I've played both versions of Sega CD Popful Mail several times.
On the subject of difficulty, I think that Working Designs was sort of on the right track, even if they were more motivated by sales than by good design principles. The original Japanese game is so easy that you could literally beat it in a single afternoon. That's not to say the gameplay is somehow bland or monotonous, because jumping around and swatting enemies is still a lot of fun, but to have paid ~$50 for this and have it be over so quickly would have been at least a little disappointing.
The problem is that Working Designs did not adjust the difficultly smartly. When you have full HP in the original game, it will generally take ten to twenty hits to kill you, while in the US version, it only takes three to five. The trouble with this is that the original game was designed for you to have to
sustain a hit or two even when you're playing moderately well, and the post-hit invincibility period was kept very short because the original designers were expecting that the player could easily withstand two or three hits in a row.
The US version isn't really challenging so much as it's tedious. You have to save at every turn and reload practically anytime you get hit since the HP loss is so severe. Enemies can corner and kill you in less than two seconds because of the short invincibility period. The fast and somewhat unpredictable boss fights can be maddening because sometimes it's almost impossible to avoid getting hit, and the bosses are especially good at hitting you in quick succession. None of this is a problem in the original game.
If you ask me, the smarter way to make the difficulty higher would have been to make it take six to ten hits to kill you, lengthen the invincibility period enough to make it easier to retreat after one hit, and maybe restrict saving to certain areas only.
The translation is a whole other can of worms. On one hand, you might be surprised at how many of the jokes actually weren't
from Working Designs. NPC guards being inept, Gaw being a fish-junkie, dwarf beards being the "old look", Venuncio's crazy-long name, the elder-dwarf falling asleep mid-sentence...the original game had plenty of jokes. On the other hand, even though they added a lot of questionable material on their own, I think there is something to be said for the way Working Designs got across the wacky, don't-take-this-seriously spirit of the original, which may not have happened if they had done a really straight translation.
No translation is perfect, just like no map-projection is perfect, but for what Popful Mail is in terms of story, I think Working Designs's translation is an example of a successful attempt at this particular kind of approach.
Now, if anybody ever wants to take care of the hacking for a relatively
straight retranslation, whether for the Sega CD version or one of the others, I would be first to volunteer to help with the translation itself. I've been working on the Legend of Xanadu games on PC Engine, which are by the same director (well, the first one, anyway), and I absolutely love Popful Mail's old-school Falcom charm.
Anyway, good on the OP for making this patch.