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Even Shovel Knight’s Japanese localization is a throwback

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"Way back in the day, game localization was the wild West"

With Shovel Knight, developer Yacht Club Games made it clear from the get-go that it was committed to recapturing that retro 8-bit aesthetic. That’s apparent just by looking at it — but the team’s dedication to old school adventure games trickled down into its localization, too. Now that the game is available in Japan, the developer offers a look inside and history lesson of the Japanese localization process for both Shovel Knight and classic ‘80s games in a detailed blog post.

Yacht Club Games broke down the changes it made (with localization team 8-4) when bringing Shovel Knight overseas. Every change was motivated by the desire to emulate differences players would find between Japanese Famicom games and their Western NES counterparts. These vary from the obvious — changing the language from English to Japanese — to the more granular, like changing the font size, altering sprite animations and redesigning some characters and objects.

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"When we went about localizing Shovel Knight, we wanted to recreate some of the fun differences you might find between regions," the development team wrote in a post. "We even went through the process of trying to ‘reverse’ localize it. That meant to us, asking what features Shovel Knight would have had if it started out as a Japanese game."

The post illustrates how Japanese and English games often differed by using a variety of examples, like The Legend of Zelda and Super Mario Bros. 2 (or Doki Doki Panic, depending on where you're from). Yacht Club Games highlights the extensive work to alter these '80s games for Western audiences, a process 8-4 managed to emulate in a number of ways for the contemporary Shovel Knight.

The English logo was kept on the Japanese version's title screen, as many Japanese games mix in English text. As for dialogue, Japanese players can choose to read it in Katakana characters, most commonly found during the Famicom days, or Kanji, which is considered to be the more "nostalgic and retro" of the two, thanks to its prevalence in Super Famicom games.

Kanji characters even appear bigger than Katakana characters in the game; they’re 12-by-12 pixels, just as they were on the Super Famicom, while the Famicom and NES could only fit text that was at most eight-by-eight pixels.

Yacht Club Games and 8-4 also revised some sprites to be more regionally appropriate. In the Japanese Shovel Knight, health can be upgraded using rice balls, and the Midas Coin item has a hole in it to resemble Japanese coins. Character portraits have also been altered to "have a slightly more anime-esque art style," according to the post.

There’s also some graphical changes that are enabled through cheats introduced in the Japanese version. Using that Japanese cheat code — which the team didn’t reveal — will turn on localization changes in Shovel Knight’s other languages, or players can just choose to play through the game in Japanese to see them. An update will be available soon for non-native players to check out the in-depth Japanese localization.

For more on Shovel Knight in its original, English language version, check out our review.