I recently came into possession of the first Legends of Localization book. What is it, you might ask? It’s a combination of all the things I’m passionate about rolled into ONE. The history of video games, retro games, The Legend of Zelda, game localization, and the Japanese language. I could never have imagined that one day a book that had all of these qualities would exist. Well, it’s finally here and I wanted to take some time to talk about it.
Legends of Localization- the website
It must have been two or three years ago that I stumbled upon a website called “Legends of Localization”. For those that don’t know, game localization is the process of translating and adapting games to be sold outside the developers’ native countries. The most interesting examples are usually Japanese games localized for North America.
When I visited the site for the first time, I was blown away by detailed articles that looked at the differences between the English and Japanese versions of retro games such as Super Mario Bros, The Legend of Zelda, Earthbound, and countless others. I would eagerly wait until a new article was released so I could go to a coffee shop, sit back, and enjoy a good read on my tablet.
Clyde Mandelin, the guy that runs the site, is a professional Japanese-English translator that has done games, anime, and more. In between projects, he started his Legends of Localization website as a way to look at games from his childhood in a new light. By comparing the North American and Japanese releases of games, he answered many questions people had regarding strange dialogue or mysteries unexplained in games. It discusses Nintendo’s early days as it was trying to bring its Japanese games to a foreign market and the failures and successes it had.
I’m assuming his site became so popular that people started demanding he put his work into print. My god, I’m so glad he did. As of December 2015, he published his first Legends of Localization book titled “Legends of Localization: The Legend of Zelda”. It’s the first in a series of books that will thoroughly examine old favorites in retro gaming and the journey they made in order for North American gamers to play them.
As soon as it was available online, I ordered it right away. The shipping from the US to Japan took a while, but through a Christmas miracle it arrived on December 25th, Christmas day!
Legends of Localization Book (Vol. 1 Zelda)
So with all of that out of the way, let’s talk about Clyde Mandelin’s first and latest book!
When I heard there was going to be a Legends of Localization book, I didn’t really know if it would be possible to fill a whole book with just the first Legend of Zelda but, fortunately, Clyde Mandelin “Mato” proved me wrong. Looking at the table of contents, there’s a lot to get through. Differences in graphics, audio, gameplay, enemies, and dialogs and more than I imagined.
The author has done a magnificent job with his research and it shows. He’s on top of everything and can explain the differences using light-hearted humor and well thought-out writing. He injects memories from his childhood to go along with many of the articles, which adds a wonderful personal touch to this book. I found myself revisiting my own childhood gaming memories as I was reading along.
He even went through the trouble of gathering as much Japanese and North American material as possible to make his point. There are tons of pictures of both American games and magazines as well as Japanese ones. This could not have been an easy task to gather all of the material. (Although I’m sure it was super fun to go through, lucky guy!)
There is one section that I felt was a little underwhelming and that was the audio section. It’s really difficult to explain the differences between audio when you’re limited to paper, but I commend the author for trying. He attached visual sound waves next to each sound effect and attempted to explain the differences between the North American and Japanese hardware. This is something that worked really well on his site because you can click a button and immediately hear the difference. On paper, it’s more “Yeah, I guess I have to take your word for it”.
Having said that, I would never have known there were sound effect and audio differences between the American and Japanese releases if these weren’t emphasized in the book and on the site, so maybe it’s better overall that this section was included.
There’s so much interesting content in the Legends of Localization book 1, I couldn’t possibly list everything otherwise, I’d end up retyping the whole thing on this site. However, I thought it was really neat that there is a “patch” section at the end of the book.
You know how games that need updates to improve the existing game or add features download patches? This is sort of the same thing. There are about 4 blank pages in the back in case there is additional information or corrections. I’m assuming they will be available on the website and you can download the PDF, print it out, and stick it inside the book. Clyde Mandelin didn’t have to do this, but he did. I thought this was a unique idea and I’m looking forward to any future content.
I don’t know Japanese, can I read this book?
Of course! This book is written in 99.9% English and any Japanese that is mentioned is always later followed by the English translation, so no worries there.
I’ve never played The Legend of Zelda, is this book for me?
First of all, you owe it to yourself to go play that game. Even if you haven’t played it, if you’re interested in translation or the history of old video games, this book is going to grip you and never let go until you finish.
You’ve got a hardcover dark green book with shiny gold trim. It looks really classy and something you’d be proud to put on your geek table. It’s accompanied with a Japanese-style dust jacket. There is even an imprint of the book’s title in Japanese.
There are artistically angled pictures of what looks like The Legend of Zelda being played on an old school (CRT) television. These pictures are between chapters as sort of a nice transition. It sort of flows with what the author is talking about connecting Zelda with his childhood and retro games. It fits, but I wonder if there weren’t other considerations for the photos used for the transition pages. Oh well! I certainly couldn’t think of anything better.
I’ve read quite a few gaming-related books, but I have to say that this book does an impeccable job at matching the screenshots with the current topic in the text. It made for such a relaxing and fun read. Everything the author references is usually backed up with some sort of visual and I loved it.
Through no fault of the author, some text and screenshots become ghostly and a little difficult to read due to publishing issues. It’s not on every page but shows up from time to time. Not a big obstacle, but I hope this becomes fixed for the next Legends of Localization book.
Legends of Localization Book 1 -Final Thoughts
I haven’t read a gaming book in a long time that was so captivating, I couldn’t wait to get in bed and read it every night. Legends of Localization: The Legend of Zelda is a passion project and certainly wins my recommendation because it covers things that perhaps a lot of gamers wondered back in the day and could never get answers to.
Let’s face it, I’m a sucker for anything retro game related, but this book is something really special. It’s such a niche topic that I’m so thankful it got released. I hesitate to give it a rating because there’s nothing else quite like this out there.
This was the first book in the physical Legends of Localization book series. The next one scheduled to be released is for Earthbound. I never played the game in my childhood, but I tried it about four years ago and could instantly see why it’s a cult classic.
If you’re still here after reading all this, you should go check out the Legends of Localization website.
After you hang out on the site, if you like the content, I highly recommend you purchase the Legends of Localization Book 1 from Fangamer’s online store. It’s the only place you can get it and they ship worldwide, so no worries if you’re from outside North America.
How about you?
Do you guys have any recommendations for cool books dealing with gaming? Let me know in the comments because I’m always hungry for a good gaming read.