Top 10 Fan-Translated Games to English Language

Tags: #RetroGaming ,   #retrogamer ,   #videogames ,   #GamingLife

Michael Wendom

Michael Wendom

Last updated:  2023-09-21 10:13:02

Did you know that almost a thousand SNES games (978, to be exact) are Japanese exclusives? That is more than half of the console's library! A similar story applies to Sega Saturn, Famicom, PlayStation, Dreamcast, and many other systems. Unfortunately, only some of these were eventually translated into English, including tons of terrific titles across all genres. While in some cases, the problem relates to licensing, mostly, it's all about the massive work needed to do the translation. 

Luckily, fan communities are bringing these titles to the English-speaking crowd. That's why we'll highlight the top ten fan-translated games, ranking them based on their overall quality and importance. However, as with Grandia, we'll skip games that already have the official English release. Yet, there are some exceptions if the Japanese version of the game is visibly superior. Though, these will be in the bottom half of the list.

10. Donald Duck no Mahou no Boushi (1995, Super Nintendo)

Donald Duck no Mahou no Boushi looks gorgeous while keeping the gameplay interesting
Original release date: 1995 (Super Famicom)
Additional English patch features: None
Why you should play it: Gorgeous graphics, excellent boss battles
Fan translation info

Disney characters are so well-recognized worldwide that it's shocking to learn that a SNES game starring Donald Duck was left in Japan! Translated as Donald Duck and the Magic Hat, this title came late in the console's life. Despite being developed by the obscure SAS Sakata team, the game is one of the best about the famous character. One of the strengths of this title is that it's not your typical platformer. While there's plenty of that in the latter portion of the game, you'll also enjoy some mini-games. In them, Donald delivers newspapers, cleans windows, catches a canary, and participates in a game show.

If you are successful, the adventure continues as your typical platformer, with many similarities to the excellent Magical Quest series. Yet, you won't be bored for a minute, thanks to the brilliant level design and astonishing graphics and animation. Finally, the bosses are unique, as you'll have to defeat them using various strategies. Unfortunately, the controls can be imprecise, so adjusting will take some time. Yet, this isn't a fatal flaw. The translation is excellent, to the point you won't even notice that it's not the official one!

9. Clock Tower: The First Fear (1997, PlayStation)

Clock Tower: The First Fear is all about the atmosphere
Original release date: 1997 (PlayStation)
Additional English patch features: None
Why you should play it: Excellent atmosphere, unique gameplay
Fan translation info

The highly-regarded Clock Tower series includes four games, with the first one released only on Japanese SNES (Super Famicom). In 1997, Human Entertainment ported it to PlayStation and Windows, but the game still lacked English translation. This enhanced edition added more content, mouse controls, better graphics, and full-motion video sequences, making it the ultimate version. Clock Tower is a survival horror that plays like a point-and-click game. This means you don't have direct control over the main character, which is still relatively unusual on consoles.

As you can't fight the mysterious mass murderer Scissorman, you have to outsmart him by setting traps and hiding. Surviving will take you to one of eight possible endings, depending on your actions. To improve replay value, items are in a different spot in each playthrough. While some gameplay elements are rather uninspiring, the atmosphere is fantastic. Despite the massive amount of text, the English translation is flawless, letting you enjoy this adventure to the end.

8. Akumajou Dracula X: Gekka no Yasoukyoku (1998, Sega Saturn)

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night for Saturn has an excellent English translation, but the gameplay improvements are also coming
Original release date: 1998 (Saturn)
Additional English patch features: None, but planned
Why you should play it: More content than in the PlayStation version
Fan translation info

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is among the best games for the original PlayStation. Yet, this title is also a timeless classic, featuring gorgeous two-dimensional graphics and one of the best soundtracks ever. Luckily, the gameplay is also on the highest level, letting you explore the massive European-style castle as Dracula's son, Alucard. As you fight large enemies, you'll also upgrade your abilities, learn new ones and gain better equipment. Hence, this makes the adventure exciting and continually evolving.

A year later, the game was surprisingly ported to Sega Saturn, but only in Japan. Unfortunately, this conversation has many slowdowns and lacks transparency effects. Yet, it also adds more content, allowing us to play as another character. Luckily, the game finally got an English translation in 2021, making it playable. However, the author isn't stopping there, as he plans to add some gameplay enhancement, including fixing slowdowns! Finally, we'll add that some Saturn emulators like Kronos support transparencies, getting this version closer to the PlayStation original. As the Castlevania series is mostly forgotten by now, this is the best thing we have.

7. Bare Knuckle III (1994, Sega Mega Drive)

This patch makes Streets of Rage III obsolete!
Original release date: 1994
Additional English patch features: None
Why you should play it: Better balanced, no censorship
Fan translation info

While Streets of Rage II is one of the finest games on the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive, many people were disappointed with the third part of the series. The main problem is the incredible difficulty, to the point that game feels broken. This is a source of frustration, as the gameplay saw many improvements, such as running or performing special moves without affecting the life meter. Also, there is so much hidden content, including the unlockable characters. Finally, the game is non-linear, as it includes a bad ending.

Yet, many people don't know that the Japanese version has a much better balance and a completely different story. Also, the characters kept their original colors, and one of the bosses is out of the overseas edition. Ultimately, this translated version might even be the best Streets of Rage, with only the music not on the same level as in the previous two games. While this English patch is rather old, it's very professional and needs no improvement. Also, you can buy the original game on Steam and then patch it to this fan version.

6. Valkyria Chronicles III (2011, PSP)

Valkyria Chronicles III is among the best games for PSP
Original release date: 2011
Additional English patch features: None
Why you should play it: One of the best tactical games on the PSP
Fan translation info

PSP is a fantastic handheld console with many brilliant and exclusive software. This includes two highly-rated Valkyria Chronicle games, among the best titles for the system. These original tactical RPGs feature excellent stories, lovable characters, and gameplay with high replay value. Yet, as Valkyria Chronicles II only sold well in Japan, Sega decided not to release Valkyria Chronicles III internationally. That was a massive shame, as the game improved over its predecessor, further tweaking the gameplay.

Furthermore, this title stays exclusive to this day, as Sega didn't even do a simple remaster for PC or consoles. Yet, guys from VC Translation Project translated it less than three years after the game's release. Moreover, they transcribed the Extra Edition, which added seven more episodes. Unfortunately, while you can finish the main storyline, the postgame, and DLC content isn't thoroughly done. There's another patch in the works, hopefully replacing this one. If that happens, Valkyria Chronicles III might end up in a higher position on our list.

5. Bulk Slash (1997, Sega Saturn)

Learn about the fascinating Bulk Slash translation straight from the team that did it!
Original release date: 1997
Additional English patch features: Twin stick controller support
Why you should play it: One of the best mecha games ever made
Fan translation info

Theoretically, you can translate any game to English, even if the scenario is over a thousand pages long, like with one title on our list. Yet, more than translating text is needed sometimes, as is the case with the Japanese Sega Saturn exclusive Bulk Slash. The problem here is that there are so many spoken dialogues in the game, all in Japanese. This means that someone would also have to do the English synchro, which is another level of challenge. However, a small team did the impossible and even hired some experienced voice actors to help complete this project. Hence, this might be the best and the most ambitious fan translation until now!

This is important as Bulk Slash is one of the best games for the 32-bit console, with brilliant music, presentation, and gameplay with tons of replay value. Finally, this prolific Saturn graphical showcase proves that the platform can rival the original PlayStation in the right hands. If you have any love for action games with giant robots, you can't miss this one. Yet, even if you don't, you might be curious to check it out and see what it's all about. Playing a title deemed impossible to translate is an incredible experience!

4. Dragon Force II: Kamisarishi Daichi ni (1998, Sega Saturn)

Do play the first game before you boot up Dragon Force 2!
Original release date: 1998
Additional English patch features: None
Why you should play it: An excellent sequel to one of the best Saturn games
Fan translation info

You can often hear arguments that Dragon Force is one of the best games for the Sega Saturn, and we agree. This title combines real-time strategy and role-playing as you take your armies into battles against other rulers. Yet, massive conflicts involving 200 units made Dragon Force so famous – something unheard of at the time! To win, you must carefully plan your moves, choosing the right troops and the formation. During the battle, you can also make additional commands as you understand your opponent's strategy.

Unfortunately, when Dragon Force II was released in Japan in 1998, the system was dead in the water elsewhere. While this sequel is more of the same, it had some significant improvements. For example, you can combine two types of units and improve them over time. Translating the game was a massive project, as it took almost a decade. That's even more impressive knowing that it involved over 30 people, including twenty translators! Play the original game first, and if you love it, come for this improved sequel!

3. Shining Force III Scenario 2/Scenario 3 (1998, Sega Saturn)

There isn't a better RPG on Sega's 32-bit console
Original release date: 1998
Additional English patch features: Bug fixes, gameplay balance, content restoration
Why you should play it: One of the best RPGs on Saturn
Fan translation info

None of Sega's consoles featured many RPGs, but there are still a few exceptional titles, including the Shining Force series. This is a traditional turn-based tactical RPG where you position your team before issuing them a single command. The goals are usually straightforward, as you must either destroy all enemies or defeat their commander. However, there's also an exploration mode where you gather resources and prepare for further battles. Shining Force III was praised at the time and today is considered one of the platform's best games.

However, the game was released in 1998, shortly before Sega pulled the plug off the system in Europe and North America. This means that the second and third parts of the story (Scenario 2 and Scenario 3) were only published in Japan! Yet, as these stories are all connected, they are essential to play. Fortunately, both received English translations, and while they are still not perfect, the games are playable, and the project is still alive. Moreover, even the additional Premium Disc is now available in English! 

2. Policenauts (1996, Sega Saturn)

Policenauts is another Hideo Kojima triumph!
Original release date: 1996
Additional English patch features: Bug fixes and crashes found in the original game
Why you should play it: A fantastic storytelling
Fan translation info

Brilliant Hideo Kojima made some terrific games, but Policenauts is one of his best works. This title combines visual novels, point-and-click adventures, and interactive movies to tell an incredible sci-fi story. After being cryo-frozen for 25 years, police officer Jonathan Ingram returns to life, deciding to become a detective. Yet, as he works on the case of a missing person, it turns out that he is getting involved in something much more significant.

Despite being available on four different platforms, the game stayed in Japan. While Konami initially wanted to translate the Saturn version, it was too much work for the company at the time. Yet, fans did for both PlayStation (in 2009) and Saturn (in 2016). The latter is our choice as it supports light guns and has some additional scenes and improved videos. Finally, the dialogue is improved, and there's a glossary of terms and bonus videos after you finish the game. The translation is perfect, even in the credits, without a single Japanese character left! It even improves the original game by sorting out glitches and crashes.

1. Mother 3 (Game Boy Advance, 2006)

It might not be the best game in the series, but Mother 3 is still worthy of your time
Original release date: 2006
Additional English patch features: Bug fixes, optimization, gameplay improvements
Why you should play it: Epic translation for the epic game!
Fan translation info

Nintendo's Mother series always causes frustration among fans. Unlike other companies' major franchises, these titles are rarely released outside Japan. The first game, published in 1989, came to the West only in 2015. However, Mother 2, renamed EarthBound, arrived on American SNES but was partially censored. Unfortunately, when Mother 3 was released, Nintendo made it clear that the game wouldn't be translated. Instead of waiting for years and hoping, fans decided to do it themselves, even though it was a massive task.

Only seven months after the game was introduced, they started translating over a thousand script pages using original tools to put them into the game. Yet, led by a professional translator, Mother 3 fan translation was ready for download only two years later! The final result is awe-inspiring, as even some character names and accents are changed to make it familiar to the rest of the world. What's even more impressive is that Nintendo never tried to shut down this project, even though the Nintendo of America knew about it. It was incredible that the corporation, notorious for its intellectual property protection, allowed such a thing. Still, maybe they felt ashamed that someone else did what they had to do.

While fan translations are nothing new, the popularity of these projects exploded in the last couple of years. Hundreds of games are now fully playable for the English-speaking crowd, while others like Princess Crown might follow. So while these top ten games are incredible, we encourage you to explore further!

Have you ever played a fan-translated game? Which Japanese-only release would you like to get an official or fan translation?

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Vince Says:

Still waiting for Samurai Shodown RPG

December 14 at 03:51:35 PM

Sanchez Says:

You're just saying what I'm thinking of if you mean specifically the PlayStation version

August 13 at 08:10:40 AM

Delaney Says:

Sega Saturn translation scene is fascinating. I can't wait for the Princess Crown, but it seems that progress has really slowed down. I don't understand why Atlus won't do it officially.

September 02 at 09:29:18 AM

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