

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“So, I had to do workarounds since I couldn’t use gender-specific pronouns for the protag,” Ogasawara continued. This led to lines like “What’s that pipsqueak doing here?” and “The little squirt’s tough!” Though, Ogasawara did note that plural they was technically an option with Pikachu being a tagalong Pokemon in Yellow. Obviously these days single person they is much more common, but in response to someone on Twitter Ogasawara noted that it wasn’t “really in the mainstream yet.”

“This is the sort of thing most people don’t even notice. And I’m perfectly okay with that — so long as people don’t trip over grammatical boobs and can breeze through the text without annoyance, I’ve done my job… For me, it was also a matter of professional pride. I could’ve easily half-assed things and the paymasters would’ve likely eaten such output happily, but I’d’ve known I could’ve done better — and worse my translation moots would’ve known it, too. Not a chance.”

Ogasawara’s little tidbit is a great and useful insight into the complexities of localisation, an aspect of game development that often goes underappreciated, and shows you how you can’t just translate things literally.

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