News/Final Fantasy English Localization Prototype
Hello everyone! Today we’re shifting gears and focusing on an early English localization prototype of the original Final Fantasy for the NES, courtesy of Stephan Reese (check out his YouTube channel here)!
Square (known in the late 90s as Squaresoft and now known as Square Enix) is a computer game company that originated as a division to another company in Japan sometime in October of 1983. In 1986, Square broke off their parent company and became an independent company led by Hironobu Sakaguchi. Sakaguchi had pitched the idea for an RPG to his bosses, but was repeatedly turned down over doubts of the profitability of such a project. Over the next year, Square had failed to gain substantial profit with the games they produced. As a result of this and the sudden rise in the popularity of Dragon Quest, a very popular RPG series in Japan that still continues to this day, Square decided to go ahead and develop Final Fantasy.
With a team of just a few people, work began on Final Fantasy sometime in 1987. Hironobu Sakaguchi served as director and main game designer of the game (with Koichi Ishii and Akitoshi Kawazu as co-designers), with music composed by Nobuo Uematsu and the game's story scenario written by Kenji Terada. Concept artwork was done by Yoshitaka Amano with in game art done by Kazuko Shibuya. Programming was done by Nasir Gebelli (known simply as Nasir in the game itself) with additional programming supplied by Kiyoshi Yoshii and Ken Narita. The game gained inspiration from games like Wizardry and Ultima, which were both very popular RPGs that could be found on personal computers in North America. The battle system, which was designed by Sakaguchi, took inspiration from tabletop games like Dungeon & Dragons.
Details on the production history of the original English translation of Final Fantasy 1 is almost nonexistent. Due to there being some text/grammar errors in the prototype’s script (for instance, “GOHST” instead of “GHOST” for an enemy name), its likely the person responsible for the translation was not a native English speaker. It’s possible that like its sequel that went unreleased in the US, Final Fantasy II, the translation was possibly done in house at Square by Kaoru Moriyama. From an interview given by Frank Cifaldi on the unreleased localization for the sequel, Moriyama goes into some detail on the circumstances of localizing a game like Final Fantasy. A preliminary script is prepared that can work within the confines of the memory limitations of the game itself. Since sentences and words written in Japanese often use less space in the ROM than English, this left little space to utilize when initially implementing the text for the English translation. After the initial translation pass is implemented, work went into fine tuning the translation once available free space is determined. Given what is seen in the prototype, it's likely that this was the same process used to localize the game.
In regards to this prototype, it likely reflects a stage in development where the text was starting its second translation pass, and was getting ready to be checked by Nintendo for quality standards. References to death, killing, and other things that would go against Nintendo’s standards back in the day are still present. Almost every single NPC talk-to line, enemy name and magic name is different. The enemy attack names are still preliminary and aren’t unique yet. It appears that work was done on the artwork first, since most of the revised sprite work that would be found in the final localized version is present. For instance, while The Eye enemy is using its final US design, the Medusa enemy is still using its Japanese design. Perhaps the localization team attempted to implement some changes of its own before Nintendo stepped with their requests. As such, it's likely that this prototype was intended to be used for Nintendo’s initial standards check so that the game would be approved for marketing, distribution, etc.
Final Fantasy was released in Japan for the Famicom on December 18, 1987 while the North American version was released sometime in May of 1990. Final Fantasy was well received by both critics and consumers when it was released. The NES version sold over 500,000 copies in Japan, while the North American NES release sold around 700,000 copies in total thanks in part to Nintendo’s marketing strategy during that time. The game itself would move on to become one of the most influential RPGs of all time and remains one of the longest running series of RPGs to this date. Many of the iconic names and titles that would originate from the first game would carry on throughout the series, so it’s interesting to see how the localization of the original game came together to form the series that we have come to know for many decades.
Once again we’d like to thank Stephan Reese for giving us the opportunity to release this prototype. Despite this prototype being over thirty years old, he was able to preserve the contents of the EPROMs with the Nt Mini Noir which was released just recently. We highly recommend checking out his YouTube channel here for more goodies and rarities from the good old days of Nintendo.
Stay tuned for some more goodies to hopefully wrap up the year, just in time for the holidays!
Until next time!