RetroVision – Was “I Am Error”, Really An Error?

Back in the 8 & 16-bit days there was no DLC or day one patches. When a game went “Gold”, for better or worse, it was considered complete. As such, whilst this means that gamers were able to pop in the cartridge and just simply play, the trade off was that finding a mistake or two was unfortunately inevitable.

This was especially true when it came to those games that required a translation from Japanese. In fact, there are many well known examples of these kind of translation errors, with a great deal of them still referenced to this day. Whats more, some have even gone on to become famous memes, such as “All Your Base Are Belong To Us” from Zero Wing.

Zelda II Main Screen
The Legend of Zelda II: The Adventure of Link is home to what many consider one of gaming’s most infamous mistranslations.

However, one of the most famous can be found in The Legend of Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, through a mysterious NPC who is simply known as “Error”. Whilst his name certainly hints to something being amiss, this wasn’t the only aspect of the character that has been the subject of discussion and scrutiny. You see, it was actually his words that would go on to become one of gaming’s most memorable quotes, as on meeting Error, he would initially only speak the now infamous line:

I AM ERROR.

As such, I AM ERROR has gone on to become not only one of the most famous mistranslations of the 8-bit era, but also one of the most referenced. In fact, references to Link’s acquaintance can be found in everything from the fairly recent title The Binding of Isaac, through to Nintendo’s own Super Paper Mario. However, a closer look at the evidence points to the fact that one of gaming’s most infamous lines was never actually an error, but rather an elaborate inside joke.

I AM ERROR SPM
When Fractal the Dragon is hacked a reference to I AM ERROR appears.

All in all though, it’s easy to see why this seeming mistranslation has become so infamous within the industry. Especially given that Error is not exactly hard to find. In fact, easy to find is an understatement given that encountering this mysterious character is a mandatory part of the game, with Link having to speak with Error in order to progress through the game’s campaign.

Link’s first interaction with the villager Error, actually comes right at the start of the game in the town of Ruto. However, despite being one of the first NPCs Link meets on his lengthy adventure, Error doesn’t offer any useful information at first. In fact, all he does is is introduce himself through the infamous line “I AM ERROR”.

Nevertheless, despite this, Error would provide Link with some vital information on his quest to recover the Triforce and awaken Zelda from her endless sleep. This comes much later on in the game when Link is advised to go and seek Error’s help by a man in the Harbor Town of Mido. Error then informs Link of a hidden tunnel to the south of the Kings Tomb, one which gives Link access to the isolated Island Palace.

However, despite his minor yet important role in the game, many believe Error was well literally an Error. In fact, thanks to the seeming absurdity of both his name and his opening dialogue, Error has become one of the most infamous mistranslations in gaming history. However, it seems that it was gamers who misunderstood, and that Error, was never actually an error at all.

Tezuka & Miyamoto
Zelda creator Shigeru Miyamoto (Right), alongside the writer for The Adventure of Link and Super Mario Producer Takashi Tezuka (right), celebrating Super Mario’s 30th Anniversary together in 2015.

The truth of the matter is that it was actually all just an intentional joke written in by Takashi Tezuka that somehow got lost in translation. The evidence for this lies not in the translation, but rather within the original Japanese release for the Famicom Disk System. This come in the form of not only the character of Error, but within another character too.

You see, if you head over to forest directly north of Saria you’ll find a villager named Bagu. Bagu is in fact palette swap of Error, and a close friend of his within the game. However, it’s his name that’s most interesting.

BAGU
バグ (Bagu), which literally translates to Bug in English (as in a computer bug or malfunction), was seemingly created to act as a parallel to Error.

This is because in the original Japanese, バグ (Bagu) is actually a romanisation of the word “bug”, as in a computer bug or malfunction. As such, it seems that the original intention of the character was to draw parallels to his close friend Error, given that both their names share the same theme. However, this isn’t the only fact that points to Error’s naming being intentional.

Reinforcing this theory is the fact that within the original Japanese release, Error’s infamous opening line, is well, exactly the same as you see it in the English release. Not only that, but his name in Japanese エラー (Era-), is in a similar fashion to Bagu, a romanisation of Error. As such, it simply appears that the Error actually lies within how Bagu’s name was translated rather than Error’s.

Error Japanese

So there you go, turns out this one wasn’t actually an error at all, as the evidence that lies within the original Japanese release, combined with the minor importance of the character making for a very different story. Ultimately, whilst I AM ERROR is now etched into gaming history, it appears this all began with a simple misinterpretation by those who have played the English translation of this classic game. Turns out some mistakes were intentional all along.

Simon Aubrey Drake

A lifelong gamer with a fanatical love of all things Nintendo and Japan. So much so that I've written a thesis on one and lived in the other. Currently on a quest to catch every last Pokémon. Follow me on twitter via @DudeXChill or @RingsandCoins.

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