Many games are released in Japanese before they're released in English or any other language. In most cases, they're released in Japanese years before they're localized. Sometimes they don't get localized at all and never see the light of day outside of Japan.
Enter the ROM translator.
This is a compilation of some useful websites and tools for translating ROMs. Unfortunately, there is no tool or app that will let you go from "Zero Japanese to Translator" instantly. Believe it or not, n00bs have asked for such a magical tool on this forum. I hate to break it to you, but it doesn't exist. You have to know Japanese to translate a ROM into your target language. This thread assumes a knowledge of intermediate Japanese, which is the absolute minimum skill level I would recommend for anyone attempting to translate a ROM.
What is "Intermediate Level?"
By "intermediate level," I mean you should be able to read a standard conversation in Japanese ON PAPER (that means no cutting/pasting into Google Translate or hovering over the words using rikaichan or rikaikun!) covering an everyday topic (such as discussing games/movies, talking about work, etc.) and be able to understand it without the use of a dictionary. You should know at least 400~500 kanji and be able to look up kanji you don't know by radicals, stroke count and stroke order. You should be able to read manga containing furigana (e.g., anything by Shōnen Jump) in Japanese and understand colloquial conversations (non-textbook Japanese).
To All Aspiring and Prospective ROM Translators
If you are interested in helping out with future translation projects, please post in this thread, along with your Japanese language experience, favorite games, manga and anime. Since some games are based on manga and anime, knowledge of certain manga/anime titles is helpful. Feel free to provide any other information you feel might be relevant. My hope is that we can use this thread as a sort of directory that others can refer to when they need a translator.
Suggested Readings from Loekalization
Anyone attempting to translate a ROM should read through these articles to learn more about the logistics and problems one may encounter in translating (thanks DS1!)
- Biggest Mistakes
- Urban Myths
- Project From Hell: Read the section regarding too much leniency and computer-assisted translation.
Other Relevant Readings
- Going from Fan to Professional Translator and Back Again: This article just goes to show that you never know what opportunities may arise when you start translating as a hobby.
- Romhacking dot net: The go-to site for ROM hacking projects, including translation projects. In order to start translating a ROM, you need to extract the text and any images containing Japanese text from the ROM. If you can't find anyone to extract the text here, you'll most certainly be able to find someone there. And they're always looking for translators, so it's a great place to try your hand at a few projects.
- Japanese Programming Madness: There are things that both the ROM hacker and the ROM translator have to take into consideration when working together. This thread discusses those considerations.
- The Japanese Page: An excellent forum with many great resources and lots of fluent Japanese speakers willing to help. There's a subforum for translation help, but they will not help you if you're lazy. If you encounter a particularly tough translation, ask for help here after attempting it yourself. Make sure to provide your translation attempt, as well as plenty of context. And read this before asking for help!
- Google Docs: Creating a translation spreadsheet is a good way to organize your translation. It allows others involved in the project to open the spreadsheet and see at a glance how much has been translated, what still needs to be translated, and provides plenty of space for collaboration between translators. (Translation spreadsheet samples: Image 1 Image 2 Image 3 Image 4)
- weblio辞書: (weblio Jisho) A very good online dictionary that includes a dictionary for native Japanese, a E-J / J-E dictionary, a Japanese thesaurus and even a Japanese sign language dictionary with videos for every sign. The latter two are less useful for translating from Japanese to English, but the former two are well-suited to that purpose. The E-J / J-E dictionary grabs results from Kenkyusha (the Oxford of Japanese), JMdict (the dictionary used by Rikaichan), Wikipedia Japan (including pictures), among other sources. All definitions come with sample sentences, both in English and Japanese (thanks Nagato!).
- 英辞郎 on the WEB: (Eijirō on the WEB) Another good online dictionary for looking up not just definitions of words, but proper word usage in sentences. Just about every dictionary entry provides sample sentences both in Japanese and English so you'll be a lot less likely to make a mistake on how a word is used in Japanese.
- goo辞書: (goo Jisho) A multi-dictionary search that also provides sample sentences. Sometimes has words that you won't find in Eijirō.
- ニコニコ大百科: (Nico Nico Pedia) Essentially the Japanese version of Urban Dictionary. Japanese is a constantly evolving language, and it is just as rich in slang, Internet lingo and memes as is the English language. Games tend to use a lot of "trend words" and pop culture references, and this website will help you stay up to speed (thanks Nagato!)
- 日本語俗語時点: (Nihongo Zokugo Jiten) Just like Nico Nico Pedia, another excellent resource on Japanese words that are either obsolete, or pop cultural references (current and old Japanese pop culture).
- 三省堂 Web Dictionary: (Sanseidō Web Dictionary) A dictionary for native Japanese speakers. Like goo Jisho, It tends to have words in it that you can't find in Eijirō. Great with fuzzy searches, for example when you extract an image containing a string of several kanji and you only know a few of the kanji. If you input the few kanji you know, sometimes it will return results containing the entire kanji combination that you can then look up.
- rikaichan: For on-the-fly translating on translation spreadsheets. After installing, simply hover your mouse over any Japanese word you don't know, and it will instantly display the English definition. Requires Firefox and ability to read hiragana at the very least. CAVEAT: This is absolutely useless if you do not have a strong command of Japanese grammar! Without knowing grammar, your translations using Rikaichan are no better than Google Translate. Use sparingly, and rely more on your own Japanese knowledge and reputable dictionaries like weblio and Eijirō.
- rikaikun: Same as rikaichan, but for Chrome browsers. I've found, however, that it lacks some of the cooler functions that Rikaichan has for learning Japanese, but it fully serves its purpose as a basic dictionary and as a tool for translating.
- Denshi Jisho: Good for looking up kanji by radicals. Uses JMdict (the same dictionary as rikaichan and rikaikun), so there's no need to use it for looking up words.
- Wikipedia Japan: Use for a variety of reasons, particularly looking up rare Japanese words and pronunciations, obscure cultural, historical and religious references, etc. JRPGs make a lot of these kinds of references and you won't always find them in a standard dictionary.
- Google: When you can't find a Japanese word in any dictionary, chances are that it's not a real Japanese word. In these cases, sometimes even native Japanese speakers wouldn't know what the term is. With Google you can usually find something containing the term, and perhaps more context. For example, I was approached for help translating a phrase that appeared in a Japanese otome DS game: "ひゃにょひぃにょきゃい？" (Hyanyohii nyo kyai?) which doesn't make any sense. But Googling the term yielded several hits, one of which was particularly helpful in translating the phrase. It turns out that the character in the game was saying "楽しいのかい？" (correctly pronounced Tanoshii no kai? = Are you having fun?). He says it all weird (hyanyohii nyo kyai) because the player is pinching his cheeks (or rather, tapping his cheeks with the stylus) while he says it. So that bit of context was crucial to the translation, as well.
- Text Mechanic: Depending on the ROM you're translating and the way the text is formatted, you may have to insert line breaks, full stops, and various other codes within your translated text in order to get it to display properly in-game. This website can help you automate much of that tedious process and save you a lot of time.
Guidelines for Translating ROMs
If you're already experienced with translating, these guidelines may be seen as an insult to your intelligence. This is not meant for you, but rather for those who are thinking about translating a game but have little to no Japanese knowledge. Anyone who cannot meet the following minimum requirements should learn more Japanese before attempting a translation.
- be able to actually read and understand everyday Japanese WITHOUT using an online translator or dictionary (in other words, have a functional knowledge of kanji (400~500 characters minimum) and at least intermediate-level grammar)
- know how verbs are conjugated in Japanese (be familiar with all conjugations, including causative, passive, conditional, etc.)
- know how to look up kanji by radicals if you can't read a particular kanji off-hand (including knowledge of counting strokes and stroke order)
- have excellent grammar, writing and editing abilities (especially in the target language--usually English)
- play through the entire game before translating (absolutely crucial for context)
- use Firefox (for rikaichan) or Chrome (for rikaikun)
- (recommended) have some familiarity with Kansai-ben and other Japanese dialects
- be extremely meticulous and pay great attention to detail
- play through the entire game and be aggressive about unlocking secrets, accessing menus, etc.
- be willing to do 2-3 complete playthroughs if necessary
- have excellent English grammar and spelling
- be as thorough and specific in your bug reports as possible
- be capable of taking CLEAR screenshots (whether capturing directly from emulator or taking a picture of the DS screen with a camera)
- be able to upload screenshots (using puush, imgur, or other preferred methods) to include with your reports
- be able to remain in regular contact with the rest of the project team
- Avoid open translation projects (where anyone can join). This leads to morons sabotaging your projects. Stick with a few people whom you know and trust--the fewer, the better. I would recommend translating solo, but if you plan to have two translators on one project, they have to be in constant communication with each other. Three translators would be pushing it--instead, the third translator can serve as an editor whose sole job is to make sure that the first two translators' writing styles blend together seamlessly, and also to serve as an arbiter when there is a disagreement in how something should be translated.
- Any group working on a translation together should ideally have the same messaging client or use IRC so they can collaborate with each other in real-time.
- PLAY THE GAME! I cannot stress this enough. If you're going to translate a game, you need to be able to see everything in context. Your Japanese level could be at near-native (or even native) fluency, and you still wouldn't be able to translate a game properly unless you play it. Ideally, you should be translating lines as you see them appear in-game, when you have all the context you can possibly have.
- Use other dictionaries when one doesn't yield the results you need. Sometimes the only way to get results is to search the 国語 dictionaries (for native Japanese speakers). The definitions will be in Japanese, but you should be able to understand the definitions with no problem (and if you can't, then you probably have no business translating). When none of the dictionaries give you any results, Wikipedia Japan does wonders.
- When all else fails, Google the term! And no, I don't mean Google Translate. If you can't find a Japanese word or phrase in any dictionaries or Wikipedia Japan, chances are it's probably not a real Japanese word. When you Google an obscure Japanese term, you might be able to find some information about the term in blogs or articles discussing the term (these blogs and articles will be in Japanese, but again, you're a translator and not a "translator" so that shouldn't be a problem to you).
- Don't be so hell-bent on keeping translations literal. A lot of times Japanese is difficult to literally translate into English and still make sense to the target audience (those who will be playing the translation patch). Feel free to take liberties with your translations, but don't stray too far from the original Japanese. Taking liberties does NOT mean: "Eh, I don't understand this, so I'm going to make something up."
- Revisit your translations after a few days. The hallmark of a good translator is that their translations sound like native English, not Japanese translated into English. You may not see it on the first pass, but when you remove yourself from the translation and then come back to it after a few days, you'll notice that it could be worded to sound more like natural English (or whatever the target language is). This is why a translator should have excellent grammar, editing and writing abilities.
- Relying on editors to check your translations can relieve some of the burden of your work, but if your editors don't know Japanese, it's possible that they can change your translation so that it loses some of the original Japanese meaning. That is not to say that you shouldn't use editors who don't know Japanese, but just be aware of the pros and cons and make your decision on editors accordingly.
- Translators should keep a translation log. It's essentially a personal document of translations you have done on the project--particularly difficult translations or disputed translations. In it you should log your thought processes and rationales for translating things the way you did. It can help you improve your translations and prevent inconsistencies if used correctly. This can be in any format you want. Of course, to keep a successful translation log, you have to actually know how to translate.
- Google Translate yields bad translations for the purpose of localizing a ROM--just don't use it. It's passable when used for English or the Romance languages (and even that assertion is up for debate), but it just screws up with Japanese. If you can't translate without using it, then you need to find another translator before you start your project.
- Translating is a constant learning process. Even as a native English speaker, I still come across English words that I don't know when I'm reading a book, article, etc. So of course you should expect this to happen while translating Japanese (or whatever your second language is), and don't get frustrated. Instead, use it as an opportunity to learn more vocabulary and grammar.
- DO NOT call yourself a Japanese-English "translator" or say that you're "translating" if you can't read this image, or don't at least know enough about radicals to look up the kanji in this image. It's like a script kiddie calling himself a "hacker."
I have studied Japanese off and on for 14 years, and have spent 3 of those years studying it while living in Japan (in addition to studying it for 4 years in university). At the peak of my abilities I passed Level N1 of the JLPT (the hardest level), so I can safely say that I understand Japanese to a level where I am able to translate most things with little difficulty. But I am by no means a professional translator. None of the information in this topic is meant to be professional advice for localizing games. It is only meant to serve as a general guide for aspiring ROM translators who want to localize games as a hobby. I am sure that there are members on this forum who are much more experienced with Japanese, and I invite them to share their resources and tips for translating ROMs on this thread. 宜しくお願いします！