Gaming giant Nintendo, has come in for a lot of flack from a section of fans who accuse the firm of censoring and over-localising Japanese titles for ‘Western’ audiences. From covering up bikini-clad 13-year-olds to editing drug use (amongst other things), overseas players feel they’re missing out on some of the key moments of various titles.
The Japanese gaming giant insists the changes are made with “the intention of improving the game experience for players”. Yet the complaints keep coming in from non-Japanese gamers, who say Nintendo is overstepping the line with its game alterations.
Gamers fume at Nintendo ‘censorship’
The criticism of Nintendo opens up the tough debate over localisation vs censorship. Gamers and many others argue that arts and creative media shouldn’t be censored in any way that restrict their themes, content or messages. Essentially, it’s the notion that changing the original content of a game is taken as censorship, not localisation. It mutes freedom of expression within the industry.
It’s a complicated debate, though. Fans understandably dislike the idea of missing out on the authentic experience of their favourite titles. But Nintendo and other games developers have a tricky job on their hands – especially when it comes to localising Japanese titles.
The challenge of localising Japanese content
The recent uproar over Fire Emblem Fates, a tactical role-playing video game, came after a scene where a female character is drugged to stop her getting distracted by pretty girls on the battlefield. There was also a mini game altered for US and European audiences, where players could visit characters in their “private quarters” and pet their faces using the Nintendo DS touchscreen.
Sexual connotations are a common theme in many Japanese releases. Last year Nintendo was also criticised for how it “censored” Xenoblade Chronicles X. Some fans were unhappy that a 13-year-old character, who wore revealing bikinis in the Japanese version, was then covered up for European gamers. Her body proportions were also changed to make her appear more childlike.
The heavy presence of sexual content in Japanese media in general is a major talking point. The UN has even proposed a ban on titles that could be deemed to glamourize sexual exploitation in any way. Large sections of the Japanese media have rebelled against this notion and many gamers in the country are equally unimpressed.
All this leaves Nintendo in a tight spot with its Japanese titles. It risks alienating the domestic market by changing the kind of content in its games. But the adaptations it feels necessary to make for international audiences also puts it in the firing line for genre fans overseas. Pleasing each market is proving a real challenge for the gaming giant.
The growing challenge of game localisation
Nintendo isn’t alone in the challenge of localising Japanese games for international audiences. Numerous PlayStation titles have come in for criticism too, including the wildly popular Final Fantasy games. In the case of Final Fantasy XV, it’s a simple question of the relationship between a King and his bodyguard – or a name change – that upsets some international gamers. Which just goes to show how tough it is to please global audiences with a single title – even for the gaming giants.
Gone are the days when gamers simply hoped for their favourite titles to be released in their region. At one time just enough translation to make games playable was a bonus; without fansubbing would often step in and importing foreign titles was common practice.
However, gamers demand more now. Simply releasing a game in their region no longer cuts it. Translating and localising games to make them playable isn’t enough either. Gamers want the authentic experience, so that location and native language aren’t barriers to enjoying the same game as other players do in the country of origin.
It looks like Nintendo and PlayStation are still getting to grips when it comes to the adding sensitive content to Japanese titles. Finding the balance between keeping multiple audiences and also their parents happy is a real challenge when you cross cultural borders. But it’s a challenge they have to accept (and get spot on) if they want to increase their fan base while keeping loyal fans happy in the process.