Legends of Localization Book 1: The Legend of Zelda Review
by on September 14, 2016

legends-of-localisation-book-review-1-croppedEver since the reveal of Clyde Mandelin’s latest and most ambitious Legends of Localization project, a book devoted to the original Legend of Zelda, my curiosity had hit its peak. Exploring and comparing the differences between the North American and Japanese versions of the first game of the Zelda franchise was something that struck me fascinated immediately.

Even as an eager follower, however, I wasn’t without concerns. As compelling as the subject matter was, it seemed far too limited to warrant a fully published book. Mandelin even says himself in the book’s preface, “I didn’t think there would be enough content to fill an entire book.” How much can one really learn from a game that only has around 30 lines of text? Would I really learn anything new about this game given the knowledge I’ve already gained in my years of Zelda fandom, or would this be a dull retread of what I already know? Is this even a book for long-term fans like myself, or more for the casual onlookers?

If you’re having similar causes for hesitation before taking the plunge with Legends of Localization Book 1: The Legend of Zelda, then allow me to quell any doubts: There is far more to this game than I could have ever imagined, and this is essential reading for all Zelda fans. You’re almost guaranteed to learn something new here no matter how deep your loyalty to the series runs. Oh, and you’ll have a blast while doing so.

The talent behind the talking tomato

Our hawk-eyed author Clyde Mandelin — who more commonly goes by Mato — is a highly experienced translator, having worked on many official translations for high-profile video games and anime shows. Nintendo fans may also recognise the name as one of the key members of the Mother 3 fan translation. Clearly, Mato is rather talented in what he does, and, with this wealth of experience, it’s fair to say that a project of this nature was always in good hands. More importantly, however, he’s also a good teacher. After all, his research would be useless to us if not communicated properly, and thankfully that’s definitely not an issue here.

No matter how subtle, it seems as though every single change has been identified

He is extremely perceptive in his analysis between the three versions of the game: the Famicom Disk System version, the Japanese cartridge version, and the North American Nintendo Entertainment System version. No matter how subtle, it seems as though every single change has been identified here, from font changes, minor graphical modifications, and small gameplay tweaks. Despite how negligible each adjustment may seem, there is always an interesting reason behind it. Sometimes the reason for a change are technical, due to the differences in hardware clearly kept in mind; sometimes it’s in order to adhere to different cultures, to avoid confusion, or to avoid potential insensitivity towards other ethnicities or groups; often, it appears to be simply down to poor translation back in Nintendo’s early days. Even when the reasoning seems a mystery, Mato usually offers some plausible possibilities.

These elderly gentlemen have been confusing us Zelda fans for decades. But no more!

These elderly gentlemen have been confusing us Zelda fans for decades. But no more!

Of course there are also much more noticeable and drastic changes. One of the most interesting sections to me explored the dialogue spoken by the old men that give Link hints in the game. Many of these quotes remain memorable to this day amongst Zelda fans due to the nonsensical (and sometimes illegible) text generated from poor translation efforts. Comparisons are made between this actual text from the North American version of the game with the far more accurate translations by Mato of the original Japanese text. Some lines are a simple case of nuance being lost in the translation or a word being misinterpreted, while others are wildly different compared to the ones we know and love. It turns out that the majority of Japanese hints are remarkably more helpful than the cryptic gibberish you may remember! It was fascinating for me to finally understand what the developers actually meant to communicate to the player after all these years.

Beyond the game, and beyond all expectations

Legends of Localization doesn’t just cover the in-game content either (hence why my fears of the book being too limited were unnecessary) as Mato takes the time to observe the differences between things like the cartridges and box art. He also compares both the Japanese and English manuals which, as you can imagine, are gold mines when it comes to the regional differences of Zelda. You can learn a lot here about how the game’s story, items, and enemies were originally intended to be perceived. There is even a section which looks at other materials beyond the game around the time of its release, such as magazines, guides, promotions, and commercials. It’s very amusing to see the contrasts between Japanese and American culture when celebrating the same video game.

Mato’s extensive abundance of resources means there is plenty of eye candy to see here

Mato is adept at easing the reader in and explaining concepts in a clear and simple way rather than overburdening them with raw, convoluted information. With the tone consistently casual and every concept broken down to its simplest form, I would wager that even those who never played the original Zelda could find a pleasant read here. That’s not to say that this is an oversimplified account of The Legend of Zelda; as I said, there is still substance within the text here for hardcore fans, and a fine balance means that intricate details are communicated in a coherent and enjoyable manner for everyone whatever your experience as a video game fan.

The accessible nature of the book is also helped by the clean presentation. The layout ensures that, again, the reader is never overwhelmed by information with a magazine-esque format breaking up the text into different sections and boxes. There are occasionally brief sections at the end of each topic called Mato Says, which are always interesting as they offer some personal insight or additional trivia from the author. Mato’s extensive abundance of resources also means there is plenty of eye candy to see here, with images scattered throughout the book as it offers a glimpse at all of the relevant screenshots, aforementioned promotional materials and miscellaneous Zelda merchandise.

Hey! Don’t just read, listen!

Mato’s love for The Legend of Zelda is clear to see throughout the entire book; it’s not only evident from the sheer amount of work put into the project or the enthusiasm that flows lovingly in the text but also in the way he encourages the reader to participate. After all, the original game was an experience not limited to the controller and the TV screen; for many players, it was an adventure that lovingly permeated their everyday lives, and kept them constantly thinking about the world they were exploring. Drawing maps on graph paper, sharing secrets with fellow gamers, and trawling through guides and issues of Nintendo Power for clues were the norm for serious fans in the late ’80s. Likewise it feels as though Mato takes this approach to heart as he offers the reader a wider experience than just the text on the pages.

legends-of-localisation-book-review-6-audio

Digdogger hates certain sounds, but I love Mato’s audio comparisons.

For example, my favourite section of the book is the “Audio” chapter wherein Mato compares all of the music and sound effects between the Famicom Disk System version and the Nintendo Entertainment System version. Now, you can read through this normally and still gain enjoyable insight, but if you have a phone or tablet handy or a computer nearby, you can really enhance your enjoyment here. At the beginning of the chapter, Mato includes a QR code (and a URL, if you don’t have a scanner application). This takes you to a video which plays all of the audio from both versions of the game in the same order that they are examined in the book. When describing pure sound, there is only so much you can convey in written word. Mato knows this and was very clever in his approach to this issue. I had a blast listening to both versions of the audio and hearing the difference for myself while at the same time reading the author’s summaries and having a visual comparison with the soundwave graphs.

It's dangerous to go without a handy guide to the Japanese text in Zelda. Take this!

It’s dangerous to go without a handy guide to the Japanese text in The Legend of Zelda. Take this!

Speaking of going beyond the book, Legends of Localisation also comes with a small booklet titled “Passport to The Legend of Zelda“. This is a handy companion for anyone who decides to play through the Japanese version of The Legend of Zelda themselves and/or those interested in learning the Japanese language. It contains the basics of katakana and a dictionary of common names, objects, items, enemies, and other relevant terms associated with the game. Like its big brother, it’s very easy to follow and understand and could even prove to be an opportune starting point for would-be translators. I’ve had fun taking this on the go (it fits conveniently in my pocket) and having a quick flick through when I have a spare minute, and I feel like I can now award myself more points as a Zelda fan having learned all of the character and enemy names in their original language.

This book has amazing wisdom and power

I don’t think it would be exaggerating to say that Legends of Localization has enhanced my whole outlook on The Legend of Zelda. It’s incredible to see how one individual has managed to create a book that rivals Nintendo’s own official effort Hyrule Historia in terms of the level of insight into Zelda behind the scenes. This is requisite reading for fans of the series, especially the trivia junkies among you. But it’s also a personal, heartfelt love letter to a very special game, a celebration of the title that started it all, with the passion contagious from cover to cover.

one individual has managed to create a book that rivals Nintendo’s own official effort Hyrule Historia.

This first publication has me even more excited for the next entry in the Legends of Localization series, which will cover the Nintendo classic Earthbound. With Mato having teased his interest in conducting similar analyses on other Zelda titles, too, such as Zelda II and Ocarina of Time, I sincerely hope we get to see more projects of this nature on this beloved series in the near future.

Reece Heather
Reece is the news editor of Zelda Universe, and a lifelong Nintendo fan. When he's not writing or gaming, Reece also enjoys hip-hop, Punisher comics and luchador wrestling. He's also obsessed with baby harp seals, so he's not as masculine as he likes to think.
  • Shona

    Great review. As someone who already owns and has read the book, I couldn’t agree more. Fascinating reading. I want more!