Gryzor / Probotector (Contra)
Famous for being one of the hardest video games in History, Contra was once controversial because of its name: surely due to political reasons -since the title can be associated with the Nicaraguan rebels of the same name- the game was renamed Gryzor for its European launch.
But that wasn’t the only change: For the NES version, not only the name but the whole game was changed, with robots instead of humans. Why? Because of European policies in general and German ones in particular; this way, they were hoping the game’s violence wouldn’t hurt sales.
Canis Canem Edit (Bully)
Reason: Sensitive subject
You’ve probably heard of or even played Bully. And even though bullying has always existed, it’s become a more sensitive subject with all the cases we’ve read in the news the last couple of years. That’s why the game kept its original name in the US but in Europe, they decided to remove any reference to bullying from the title.
It was renamed Canis Canim Edit (in Latin, dog eat dog), which is the motto of the school where the game takes place.
Resident Evil (Biohazard)
A famous case of name change. Even though in the West we all know this franchise (which includes games, movies, etc) as Resident Evil, in Japan it’s still known as Biohazard.
Let’s say we’re in 1993-94 and this iconic series is in early development. DOS games still exist! And one of them is already called Biohazard. That’s how Resident Evil was born.
What’s funny is that the seventh installment is called RE 7: Biohazard in the West. Does that mean that in Japan it’s called Biohazard 7: Biohazard? Nope, it’s called Biohazard 7: Resident Evil.
MK: Mystification (Mortal Kombat: Deception) (Blame the French)
Reason: meaning of translation
Poor France; it’s not like they’re guilty of this change but the literal translation is. In the rest of Europe, Mortal Kombat: Deception kept its original name -and it’s strange because this problem could be applied to the Spanish language too: the reason for the change was that the word “deception” is written the same way in French but its meaning is different; it’s “disappointment”.
Another case where the French language had something to do was the one involving Elebits, a game known in Europe as Eledees. Apparently, it’s because in Francophone countries, it could have sound like “et les bits” (and the penises, to put it elegantly). In English, “bits” can also be slang for the same but I think when we read “bits”, gamers and techies think of the IT unit of information (don’t you? Or maybe I’m just too old).
EarthBound (Mother 2)
Reason: first game released in the West
Another well-known case is that of cult game EarthBound. This one is easy to explain and understandable: the first game of the Mother series had never been released outside Japan so Mother 2 had to be renamed EarthBound (we don’t know exactly why this name was chosen, maybe because it was more attractive than one named “Mother”).
The game also suffered great changes during localization to adapt it to new audiences and to a different culture. When it was finally released in the West, the first game was called EarthBound: Beginnings as if it were a prequel.
A similar case but the other way around can be found in the Super Mario series: Super Mario Bros 2 is known in Japan as Super Mario USA because a SM2 (the one we know as The Lost Levels) already existed over there.
The Legend of Zelda: A link to the past (TLOZ: Triforce of the Gods)
Any celestial reference was eliminated in the adaptation of this game, including its title. The Triforce of the Gods was changed to A link to the past, which also includes a reference to the series’ protagonist.
Design details reminiscent of Christian items and even typography inspired by Egyptian hieroglyphics were altered or fully erased. Even the instruction manual came with changes: there, priest Agahnim was turned into a wizard.
If there were still doubts about A link between worlds being a true sequel to this game, you just have to check out its original name in Japanese, which translates as The Legend of Zelda: Triforce of the Gods 2.
Out of this world / Outer world (Another world)
Reason: copyright or confusion
Innovative in its time and with a clear influence in later games, Another World got different names around the world. In the first case, we can blame Americans who already had a soap opera of the same name that had been airing for decades, so they decided to call it Out of this world. It’s funny because there was also a TV show about a half-alien girl with superpowers called Out of this world but they didn’t seem to care; the show ended the same year the game was released, in 1991.
For no apparent reason -or maybe because of a similar situation- it was renamed yet again when it was released in Japan as Outer world.
Street Fighter Alpha (SF Zero)
We can only speculate about the decision to change the name of Street Fighter’s Zero saga that we all know as Alpha. Maybe they just thought that it would sound better to Western ears (both reference a birth or a beginning but “zero” can have negative connotations).
They even added Warriors’ Dreams to the first game’s title. Due to this change, the fighting combos went from Zero to Alpha combos and the Alpha Counter is, in the original game, the Zero Counter.
Funnily enough, when a port for the Game Boy Color was released in Japan, they went with Alpha instead of “their” Zero.
Sonic 3D Blast (Sonic 3D: Flickies’ Island)
Sonic Blast for the Game Gear and Sonic 3D: Flickies’ Island had nothing in common except being part of the same franchise. But when the latter was released in North America, they tried to make a connection between both games and that’s why they also changed the cover art which originally featured the “flickies”, a bird race that the hedgehog must rescue.
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney (Turnabout Trial)
Reason: sounded better
The localization of the Ace Attorney games is one of the best in the industry because of its difficulty: Not only do they feature a huge amount of text but also lots of wordplay and double entendres. That’s why, when the series finally reached the West, they decided to change its title to one that featured its leading character.
Also for this reason, all characters were renamed, including protagonist Ryūichi Naruhodō (whose last name could be interpreted as “I see”), the man we know (and love) as Phoenix Wright; his Western name references the phoenix that rises from the ashes and his last name allows localizers to play a lot with “Wright being right”.
The series is known in its home country as Gyakuten Saiban (Turnabout Trial).
Ninja Gaiden / Shadow Warriors (Legend of the Ninja Dragon Sword)
Reason: sounded better
Known for its difficulty, the game starring Ryu Hayabusa got a name change for PAL regions, from Ninja Gaiden to Shadow Warriors (not to be confused with the great game Shadow Warrior). But even Ninja Gaiden, as cool as it sounds, isn’t its original name.
Actually, the Japanese title Ninja Ryūkenden literally translates as Legend of the Ninja Dragon Sword, pretty cool too. In NTSC regions, it wasn’t only shortened but they also added “gaiden” which means side story. Strange because the game doesn’t feature any side story nor is it a spin-off of another series, but again, they probably thought it sounded good.
Why Shadow Warriors in Europe? Because just like with the poor Ninja Turtles who went from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles (apparently, they had no problem with the mutant bit), in Europe the term “ninja” was associated with violence a little too much. The game was kept as is but cover art was also altered: instead of a masked ninja, the character was just a fighter with a headband.
Mega Man (Rockman)
Reason: sounded better
You may already know that Mega Man is known as Rockman back home, where it’s always kept its original name. The “rock” bit, as we can guess from the name of other characters from the series (Tango, Reggae, Bass, Beat) refers to the music style and not to a stone.
In the words of Joseph Morici, senior vicepresident of Capcom USA back then, the change was due to the original being “horrible”:
“That title was horrible. So I came up with Mega Man, and they liked it enough to keep using it for the US games. The games are actually identical to the Japanese versions.”
Pac-Man (Puck Man / Pakkuman)
Reason: meaning of translation
A well-known case but you’ve probably read at least five different reasons for the name change.
Pac-Man creator Toru Iwatani was inspired by Japanese onomatopoeia paku-paku (taberu) which means eating something eagerly. Thus, Pakkuman was born (with a transcription of the Japanese sound). When the game reached the West, it was renamed Puck-Man, technically because -apart from the obvious similar sound- the main character looks like a hockey puck (even though Iwatani once said that it was like a pizza that’s missing a slice).
It wasn’t Namco but Midway who was responsible for the game’s launch in the West and they saw it coming: changing the P for an F, they could be facing a big deal of jokes and/or vandalism which could destroy the game’s reputation. That’s why we call it Pac-Man.
Circle of Blood (Broken Sword)
I wish we knew why, with such a cool name like Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars, the Americans decided to go with with Circle of Blood.
In fact, director Charles Cecil didn’t seem to like the change since he believed that it could create confusion about what kind of game it was and what it was really about.
Indigo Prophecy (Fahrenheit)
The reason for this change is clear: yes, Fahrenheit is a temperature unit but every time we read the word, two works come to mind: Ray Bradbury’s classic or Michael Moore’s documentary which, in fact, was released a year before the game.
The change only applied to North American audiences who also received a censored version of the game with no sex scenes. Thanks to this, it could be classified M (mature) since neither Sony nor Microsoft wanted a game under the AO (adults only) classification.
When the game was remastered in 2015, it was released uncensored and featuring a mixed title: Fahrenheit: Indigo Prophecy Remastered.
Castlevania (Devil’s Castle Dracula)
Reason: meaning of translation
One of the most beloved sagas in the video game industry, which gave birth to a new genre along with Metroid. But “Metroidvania” wouldn’t be possible without this title change.
Akumajō Dorakyura didn’t only suffer a change to its title but a few tweaks thanks to censorship, too: violence, blood, nudity, and religious items were all deleted or altered. The goal, as always, was to “look after” younger audiences, and also to eliminate any reference to religion (the “devil” in the name); even the enemy went from Dracula to “the Count”, all because of Nintendo of America’s policies.
The second entry was also renamed and reached North America under the name of the famous whip of the Belmont family, Vampire Killer. It’s all a mess when you take into account that Castlevania: Bloodlines is called Vampire Killer in Japan and that, even over there, they decided for a while to turn Akumajō Dorakyura into Castlevania so they didn’t have to “depend on” Dracula as the main enemy in every game of the series. However, Japanese fans asked to get the original name back.
Castlevania is, of course, a portmanteau of “castle” and “Transylvania”, and it’s thought to be the name of the castle we explore in every game.