Super Mario RPG went crazy with pop culture references in Japan

Super Mario RPG Japan pop culture references Japanese translation

Just when you think you know everything about a classic game, people go and uncover another treasure trove. This is especially true with classic Japanese games, which were full of novelties and eccentricities in their native land that just went untranslated during Western localization — and thus undiscovered for decades. Legends of Localization is one of my favorite resources for unearthing this stuff though, and Clyde “Tomato” Mandelin has uncovered a truckload of Japanese pop culture references present in the Japanese Super Mario RPG. It all has to do with Mallow.

In the game, Mallow has the “Psychopath” ability (called “Whatcha Thinking?” in Japan), which allows him to read the minds of enemies. In the North American localization, these enemies’ thoughts were frequently mundane or outright confusing. However, in Japan, enemy thoughts were a nonstop parade of Japanese pop culture references, touching upon the likes of Dragon Ball, Sailor Moon, Fist of the North Star, Jojo’s Bizarre AdventureGundam, Giant Robo: The Day the Earth Stood Still, and various music and other television programs.

Super Mario RPG pop culture references Japan localization Sailor Moon

One of the many examples Mandelin observes references Sailor Moon’s famous, “In the name of the moon, you will be punished!” In Japan, the above enemy thinks, “Hit me and you will be punished when I go up in smoke!” Not only is it a cute wink and a nod, but it actually warns the player that attacking it will cause death. However, in the English localization, this enemy only thinks a generic, “I’m a mini-pulsar.” Suffice to say, it’s a step back.

This pop culture stuff is the kind of thing that a typical westerner never could have picked up on back in the ’90s, or even today for that matter. It’s no wonder that the translator had to throw nearly all of it away, due to (understandable) lack of knowledge and inevitable time constraints. Mandelin himself concludes with a great deal of compassion for the struggle this translator faced, saying, “Even now, with Google and YouTube and Wikipedia and all that, it took me weeks to track down [sources for the pop culture references] in this article.”

Check out Mandelin’s article for a robust rundown of references. I was really surprised to discover how entrenched in goofy references Super Mario RPG was. The removal of them all almost felt like “Working Designs in reverse” to me. Let us know what you think about this oddity!


John Friscia
Head Copy Editor for Enthusiast Gaming, Managing Editor at The Escapist. I'm a writer who loves Super Nintendo and Japanese role-playing games to an impractical degree. I really miss living in South Korea. And I'm developing the game Boss Saga!