Renaming, Renumbering, and the International Market

Among the slew of new opinion-focused video-based Web publications, one that's recently caught my attention is the Angry Videogame Nerd (formerly the Angry Nintendo Nerd). One man, James Rolfe, drinks beer and plays crappy old Nintendo games while complaining about how awful they are. Sometimes, he does topical videos; one time in particular, he took on an awful trend in the game industry: renaming, renumbering, and number inconsistency.

Rolfe started with films, talking about how the Alien trilogy was totally confusing (the second title is "Aliens" instead of "Alien II," but the third title reverts to numbering). But he also tackled some games, including the infamous Final Fantasy fiasco. But, unlike the Angry Videogame Nerd who sees no end in sight, I am happy to report that this trend is reversing in favor of more authentic naming convention. So today, I'd like to look at this topic using a number of RPG examples from the past twenty years.

So here's the deal: many RPGs come from Japan, and are hence named in Japan first. When they come to America, the publishers have the option to name it whatever they want. And indeed, they sometime have, without good reason. Let's start with Dragon Quest... or should I say, Dragon Warrior?

When Dragon Quest first came to the US, Enix renamed the game Dragon Warrior. Why? Apparently, some pen-and-paper RPG that was trying to compete with D&D was named "DragonQuest" (without a space), and Enix feared legal repercussion. However, once Enix merged with Square, they took action and registered the US trademark "Dragon Quest," and starting with Dragon Quest VIII, the series was finally named correctly worldwide.

Indeed, trademarks are regularly the cause of problems when a game is brought from Japan to the US. For a long time, I took issue with Namco for releasing Tales of Eternia in the US as "Tales of Destiny 2." The game was not a direct sequel to Tales of Destiny, and sadly, a direct sequel for Tales of Destiny was made in Japan shortly thereafter. This naming problem may be partially why Namco never bothered to bring this sequel stateside. From what I could tell originally, the only reason this renaming happened was because Namco wanted to directly associate two "cousin" titles; however, I spoke with a former Namco employee a few years ago, and I finally got the full story. It seems that Namco ran into some potential trouble with Mattel, as they have the name "Eternia" trademarked in reference to the "He-Man" franchise. Yes, I'm serious.

Sometimes, however, things like what happened with Eternia/Destiny 2 can occur by accident. When Working Designs released what would be their last localization of a game, they decided to name the package "Growlanser Generations." The box contained English versions of Growlanser II and Growlanser III, both for PlayStation 2. Years later, the Japanese developers were working on the fifth installment, and came up with a clever subtitle: "Growlanser V ~Generations~." Uh oh. To avoid ambiguity with naming convention, Atlus created a new subtitle and dropped the number: "Growlanser: Heritage of War."

And let's, for the sake of this article, revisit the numbering fiasco with Final Fantasy, because this fleshes out the issue at its core. Americans receive the first Final Fantasy, but by the time it's been localized and seen some success, the Super Nintendo was already on its way. So Americans miss out on II and III for NES, and get IV for SNES. Square didn't want Americans to know they missed two games (even though there's no direct correlation in terms of plot), so they called it Final Fantasy II. We Americans also missed Final Fantasy V, likely due to the length of time it took to localize titles, so when VI came out, we got it as Final Fantasy III. Between VI and VII, there was a long stretch of time as well as Square's jump from Nintendo to Sony. The PlayStation was such a technological leap that everybody had time to focus in on the development of Final Fantasy VII. And every time an American magazine came up with exclusive screen shots and details for the upcoming RPG, they'd have to explain time and time again why the game was VII and not IV. The message sunk in. Gamers got it. And so did Square. By this point, there was already so much hype for the title that Square didn't even bother re-numbering. It was with Final Fantasy VII that the process toward numerical reconciliation began. After that, slowly but surely, past Final Fantasy installments were ported and remade with proper numbering in the US, ending with Final Fantasy III for the DS.

There's a powerful lesson to be learned from that story: the consumer's awareness shapes the market. If people know the game is Final Fantasy VII, they want it to be called that. If we know the series was originally Dragon Quest, you darn well better call it Dragon Quest! The only time publishers can even get away with renaming is when the game has little pre-release hype or mainstream exposure.

I can list, literally, over a hundred RPGs that have been renamed or renumbered when crossing the Pacific. If you check out our Soundtracks section, you'll see names that refer you to other names all over the place. Final Fantasy Legend is SaGa, Phoenix Wright is Gyakuten Saiban (lit. "Justice Reversal" or "Justice Turnabout"), Lufia is Estpolis, Soul Blazer is Soul Blader ... the list goes on for quite awhile. The good news is that, if I were to graph these renamed games with their year of release, it looks like the number of renamed games are going down when put in ratio with the games retaining their original names. Right now, the biggest offender in sight is NIS America, who renumbered the Atelier Iris series for no reason and randomly makes minor changes in game names (Soul Nomad was Soul Cradle, for example). Also interesting is Atlus' decision to attach "Shin Megami Tensei" as a prefix to everything in the SMT universe. In Japan, the games "Digital Devil Saga" and "Persona 3" did not have Shin Megami Tensei in front of them, even though they're understood to be cousins in the main-series franchise. Just look at a Japanese box for the games (or soundtracks), and you'll see what I mean. I guess Atlus is just trying to bolster more support for a series name that, sadly, no one knows how to translate (roughly, it's "True Goddess Rebirth"). When Atlus released the first Persona game in the US, a large "Revelations series" banner was emblazoned on the box. However, only one other US released Megami Tensei title, Demon Slayer (Last Bible in Japan) was released under the Revelations moniker. It seems Atlus wanted to name the series "Revelations" in the US but dropped the "Revelations" for Persona 2: Eternal Punishment, and since then established the Shin Megami Tensei namesake in the US from Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne to the present.

But yes, for the most part, RPG fans are more aware of a game long before the game is released, even in Japan. With news services like Kotaku, GameSpot, and yes, even RPGFan, gamers know more before US publishers have a chance to fiddle too much with a game's localization. This has brought a decrease to game renaming, which I can only see as a good thing.

- Patrick Gann


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