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On game localization issues and context:

Blaster Master for the NES (known as "Chou Wakusei Senki: METAFIGHT" in Japan) is but one of many curious examples of a game where the backstory and context in the Japanese and American versions are completely different. Here's the plot summary for the Japanese version, written entirely in the instruction manual:

"In the original Japanese version (Chô Wakusei Senki Metafight), the game takes place on the planet Sophia the 3rd, located near the center of the Epsilon Milky Way, in which an advanced civilization flourished. In the year 2052, the emperor Goez, who has conquered the rest of outer space and declared himself as a god, and his "Inbem Dark Star Cluster" invade and conquer Sophia the 3rd. The only survivor of Goez's raid is the Science Academy's Nora Satellite, who has escaped and plans to build a weapon to defeat Goez's forces. They build an all-purpose tank called "Metal Attacker", commandeered by a boy named Kane Gardner, to take the lead in the counterattack. The game's opening sequence shows Metal Attacker dropped into the battlefield."

This differs radically from the American version, where we are treated to a brief in-game cinematic which serves as a cursory exposition of the plot. For those who don't know this classic game, the American version goes something like this: A boy named Jason is playing with his frog, Fred. Fred escapes his tank and Jason chases after him into the yard, where for some reason, there is a crate of radioactive material. Fred jumps on this crate and mutates to a ridiculous size, causing the crate to fall into an underground area. Following after Fred, Jason jumps down the hole to find a futuristic space battletank. The last scene is Jason gearing up for kicking ass in a tank he found beneath his yard.

Now, tell me that ain't grand. More precisely, is this NOT what any pet-frog-owning boy would do if their frog mutated and they happened to find a battle tank?

All strange awesomeness aside, this example illustrates a point I would like to make about what constitutes story telling within the context of the game media itself. That is, I am endeavoring toward separating games which establish exposition or context within their gameplay as opposed to those games which set up your story with an explanation written separately from the game itself, ie the manual. The reason I bring this up is because I have found that the field lacks preciseness of definition when it comes to what actually counts as a storytelling game.

With Blaster Master, yes, the actual level of quality of the plot is very questionable. While Jason's motivation for embarking on a quest is plausible, the means and the circumstance are too absurd and fantastic, without sufficient effort towards the suspension of disbelief.

On the same token, it is just an NES game. What more did we expect when we were being raised by Nintendo? I know that for my part, as long as we aren't getting too serious, Jason chasing his pet frog and commandeering a space tank for no other reason than that it might be Saturday morning is reason and means enough for me.

About the Author

PhD Candidate in Japan, researching Narrative in Games. Responds favorably to Thrash Metal, Karaoke, and Dungeons & Dragons.

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