Localizations of Japanese Games and the Issues of Censorship

This topic has been talked about to quite an extent in the past year or two, where gamers are complaining that certain games from Japan are being “censored” in the process of their localizations for the Western releases. It’s something I personally didn’t care about before, and then it really started bothering me after seeing some cases where games were actually being censored for no obvious reason.

Japanese games have been localized, well, since the NES came out. Changes other than simply translating games into different languages usually include visual changes changes for cultural appropriation, which was and still is completely understandable and makes complete sense, as the game still retains what is at its core. Although, in the last year, that concept has morphed into something bigger, where games are now sometimes completely altered during their localizations. Sections are being removed with nothing taking its place, making alterations to clothing and characters that truly make no logical sense but still for some strange reason are happening, and it is quite evident fans of Japanese games aren’t holding out on how they feel about it, and it is all almost completely negative.

Fire Emblem: Fates

I’m going to talk about a significant example, and the game in mention only came out a few months ago in its Western releases: Fire Emblem Fates. A game translated and localized for Western audiences by Nintendo Treehouse. Many people and I loved Fire Emblem Awakening, a game that had had genius tactical RPG mechanics and interesting simulation bits. the best thing about the game were the characters, their personalities and how they interacted with each other, and how their relationships played into the game’s combat. So you can understand a lot of the excitement many people had for the next game in the series, Fire Emblem Fates.

As time went on and more of the game was shown and talked about by Nintendo of America, a lot of people started getting turned off from the gameplay, with many seemingly boycotting its localization begging for Nintendo to retain the game’s features and personality. There was a “mini-game” that involved virtually petting different characters to improve their relationship with you, and this showed off the 2D Live technology being used in the game and actually had some minor dialogue involved.

For the western release, however, the petting was removed and the scenes only lasted around five seconds, with characters saying something affectionate and with the scene abruptly ending. This I found pretty weird, not the fact that they simply removed the petting, but didn’t bother replacing it with something more suitable in its place, rather than leaving it almost completely stripped of its purpose.

Removing features in a game just seemed kind of wrong in the sense that it’s no longer the full product, in a sense. This wouldn’t be such a huge thing if other parts of the game weren’t altered, but they were. Entire conversations were completely changed to resemble something completely different. Any innuendo or morbid quips that were present in the original Japanese release were completely changed into a conversation so different. Such as one support conversation between two characters that originally involved them talking about their history as assassins, it was translated into nothing but three dots in every speech window in the localized version.

It changes who the characters are and their personalities, with many characters no longer resembling their character counterparts in both name and likeness. It makes many characters seem dense compared to their Japanese counterparts, and paired with the all-around poor writing that goes with these drastic dialogue changes. It just makes the game’s arguably most important system, really shallow. Which is unnecessary and changes the game to an extent that truly baffled me.

Xenoblade Chronicles X

A lot of the “THAT’S CENSORSHIP!” outrage actually started with last year’s Xenoblade Chronicles X, but the localization changes were less odd and unnecessary than what was done to Fire Emblem Fates. Some outfits were altered to be less sexual, but only for 13 year old character, Lin, which in my opinion makes sense and I have no problem with it, and there was nothing removed from the game during the localization, which I appreciate.

But that didn’t stop from many people taking it to the internet to rant about it, calling it censorship and denouncing the game as something you should buy, which seems like taking it a bit too far. But, in Fire Emblem Fates’ case and now with Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE, it seriously makes sense.

Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE

Tokyo Mirage Sessions was developed by Atlus, and published by Nintendo as a collab between the Shin Megami Tensei and Fire Emblem franchises, and released little over a week ago in the West. It has been a massive target for the censorship craze, which is actually justifiable. The changes made to Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE during its localization have been pretty asinine.

Entire outfits are re-designed in a way to remove any sexual flair from all characters regardless of age. During combat, in some animations where a female’s panties could been seen, there is just a black void. any alterations were made to hide cleavage of the breasts, one of Tsubasa’s outfits has her wearing a strapless bra underneath a small see-through pink vest, the localization changes the bra into a sports bra with a white cover to hide the cleavage that shown before. But, oddly enough, some outfits still oddly retain cleavage, some even more excessive than Tsubasa’s original outfit. Another example is that of an odd smoke effect being added to hide a specific boss’ breasts during an animated cutscene, even though the smoke is completely absent in the boss’ in-game model.

An entire DLC pack was removed from the game in its localization simply because it was beach themed, and logically involved all the characters wearing swimwear.  The bikinis and swimming trunks that were once available for the characters to buy and wear during combat are completely gone. Now this is where it actually just gets silly because, they adjusted three of the main characters to be over the age of 18, Itsuki, Touma, and Tsubasa, who were originally 17. Which is kind of odd because Tsubasa is often referred to as a teen idol throughout the game.

If they were trying to crunch down on the game’s rating for Western releases, that doesn’t really make sense either, as the content that was changed during the localization wasn’t necessarily inappropriate for adult/teen players, at least not enough to deem so many changes.  Outfit alterations and translations changes weren’t necessary to reach a wider audience either, especially given the already limited install base of the Wii U,  and who only some enjoy JRPGs. I find it obscene that they’d remove an entire pack of DLC content simply because of it’s suggestive content. And even more odd is that Atlus is widely known to be extremely faithful in keeping their games completely intact during their localizations, And Persona 5 will likely be no different in that respect. This is Atlus’s only game for the Wii U, so I have a feeling Nintendo is responsible for many of the changes. That while Atlus handled the localization of the game, Nintendo of America were very demandng in what they wanted changed, and Atlus would have had to oblige.

Nintendo of America

Are you getting the recurring theme here? All of these games, while not being developed by, but were supervised/published by, Nintendo. Yeah. Nintendo of America has made it pretty clear in the past few years that they are targeting children as the leading audience for their products. What I find concerning though is that these games were not truly intended for children to play to begin with. Xenoblade Chronicles X has very philosophical and dark themes, Fire Emblem Fates targets teens and adults who enjoy tactical RPGs. Many elements of the Shin Megami Tensei series stay true with Tokyo Mirage Sessions, which has always been targeted at the more hardcore JRPG fans, as they are known for their extreme difficulty and heavy themes.

It doesn’t make sense for Nintendo to enact hefty design changes for any of these games for their localizations, because it doesn’t benefit the people who are actually going to buy and play through these games, and it only serves to harm their reputation as a games publisher. The censorship in these titles aren’t as extreme some make it out to be, but it is starting to worry me and I fret that some day another great game made in Japan will be marred during localization due to its content because it is deemed inappropriate for Western audiences, which is a dumb thing to happen, and something I hope doesn’t get worse as time goes on.

Kyle Inman is a writer for The Game Bolt. His love of JRPGs has bolstered a life full of video games and a deep admiration for them. He plays a bit too much, but that just adds to his character. Behold his words of wisdom about games and geeky things on Twitter.

  • J.j. Barrington

    Censorship is bad, regardless.

    Is the girl 13? Well, she’s pixels. She can’t be abused, and there’s nothing linking a slightly risque outfit to real-life abuse. The game, by the way, is rated T(for Teen), and guess what age group Lin falls into? So what you’re saying is a 13 year-old can buy the game, but can’t see a 13 year old character in a bikini?

    It wouldn’t have changed the game’s rating, and as far as I recall, it’s optional wear, meaning people who are uncomfortable with it don’t even have to have her in it. So why remove it?

    As a writer, musician, and (not all that good) artist myself, I spit on censorship for any reason. I don’t even care if I find the specific material questionable or disagreeable, because I can always just avoid it. But just as there are genres- horror, for example, which I avoid like the Plague- that cater to different tastes and people that don’t have that taste shouldn’t be complaining, nor should anyone, even if they don’t prefer cleavage on a 13 year-old(and my God, the ways kids dress and go out in public these days, it’s not like it’s that unreal, anymore), support censorship of any kind.

  • Dustin Barlow

    If she is 13 than i’m an 80 year old chinaman. Those damn growth hormones I suppose…

    • J.j. Barrington

      She could be 13. Wouldn’t matter. She’s not real.

  • XxXGodXxX

    Censorship is never acceptable no matter what is being censored. What Nintendo has been doing is disgusting and i wish them nothing but failure until they stop with this nonsense.