Ancient Roman - Power of Dark Side
Image: Nihon Systems

Update [Thu 11th Jul, 2024 15:00 BST]: The English translation patch for 'Ancient Roman - Power of the Dark Side' is now available, SnowyAria has revealed.

The patch was released earlier today and is accompanied by an English translation of a drama CD that acts as a prequel to the game's events.

You can download the patch now from Github. The audio drama, meanwhile, can be "enjoyed" at this link.

Original Article [Mon 1st Jul, 2024 14:05 BST]: The Japan-exclusive Ancient Roman - Power of the Dark Side is frequently cited online as the worst role-playing game ever released for the original PlayStation. However, that hasn't stopped a small team of fan translators/hackers from developing an English localization patch for it, which will reportedly be launching soon.

Originally developed by Nihon Systems, Ancient Roman - Power of the Dark Side is a turn-based RPG featuring a mixture of 3D polygonal characters and pre-rendered backgrounds similar to other more successful games like Final Fantasy VII. It hit Japanese store shelves in 1998 and immediately scored a bunch of low reviews from publications like Famitsu, Dengeki PlayStation, and Softbank's The PlayStation magazine because of its poor graphics and sound quality. Then, in the following decades, it later became something of a meme online, thanks to the rise of the internet and coverage by Japanese YouTubers.

With all of this in mind, you may be wondering why someone would want to go to the effort of translating it into English. Well, to answer that, Time Extension reached out to SnowyAria, the lead translator on this project.

In reply, she told us: "Back in around 2015, I was looking for JP-only games to translate for YouTube. I found Ancient Roman on a website, with only a single comment saying something to the effect of "Don't play this awful pile of garbage, you're just wasting your time go play a good game like Final Fantasy VII instead." Needless to say, I grabbed the game immediately to try out.

This leads to musical cacophony ranging from 'passable Fire Alarm Suite in D Minor' to 'the composer was trapped in a claw machine.'

"Love at first sight may be a bit strong, but Ancient Roman is such a mismatched, glued-together husk of a game vaguely in the shape of an RPG that it's endearing. Normally kusoge (awful games) have a couple things they do well, but fail to really bring it all together. Ancient Roman is one of the few where they just did *everything* wrong."

In other words, this is one of those cases of a game so bad, it's good. So SnowyAria's plan is to make it more widely accessible to those outside of Japan, so more people can enjoy its baffling gameplay and story.

In our conversation, she went on to elaborate on some of the game's major problems, "The music doesn't work 80% of the time, since the PS1 MIDI-like music format they used mismatches all the instruments and octaves. This leads to musical cacophony ranging from 'passable Fire Alarm Suite in D Minor' to 'the composer was trapped in a claw machine.' Any time a sound effect plays, the game lags for nearly a second before playing it. We figured out this was due to every sound file being normalized to 10 full seconds long, even for a simple sword swing. This means the poor PS1 has to read 10 seconds of audio off disc, load it into RAM, play it, then (of course) immediately delete it, even if it's a common battle sound.

"As for the story itself, I don't want to spoil too much, but even the game kind of just forgets plot points half the time. The villain barely even shows up, leaving his characterization coming mostly from the external drama CD they somehow released. It's a very goofy story with a hint of good writing in a few sparse places while the rest is full of strange pacing fun times, but overall the sheer nonsense is a lot of fun. I have a lot of love for these goofs of characters, and I hope that comes across in the translation!"

As you might expect, one of the biggest obstacles to translating these kinds of game is usually getting together a team to help out. As she explains, it's typically very easy to get people to give up their time to translate a classic or a game from a series everybody loves, but convincing them to work on "awful games" is a whole different matter entirely.

Luckily, though, she was able to grab the notable hacker EsperKnight (who has previously worked on hacks for Planet Laika, Linda Cubed Again, and more) and convinced them to take a detour into "the awful game mines" to get this one into shape.

Speaking to Time Extension about the difficulties she's had hacking the game so far, EsperKnight tells us, "From a technical perspective it's dealing with the awful programming (laughs). One instance we have a problem with is the text flickering in some spots due to how they (mis)handle the text routine. It's so slow and it keeps updating the text after it displays it which it doesn't need to. Another issue was finding all the lengths for everything thing on screen. Items? Yep. Equipment names? Yep. Equipment types? Yep? Player names? Yep. All of them are individual values for how long they can be. So yeah the programming for this is especially bad and janky. But my philosophy is to work within the confines of it (I don't rewrite it at all). So the jankiness can stay."

We'll keep you updated on any future news about the hack. A trailer for the English translation is expected to arrive soon.