Since Nintendo launched the Splatoon franchise in 2015, each game in the series has represented its in-universe languages with writing seen in almost every aspect of gameplay: clothes, weapons, maps, and even the UI. Most of the time, players who decode this text into English simply find gibberish. But occasionally, they find small insights into the game’s lore, pointers toward the development process, or even the occasional “FUCK YOU” written on a character’s shirt. Now, a few dedicated fans are collaborating, deciphering, and cataloging the series’ written text in a hunt for the perfect translation.
In Splatoon 2, Jelfonzo changes his shirt daily, and one of the designs he changes into is this white and red shirt with inkling text on it. extracting the texture gets us a better look at the text on the shirt, and its in a decipherable script.— カイ (@rassicas) April 21, 2022
and it translates to...
"FUCK YOU" pic.twitter.com/fhbfPupEkX
The history of Splatoon deciphering is a messy tale of fragmentation. During the first Splatoon’s lifespan, a few players sporadically decoded a few lines of text. It wasn’t until after Splatoon 2’s release, however, that more people started cataloging their findings online. In 2017, fan Alyzana started Inklanguage, which many players credit as the first dedicated Splatoon translation blog despite its relative obscurity.
That same year, Tumblr user jacebeleren became one of the first people to fully translate one of the game’s gibberish-looking scripts. As he explained in a post, after realizing that the text on a poster for a Splatoon event spelled out “HI COLOR,” the Japanese name of Inkopolis, he began gradually filling in the blanks of the alphabet by finding other assets in the game.
“The biggest challenge in decoding the script was just finding all the letters,” jacebeleren told Polygon via Tumblr DMs. “I probably took a few hundred screenshots while working on this.”
Along with jacebeleren, other Splatoon fans like Twitter user MaidCactus began sharing partial deciphering work online. The community lacked collaboration, and some players ended up unknowingly deciphering the same scripts that others already had. But people who shared their findings online still inspired a dedicated community of players trying to fill in the gaps in translation.
A small community of decipherers led by fans rassicas and ardnin began cataloging Inkling alphabet translations on Inkipedia (the Splatoon wiki). Currently, players have identified 14 distinct scripts, though not all have been fully deciphered yet. This number is increasing as players catalog the text in Splatoon 3 — players have already discovered and coined Alterna Script, which only appears in Splatoon 3’s single player mode, and it’s likely they’ll discover more when the game’s DLC is released.
Along with scripts, players have filled Inkipedia with the details of almost every translation they’ve made. Most of these translations are gibberish (“BCDE MNOPQ GHIJK” written on a cardigan), filler text (“SOMETHING TEXT SPLATOON” written on Splatoon 2’s communication error popup), or predictable words on signage within maps (“fresh fruit” written on a fruit stand in MakoMart).
A few translations, however, have led to small additions to Splatoon’s lore that players wouldn’t otherwise know. As rassicas pointed out, one of the Sunken Scrolls in Splatoon 2 can be fully translated into English, revealing how boss DJ Octavio clones his arm. Another Sunken Scroll’s decoded text tells players that the microbes previously revealed to clean up ink after Turf Wars are actually zooplankton and small fish. Other translations simply flesh out Splatoon’s world-building — a translation of a missing pet poster seen throughout Splatoon 2’s Inkopolis reveals that the missing pet nudibranch is adorably named Rowly.
The Splatoon community’s greater understanding of in-game languages has even led to insight into the development process. In Splatoon 2’s single-player mode, the hub world is speckled with satellite dishes that say “IKAVISION” in English, which many players believe the developers intended to translate into Inkling language but forgot about.
“This confirms that there actually are internal fonts and ciphers the developers can use by probably writing stuff in English first and applying the fictitious script later,” ardnin said via Twitter DMs.
Perhaps the best thing to come out of Splatoon’s deciphering community, however, has been the knowledge that Jelfonzo, the clothes salesman in Splatoon 2, occasionally wears a shirt that says “FUCK YOU.” After learning about MaidCactus’ deciphering, rassicas looked through a Splatoon art book for things that might be interesting to translate. They noticed that Jelfonzo’s concept art included a shirt that the art book translated as “YOU SUCK,” but rassicas set out to confirm this. With the help of their friend Diam, who datamined the game and extracted the shirt’s texture, and jacebeleren’s original Round Script key, rassicas realized that the shirt did not, in fact, say “YOU SUCK.” Of course, this discovery became so well-known that it now has its own gimmick account on Twitter that celebrates Tuesdays, the day that Jelfonzo dons his infamous shirt.
It Is Fuck You Tuesday! pic.twitter.com/wBFDsI9B8t— It Is Fuck You Tuesday (@JelfonzoTuesday) October 25, 2022
“When I noticed the shirt, I had a moment of, ‘There’s NO WAY that says the thing I think it says,’” rassicas told me via Twitter DMs. “In that moment, I knew I had found something legendary.”
While it’s unlikely that anything else found in the series will surpass the level of Jelfonzo’s shirt, the Splatoon deciphering community remains dedicated to the thrill of the hunt — for many, it’s not about the results, but the process itself.
“It’s just really fun to try and piece together something that wasn’t even intended to be solved,” ardnin said.
And even though the translation community is still small, in a fan base filled with so much competition and occasional hostility over Splatfest teams, the community’s work has allowed players to come together, whether it’s over a genuine love for minute additions to Splatoon’s lore or amusement at Jelfonzo’s “FUCK YOU” shirt.
“I’ve seen people use the deciphered scripts in fanworks, ranging from genuine comics involving characters in the Splatoon world talking in their own languages to, of course, jokes and memes,” rassicas said. “And I’ve seen that a few people have recreated Jelfonzo’s ‘FUCK YOU’ shirt in real life to wear it to conventions and such. For me, it’s cool to see this obscure thing from a video game that me and some friends helped dig up get used out in the wild.”