Yeah, that was an overly-generalized statement and not quite what I was going for. Sorry about that.
What I meant was that they worked directly with text files, often directly extracted from the game with no context. Reminded me of projects working with hiragana-only, often out of order.
Another complaint was working with letters-per-line restrictions (they praised the Tactics Ogre team for allowing three lines per chunk of dialogue in localizations, despite Japanese using only two).
We have the luxury of modern machines and programming techniques, a significant amount of general documentation (and an awesome, helpful community), and most important of all - no deadlines. I think things are much easier on us, since we're able to work smarter and have a lot more knowledge now than developers did then.