If you’ve been into games for as long as I have, there’s no doubt in my mind the phrase “fan translation” means something to you. Growing up alongside the more mainstream form of the internet meant a lot of stumbling into formative experiences and new ways to play games.

Fan translations allowed folks to play forgotten classics, only obscured due to language barriers. Final Fantasy fans especially know what’s up here, as Square Enix’s backlog of untranslated JRPGs was huge. These days, most of the white whales have been taken care of.

The biggest and most in demand games have seen translations, or even official releases in the days since Final Fantasy V and Bahamut Lagoon’s unofficial English debuts.

But now that translations are maturing, we’re seeing both an explosion of niche games emerging for the first time, and advancements in technology making previously impossible tasks come to fruition.

The Top Five Coolest Fan Translations of 2021

If you look at even just a few of last year’s releases, which includes an explosion of WonderSwan translations for example, you can see clear examples of where the scene is today.

From a widening net of interests to platforms barely touched before, fan translations are only getting more niche, and that much cooler. Check out this list, covering some of the best fan translations that have been released this year.

Shiren the Wanderer 2: Oni Invasion! Shiren Castle! (Nintendo 64, 2000)

ROMhacking link

As a big ol’ Mystery Dungeon fan, the best part of following fan translations as of late has been all the new projects coming to completion.

Last year saw the release of both versions of the original Chocobo’s Mystery Dungeon (PS1 and WonderSwan!), and outside of that we got an official physical release of the latest Shiren the Wanderer courtesy of Limited Run Games.

Despite being the OG of Mystery Dungeon, several entries in the Shiren series have gone unlocalized. That includes some Game Boy spin-offs (which are in progress!), but more importantly a few of the main, numbered games.

Just this week, Shiren the Wanderer 2, a distinct piece in the N64 library, saw a patch released. All that’s left is Shiren 4.

Galaxy Fraulein Yuna (PC Engine, 1992)

ROMhacking link

Also known as the TurboGrafx, most great Japanese games on that platform (even the best Castlevania game, Rondo of Blood) stayed overseas while we were stuck with like, Bonk the caveman baby.

Galaxy Fraulein Yuna was basically a 1980s sci-fi OVA, with everything that comes with that (it’s horny), in visual novel form. Not only did the folks who translated this get the main script, they also managed to add subtitles to the cutscenes and opening song without compromising on quality.

As the team rightfully boasts itself, this is one of the first PC Engine projects to pull that off. History is made!

Mobile Golf (Game Boy Color, 2001)

ROMhacking link

Camelot is still cranking out those Mario sports games, but there’s no denying they aren’t as well-received anymore. Anyone who was around for those pseudo-JRPG bangers on the Game Boy Color remembers them fondly and tragically. But did you know Mario Golf had a sequel?

Mobile Golf was a non-Mario successor that continued Camelot’s weird but effective marriage of sport and JRPG. Weirdly enough, it was also part of a short-lived attempt at getting online play rolling on the GBC.

Not only does this translation let us experience a long-lost follow-up to a beloved genre classic, the folks who hacked the ROM up also made it so players can access the “DLC” content by other means. Legends.

Mizzurna Falls (PlayStation, 1998)

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You know a translation is a big deal when the release includes the number of years the project has been in the works. In Mizzurna Falls’ case, this wouldn’t have come out this year if it wasn’t for effort from multiple people adding up to many years of work.

There was even some drama too, but we don't need to go over that here. Mizzurna Falls itself is a strange one, a game that might look like Resident Evil at a glance but has a lot more in common with Twin Peaks. It’s a cult classic in terms of pure interest, and now genre enthusiasts will finally be able to play it for themselves.

Tomato Adventure (Game Boy Advance, 2002)

ROMhacking link

Remember AlphaDream? Nintendo’s recently-deceased JRPG developer wasn’t always just the house of Mario & Luigi. The company’s first two games were wholly original, and neither was localized. The first game was an extremely Japanese card game so perhaps that makes sense. 

But Tomato Adventure seems like an omission in retrospect. It’s a colorful, cute and silly romp that seems to have directly led to the Mario & Luigi series. And unlike something like Mother 3, timing isn’t a good reason for passing it over.

Speaking of Mother 3, Clyde Mandelin (known as Tomato, natch), was somewhat involved in this game getting translation attention. He famously translated Mother 3, so there’s a fun fact to close this one out.

Related: Pokémon Card GB2: Great Rocket-Dan Sanjo! - The Pokémon Sequel That Stayed in Japan

Did I miss something you feel deserved a spot? Or are you excited to play one of these titles after reading the list? What’s a game you still want to see get there fan translation treatment?

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