Using Google's Translate App To Play Japanese Dreamcast Games

A few years ago, our man in Japan Ross O'Reilly went to the trouble of researching which Dreamcast games might best be utilised when trying to learn how to speak/read Japanese. And a thoroughly entertaining and educational article it is too. However, being a typical lazy English lout, I have no desire to bother learning how to speak another language. I just shout very loudly in English whenever I go on holiday. Usually while not wearing a shirt, and having previously drunk at least 7 pints of suspiciously cheap lager. But I digress.
Harnessing the sheer power of technology and questionable privacy controls, I recently discovered that the Google Translate app on my phone has the ability to 'live translate' any text the camera may be pointed at. Slowly putting two and two together, I deduced that by pointing my phone at any Japanese text displayed on my TV screen, I might well be able to finally play through some of the impenetrable Japanese Dreamcast titles I have in my possession.
Naturally, this would work for games in any supported language, and on any platform, but for the purposes of making this nonsense vaguely Dreamcast related I'm using Dreamcast games. How did I get on? Let's find out...

So, first things first. You'll note that my phone is a BlackBerry Key2. Yes, I still use a BlackBerry in 2020. It's powered by Android though and not the old BB10, so it's all good, and this is helpful because the Google Translate app is included as standard. I do actually have quite the history with BlackBerry devices old and new, so if I ever feel like branching out I might set up a BlackBerry Junkyard as a sort of side project. Anyway, below are some results of using the Google Translate 'live translate' camera app with assorted Japanese games and demo disks. First up, Dreamcast Express:
This is what you see on the TV screen...
...and this is what is shown on the phone screen.
I also tried it with Soulcalibur and Sega Rally 2 (click to embiggenize):
Here's a screen from Roommania 203, showing what the options are in the bottom left corner:
I realise that none of these games are overly intensive when it comes to employing Japanese text, but they are the games I had to hand. Also, please excuse the use of a 4K telly to play Dreamcast games. Yes, I know a CRT telly or VGA monitor is superior. Yes I know I should be using RGB SCART. But all that stuff is in a cupboard and I'm not dragging it all out. Took me a week to stuff it all in.
The Google Translate app's live translation can be a bit iffy at times (the images above are of translated text from the back of the Dreamcast Express case), and the text seems to constantly change and jump about on the screen like something out of Harry Potter, but generally you can deduce what the text says. Moving and scrolling text gives the app a hard time, but static text and menus seem to be translated fairly painlessly. It's worth noting that the app can't really 'see' text that's written in stylised fonts or text that is written vertically, as seen below in some shots of Plus Plumb, but again it's decent enough in giving you the gist of what's on screen. Sometimes.
Another aspect of the Translate app, is the 'conversation' function. This records speech, translates it and the speech generator then spits it out in audio form. It's not an ideal way to play a game with a lot of Japanese dialogue unless you can afford to keep pausing the game, but it does work quite well if you are playing a game that will let you pause cutscenes/dialogue sections. I tested it with Shenmue 2 and it was pretty accurate when comparing the English subtitles to what was being spoken.
Anyway, that's a nice little look at how you can use the Google Translate app to play Japanese games. Or any game in a language that isn't your own, really. It's a pretty cool use of mobile tech and I'm sure this isn't new to a lot of people; but it struck me as novel when I discovered the functionality recently. It's far from perfect and you probably wouldn't want to play an entire game looking through your phone's camera, but if there are menus you need to quickly decipher it's very useful.

Are there any games you might use this feature to have a crack at? Segagaga is an obvious choice I suppose, and any number of Japanese dating sims. Let us know in the comments or on Twitter!

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7 comments:

DCGX said...

Beats keeping little notes in my game cases (like for the menus in SEGA Tetris. Oy). I'm going to Japan in a few months, and I'm hoping Google Translate is at least good enough so I get the gist of what I might need to understand.

ChopstickSamurai said...

I've been experimenting with Google Translate as well lately. While it's better than it was a few years ago it's still a bit wonky. But I can't be bothered to learn a foreign language either so it's pretty amazing stuff. :) Btw, there is a English fan patch for The Lost Golem available too if you get tired playing through your phone.

Tom Charnock said...

Not gonna lie, I'm heartened by the lack of comments about my BlackBerry XD

pcwzrd13 said...

BlackBerry sucks! Palm rules! :-P

Tom Charnock said...

You're not wrong PC - I used to own a Palm Pre and it was glorious XD

Anthony817 said...

See, that is where you both are wrong! Game.com is where the best PDA was from!

Neil said...

Nice! I'm writing this on a key2 and I'm happy to know that I can replicate these results on my phone. Thanks Tom!