Best of ND 2013: The History of Mother 3’s Fan Translation

Sam chats with Clyde Mandelin, the lead translator on the Mother 3 Fan Translation, about the project’s origins and challenges.

By Sam Stewart. Posted 12/26/2013 13:00 Comment on this     ShareThis

This interview may contain minor Mother 3 spoilers.

This story was selected as one of our best from 2013. It was originally published on October 16, during Issue 175.

Do you have a favorite game, one that you excitedly recommend to every gamer you meet? Most likely a game is coming to mind, one that is very dear to you. But what if you weren’t able to recommend the game to others? What if something as simple as language was keeping others from a game you love? What would you be willing to do to share that game with others? When Clyde Mandelin (better known by his screen name Tomato) and his friends at heard that Brownie Brown’s Mother 3, the sequel to EarthBound, wasn’t going to be localized in America, the answer was simple: translate it themselves. This is where the Mother 3 Fan Translation got its start. I spoke with Mandelin about the project, which has now become one of the most famous fan translations ever, and what drove him to take on this ambitious task.

“It’s tough to pin an exact time on when the project started,” recalls Mandelin, “but for me things really got underway in the summer of 2007. That’s when everything came together, actual translation began, and the project blog was opened. The folks refused to work on a fan translation until it was clear an official one wasn’t going to happen.” It was around this time that they found out from an inside source that Mother 3’s localization was going to be up for consideration. When learned of this, they got together and prepared a presentation that would hopefully convince the localization team to say yes to Mother 3. “I wasn’t directly involved with this but I think it either fell through or wasn’t convincing enough.” It was at this point that they decided they were going to have to do it themselves.

“The project took approximately 16 months from start to finish– very quick for a fan translation of this size. It was pretty much a second full-time job for some of us,” said Mandelin, who has been doing translation work since 1999, when he helped someone with an unofficial game translation similar to the Mother 3 Project. “In late 1999 I’d gotten tired of my computer science courses in college and I felt a little lost. I’d studied some Japanese before, so I took a leap and went to Japan for a year. While there I learned the language a lot more, and almost on a lark decided to help someone out. I was only a few chunks of the text into the script when I realized, ‘You know, this is what I want to do for a living.’ ” With his heart set on translation work, Mandelin continued to do unofficial translations for practice while working toward getting his degree in Japanese. “Once I graduated college, I was lucky enough to get work translating anime, movies, and games for a living.”

With years of translation work under his belt, including extensive experience with the Mother series (he had been translating news for since 1999), Mandelin was more than prepared to work on this translation, but that doesn’t mean there still weren’t difficulties, especially since he was working on such a beloved game. “Unlike Mother 2 / EarthBound, Mother 3 had a much darker and almost mature tone to it,” said Mandelin. “There were instances of ruder, cruder language in a few spots. I handled these by using some weak swear words in English, but to this day I’m still not sure if that was the best choice or not.” “I also felt that my writing style paled in comparison to Shigesato Itoi’s original writing,” continued Mandelin. “He has a way with words that I can’t even begin to emulate. The best I could do was try to make sure nothing got left out and that nothing got too mucked up. Luckily, the content of his words still shone through the translation.”

Luckily Mandelin’s experience with the Mother games helped him through. “We looked at EarthBound’s localization and tried to take it in the same direction– we even made sure to include little things like having the game include the word ‘a,’ ‘an,’ or ‘the’ in front of item names as necessary.” “In terms of the translation itself, the project had a lot less stress and the lack of an actual deadline, so it wasn’t as difficult as what I work on professionally,” he said. “Having been immersed in the series for so long, I found it pretty easy to work with Mother 3’s text; I rarely had to worry about looking up obscure references or phrases– I already knew them all by heart!”

Over the course of those 16 months, it was always their policy that they would stop the translation if Nintendo ever asked them to. While that never happened, and the translation launched successfully in 2008, Mandelin did receive one curious email titled “appeal from a member of the game industry” from an “Anonymous Localization Producer” just before release asking them not to launch the patch. While this plea wasn’t enough to get them to stop, it did give them pause. “We did check the email headers and traced the origin IP back to somewhere in Japan,” he recalls. “I do feel that it was probably from an actual Nintendo employee, but the vagueness and the sheer timing of it left us a little doubtful. The entire team– even members who hadn’t been active for months– discussed it that night. In the end, we felt it made the most sense to go through with the release. But had we received actual, clear correspondence from Nintendo I would’ve halted the release without a doubt.”

Fortunately, the translation patch was released on October 17, 2008 to critical praise, receiving over 100,000 downloads during its first week. Since then, they have received a wealth of feedback from fans and industry members alike. “Getting emails from fellow industry members and translators was a really nice surprise for us. The team was also offered many free drinks from people around the world,” he said. “Some of the best emails we’ve gotten were really heartfelt ones from people who were going through rough or crummy times but found happiness in this game. In my eyes we just made this ‘thing’ that lets you play a game in English, we didn’t make the game or anything. But the fact that it makes people happy makes me happy.”

As for Nintendo, Brownie Brown, and Itoi? “Pretty much everyone involved in the game’s creation knows about the project by now. We haven’t gotten any responses from any of them, but then again I’d be surprised if we did,” Mandelin told me. “The closest thing I can think of is when some of my pals went up to visit some people at Nintendo and Nintendo Power. THEY brought up the topic of the fan translation and mentioned how everyone working there couldn’t wait for it to get released. That was a huge surprise for all of us!”

As of right now, Nintendo still has no plans to release an official translation of the game, but not due to a lack of trying from Mandelin and “Yes, I actually have an open offer to Nintendo– if the cost to officially translate the Mother 3 text is ever a sticking point, I’ll let them use my own text translations for free. I’d even offer to do consultant work for free, or even redo the translation from scratch for free if it meant being able to get an official release someday,” Mandelin said. “But for now, it’s at least nice that fans can enjoy the game in English, even if it is in an unofficial form”

Thanks to Clyde and everyone else at, I was able to play this beautiful game for the first time last year and fell in love with it instantly. While we may never see an official translation come our way, I can attest to the fact that their fan translation is a great way to experience this game. The best part is you don’t have to take my word for it, download the patch and see for yourself. I think you will find that you are a Mother fan too.

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