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River City Girls Zero Shows Why Localization Matters

River City Girls Zero is the kind of game you’d think we wouldn’t see! It’s a localization of a Super Famicom game from 1994 called Shin Nekketsu Koha: Kunio-tachi no Banka. So what is it doing here? Well, WayForward’s River City Girls spin-off starring Kunio and Riki’s girlfriends Misako and Kyoko did well! This game also featured them as prominent characters! Which means it is here. The release in general is odd for another reason too. River City Zero has one localization based on the spin-off and an “original” one (literal/original) that doesn’t take into account that character development. But what’s interesting is how the comparison between the two shows how the localization process changes things to make them flow better and fall in line with how things are phrased in the new language.

The idea behind the two localizations is to offer one that takes into account the things we know about Misako and Kyoko from River City Girls. The thing is, this is a Super Famicom game that is very bare bones when it comes to its story. There isn’t much there. The result is that the RCG localization can feel like it has more personality. It flows better and sounds more natural. Meanwhile, Original can be flat and awkward. It is more direct, but also sometimes might read like an unedited version of the RCG version of the script.

This comes up immediately, then continues repeatedly throughout River City Girls Zero. For example, when Kunio and Riki are jailed, Officer Takayama and an inmate named Gouji’s references to a jail cell sound unnatural. In Original, they will call it Room 218.” In RCG, it is “Cell 218.” Both do mean the same thing, but in English we would only use “cell” to refer to someone’s room in a jail. It’s an example of a recurring stylistic decision. Rather than attempt to make things flow, it is more exact. The result is… well, I found it more difficult to read.

Directness is not the only difference. The original localization option features swearing. Words like “bastard” and “bitch” are used by major and minor characters. Which again, is a stylish choice. These could honestly fit in either script. We are talking about some teenagers, delinquents, police, and villains, after all. They are rough around the edges. Colorful language would make sense.

However, I would say the absence of that language in the RCG localization River City Girls Zero means it tends to, well, treat Misako better. The original localization can make the characters sound a bit crude or uncaring to her. At the same time, it makes her seem like a bad person. (Granted, she does behave in a somewhat shifty manner after seeing Kunio and Riki again.)

A good example is Kunio and Riki’s conversation with a friend named Hiroshi. He comes to visit them in jail. Hiroshi brings up a rumor that suggests Misako is cheating on Kunio with the Daiki, the guy who “replaced” him as top dog. Kunio then calls her a “bitch” in the original localization. In RCG, he calls her “unfaithful.” I’d say the RCG script could come across as more realistic, rather than in line with a spin-off in which we’re directed to root for, connect to, and see her as a hero. Especially if we are expected to believe they are in a committed relationship. But at the same time, we have a character who is the hero immediately believing someone without all the facts.

It also goes on to make her look bad in another way. Misako joins the party in River City Girls Zero. However in Original, it comes across that she doesn’t want to. There’s less enthusiasm. Which, between the earlier comments from Kunio and her behavior, makes me wonder why they are even together? The original script feels like they really don’t like each other, which made me think, “Why are they even together in the first place? Why is she even here?” I felt the directness hurt the overall atmosphere, while the RCG version added a sense of nuance that makes it feel like this is a temporary rough patch with tension that will pass.

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Which version of the River City Girls Zero localizations someone will prefer will be up to them. I enjoy the RCG version more. It sounds more natural to me. (It also doesn’t leave me wanting to correct certain words or phrases.) Someone might prefer the Original option. That’s fine too. But the fact that both are here show how the localization editors provide can make a game flow and convey a message.

River City Girls Zero is available for the Nintendo Switch, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and PC.

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