GUEST POST: Kevin M. Flanagan on ‘Translating Chrono Trigger’

Adapting and Translating Chrono Trigger Across Time

by Kevin M. Flanagan

This short piece is meant to introduce readers to what is at stake when we talk about adaptation and translation in relation to videogames. It is meant to summarize material explored in greater depth in both my chapter in the Oxford Handbook of Adaptation Studies (2017) and the issue of Wide Screen Journal that I edited in 2016. In the interest of keeping things as coherent as possible, I’ve opted to highlight some “pivot points” in adaptation and translation as applies to one specific game: Chrono Trigger, a Japanese role-playing game (JRPG) developed by Square and originally released for the Super Nintendo/Super Famicom console in 1995. The game follows a silent protagonist, Crono, across many different time periods, and includes choices that affect the outcome of the narrative (there choices about whether or not to take characters, and the player must consider how their actions in the older timelines affect the world in later periods). Crono and his fellow adventurers are thrust into a high-stakes quest wherein they must thwart the primeval Lavos, a monstrous being that seems destined to destroy the world. In a somewhat rudimentary and scripted (though surprising–especially for 1995) way, the game can be said to “adapt” to player choice, and players who opt for different choices will find that their endgame, and the fate of the world, can be quite varied as compared to other playthroughs.

A look at Chrono Trigger’s conception, release, and afterlife–it is a much-loved game that Square has tried to keep available in various ways over the past two decades–indicates that to speak of “videogame adaptation” is to speak of a whole process that happens at many different levels.

A conventional place to start is to focus on production. In a loose sense, Chrono Trigger is an amalgamation of influences (The Time Tunnel, Alien, Quantum Leap, etc), yet is mainly regarded as an original intellectual property (in other words, it is not a one-to-one adaptation of a specific text). For lead designers Takashi Tokita, Akihiko Matsui, Yoshinori Kitase, and producer Kazuhiko Aoki, it is the game is a deliberate innovation within a cultural defined tradition, the console JRPG, a genre that the team had practically invented over the previous decade. While there is much more to the game’s conception and production–the Wikipedia article gives a thorough overview–it is worth highlighting how one key element of a videogame is the sometimes ultra-narrow specificity of playability: Chrono Trigger was designed for a specific platform, and as the game has been released for new platforms and devices (the Playstation, the Nintendo DS, the Wii Virtual Console, Steam), the game is adapted anew to suit the technological specifications of its new operating system. Thus, one key moment is tracking how a game is adapted/readapted as it is “ported” to new platforms. This sometimes requires that key assets be re-thought: “updated” graphics, a remastered soundtrack, and so on. One of the paradoxes of videogame adaptation is that what may be regarded by programmers and producers as improvements are often disliked by players. For instance, graphical alterations for the recent Steam port were so disliked that Square patched the game so that it would look more like the original SNES version.

This brings up another key pivot: the degree to which videogame users and fans translate and adapt games in their own ways. For Chrono Trigger, this means two decades of fan creative production that adapts, updates, expands, re-emphasizes, and edited the game to taste. Chrono Trigger has inspired extensive fan fiction, from a poem about peripheral character Cyrus to an attempt at officially adapting the game to novel form. The practice of “rom hacking” has allowed fans to build new games using the engine and assets of the original. One high profile example is Chrono Trigger: Crimson Echoes, which is as yet unfinished.

A key form of adaptation for the “cultural translation” project is localization, the process by which a game is made to suit a new regional or cultural market. Going beyond what might generally be regarded as the remit of translation, localization often opts for familiarity and specific literacies over strict accuracy. For instance, in adapting the Famicom game Saiyūki World 2: Tenjōkai no Majin (in its original form, itself an adaptation of Sun Wukong’s Journey to the West narrative that is so central to Chinese folklore), Jaleco completely re-skinned the sprites, remade the protagonist as a somewhat culturally insensitive Native American warrior, and gave the game the punny title Whomp ‘Em. Localization work on Chrono Trigger across its various releases has been less dramatic, but still fascinating. Clyde Mandelin writes about how the English translations for the valorous knight Frog took liberties in emphasizing his courtly manner of speech that were not literally apparent in the Japanese version. Fans have tracked the differences in versions with characteristic zeal, noting differently named items, characters and dialog with changed implications.

The above just scratches the surface of videogames’ engagement with issues of cultural translation. For instance, a sociologist might study the cultural-symbolic value of videogames in different parts of the world, or an art historian might go in-depth on how iconography gets reimagined as games are released in parts of the world with different dominant religious associations.

Kevin M. Flanagan is a Visiting Lecturer in the Department of English at the University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 

KEY READINGS: Homi Bhabha on ‘How Newness Enters the World’

Homi Bhabha’s model of cultural translation is deeply influential. The main argument is set out in a chapter of his 1994 book, The Location of Culture, titled ‘How Newness Enters the World: Postmodern space, postcolonial times, and the trials of cultural translation’ (pp. 212 to 235).

It builds on work on poststructuralist efforts around deconstruction, and as such forms a key part of postcolonial theory. Bhabha sees cultural translation as a discursive practice or strategy. By that I mean a method of carefully negotiating various discourses either through literal practice and action or the production of literature, culture, media, analyses and knowledge-making. The discourses of particular concern for Bhabha are connected unsurprisingly to issues of the migrant, the first- or second-generation immigrant, particularly those individuals and family groups moving from post-colonial countries to the West.

Bhabha’s work seeks, in part, to answer a series of related questions about how individuals from a minority might survive within a (implicitly or explicitly) violent and oppressive majority culture. In that sense, his theory has an clear straightforward ethical concern: how are migrants from postcolonial countries supposed to live when they migrate to the countries that oppressed them – do they assimilate, or should they strive to retain their heritage somehow?

The answer he puts forward is cultural translation: a way of rewriting oppressive (Western) discourses in order to expose their internal contradictions, to collapse their structural integrity, and to open up a space for something new. When Bhabha questions ‘how newness enters the world’, he’s thinking less about literal chronological newness and more about how a migrant might take the discourses that structure Western culture and refashion them into something particular to his or her life, something totally novel, unseen, unshackled from pre-formulated stereotype or regressive fantasy, and therefore untainted by – or even escaping – the workings of Western (colonial) power.

Blasphemy, here, is the slippage between the intended moral fable and its displacement into the dark, symptomatic figurations of the ‘dreamwork’ of cinematic fantasy. In the racist psychodrama staged around Chamcha, the Satanic goatman, ‘blasphemy’ stands for the phobic projections that fuel great social fears, cross frontiers, evade the normal controls, and roam loose about the city turning difference into demonism. The social fantasm of racism, driven by rumour, becomes politically credible and strategically negotiable: ‘priests became involved, adding another unstable element – the linkage between the term black and the sin blasphemy – to the mix. As the unstable element – the interstice – enables the linkage black/blasphemy, so it reveals, once more, that the ‘present’ of translation may not be a smooth transition, a consensual continuity, but the configuration of the disjunctive rewriting of the transcultural, migrant experience. (Bhabha, p. 226)

As those familiar with deconstruction will note, Bhabha’s cultural translation has a flavour of Derrida’s interpretive practice to it. This would be the analytical and rhetorical method by which the internal structures of a canonical text are exposed as in some way ultimately contradictory, subverted or inverted, and shown to be dependent on a typically excluded ambivalent ‘third term’. But Bhabha describes cultural translation as creating a kind of ‘third space’, both Western and Other and also properly neither, something that falls in-between, a space where the logical structures that underpin the west (and hold it in a space of conceptual dominance over an Other) collapse.

Although cultural translation might seem a little abstract, Bhabha uses an example that nicely illustrates his point. In The Satanic Verses, Salman Rushdie invokes two contradictory discourses – the discourse of the liberal Western subject, and the discourse of the fundamentalist Muslim. Rushdie’s novel takes cultural objects in the ‘minority’ discourse – figures from the Qur’an – from a register of holy religious writing and places them within a register belonging to the major Western discourse, literary satire. As his novel unfolds, it becomes clear that the cultural translation of Qur’anic figures like this exposes an underlying binary structure shaping both Western and Islamic discourses (the authentic and original ‘true’ text vs. the false text, the copy). The translation is conducted in such a way as to show up and subvert this binary (a sacrilegious move that was largely responsible for Rushdie’s fatwa), and so to create a space for new values to associate with the text that are better applicable to the migrant’s specific circumstances.

Cultural translation is not, therefore, simply a process whereby minority cultures are incorporated into the West’s fantastic assimilatory behemoth, as in Talal Asad’s model. Rather, cultural translation is a way for minority subjects to claim a degree of agency within a majority culture. As Buden et al write:

Bhabha proposes the concept of the ‘‘third space’’, as the space for hybridity, the space for subversion, transgression, blasphemy, heresy, and so on. But hybridity is also the space where all binary divisions and antagonisms, typical of modernist political concepts including the old opposition between theory and politics, cease to hold. Instead of the old dialectical concept of negation, Bhabha offers the idea of negotiation or cultural translation, which he believes to be in itself politically subversive, as the only possible way to transform the world and bring about something politically new. In his view, then, an emancipatory extension of politics is possible only in the field of cultural production, following the logic of cultural translation. (Buden et al, p. 201)

This definition is, it goes without saying, an immensely political one. I can’t help but connect it up to other discursive practices, like Afrofuturism, and indeed like the experimental artistic practices that developed in Brazil under the banner of tropicalia and anthropofagismo. The idea of taking cultural forms and reclaiming them is a powerful way of thinking about how cultural production and reception is negotiated more broadly.


Bhabha, Homi K. The location of culture. Routledge, 2012.

Buden, Boris, et al. “Cultural translation: An introduction to the problem, and responses.” Translation Studies 2.2 (2009): 196-219.


SEMINAR SERIES: Screen Cultures – Special Session on Afrofuturism.

by Simon Crisp.

The Screen Cultures series of BCMCR research seminars kicked off with a special session which saw Juice Aleem and Erik Steinskog (University of Copenhagen) talking about the subject of Afrofuturism, its roots, what it is and can be, and why it is important.

I have to admit that going into this session my understanding of Afrofuturism was primarily based on having read a couple of post-Black Panther articles on the subject in the Sunday newspaper supplements. However, recognising these articles didn’t scratch the surface of the subject, let alone do it justice, I was keen to learn more about the concept beyond the idea of black people in space and superhero costumes, as the mainstream media often presents it. I was also eager to explore how Afrofuturism could be considered concerning cultural translation.

As such I was pleased when Juice set out to detail what Afrofuturism “is, isn’t, could be, should be, and used to be” as he put it, and began to talk about the roots of Afrofuturism, the history of its development and the practices of people including Sun Ra and Rammellzee. With this, it became clear the extent to which these key figures, and their Afrofuturism, drew on rich heritage and traditions to present potential futures which were not burdened by more recent histories.

In attempting to relate this to the theme of cultural translation, I initially considered the way in which Afrofuturism’s act of translation of culture was happening not across borders, but into these potential futures. However, Juice then showed us some of Sun Ra’s work, the graffiti of Rammellzee, and the way they lived the reality of their created myths, saying: “This was the reality, again, this is not simply a pop artist putting on a shiny silver hat, but people living it!”

With this, I realised there was also the added dimension of translation which saw these potential futures being lived, and resonating, in the present. Afrofuturism’s act of cultural translation could be seen as not merely taking something from the past and applying to now or to the future, but also be the act of applying that potential future into the now. In thinking about it in this way, it could be suggested that Afrofuturism becomes a multi-stage non-linear process of cultural translation.

In speaking about this practical and present Afrofuturism, Juice said while it was interesting that Black Panther was out and that this got people talking about Afrofuturism, this can be on a very surface level. He went on to talk about people like the ‘Ghetto Gardener’ who works in inner-city areas of LA to get young people planting and taking back their land, saying that this was again a case of myth becoming a reality, and an example of Afrofuturism.

Finally, something else which struck me was the seeming reluctance to adopt the term Afrofuturism. Juice spoke of how Rammellzee rejected the term, and then detailed his relationship with it saying: “The name isn’t important, as much as we are here for Afrofuturism, I’m personally not concerned with that name for a variety of reasons. But it’s something that’s been pointed at me for over a decade, so I’m eventually I’m like, Okay, I’ll do the job, I’ll put that cape on, I’ll put that mask on.”

Having formerly worked as a journalist, Simon Crisp is currently completing the MA in Media and Cultural Studies at BCU. He is interested in researching the role of media representations in creating modern yoga practices. He can be found on the web and on twitter

GUEST POST: Andrew Bain on ‘Teaching – Playing – Researching’

by Andrew Bain

‘Playing and listening to music together provides a cultural space and a cognitive means through which individuals and social groups can coordinate their actions and behaviours’. (Borgo, 2006: 5)

As David Borgo (Sync or Swarm, 2006) alludes to above, the very act of ‘playing’ is a coordination of actions and behaviours, and I ask to what extent is the simple act of ‘playing’ in a group improvised context informed by a reservoir of improvisational knowledge alongside a keen awareness of intelligent transactions? My third and final PhD case study asked these very questions. Completed in December 2017, the project featured improvising musicians Peter Evans (trumpet), John O’Gallagher (saxophone) and Alex Bonney (electronics) in a freely improvised setting with no composed music, no rehearsal and no pre-conceived ideas. We simply played. But what does it mean to ‘simply play’? And is it even possible to have no boundaries within improvised group performance?

As a player, my greatest challenge is finding a way to develop group improvisation; as an educator, my greatest challenge is passing on the tools needed to do the same thing. In my roles as senior lecturer, jazz drummer/composer and emerging researcher, I have been dealing with this confluence for some time. At the heart of my playing and research is the cultivation of an active connection with my conservatoire jazz students aiming to maintain an open dialogue about my mode of working and its relevance to their personal evolutions. In my final thesis chapter, I ask, to what extent has this been successful, and how can my findings contribute to further good practice in higher education?


A graduate of the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, London and Manhattan School of Music, NYC, Andrew Bain has performed with many luminaries of the jazz world, and in many major festivals, on both sides of the Atlantic. Andrew is Senior Lecturer in Jazz at the Birmingham Conservatoire and Artistic Director of Jazz for the National Youth Orchestras of Scotland.