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In most speed-running videos, the person playing the game will usually play the Japanese version, with or without any knowledge of understanding Japanese. Is there a reason why they do this?

In particular, I am talking about traditionally Japanese games being speed ran, like Cave Story or Legend of Zelda.

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    FWIW, the answer to all "why" questions of this kind, when related to speedrunning, is, well, speed. Speed is the only goal of a speedrun.
    – user91988
    Commented Aug 14, 2019 at 21:18

4 Answers 4

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There's a few reasons why a given release of a game (Japanese vs International, NTSC vs PAL) is used for any given run, and they change depending on the game. That said, there's a few common reasons:

  1. NTSC (Japanese or US) instead of PAL (European): While this is less of an issue in newer games (AFAIK), the major difference here is refresh rate (which in itself affects frame rate). NTSC uses a refresh rate of approximately 60Hz (I want to say it's 59.94Hz, but for simpler math, let's go with 60Hz), while PAL uses 50Hz. Almost everything about a game in older games is tied around this refresh rate, so input checking, frame rate, and so on is all based on the "refresh rate clock". In the majority of cases, NTSC wins out for speed due to being about 17% faster, although there are a few cases where PAL is actually faster due to certain major time-saving techniques being unfeasible at the faster 60Hz rate.

  2. Actual code differences/revisions: Certain games are actually more buggy in some releases (usually the older ones which are typically the Japanese release, although again, this has exceptions) and these bugs can be used for faster runs.

  3. Characters-per-second in text: For games that have character-by-character text (e.g. Legend of Zelda), the Japanese version will usually see a significant time gain just by virtue of the use of kanji and the Japanese syllabaries (hiragana and katakana).

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  • #2 can be the exact opposite, too. I have seen cases where japan has had a re-release address bugs that otherwise made the game more difficult or time consumptive.
    – user106385
    Commented Aug 31, 2015 at 1:08
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    I fully expected the sole answer to be #3. 'Clock speed' blew my mind. Then again, #3 seems the only reason (other than #2) someone from the US would use the Japanese version.
    – Mazura
    Commented Aug 31, 2015 at 2:14
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    Technically NTSC is not a full frame rate of ~60 Hz, it's ~30 Hz. An NTSC frame is made up of two fields (i.e., it's interlaced) and the field rate is ~60 Hz, but since it takes two fields to make a whole frame, you're only getting 29.97 frames per second. I'm pretty sure PAL is also two fields per frame and it has an actual rate of 25 Hz. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NTSC Commented Aug 31, 2015 at 11:43
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    @Todd Wilcox: Old consoles like the Super Nintendo actually achieved 60 fps at half the vertical resolution by re-writing to the same field over and over. The CRT screens had a flag to move to the other field, so you could just never set the flag. A 50 Hz system would achieve 50 fps the same way. This hack actually caused issues on some early LCD screens with old consoles. Newer games on newer consoles are capable of 50/60 FPS, and though it's technically not part of the standards, a lot of people use the terms PAL and NTSC to distinguish between 50p and 60p systems.
    – MichaelS
    Commented Sep 2, 2015 at 7:48
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    I was thinking it was a pulse at the beginning of each frame that told the TV whether to do even or odd frames, but this document (page 7) says you're right. It just changes the H/V timings by like half an hsync period.
    – MichaelS
    Commented Sep 2, 2015 at 11:28
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Since you asked about Legend of Zelda specifically: Cosmo, the former (non-tool-assisted) speedrun world record holder for Ocarina of Time, released a very cool annotated video explaining the glitches and history of his speedrun.

At about 3m44s:

This run was done on the official Chinese release of the game. I chose this version because of faster text and less lag.

If you haven't seen this video before, I highly recommend it - it gives a great look into the world of speedrunning.

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    OoT is a bit of a special case (at least, it was when this run was performed, I think they might use Japanese now for the Deku Nut glitch) because the Chinese version was on the iQue instead of the N64 due to local laws re: game consoles, which has more of an effect than version differences usually do. Commented Aug 31, 2015 at 13:08
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    Great watch! Btw, Cosmo's record has been broken as he predicted: zeldaspeedruns.com/leaderboards/oot/any
    – Zommuter
    Commented Sep 2, 2015 at 11:20
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Sometimes they use Japanese or American versions as they run in 60hz which way more faster than European/Australian (PAL versions) ones which run in 50hz.

It's 17% faster. This ratio is computed like this : 100-(50*100/60)

60hz means 60 frames per seconds, as 50hz means 50 frames per seconds. So with 60hz you have more frames to enter inputs (mostly used in tool assisted speedrun).

Take a look at frame rate on wikipedia.

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    Also, as Japanese versions are often older, they tend to have more glitches that can be abused.
    – Elise
    Commented Aug 30, 2015 at 20:14
  • Indeed like Pokemon Green which contains way more bugs than US/PAL Red and Blue versions.
    – Marc_Alx
    Commented Aug 30, 2015 at 20:16
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    Another sometimes-significant factor is that Japanese is a significantly denser language than English in terms of meaning-per-character. If your characters-per-second scrolling speed is consistent between both versions, the Japanese version will tend to be quicker because sentences contain much less text to express the same concepts. Commented Aug 30, 2015 at 20:24
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All of the previos answers are correct, but Ill like to add something extra.

Back in the day when, when western companies didn't had any presence or subsidiaries in Asia, they would contract another company to do the Japanese or Chinese version. This would sometimes cause the Asian version to have more bugs than the western version.

A good example would be the Japanese PC version of Grand Theft Auto Vice City, which was done by Capcom instead of Rockstar Games. The Western PC release was on May 2003 while the Japanese edition was released a couple of months later, on September 2003.

The Japanese edition, due to being "less polished" than the original western release, has a lot of new bugs that are not present on the Western version and can be abused during speedruns to complete the game even faster. There is a thread on the speedrun.com forums explaining most of them.

Because of this, the Japanese edition is used on most of the categories of GTA Vice City due to being faster, specially on the Any% No SSU category (Script Stack Underflow is a bug that allows you to skip almost all of the game).

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