I like to play Japanese mobile games to expand my vocabulary while having fun. Visual novels are quite an obvious choice when it comes to text-heavy games, but I also play a lot of escape games (脱出ゲーム) and puzzle-adventure games (謎解きゲーム), two genres that often overlap.
Whenever I play, I can’t help but think about potential localisation issues and challenges.
One aspect that often comes up is the presence of language based puzzles and riddles, usually Japanese or Japanese + English. Sometimes translating them would require minor changes, other times it would be impossible to keep them without changing the graphics or even the riddle altogether (imagine translating in Italian a riddle based on Japanese + English which uses visual prompts!).
Today I want to talk about a game called 遊園地からの脱出, which you can download here. The story is not particularly remarkable: you have to solve riddles and collect map pieces to restore an abandoned amusement park to its former state. Text is quite limited, so you could navigate most of the game without knowing Japanese.
However, one particular riddle caught my attention in chapter 3.
SPOILER ALERT: I’m going to talk about this riddle and its solution, so skip to the end of the post if you don’t want any spoiler.
You have to find the combination to this lock:
The symbols above point to this carousel:
And then you find this:
Putting all together: star shape=G, diamond shape=D, heart shape=S.
Swap the letters with the symbols from the first screenshot and you get “GOODS”.
Write that in katakana (グッズ), and voilà! You opened the lock.
Now, how would you translate this in another language?
Of course, the first step would be to get rid of katakana and use letters instead.
If the target language was English, “GOODS” would still make sense, but it would be an unnecessary step and probably would seem a bit strange.
Therefore, a solution would be to leave “OO” out and just use the three symbols to reveal the order.
It goes without saying that this solution would work only for languages that use the Latin alphabet. A more universal workaround would be deleting the letters in the third image and using symbols instead of letters for the combination.
Although this game was probably not meant to be translated, bottom line is that when language is only an added layer for puzzles and riddles that can do well without it, using symbols is most of the times a safer choice, translation-wise.