The idea of altering a piece of art or entertainment generally elicits cries of censorship; of denying some sort of expression on part of the content’s creator. With respect to video games, this most commonly takes the form of localization changes due to cultural differences. Nintendo is no exception to this, having a history of edits that extends to not just licensed titles but their own franchises.
What’s important to note in respect to Nintendo’s localization edits is that they are not “censorship” in the same sense as a song’s radio edit, for example. It’s not a judgment sent down by a higher authority, as even with the ESRB a game can release under a higher rating. The changes made to Nintendo’s titles are at its discretion for a multitude of reasons, not just when content was seen as unacceptable or inappropriate. Factors such as marketability, ease of understanding and, as stated above, cultural differences with regards to what is acceptable, all play a role in determining when edits are made and how they are handled.
With a series of notable edits occurring recently, all of which share a common theme of depictions of younger female characters in revealing outfits, it’s a perfect time to look at the policies Nintendo has abided by in the past and to examine why the changes made then and now don’t damage the games or rob them of their N Factor: their unique Nintendo essence that keeps us coming back for more.
Before moving forward, it’s important to note that neither myself nor any member of Nintendo Inquirer’s staff intend to support or disparage the actions taken or the content altered. This is merely an examination of Nintendo history and these current events from an objective point of view, in an attempt to show that while some content may be altered, the game has not been robbed of its essence.
A look at Nintendo of America’s Video Game Content Guidelines shows that edits are made in consideration of intense and graphic violence, religious iconography, drugs, alcohol, politics, and blatant sexuality and nudity. The effects of these guidelines can be seen throughout Nintendo history. For instance, The Legend of Zelda on the NES featured a bible, which became the Book of Magic when localized.
When the first Zelda was released in 1986, there were no readily available resources to observe pre-release footage or to know the differences between Japanese and localized copies. There was a gold cartridge– and an adventure that changed lives. This could be called blissful ignorance, but the fact remains that The Legend of Zelda is still a masterpiece even with the knowledge of this edit. Could it somehow change the way a person feels about it? Yes. But the memories and satisfaction of defeating Ganon, reclaiming the Triforce, and reuniting with Zelda stay with you, the gamer. This is but one example, and a minor one at that, but it sets the stage for more current games to be examined under the same lens.
2015 has seen three releases with notable edits: Xenoblade Chronicles X, Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water, and Genei Ibun Roku #FE (a.k.a. Shin Megami Tensei x Fire Emblem). These all also have lengthy localization times and exist in an age when a full playthrough of the Japanese version could be found in minutes, well before they ever reach foreign shores. Any sort of changes are much more noticeable just by the nature of the internet age.
Xenoblade Chronicles X features two main changes that drew attention before the localized releases. One of these was in regards to a 13 year-old female character, Lin, having outfits edited to be less revealing. The other was in respect to the character creation system in the game, which featured a slider in order to alter female characters’ bust sizes in the Japanese release. No such slider exists in the localized versions. The first change is understandable from a cultural standpoint, with Japan having a lower age of consent and differing attitudes about what is considered revealing. As far as I know, nothing about the character has been changed, other than the way these more revealing outfit options look on her and her name (she was formerly known as Lynlee), a more minor alteration not uncommon when games are translated and localized. These edits don’t impact gameplay in the slightest, and older characters have not had their outfits altered.
The removal of a bust size slider is more notable as it actually removes options from the player when it comes to character creation. People come in all different sizes and to be able to represent oneself (or one’s ideal self) in a game is a unique experience that other forms of media cannot replicate. While the reasoning behind the removal is less obvious than the above, it still does not alter the gameplay or story, only limiting the potential immersion character creator systems provide.
Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water, the long awaited latest entry in the series, was finally localized as a digital only release. In the Japanese release, the playable characters could be changed into revealing costumes for no obvious reason. Overseas, these outfits were removed and replaced instead with costumes based on the Zero Suit of Metroid fame and Princess Zelda’s iconic dress. This kind of edit– of changing what type of fan service is provided without removing it completely– seems to be the best course of action when it comes to what are deemed as necessary edits. Bayonetta 2 shows that provocative content and characters are not unwelcome from Nintendo when they are inherent qualities and not seemingly randomly included. The M ratings both of these titles received are not invitations to push boundaries; they are assets for consumers to make informed decisions about the content that’s released by Nintendo, and Nintendo alone.
The change made to Genei Ibun Roku #FE is perhaps the most notable, as it is not a localization edit but a change made before even the Japanese release. In a pre-release trailer, the character Kiria was seen in her stage outfit, one with a set of bottoms that leaves little to the imagination. In later footage the ensemble was changed to appear as full pants. This is doubly notable due to Kiria’s ties to the Fire Emblem: Awakening character Tharja. In Genei Ibun Roku #FE, the playable characters are able to fight alongside and summon “mirages” based on Fire Emblem characters, with Kiria’s being Tharja.
Tharja herself is no stranger to localization changes. Within a DLC episode for Fire Emblem: Awakening, a sauna scene covered a view of her in a swimsuit. Similarly, early reports of Super Smash Bros. for 3DS before release indicated there may have been a Tharja trophy at one point, which was removed mere months before release. While the Fire Emblem games are no strangers to more mature themes, it seems the majority of its recent changes have revolved around this singular character.
In respect to Genei Ibun Roku #FE, there are still many revealing outfits as pre-order DLC, making this particular removal of Kiria’s outfit a bit of an outlier, with the connection to Tharja seemingly more likely as at least part of the reasoning. That is only conjecture at this point, but still noteworthy. With the game’s release in Japan just around the corner and due for its international release later in 2016 it will be interesting to see what, if any, other changes occur in the process.
While M-rated games and their accompanying themes are welcome on Nintendo consoles, it’s always going to be on the company’s terms. Occasionally, there will be titles that are just un-releasable in America due to Nintendo’s policies, such as Devil World on the NES. It could be said that receiving these games with their edits is better than not receiving them at all, but I cannot stress enough that Nintendo is a company that produces games for everyone. Being able to enjoy Nintendo’s titles is something I’m very thankful for, and as a lifelong fan, these sorts of edits are understood when examined in this way. Even if I know my Skell in Xenoblade Chronicles X is known as a Doll to a Japanese player, it doesn’t make piloting one any less enjoyable, and as a fan of Atlus’ Persona series (as well as Fire Emblem), I cannot wait for Genei Ibun Roku #FE. I hope you can all enjoy it, too.
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