Can Google Translate Help Play Imports?

Throughout the years there have been a few video games that I’ve desperately wished would be translated into English, but for whatever reason simply never got that treatment. Whether it’s an official localization or a fan translation from websites such as, many video games are readily available to be enjoyed by nearly anyone speaking any language. But what is a potential fan of any given game supposed to do when that game is left in the language it was originally released in? While learning other languages is something I recommend, doing so just for one video game doesn’t seem like a worthwhile endeavor.

Back in the PS1 era I remember a friend of mine shoving a gaming magazine in my face while fervently pointing to an article about Racing Lagoon. For many years after we waited and waited to finally get our hands on a racing RPG, but sadly the game didn’t sell well enough in Japan for SquareSoft to even consider releasing it anywhere else. Another game I would love to play is SD Gundam Gaiden: Knight Gundam Monogatari for the Famicom, which supposedly does have a translation patch, but once patched won’t play on any emulator I’ve tried it in. This is where modern technology might just be able to help us.

If you have an android phone you most likely have Google Translate, or at least the capability to install it. This program offers an instant translation. My plan is to boot up a game in a foreign language, aim my cellphone at the screen and see if I can play some of the game using this as a method of translation and determine whether this is a viable option or cumbersome waste of time.

Up first I tried SD Gundam Gaiden, but the main problem was that its dialogue doesn’t wait for the player to press a button to advance, it simply scrolls out on the screen and disappears shortly thereafter. After fumbling my way into starting a game I opened a menu and aimed my cellphone at the screen. I was astounded by the fact that it was picking up floor tiles on the map beside the menu and making words from them, but struggling to find the words that were clearly on the menu screen. Translations were very shaky as words would disappear from the screen as the app tried to translate it and sometimes never reappear, while other words would change many, many times over. Some of the funny results I got were “P is for Eggplant” or “Shanghai”, but sadly none of the results I obtained were of any real use.

Next I tried a copy of Racing Lagoon and was actually surprised to find that the game already has a full English alphabet. In fact, some of the game’s dialogue is in English, just not enough of it for someone like myself to fully comprehend. After even more failed attempts at translating words I gave up and just kept pressing circle to get through the dialogue as quickly as I could to get to the racing. To me, in the short time I played the game, Racing Lagoon felt like Gran Turismo. The cars looked nice, handling was nice, but my only complaint was that the AI were a bit more difficult than I had expected. Seeing a full English alphabet makes me wonder why this still hasn’t been translated by fans.

So, can Google Translate help play import games? Well it didn’t help me in my experiments, that’s for sure, but that’s not to say this failure was solely the app’s fault. Nor is that to say that it couldn’t, as I only tried it out on the two games I own that I’ve wanted translated for some years now. There are many reasons it might have failed in my experiments, but maybe with future updates the technology will slowly be tuned into something useful for gamers. However, this was a fun little experiment, and some of the hilarious results I got from SD Gundam Gaiden were worth the attempts alone. Give it a try! Know of any other automatic translation apps? Let me know, or try them for yourself. I hope soon this kind of technology will be capable of allowing us to play imports without needing translation patches, we’ll just have to wait and see.

Posted May 4th, 2020

About the author

Samuel Floyd first fell into video gaming with the Atari the mid-90s! Always late into the system wars, Samuel enjoys that as he acquires them when they're cheap and the hot titles of yesteryear are bountiful. Samuel loves RPGs, his favorite being Crystalis for the NES.


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