Six years ago, I still wrote long articles about Pokémon.
The Chinese localization for Pokémon Sun/Moon was officially announced on the night of Feb 26th, 2016. During that night, Weibo was filled with retweet giveaway posts, which had in fact buried this article in the fireworks of celebration. I knew that because the reader count was far lower than expected. Since everyone was retweeting giveaways during that festive occassion, this article, written 2 months in advance, was buried away from public view.
I hope it's no big deal bring it up now, but it had already been an open secret among the "media people" that Pokémon Sun/Moon would come with Chinese support, and we have all prepared celebratory articles in advance. As this 15-thousand word article was published immediately after the official annoucement of Chinese support, it was clearly well finished prior, obvious enough for everyone.
However, my "celebratory" article was more of a summary of Nintendo's Chinese localization history. It might have been a bit out of place for the festive mood, but in retrospect, I still think it was some decent work.
A chronicle, of Nintendo's Chinese localization, and of the whole game industry's Chinese localization. A lot of the exact dates in this article are probably difficult to pin down, so this article also served as a good archive of all the time points I pinned down after doing lots of research.
I never write articles for clicks or money. I just want to use my keyboard to record the history I wanted to documented.
A major event such as Pokémon's Chinese localization is definitely worth recording, and this article is my answer.
This article was originally published on the "种草神机" headline.
I hereby represent you this article, remastered and unmodified
The latest titles of the Pokémon series, Pokémon Sun/Moon for the Nintendo 3DS, have been announced with Simplified and Traditional Chinese support. Games that "supported seven languages and not Chinese" are now officially a thing of the past. The day we have long waited for has finally arrived!
But why is everyone so excited today?
Some may wonder, what's the big deal with just one handheld game now with Chinese support?
For Nintendo gamers or Pokémon fans, this extraordinary excitement is nothing short of heartfelt.
We have waited too long for this moment! Who are "we", you ask? The gamers, the market, and Nintendo themselves, every one is waiting for this day to come!
The day has come too late, but it's better late than never. Nintendo did not forget about us, and nor did Pocket Monsters. Oh, we should not call it by the old name "口袋妖怪" anymore. Please remember the one new name for the Pokémon franchise in the Chinese language region: "精灵宝可梦"!
"精灵宝可梦" has been confirmed as the official name for Pokémon in Mainland China as early as 2009, and was already being popularized in the manga, anime, and merchandise markets. "宝可梦", the transliteration of Pokémon, signals the hope of The Pokémon Company wanting to unify localizations around the world. "神奇宝贝" [Taiwan], "宠物小精灵" [Hong Kong], and "口袋妖怪" [China] were all names used by early distributors or fan translations. The Pokémon franchise is working on unifiying global localizations, just like how the Doraemon franchise did. Very few people still use the outdated "机器猫" or "小叮当" localization and most all use the official name "哆啦A梦". I am certain that the name "精灵宝可梦" will also be gradually accepted by the players, because that will be the only name official Chinese localizations are presented in.
Today, China's console game industry has been vastly different from before. We now live in an era after Microsoft and Sony released their official China consoles in succesion and large amounts of Chinese localizations came one after another. Games with Chinese support for the first time or on the same day are no longer breaking news but the norm. So for the very first time, gamers from China no longer felt themselves as second-class citizens on the video game market. However, at the same time, Nintendo, the earliest pioneer of exploring the Chinese market, has quit halfway, with its inaction disappointing lots of Nintendo fans and Microsoft and Sony earned large revenues in the Chinese market.
The moment of utmost disappointment is the moment for a total counter strike. The awkward situation that has lasted for 2 or 3 years has finally been shattered today in one blow. Nintendo finally took this difficult yet exciting first step as well!
Perhaps some gamers may have only remembered some conclusive statements such as Nintendo "supported seven languages and not Chinese" or that "Nintendo has abandoned the Chinese gamers". However, there is no conclusion on this planet that gets solidified in a single day. All of these statements only became the gamers' consensus after having gone through many sorrowful and joyful stories.
Why are our support so firm? How long have we waited for? What have we been through? It all goes back to that day...
[Notice] "Pokémon X/Y" game language can be chosen from these 7 languages: Japanese, English, Italian, Spanish, French, German and Korean. We apologize that Traditional Chinese is not included.
June 18th, 2013, a day gamers in China could never forget. It was the day when Nintendo Hong Kong made live the offcial website for Pokémon X/Y in Hong Kong, with the slogal "To a New Dimension", and a detailed introduction of the games. However, the bottom of the page read: "Pokémon X/Y includes 7 languages, Traditional Chinese not included." A Nintendo official website announcing "Chinese not included" in Chinese stirred up huge dissatisfaction among gamers in China.
If something similar were to have happened in year 2000, there wouldn't have been that strong of a discontent among gamers. The fact that Pokémon X/Y's "7 language" went under heavy fire and even became a laughing stock was because it happened during a very particular time in history.
What has happened throughout all these years? To understand that, we would need to revisit the whole journey from the very start. This journey, in my opinion, is a shared memory of many who were cheering and celebrating today:
Video game consoles were starting to be widely recognized by the Chinese, with the 1993 "Subor Education System" becoming the introduction into the world of console gaming for a large number of gamers today. In this early stage, there were almost no concepts about genuine and pirated copies,as most people are gaming on multicarts and clone consoles. There were also almost no ideas of gaming in Chinese, with the exception of a few custom Chinese language cartridges made by local bootleggers, without any licencing from the original developers. During that time, video games in the Chinese language only came by chance, and weren't something people could really ask for. Therefore, there were seldom demands from people asking from games in Chinese.
In later years, the handhelds GameBoy and GameBoy Color went into the market, and home consoles like the Mega Drive and the PlayStation gained popularity in China. While the GameBoy had an official distributor in China, Mani, few gamers really cared about it. The average GameBoy user owned less than one copy of genuine software, and it was a common phenomenon that hardware sold and software didn't. Other game consoles were completely sold as grey market imports, with lots of gamers but almost none falling into the scope the original developers.
This was a peculiar era when genuine games are not playable in Chinese, and Chinese translations were not avaliable in genuine form. This effectively meant that "Gaming in Chinese" and "gaming with genuine copy" became contradictory concepts. Genuine copies were still collector items for higher-level gamers, with the average gamer not even having a channel to buy these games. At the time, gamers who purchased a bootlegger translation often cherished the cartridge thinking it were a genuine copy. Considering what the average gamer knew at the time, it was very natural for gamers to treat a bootlegger translation cartridge as genuine, to the extent that a lot of them became very disappointed after they later learned their treasured collection was just a bootleg.
This was a very important year for the Chinese video game market: Both Nintendo and Sony made their official debut into China. Spoiler alert, they all failed in the end.
Nintendo had ended their contact with former distributor Mani in Mainland China for selling only hardware and no software as well as condoning piracy. In its place, Nintendo cooperated with the newly-founded iQue, and released a special China edition of the Nintendo 64--the "iQue Player" The iQue Player library included all of the major first party N64 titles, with many of them being masterpieces with large amount of text, and genuine games were sold at low prices. Sony's China edition PlayStation 2 was up to speed with the rest of the world, with exclusive games and physical editions of many masterpieces, with collaboration from third parties as well.
Then why did they fail? Aside from the console ban and the resulting censorship issues leading to a lacking and slow release game library, iQue Player's dropping the physical media and having a purchase method too "ahead of its time" meant its library was difficult to access. In the earliest days, gamers can only purchase games at certain retail stores. iQue did added support to buy directly over the internet at home, the system was still too complex for the average gamer to operate. Buying a points card and downloading games from a server has become common today, but for gamers in China in the year 2003, it was mission impossible. As for Sony's PlayStation 2, it was entirely region locked, meaning that players were restricted to the Chinese library with an unpredictable future. Considering that modded PS2 console were much cheaper on the market at the time, the reason for PS2 China model's flop was crystal clear.
This was the first time gamers in China had access to mainstream Chinese localizations officially released in China. Sony's plan flopped quickly, and Nintendo's iQue barely scraped by after their second year, thanks to the firm decision to release the China edition GameBoy Advance (小神游). How did the China edition GBA become a success? The true reason was it was a region free consoles that plays all genuine and pirated games, including a large number of unofficial Chinese translations.
This was the era when China's video game industry fumbled through the grey market.
Nintendo's official Chinese presense, iQue, still existed in theory and continued to provide the market with large amounts of China edition haldhelds. The software library, however, had less than 10 games per era and sold very poorly. "Hardware sells, software does not sell" was also an accurate summary for the official Chinese presense of video game consoles. This was the case with handhelds like the GameBoy Advance and Nintendo DS, as Nintendo's home consoles disappeared entirely from China after the iQue Player, and neither Sony and Microsoft continued to have official China releases on paper and their products only circulated as imports.
Thus came into being the huge unregulated video game import market. Game software were provided without guarantee or Chinese support, and consoles had no warranty. Gamers were also used to flashcarts and both software and hardware console modding. When Kazuo Hirai visited a video game store in China, the shopowner showed him how to mod a PlayStation Portable right at the counter, opening his knowledge to a brand new world. During that period, genuine games were still only purchased by very few hardcore fans, and most pirates could not imaginge that one day they would also become regular buyers of genuine software.
The Nintendo 3DS was released in Japan, with the European and American releases coming soon after. Meanwhile, iQue's official website was still stuck with advertising their original DSiWare The Sea Hare.
Sony's PlayStation Vita was released in Japan, signaling the start of the next generation handheld wars. The PSV had few games in Chinese at the time.
During that period, both the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita had a few official Chinese language releases. Most of these were officially released in Taiwan, and gamers in China were able to play them via imports. The Chinese language library wasn't huge, but there were major titles like Persona 4 Golden. Nonetheless, games from this period were still mainly in other languages, with only a few of them available in Chinese.
The Nintendo 3DS was officially released in Hong Kong. Five Chinese language releases were announced, including major text-heavy RPG titles and third party games. This was a great excitement for gamers in China, but with many already owning a Japanese or American 3DS with a sizable library, the region lock policy would have denied them access to the new Chinese language releases. Buying a new HongKonger unit, however, would meant relying on an unpredicatble library size. These issues eventually lead to the commercial flop of those few Chinese titles.
The iQue 3DS XL was officially released in China, bundled with two digital titles. These two games were the only 3DS titles ever officially released in China. To avoid dealing with a lacking of distribution channels or the hassles of game approval, Nintendo decided to use a workaround, by putting Simplified Chinese localization in Hong Kong/Taiwan cartridges, officially selling them in those regions and getting them back into Mainland China via imports. These cartridges play in Simplified Chinese on the iQue 3DS XL and thus circumvent both game approval and publishing issues.
As an unofficial workaround, these methods were not to be advertised on official websites, and had only been circulated among a small group of gamers, meaning that Nintendo's efforts were not enjoyed by many. However, it's undeniable that those were the years with the best Chinese language 3DS lineups.
From late 2012 to mid 2013, there was almost one Chinese language release per month, with most of them also available in Simplified Chinese. This steady pace of Chinese releases lead to rumors saying that Nintendo really had a plan in action by releasing all the neccesary Chinese titles, wait for the wind of change (Console Ban Lifted), then officially market those games in China. This was Nintendo's impression on people at the time when Pokémon X & Y went onto the stage.
Pokémon X & Y were officially announced on Nintendo Direct, with a simultaneous release in six languages. People always said the game was playable in seven languages, but X & Y were only shown to support six when they were first announced.
Gamers were very happy about the annoucement, and their excitement still left a vivid impression on me. However, there were also words of criticism: Why not in Chinese? To be frank, at the time players did not expected the luxury of having Chinese language support, considering that the Pokémon series were never available in Chinese prior, so it would be impossible to have a same-day Chinese release at once. Not to mention, all of the Nintendo DS Pokémon games were available in Korean, which is not announced for X & Y. Therefore, it is very likely that the Chinese and Korean versions would be released some time after the global version, which is expected as things often start off rough.
At the time, Nintendo HK already had some Chinese releases, but the numbers were limited as things were just starting. Thus, even with Chinese language not announced as part of the global launch languages, players would still know that they have been asking for too much even when they voiced their dissatisfaction.
6 months after the announcement of Pokémon X & Y. Nintendo Korea announced on that day that the games would also support Korean, turning the sextuple language release into a septuple language release.
This information brought excitement to the Chinese gamers, as the addition of a new language after the six languange annoucement on Nintendo Direct would mean that additional Chinese support may have been a possibility.
At the same time, Nintendo HK were marketing the Chinese version of New Super Mario Bros. 2, and has already announced the July Chinese language release of two text heavy games, Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon and Brain Age: Concentration Training. Everything seemed to be progressing in a positive direction. However...
Nintendo Hong Kong announced the game as "7 languages, Chinese not included", the moment of dispair I mentioned at the start. This announcement threw gamers in China down into the dumps. Since then, "7 languages, Chinese not included" became a consensus of how Nintendo treated the Chinese market, and to some extent, a source of ridicule as well.
Simultaenous Worldwide Launch! (Excluding some regions). It wasn't something that needed to be spelled out, but the fact it did put China explicitly in the scope of "some regions", greatly angering the gamers in China.
The gamers have gone from dispair (Announced with six languages without Chinese)--to joy (Korean support announced, Chinese support possible)--to dispair again (Released with seven languages without Chinese)
I'm certain that the Chinese gamers back then have all personally experienced the huge crapstorm surrounding this incident. Gamers who have strong faith that Nintendo had not given up on China and would add future Chinese support clashed with gamers who believed Nintendo had made it clear to abandon China. Eventually, everyone had to face the music and continue gaming in Japanese or English as they did before, or waiting for fan translation mods that would come out god knows when.
The 3DS was cracked with the release of a certain flashcart [Gateway] , dealing the greatest blow on the sales of genuine 3DS software in China. The awareness of genuine software usage since the 3DS era again fell into a deadlock.
It's hard to say if they were causually related, but Nintendo also happened to halt the development of Chinese language releases. The last physical Chinese release was Paper Mario: Sticker Stars in December  , which was already finished in summer. The last first-party Chinese release was Pushmo in early 2014 (copyrighted in 2013). No Chinese language games were released from Nintendo ever since. The start of 3DS piracy aligned exactly when Nintendo stopped making Chinese games.
China officially announced the lifting of the Console Ban.
The 13-year-long Console Ban had nearly destroyed China's video game industry and gave rise to a very dark and grim market. With the console ban lifted with the founding of the Shanghai Free Trade Zone, has hope finally come?
At that time, the "7 languages" Pokémon X/Y have already released, with little concern from the gamers. Everyone was used to the fact that genuine copies of Pokémon were never available in Chinese. Gamers also accepted the fact that Pokémon X/Y might have been released too soon for Chinese support, and that the policy in China did not allow such games to releases, so they expected Chinese to be added alongside the existing 7 languages starting from the next generation.
Pokémon Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire, the remasters of the GBA titles, were announced. The details of language support were not yet announced at the time, so some Chinese gamers had a sliver of hope that Chinese would be added to these games. However...
Nintendo HK made the same annoucenment as last time: "Pokémon Omega Ruby" and "Pokémon Alpha Sapphire" would play in 7 languages excluding Chinese.
The gamers were both surprised and calm at the time.
They were surprised because there was still no Chinese even with the console ban lifted and both Sony/Microsoft churning out games in Chinese.
They were calm because Nintendo HK was radio silent for 6 months and iQue went missing entirely, so it was expected to not see any Chinese support. 平静：香港任天堂长达半年的失声，神游更是毫无踪影，没有中文是意料之中的。
Asia Popculture Today 网络杂志社此后对请愿团队进行了采访，并确认已经与日本The Pokémon Company 总部进行了沟通，收到了官方关于请愿活动的书面访谈反馈。官方透过媒体表示，粉丝的热情让人非常感动，整个公司作为整体关注着请愿的网站，请愿书也作为研讨资料而妥善保管，并且给相关部门看过了。此外，日本著名的游戏类资讯网站inside-games也撰文报道了请愿事件，可以说在国外也受到了很大重视。
Xbox One国行发售。由于锁区，国行X1遭遇了和当年神游机同样的待遇——严重缺乏游戏支持。由于网络的发展，玩家更容易表达出自己的心情，外加Xbox One作为首个自贸区国行主机受到了更高的期待，因此遭遇的骂声就更大。虽然一年后默默取消了锁区，但其口碑上的损失已经难以挽回。
笔者两年前采访中国发行商CIRCLE Ent. CEO时，他的回答非常具有参考意义。简而言之，日本的发行商是不会考虑日本以外的用户作何感想的，美国的发行商也不会考虑美国以外的用户，因此，对于他们的切身利益而言，额外增加成本去照顾他们赚不到钱的客户，做不到。除此之外，对于游戏程序而言，如果最开始游戏就只有一个语言，那么开发后期想增加语言切换是需要大量修改程序的，这部分成本他们肯定也不愿意付。就算是统筹考虑多个国家，也要保证从一开始就让游戏在多语言下开发。