For English-speaking Dragon Quest fans, the series' life on the Nintendo 3DS wasn’t exactly great. Despite featuring just as many Dragon Quest titles as the original DS - counting mainline and spinoff games - all but two of them never made it out of Japan. To make matters worse, since the 3DS was a region-locked system, there was no easy way for international fans to get access to those games without importing both a Japanese 3DS in addition to the games they wanted to play. Until 3DS hacking became easier to conduct and didn’t require obscure firmware, specific hardware, and/or software to install, there was no easy answer for playing these games – and no possible avenue for these titles to get translated at all. Quite frankly, the situation sucked.
Things are better in 2019. Now at the end of its life, the 3DS system has been hacked wide open. Every day it seems that new progress is being reported on translation patches for titles that were unlucky enough to never receive official releases outside of Japan. Earlier this year, fan translation group Scarlet Study released their English translation for Dai Gyakuten Saiban – otherwise known as “The Great Ace Attorney” - and they’re not alone. For the last several years, a community has sprung forth from the GBAtemp forums and the overall console hacking community.
Just under 3 years ago, the Fan Translators International Discord was founded and has since been a primary hub for discussion and collaboration for many of the translation projects ongoing in the hacking and homebrew community. Various teams have congregated to announce and work on a variety of projects, from Ace Attorney to Yuusha Shisu (Hero Must Die). As far as Dragon Quest fans are concerned – while teams elsewhere have been working on translations for the 3DS remake of Dragon Quest Monsters, as well as the 3DS exclusive Dragon Quest Monsters Joker 3, one of the very first projects incorporated on this Discord was a translation for the 3DS sequel to Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime – Slime Mori Mori Dragon Quest 3.
Just a few weeks ago, Team Rocket Slime released a full beta release for the title’s translation patch. While it certainly isn’t perfect, and the team even acknowledges there’s still some polishing left to do, the game is finally playable for non-Japanese speaking fans. That being the case, we took the opportunity to ask the team a bit about what went into the project, and the challenges along the way. I spoke with four members of the project – plustultramario, Ignmcrules, gerb, and CakeLancelot – over Discord to hear the story.
“The translation started around 2016”, reports CakeLancelot “and I’ve done a lot of different things on the project – just depending on what’s needed. Little bit of hacking, some image edits, social media stuff like Reddit, etc. As for other roles, SplashKhat would be our main image editor and gerb would be the main translator. Ignmcrules also does a bunch of different things – most recently writing up the articles and the (GBAtemp) thread for the release.” Plusultramario chimes in to say that they initially received some help from the team working on the other 3DS Dragon Quest fan translations, but as they got busier, Team Rocket Slime had to work on the title on their own. They made the jump over to help with translation around the same time, after having worked on the other Dragon Quest fan translations themselves
Neobeo, their main hacker, is attributed with the brunt of the project’s success. As I learn quickly, translating Rocket Slime 3DS – called “Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime 3 – Pirate & Platywag” for their release – was more than just an exercise in translation, but a bit of a logistical nightmare to boot. When asked about the driving force behind the project, the game’s various technical hurdles quickly revealed themselves. “Getting the game playable for more people was definitely a big one,” plusultramario quickly replied, “along with defeating some of the stupid technical hurdles that we faced.” CakeLancelot doubled down on that thought: “Oh yeah we could talk about the technical hurdles for hours (laughter)”
As it turns out, unlike games with a sane text implementation, the entirety of Rocket Slime 3’s story dialogue was stored directly in the game’s code, instead of in a file separate from the executable. “So,” CakeLancelot continues, “early on we faced a lot of issues that an old-school translation would have faced, with spacing issues and more.”
“For the uninitiated,” plusultramario remarks, “that’s essentially one of the laziest things you can do when making a game, and makes it very hard to change anything past the fact.” In other words – for the team to change the game’s text at all required them to decompile the executable and insert their translation directly. While programming knowledge and messing with a game’s code is standard fare for fan translations in general, the extent to which the team had to mess with Rocket Slime 3’s code was definitely remarkable compared to other projects in the Discord channel. “The only things that were stored in a file was the ship battle messages and menu message labels, which were comparatively low priority” it’s surmised, “Oh yeah—and the credits, I suppose.”
Especially when the project started, the team was learning more about how to modify the game as they went.
“So, we (and by we, I mean Neobeo) had to develop a method to redirect all that text to a file that’s stored on the SD card. That was what saved us.” plusultramario notes, “We actually, I think, had LayeredFS implementation (a framework that makes modding on 3DS and Switch much, much easier) before Luma3DS (the predominant 3DS Custom Firmware) did.”
“It definitely sounds like by the time you guys were finished,” I probe, “you probably had a pretty good idea of how the code actually worked by necessity.”
“Well, it’s not that we didn’t want to necessarily,” plusultramario continued, “it’s that it’s a huge headache. When we started, you’d need, at minimum, not only someone with an IDA Pro license (which is several thousand US dollars when acquired legitimately), but also someone that actually knew how to use it. That barrier to entry has thankfully been lowered since as (new tools have been introduced to the community), but it’s still a gigantic pain to do.” CakeLancelot confirms: “There’s definitely been a lot learned out of necessity for this translation, especially near the end when I needed to make edits to a few strings not covered by our SD redirection patch.” As far as editing art assets were concerned, the team considers it one of the easiest parts of the entire project. As plusultramario surmises, “Thankfully, it was all in standard 3DS formats.”
One of the biggest challenges for the project’s development, thanks to the weird quirks of the title’s text implementation, necessitated long gaps between progress could be accomplished. lgnmcrules jumps in later during the conversation to explain. “Cake and I initially hacked the game and messed with it prior to meeting this Discord, and we briefly collaborated exclusively together during that time. We didn’t make much progress until Kuriimu (another 3DS title modification tool) started development.”
He continues, noting that the project was very off and on. Obviously, due to the project being nothing more than a labor of love by fans, other obligations meant that sometimes translation work would have to wait. “Many months went by with next to no contributions to the project somewhat often while we were studying” Though he’s quick to comment that whenever the project was active, quite a bit would get done during those bursts of activity. “I even remember fixing 45 images in a single day for all stage selects – that’s how active those periods were.”
Of course, the team is also excited to see how people react to their work on the translation itself. CakeLancelot explains some of his thoughts, having played through most of the untranslated game as a non-Japanese speaker: "For me (getting the game playable for more people) was my main driving force, actually - even though I completed most of the untranslated game fine, there were some places where the language barrier would stall progression--so, in the game there are requests that you can do for slimes and monsters alike. Most of these are optional, but one of them that was required were the 3 quests for the ninja slimes." I pipe in to confirm my memories of the game, "The ones with riddles?"
"Right - while most of the game I could infer what was happening without knowing the language, that's probably the first part where I got stuck. I think a GameFAQs thread helped me to figure that part out initially! But even besides that, there's a lot of things you would miss out on, without knowing the language. Descriptions for the items, specific story details, etc."
"I don't think we got everything 100% correct with this beta release." CakeLancelot bluntly states, eliciting approval from plusultramario. "I'm certain we didn't get everything 100% correct."
"After 3 years (!) of working on it though," CakeLancelot comments, "we wanted to get something out the door for everyone to play. If you want something more polished, I suppose you could wait for the full 1.0 release." While the team has grown weary, there's an obvious sense of love for the title, the way they talk about its various mechanics. When all is said and done, above all else the team just wants people to actually know the game exists, and play it. To see what has changed between the series' DS entry and the previously inaccessible 3DS title.
“I’m just excited to get this into the public consciousness. Most people don’t seem to know that there are two other rocket slime games...” plusultramario laments that the series history isn’t as well understood in the west as it is in Japan. CakeLancelot agrees, noting that a lot of the comments on their release announcement have amounted to “wait, there’s a sequel?!?”
It's been a long journey, for both the game itself and for Team Rocket Slime's work on the project, and there's still work to do: but at least now the title might be recognized by more Dragon Quest fans in the west.
Late to the discussion, gerb sums it up best "I hope the translation will show the cute, the fun, and the funny aspects of the game."