Rent-A-Hero No. 1 has been Translated into English for Dreamcast!

The beauty of the Dreamcast is that when you think you've played everything the console has to offer, something new lands in your lap. These days, that often comes in the form of a brand new indie game, or in the case of what we have here today: a Japanese game from back in the day being playable for the first time in English on the Dreamcast thanks to the hard work of fans.

Many of us had a good feeling about Rent-A-Hero No. 1, some possibly even since the early 2000s, when muddling through the game with a translation guide was the way for non-Japanese speakers. Those wanting to truly experience the game were thrown a bone in 2008 when an unreleased officially-translated Xbox prototype leaked onto the internet, but those wanting to experience the game on its original platform, the Dreamcast, were still stuck with guides and translation apps... until today.

Thanks to the hard work and perseverance of VincentNL and his talented team of "Rent-A-Modders", Rent-A-Hero No. 1 is now fully playable in English on the Dreamcast! But this is no ordinary fan project, because the lengths this team had to go to in order to bring us this high-quality translation is an entire topic of conversation in and of itself. Before we go into all that, though, a bit of background on the game first...

The first Rent-A-Hero was developed by Sega-AM2 and released exclusively in Japan for the Mega Drive in 1991. The Rent-A-Hero character next saw an appearance as an unlockable character in 1996’s Fighters Megamix for the Sega Saturn. The game we’re talking about today, Rent-A-Hero No.1, released for the Dreamcast in Japan in May 2000. A remake of the Mega Drive original, it shares the same quirky and humorous tone of the game it is based on, but brings the gameplay into the world of 3D. The game is effectively an action-RPG that has you assuming the role of 16-year-old Taro, a budding hero for hire. As Taro, you run around town doing odd jobs and missions assigned by SECA to build his way up the ranks of herodom. The game also has beat 'em up style combat that uses the same fighting engine as that used in Sega's arcade game Spikeout.

Rent-A-Hero No. 1 looks and plays great on the Dreamcast, and if it wasn't for the incredibly eccentric Japanese humour that it wears like a bejewelled bangle on its sleeve, questions about the game's lack of a Western Dreamcast release would definitely be flying around. Oddball humour is this game's strongest suit, and with an abundance of Sega references throughout, Rent-A-Hero No. 1 is a game every fan of the house of hedgehog should spend some time with. Whether it be the inclusion of Segata Sanshiro or the "Creamcast" console you access in the game, the tributes to our favourite ex-console manufacturer throughout are hardly subtle.

So, back to the translation. This translation patch required many heavy lifts to get to what you’re seeing in this final release. A deep analysis and understanding of numerous original Katana SDK libraries was needed in order to reverse-engineer and interact with a slew of the game's already-compiled assembly code.

VincentNL released a proof-of-concept video back in 2021, showcasing the possibility of English text in Rent-A-Hero No. 1. Before this, the complexity of the game's text data format had completely halted any community efforts to translate the game. In theory, with this breakthrough, the English text from the existing unreleased official translation for the Xbox could just be inserted into the game, right? Unfortunately it wasn't that simple. The Xbox prototype text data couldn't be used on Dreamcast due to the file archives being totally different. At best, the raw text itself was portable to a degree, but all of the other pertinent data was not. That meant entirely custom text extractors and rebuilders had to be written.

The team also took it upon themselves to re-translate some of the text to improve it, and thousands of lines missing from the Xbox were taken care of by the team as well, especially by CurtainFire and Korp13, with Togepichu playing through the game multiple times to ensure everything was in place.

Proficiency with Ninja 3D models (the main 3D model format used by Dreamcast Katana SDK) was another must, especially for the many pieces of new 3D content and animations made by Egregiousguy on menus, or fixes applied by the team, such as creating "Bottles the cat", whose texture was missing in the original release. Egregiousguy and VincentNL created a new model for the cat in Blender and converted it back to Ninja format, giving it an increased texture resolution and fixing clipping issues. The cat now looks as good as new in the patch, which you can see below in the form of before and after pictures. Impressive VMU animations were also added, an improvement on the originals from the game. Additions and improvements like these didn't have to be done, but they are certainly appreciated, and are an impressive showcase of the hard work this team has put in. I’m sure there’s a whole lot more I could cover here, but one thing’s for sure: this is no ordinary fan translation.

The Cat's broken 3D model (top) and the rebuilt version (bottom).

With the release of this English translation, I am absolutely certain that Rent-A-Hero No. 1 is about to get a well-deserved second wind, one it never got the chance to experience with Western Dreamcast gamers back in the day. With the rise of ODEs and improved Dreamcast emulation, it's easier than ever to play it too! But before I tell you how you can do just that, I just want to give a huge thanks to VincentNL and his team of Rent-A-Modders, not only for creating this excellent translation patch, but for kindly supplying The Dreamcast Junkyard with it prior to its release on May 1st. Also, a huge thanks to Derek Pascarella, who helped me understand and better articulate some of the more complicated technical stuff for this article!

To get in contact with VincentNL for support or technical reports regarding Rent-A-Hero No. 1, he is on Twitter. Also check out his Patreon for information on reverse engineering and tools for modding Dreamcast and Naomi games.

To play this translation, download the patch files by clicking the link below. Instructions on how to apply the patches to an existing GDI (for use with an ODE like GDEMU) or CDI (for burning to a CD-R) of Rent-A-Hero No. 1 are included in the supplied Readme. The game can be played on an emulator like ReDream or Flycast too, but a real Dreamcast BIOS file is necessary to avoid crashes or visual bugs (HLE BIOS needs to be disabled). Enjoy!

Download Rent-A-Hero No.1's English Translation Patch


Dreamcast Enjoyer said...

This article is brilliant and really showcases the work the team put into bringing this to life for us Western DC enthusiasts - the Bottles the Cat thing blew my mind!

I picked the patch up earlier and now can't wait to give it a spin :)

Blisscast (Eugi) said...

This is amazing! I'm looking forward to trying it out!

GuillaumeB said...

I played the beta version, and it's very impressive they translated all the textures for stores/places names.

Tom Charnock said...

Amazing stuff :) great article Lewis

zgillet said...

Definitely trying this tonight. I was going to play D2 until I saw this.

Lewis Cox said...

@zgillet - be sure to play D2 next! 😄

zgillet said...

@Lewis Cox I was already on disc 2 of D2 ;)

PS holy LORD Rent-a-Hero's controls are PAINFUL. Why did they not use the analog stick..... WHY!!??