A Question for the Readers #14: What’s in a Name?

MINOR UPDATE: As you all know, I’ve been working on a retrospective of sorts for the Wonder Boy/Monster World series. Last December, I wrote a standalone review of Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap. I did not originally intend to review the entire series. Instead, I was just going to talk about The Dragon’s Trap and Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom when I got around to finishing the latter, but I eventually decided to marathon the series so I could have the necessary context. Now that I have recently cleared Monster World IV, I learned a lot about the series I didn’t know when I originally wrote that piece. As such, I amended the introduction and parts of the review proper to better reflect the series’ progression. You can read the revised review by following this link.

Wonder Boy III: Monster Lair

Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap

Indeed, one of the things I had to come to grips with when tackling this series was that there were somehow two Wonder Boy IIIs. It makes a bit more sense in context. Both are sequels to Wonder Boy in Monster Land, though only The Dragon’s Trap is a direct continuation. In Japan, the titles are less confusing. While Wonder Boy III: Monster Lair has the same title in Japanese, what Western fans know as Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap is called Monster World II: The Dragon’s Trap domestically, enforcing the venture that Wonder Boy in Monster Land was a spinoff. Then again, the Sega Genesis game Western fans call Wonder Boy in Monster World is called Wonder Boy V: Monster World III in Japan, so perhaps it’s more accurate to assume the series are intertwined?

Even more confusingly, the Master System version of The Dragon’s Trap wasn’t released domestically, only debuting in its original form (so to speak) for the first time on the Game Gear. This got to the point to where when Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom was released in 2018, I assumed there was a previous installment that began with “Monster Boy”. Only later would I learn Game Atelier’s effort was the first title in the series to begin in such a fashion, being a spiritual successor to the original Wonder Boy franchise that Sega still owns the rights to.

If that wasn’t enough, the first version of The Dragon’s Trap the Japanese received – the PC Engine (TurboGrafx-16) port, was named Adventure Island (Dragon’s Curse abroad). This is especially egregious because Hudson was given the original Wonder Boy to reskin and release on the Famicom (NES) – a console competing directly with Nintendo. The name of this reskin? Adventure Island. Technically, it was called Master Takahashi’s Adventure Island domestically. Furthermore, the Adventure Island that was a reskin of Wonder Boy has an entirely Japanese name whereas the port of The Dragon’s Trap uses the English words “Adventure Island” in its own title.

Surprisingly, Wonder Boy isn’t the only series to have done something like this.

As a result of Nihon Falcom losing a significant portion of their staff following the release of Ys III, they outsourced Ys IV to various companies. Two of them, Hudson Soft and Tonkin House, ended up creating their own interpretations of Ys IV based on the outline provided to them by Nihon Falcom.

This means there are two Ys IVs – one with the subtitle Mask of the Sun and the other with the subtitle The Dawn of Ys. Naturally, I had no idea why that would be considering neither game was released internationally, although the circumstances do make a bit more sense than what happened with the Wonder Boy franchise. It wouldn’t be until 2012 that Nihon Falcom would finally make their own version of the series’ fourth installment entitled Ys: Memories of Celceta, featuring many of the improvements they introduced in the series’ main installments leading up to that point.

Being such a long-running franchise with several installments, Mega Man is its own can of worms. In Western localizations, Capcom decided to use Roman numerals as opposed to Arabic numerals in addition to removing the subtitles each installment had in the original Japanese version starting with Mega Man 2. This didn’t prove to be a bad idea at first, but then Capcom ended up releasing Mega Man X in 1993. That’s not a “ten”, but rather the letter “X” for those unfamiliar with the series; Mega Man X started an entirely new spinoff series set after the classic series. Suddenly, Capcom of America had no choice but to switch to Arabic numerals for the classic series starting with Mega Man 8 (the seventh classic installment was called Mega Man 7 on the box and Mega Man VII in-game), though it wouldn’t be until 2010 that a Mega Man 10 would at last surface.

Making matters even stranger is that while this was going on, another Mega Man series was unfolding on the Game Boy. In an attempt to keep them distinguished from one another, fans continue to refer to these games with Roman numerals while using Arabic numerals to describe the classic series – even though Roman numerals continue to appear on their respective title screens. With video games being an overall less prolific medium than films, having more than one game with the same name and number becomes quite daunting to keep in track of – something that could’ve been at least partially averted had Capcom decided to keep the subtitles.

Amusingly, when Capcom began localizing the Ace Attorney franchise in the 2000s, the opposite scenario occurred. The Japanese versions would be numbered while the English version added subtitles to the names and ditched the numbers. This does make it slightly more difficult to determine the chronological order – particularly when you factor in the Ace Attorney Investigation games, but it’s otherwise no more difficult than researching the chronological order of a long-running series of books or films that stopped numbering the sequels after a certain point.

Now it’s your turn.

Which series do you feel conformed to an especially confusing naming convention?

15 thoughts on “A Question for the Readers #14: What’s in a Name?

    • I know what you mean. When I heard a Kingdom Hearts 3 was going to be released, my immediate thought was “Didn’t they hit that number years ago?”. Turns out the series has a truly ridiculous amount of spinoffs.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. As usual, I have to bring up Megami Tensei. Until recently, there was a lot of confusion in the West over the games’ naming conventions because some of the games in the non-mainline spinoff series like Persona and Devil Survivor were receiving the Shin Megami Tensei title as a prefix in the West but not in Japan. This led to the idea that the whole series is called Shin Megami Tensei, whereas that’s just the name of the mainline series that sits under the Megami Tensei umbrella with all its spinoffs. I’m pretty sure this was done to give the whole series its own branding in the West, where Megami Tensei was all but unknown until the mid-2000s.

    Atlus seems to have fixed all this weirdness now, though. Not a moment too soon, because Megaten fans are some of the most pedantic on Earth. I’m one of them, so I should know. There’s also a lot of stupid infighting among fans, but I guess you’ll find that in any fandom.

    Liked by 4 people

        • There are plenty of other obvious ones, mostly relating to east/west releases such as Final Fantasy and Mother. Then there are English names for Japanese games in general when I swear that they use a random number generator to pick pages in a dictionary before throwing a few of the words together. Maybe they make more sense in Japanese.

          Liked by 2 people

          • Yeah, when one or more installments don’t get localized, it can really mess with things if they’re numbered. Mother was a really strange example given that the original game was to be localized under the name Earth Bound only for Nintendo to shelve it for over two decades. When its sequel was localized and released and they decided to give the original a release, they named it Earthbound Beginnings. Even in Japanese, the naming is a little strange because Mother 2 (Earthbound) has a subtitle (Gigyas Strikes Back) while Mother 3 doesn’t for some reason (although it did in the drafting phases).

            Liked by 1 person

    • That’s pretty much an inevitability in such a sweeping series with multiple spinoffs. I caught onto to it pretty quickly when I tried out Persona 4 for the first time, but I can easily see why others would find it confusing. It doesn’t help that, as you say, the localizers use the Shin Megami Tensei branding on spinoffs and that Nocturne didn’t originally have a “III” in its localized title.

      And I heard Megaten fans can be a rowdy bunch, though I have to admit I haven’t seen much of it in person. It’s a shame there is so much infighting because if they could agree with each other, they would have enough momentum to bowl over Final Fantasy in terms of popularity. Indeed, Persona 4 is the single best JRPG I’ve played. As it is, it’s not nearly as well-known as Final Fantasy or Chrono Trigger, but it’s fine as long as there are enough people in the West around to appreciate it and any of its sequels.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I might be exaggerating the infighting a bit. A lot of it comes off as more of a in-joke now than it used to. But I know people still fight over whether the Persona or the mainline games are better. I love both, and I think they’re too different from each other to really compare in a meaningful way anyway.

        I get the impression that Persona 5 has gone a long way towards raising Megaten’s profile in the West, especially with it selling so well and Joker getting into Smash and all that. The Persona series might end up on a level with Final Fantasy soon as far as popularity goes, though I bet all the other Megaten series will remain in their niche. Persona 3 and 4 did well over here too, though, so who knows what might happen.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. It really is interesting how much Localization has to do with this sort of thing. There’s the famous case of Final Fantasy game numberings on the NES and Super NES Vs. Famicom and Super Famicom. It isn’t only Japanese games. There are a wide variety of European games with changes. Contra becoming both Probotector (NES) and Gryzor (Commodore, Atari, Sinclair, MSX, DOS, and other computers). In Spain, there was Game Over, which had a sequel called Phantis for the C64, ZX Spectrum, and other computers. When Phantis was sold in other territories wit was simply retitled Game Over II.

    I find it interesting that this also happens with films. Particularly Dolph Lundgren B Movies. “Dark Angel” became “I Come In Peace.”. “Joshua Tree” became “Army Of One.” Even more recent years saw movies like “Icarus” being retitled “The Killing Machine.” Each case is different. In the case of Joshua Tree, the distributors thought they would be sued by Island Records due to U2’s album having the same name. I fail to see how anyone would confuse an action revenge movie being confused for a pop-rock album. But it is what it is.

    Liked by 2 people

    • That is true. In the case of the Wonder Boy franchise, from what I’m able to gather, Monster Lair the arcade game wasn’t released in North America. Only the TurboGrafx-16 version reached North America – and even then, it was just called Monster Lair (no Wonder Boy III in the title). So it does make a little sense because Monster Lair was the true third game in the series whereas The Dragon’s Trap ended up being the third game in the series Western fans received, but it’s still baffling. Still, I can imagine it was quite a shock for Final Fantasy fans when the series seemingly jumped from III to VII. Also, that deal with Game Over sounds especially strange; it really does make me wonder what goes into these localization decisions.

      And the situation with Joshua Tree simply doesn’t make any sense when you consider that there are albums with similar names by different artists (i.e. Let it Be is both a Beatles album and a Replacements album).

      Liked by 1 person

  3. It’s not a series, but there’s a lot of indie horror games with only a woman’s first name as the title, and I really have a hard time telling them apart. There Amy, and Anna, and Claire, and Lisa, and probably more that I’m not remembering now. Different games from different companies, but they all blur together in my mind and if anyone were to talk to me about any of them I’d have to take some time to realize which one they were talking about.

    Liked by 2 people

    • There is something to be said for a simplistic name, but when they don’t gain notoriety, they can blur together – especially if they were all of the same genre. It reminds me of a film I saw awhile back called Haywire. It was so bland and generic that it was one of the few times I legitimately forgot the name of the work. I don’t even think the film’s title had anything to do with the plot.

      Liked by 1 person

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