Tutorial How to translate Japanese games without speaking a word!

TigerTiger

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Note: Read before commenting!!
Yes, this is a machine translation method. No you cannot just put a script into Google Translate and make a patch from it, unless you want everyone to hate you. This is a method to use a combination of tools to create as good as a translation as possible, without speaking a word of Japanese*.

I truly believe that if you put some thought into it, you can make a very good and very accurate translation. True, it won’t compare for a real translator, but I’m sharing it because there are a lot of great games out there that people want to play, and not enough interested Japanese translators around. As long as you say when you put out the patch that there might be errors (as there would in any fan translation and indeed some official ones), then I think it works well.

Okay, let’s get going!

Getting Started

What you’ll need:
  • A game of interest. I recommend not trying to translate an entire RPG on your first time, unless you’re just crazy about it. Translating a game takes a lot of time, and this method probably takes double that.
  • ROMhacking tools. Not gonna go into great detail with this one, all games/consoles are different. Check this forum/ROMhacking.net for more info.
  • To be fluent/native in your target language. Especially if you know little to no Japanese, you need to be good in the language you’re translating to in order to pull the weight and make it sound better
  • A good internet connection
  • Lotsa time ^

So, you’ve got your game and got your text files ready for editing. Now where do you start? Learn kana. For the uninitiated, the Japanese language is made of 3 alphabets. Hiragana, (native Japanese words), Katakana (loan words) and Kanji (Chinese characters). Hiragana + Katakana collectively make up the kana. This is where the * part of the ‘not a word of Japanese comes in’. You should learn these two alphabets to start, trust me. It shouldn’t take you any more than 2 weeks, and there’s even an RPG you can play to learn them. (I’m not affiliated with Sleepy Duck, this is just how I learned because I hate ‘dry studying’ although gamifying does take a bit longer :rofl2:)

Ideally, you’ll continue your Japanese studies as you translate, to get to the point where you come to understand the grammar points and pick up things without always having to look them up, but if you’re not here for the Japanese and just want to see this 1 game translated no matter the cost, I get that. So… which machine translator should you use?

Sike… the answer is to use several!


Translation Tools
Not all machine translators translate things in the same way. By using a few different ones, you can get a real sense for the feel of a sentence. I’m going to quickly cover the ones I use listing some of their pros/cons, in the order of worst to best, so if you don't have a lot of patience you can jump to the end of this section.


Yandex Translate
IVLpx6v.png


Have you heard of Yandex before? Me neither. I originally found it by searching around and trying various machine translation services, but when I googled it just now, apparently it’s Russia's answer to Google…. Let’s hope they’re not tracking everything I say, LMAO

Yandex Translate is pretty much my last resort, (hence why it’s first in ‘reverse order’.) I use it because the result can be quite different to other AI, and sometimes that’s what you need. Mostly it seems to work off learning from information it’s been fed before, so sometimes you’ll get a very weird result.

See, the literal hiragana alphabet (imagine a b c d…) somehow translated to “It is also a good idea to have a list of all of the things you need to know before you go to bed.” :rofl2:
hyoGiyl.png


But, this also means that sometimes it’ll have a good translation of that odd slang word none of the other translators picked up. All in all, use sparingly.


Bing Translator
aj3iSvl.png


Ew, Bing right? Wrong. Though I would never ever use the search engine, the translator is actually quite solid. Whilst it lacks a little of the accuracy and being able to pick up on uncommon slang like Google Translate can, it’s actually better than the latter at putting out a grammatically correct and pleasant to read sentence in translation. In the unlikely event that the AI translated sentence is so spot on that you can copy and paste it without any tweaks at all, (it does happen occasionally), Bing will probably be the one to deliver it to you.


Google Translate
0pHVfnn.png


And next we have… the notorious Google Translate! Well, all I can say is; it’s common for a reason. It might not always get things right (tbh, the nuance of any language, especially Japanese, is so subtle and context-specific that no matter how good AI translation gets, it’ll never replace actual translators), BUT, it does a pretty good job.

One thing that Google excels in is, as mentioned above, picking up on weird slang and other idioms that you normally have to go digging for. (More on what to do about those in a minute), but continuing on… Nearly there now!)


DeepL Translate
In second to last place we have DeepL, the 'learning' translator! It was recommended to me by @LuminousCat and it seems like it's quite popular on here too. (Supposed to be even better than Google Translate.)
YQNAxVj.png


In this case, it seems to have done something slightly weird with the punctuation, but overall the translation is about on par with the other better translators. Where DeepL succeeds is that by highlighting a word, you can get a dictionary definition, allowing you to better piece together the sentence.

C4zwthk.png


However, using this feature requires some Japanese knowledge to be able to recognize each jigsaw piece, as, if you highlight too much, if often doesn't pick up anything. This brings us to on nicely to my absolute favourite tool...

RomajiDesu
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Though it has a name that most Japanese learners would probably shudder at (romaji = romanised spellings of Japanese words, generally considered to be a terrible way to go about learning Japanese unless you just want to learn a few sentences to impress people when going on holiday), RomajiDesu is my NUMBER ONE tool for translating Japanese.

Why? Because as you can see, it was designed specifically for translating Japanese and provides you with a lot of information. It breaks down a sentence into kana (great for practice when learning Japanese), uses Google Services to give you an AI translation (the result isn’t always the same as normal Google Translate, so I still recommend using both), but most importantly…

YlT2lXr.png


It breaks down the sentence into its components, so you can get a feel for what each word actually means. This is crucial to being able to come up with a translation that makes sense, and helps to fill in the gap between what a Japanese speaker would already be able to understand. There are other tools which allow you to parse sentences like this, e.g. browser extensions like rikaikun, but RomajiDesu is my favorite for its versatility and ease.


Breaking Down A Translation

Now then, let’s turn our vague understanding back into words. I’m going to continue with the above example, which when we break down into words using RomajiDesu, results in “but already/ soon, in this way to become, there is no method. Village to enter, village to abide (by the rules)”. Putting that all together, we get something like “but now that it’s come to this, there’s nothing to do. If you enter a village, you must play by the village’s rules.”

Comparing this to the AI sentences, we can get a better sense. There’s nothing to do -> there’s nothing I can do about it. And it’s not if, but when/after you enter the village. Next, let’s put that into context. This is a line from a scene in Diabolical Lovers, where a vampire, Reiji, taunts the player telling them to follow him into the living room for (to become) dinner. ((NB: This game already has a fan-translated English release; I’m just looking at it for fun)).

In that sense, we can understand the first part. “Now that it’s come to this (I’m already here, we’ve been talking), there’s nothing I can do (I’m powerless to change the situation, I have to accept it.)” But what is the second part? It’s reading along the same lines as “I have no other choice”, but what’s this about a village? We know we’re about to move to the living room (literally リビング) which matches ‘entering something’, but it feels like there’s something missing.

When machine translations and looking at the individual words have failed, it’s time for...


Identifying Quirky Text; Slang, Accents & Idioms
…Google! Yup, when all else fails, it’s time to pick up that section of text and put it into Google to see what hits we get, but let’s be smart about this!

  • Adding ‘eigo/英語’ (English language, or use whatever your target it)/straight up ‘translation’ after your text helps you to specifically target pages which offer an example of how you might translate that word/phrase, instead of a bunch of random all Japanese ones.
  • You can use “”’s around your phrase to find exact matches of it only. Note that this will reduce your number of results significantly, which can be a good thing or a bad one. If you’re not getting any hits, try removing ending particles such as よ, ね、な(ぁ), and generally shortening your search.
  • If you’re struggling to find English results, you can also try ‘とは/意味’ which will bring up pages with Japanese definitions, that you’ll then have to use an AI to translate. (Normally, you can work out the general meaning using your browsers automatic webpage translation if you have one, rather than having to go through the time-consuming method of trying to understand every word.)

So, let’s see what we’ve got…
b60q4ex.png


Wow! Within two results, we can see that “ 郷に入っては郷に従え” is actually an idiom, equating to something like “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” in English. In other words, our protagonist is conveying that in a foreign situation (such as possibly becoming lunch for a vampire), there’s no choice but to play along for now. (NB: The ‘no choice’ part is actually from the line “仕方がない” often awkwardly translated as ‘it can’t be helped’, which is so notorious that it’s become its own meme.)


Other Resources
Google is normally where I go for this, but I have noticed a trend of the same sites popping up over and over again, so here’s a list of some of the best resources to try.

Weblio (JPN -> ENG dictionary with example translations)
Jisho.org (JPN <-> ENG)
Context Reverso (Example sentences in translation)
Hi Native (general)
DMM u know (like Hi Native, but JPN -> ENG)
The Jaded Network (Database of translated SFX/onomatopoeia)
Nico Nico Dictionary (Slang Dictionary, JPN only)


The Result
Original Japanese(……でももう、こうなったら仕方がない。郷に入っては郷に従えよね……)
Yandex Translation (Last Resort)(...But I can't help it. Go into town and follow the town.……)
Bing Translation(...... But if this happens, I can't help it. When you go into a town, you have to follow it.)
Google Translation(...But if that happens, there's no way I can do it. Once in the town, follow the town...)
DeepL Translate(......, but I can't help it now. You have to follow your hometown, right? ......)
Word by word translation (using RomajiDesu)(…But now that it’s come to this, there’s nothing to do. If you enter a village, you must play by the village’s rules.)
My translation(…But now that it’s come to this, I don’t have a choice. “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”, as they say…)
Fan Translation Patch (Source: Otogelib files. May not be the final translation used.)(...But, it can’t be helped now that it’s come to this. When in Rome, do as the Romans do, right?)

Pretty good, I think! Now to repeat this 3439056x and make a translation! (Well, it’s not like anyone else is going to do it for you.) But read on for some more tips and tricks!

Translation Tips

Other than ‘quirky text’, you may run into some other things that look confusing at first. One of these is the notorious problem of ‘Japanese vagueness’. Something you should note is that it’s very hard to pull a sentence out of vacuum and expect to fully understand it, the same way you might understand a phrase such as “that’s mine”, but not know what’s really going on in the sentence- context matters!

In Japanese, the subject is often omitted. AI translation tends to substitute everything for the first person, but know that “I” may actually mean “he/she/they/other” (Compare the AI translated results -> “I can’t help it”, to the actual meaning “It can’t be helped”- there’s generally nothing that anyone could do.

Also, Japanese nouns don’t have plurals in the same sense. I can’t find the example that I really wanted to use, but this page is a pretty good alternative which explains how something simple like ‘cat’ could really be ‘a cat/the cat/the cats/some cats/cats in general’ when translated.

A lot of this sort of stuff can be figured out by returning to the game, and skipping a few lines back/forwards to get a feel for the context. In professional works, translators will be given time to play through the game to get a feel for it and to know whether that ‘magic potion’ actually means 1 or 5, but assuming that you aren’t able/don’t want to do that at this stage, and unless the game is part of a series which would clarify the context for you, when translating blind, you’ve got no choice but to give it your best guess and maybe make a note to pay particular attention to during proofreading. (Please proofread your games after finishing the translation and before release, please :bow: Don't be like me, who hasn't proofread this post even. Sorry for any mistakes!)

Another thing that AI is going to miss out on, are people’s mannerisms. If they’re really ingrained you might notice that the machine translation keeps messing up certain things and realize that somethings up, but otherwise things like using feminine/masculine language, speaking in honorific/humble forms, being cutesy or rough, are things that are unfortunately just going to get missed in this method. But on the bright side, a lot of those things are hard to convey in English translation anyway! (Unless you go to the extremes of characterization, by which point you might have crossed too far into just ‘making that shit up’, but anyway). If you can, try to get a real translator to check over your work, (translation checking is a smaller ask than making a full translation, after all), or at least try to see if you can get their opinion on characterization.

For help with small translations (e.g. a few lines that are giving you trouble), you can ask for help at the Fan Translators INT discord (who I found out about just recently via this forum) or r/translator which is also great.

Image Translation

So… how to translate images, where there is no text to copy and paste into a translator? Simple, we’ll make selectable text! Using optical character recognition tools (OCR), you can get text written up to a reasonable degree of accuracy. Once again, I’ll go through some tools in worst to best order.


Capture2Text
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Capture2Text is a piece of software you can download to your PC which allows you to capture a part of your screen to convert into text, as well as offering you an AI translation. It’s been recommended as a way to play through games even without patches, offering a fast and relatively easy to use service.

I like it; in theory. In reality, the OCR technology isn’t the greatest. Whilst it’d probably be okay for reading a chunk of text on a clean background like this one, it’s application ‘in the field’ using various fonts/fancy effects like games images do, are fairly limited. Still; do give it a try. If it works for your specific game, it’ll probably save you a lot of time compared to these next options.

Screen Translator

Like Capture2Text Screen Translator is another piece of software for your PC that combines OCR and AI translation technology. I found it a bit tricky to use at first (you must select your languages and install them first), but I like that you can choose between different translation services.

qvQ2hm3.png


As you can see, the OCR is a little bit hit and miss, although it has correctly (and suprisingly!) recognized all the characters despite the non-standard font, it has inserted some rubbish characters in there too. I did also find that it struggled more as the text got longer, but as mentioned, do give these tools a try and see if they're the right solution for what it is that you're working on.

Google Translate on iPhone/Android
CjHjfWq.jpg


The Google Translate app offers a great little feature which allows you to live-capture or scan images using your devices camera. It has all the power of google behind it, making it a pretty solid option. The only real downside is- it’s for camera use only, meaning you’ll have to take pictures of your monitor/screen, which can seriously degrade the picture quality. You might find yourself going at the same image several times in order to take a clear shot.


EasyScreenOCR
VTwyANR.png

I’m putting this as a tentative first. What I like about it is that this program combines the ease of screen-capture from Capture2Text, with the OCR technology from Google, giving you a fast, fairly accurate and easy way to prepare images for translation. On the downside, this software isn’t free, and although I did buy a month to try it out, I found it to be quite buggy and had to keep installing and reinstalling it every time I restarted my computer, which is far from ideal.

So the link above is for the ‘online’ version of the software, where you upload a limit of 5 images in one go, which get put into separate word documents. It’s more time consuming, (especially when there are lots of images), but I found this site to be more accurate than other ‘upload image online’ services.


That said, whichever OCR you’re using, sometimes it just can’t identify the kanji correctly. That’s when it’s time to get more hands on…


Identifying Kanji By Hand
There are a few tools you can use to go about identifying kanji, but sljfaq’s multiradical by type and handwritten search are my all-time favorites.
ivGHwmw.png



My process tends to be radical search > draw by hand if no results come up. Unfortunately, the drawing tool isn’t graphics tablet compatible, but even if you’re mouse-drawing skills are comparable to mine, it should be able to pick it up. Just make sure you’ve checked ‘ignore stroke order’ beforehand!

Note that some kanji can look very different depending on the font.

bXQrgLK.png



Yes, these are the same character- 心 (heart). The font to the right is more similar to how it would look written by hand. If you’re really struggling to identify a character, try pasting it into google and checking out the images, to see if you notice any that appear differently. (Normally just the kanji by itself will suffice, but you can add ‘kanji/漢字 to the search if you don’t get useful images.)

The last thing to try (if the missing kanji is part of a word etc that you’ve been able to partially identify), is using the “” trick we learnt before to search google for common possibilities, using an * (a wildcard) in place of the missing kanji. E.g., if I wanted to find the “漢” from kanji, I’d search “*字”. Note that this method is the least reliable, so do try to exhaust all other options before it!


Closing Remarks

Hopefully by now I’ve managed to convince you that it *is* possible to translate a game without knowing an ounce of Japanese, and while time consuming, if you’ve been waiting years to be able to play a game that just isn’t being done, will give you the power to take matters into your own hands!

Now that you’ve got the Japanese sorted, make sure not to neglect the target language side either! Writing style is incredibly important, and having ‘proper English’ can draw the line between having a presentable translation, or one that looks google translated even when it isn’t. (Well, not just ‘raw’ output anyway).

So go forth, and translate that game you’ve always been dreaming of! (Or send me your thoughts/questions or suggested resources to add to this post. That’s cool too. :yay:)
Love, Tiger 2020.
 
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TigerTiger

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I don't think so. Yes- I agree, if you just use a machine translation to make a script, it is going to be terrible and not make a lot of sense. But, if you use your brain, examine each sentence for the words that are in it (like a real translator would, though they don't need to look up each word in a dictionary), you can make a logical assumption and give it a best guess to make a translation for a game that otherwise wouldn't exist.

But I do respect your opinion, and I can see why it would seem to be 'encouraging' machine translations if you don't read the stress on the 'human checking part'!

I've been learning Japanese in conjunction with this for 2 years now so I've become more and more aware of the downsides (quirky text, etc) but still wholeheartedly believe you can make a good translation with this if you put your brain in, and I think the similarity to translation by hand vs actual Japanese-speaker fan translator just proves it ^_^
 

ChiefReginod

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Thanks for putting all of this info together. I think that since the hacking is the most difficult part anyway, a poor translation is better than nothing and might even draw in native-speakers to help refine the text later on.

I gave up on several ROM translations in the past--despite having sorted out the technical details--only because I couldn't find someone to translate the text. This was before translation services were a thing. I've been thinking about giving it another try since it doesn't have to be a stopping point anymore.
 

TigerTiger

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Yeah, definitely! Hacking is another language all together :blink: But I have heard that even having a 'rough script' can help with the process, since there can be problems that you don't expect until you actually start repacking new text. (Especially stuff like VWF hacks and running out of room seems to be common.)
Good luck if you do decide to give it another go! I will be cheering you on :grog:
 
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LuminousCat

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Good post, I agree with pretty much everything written here, since I came up with the same/similar methods myself (and learned a lot in the process).
I'm surprised you haven't mentioned DeepL in the Translation Tools section. https://www.deepl.com/translator
I also use Screen Translator for getting text out of images and translating it at the same time. https://sourceforge.net/projects/screen-translator/
But like you said, the context is the most important thing. I recommend playing the game and translating it as you progress (recording it with a tool like OBS Studio might be useful).
 
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TigerTiger

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Actually, I hadn't heard of these before but I've added them in now. Thank you very much!

I think I have looked at the Luminous Arc thread before and remember seeing your videos. They're cool stuff! Definitely a testament to just how powerful and high-quality of a translation you can make using some thought. We should be the representatives and champion this method to give more untranslated games hope :rofl2:
 

XxNohrHoshidoxX

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This is such a great idea! Too bad my laptop is too limited to load certain roms correctly and for some reason capture2text isn't recognising the characters as I would love to do this for a ds game called FabStyle as the translation project is on hiatus
 

TigerTiger

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Yeah, capture2text isn't my fave, I feel it can be quite shaky. Do double check that you have got the recognition language set to Japanese though, can't quite remember if that one recognises them automatically but telling it what language to use always helps.

Though, I would assume given all the progress he's made on it so far, @Robz8 should have a full text dump avaliable they can maybe share with you? When it's just normal text, I would always recommend using a script pulled from the ROM because not only will it save you time, but it'll also have a lot less errors than just using an OCR. (Unless you're talking about trying to translate image data, in which case an OCR + the sljfaq Kanji lookup is the way to go.)

Best of luck with it :wub:
 
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