With the Western release of Fire Emblem Fates, Nintendo of America has com­mit­ted a worse com­mer­cial sin than per­ceived cen­sor­ship. They released an infe­rior pro­duct for their audi­ence with typos, cut con­ver­sa­tions, and stripped of char­ac­ter­i­za­tion that is replaced with juve­nile jokes. Whether the removal of mechan­ics like head-patting for the Western release was a sound choice can be debated, con­sumers receiv­ing a poor pro­duct is some­thing more objec­tive.

By the time the first rum­blings about the qual­ity of Fire Emblem Fates local­iza­tion had first hit the inter­net before its release, some con­sumers already had enough. Since then, they have taken to social media to encour­age peo­ple to speak up about their views on the qual­ity of local­iza­tions, lever­ag­ing Fire Emblem Fates as a prime exam­ple of every­thing they feel can go wrong with local­iza­tions. Organizing under the ban­ner of #TorrentialDownpour, they are look­ing to raise aware­ness and get fans of poorly treated prop­er­ties to con­tact pub­lish­ers.

The past year has not been one free from con­tro­versy for games com­ing over­seas from Japan, but Nintendo of America (NoA) seems to be step­ping into murky waters more often than oth­ers when it comes to the choices being made for their local­ized con­tent. Whether it’s the odd choice of leav­ing out breast cus­tomiza­tion for a Western audi­ence in Xenoblade Chronicles X,  the removal an out­fit that was con­nected to a character’s back­ground in flash­backs in Fatal Frame: Maiden of the Black Water, or remov­ing the head-patting mini game from Fire Emblem Fates, Nintendo of America has made choices that have already been major points of con­tention before the release of the shod­dily trans­lated Fire Emblem Fates.

It was also just a cou­ple of months ago that Koei Tecmo’s deci­sion to not released their volleyball/waifu sim­u­la­tor spin-off Dead or Alive Xtreme 3 for Western audi­ences spawned push back in the form of the per­haps opti­misti­cally named but well-intentioned “1 Million Gamers Strong For Japanese Gaming” peti­tion. And sen­ti­ment among fans of Japanese fare has only got­ten worse since then.

There is a major debate rag­ing between fans of titles being affected by what is seen — at best — as sub-par local­iza­tions and — at worst — cen­sor­ship and not just media crit­ics, but devel­oper and pub­lisher employ­ees who feel that Japanese tastes cross the line for Western audi­ences at times. Within this debate are top­ics of cen­sor­ship, cre­ator intent, and what can only be described as a “we know what’s best” atti­tude pro­jected by com­pany insid­ers when it comes to address­ing what an audi­ence is or is not com­fort­able with.

All of these top­ics are worth com­ment­ing on, but let’s first unwrap what has brought us here today. Just days after its Western release, Fire Emblem Fates has been shown to be a mess. The small time frame from release has already pro­duced evi­dence that marks what fans of the series are protest­ing.

A Localization Most Poor

We have typos, and what I can only hope is a typo:

There are char­ac­ters who have their per­son­al­i­ties altered, includ­ing chang­ing a char­ac­ter to an appar­ent pickle fetishist.




And is just chock full of cringe induc­ing jokes that point to the local­iz­ers hav­ing the sense of humor of a ten-year old.

So if you were going to judge your pur­chase of this title on the qual­ity of its local­iza­tion, then the early reports are already in. There is a bit of a sil­ver lin­ing, though. There is a fan trans­la­tion for Fire Emblem Fates avail­able! While it does not trans­late 100% of the game just yet, it does trans­late large swaths of it. Attention to this project has only height­ened since Treehouse (those respon­si­ble for Fire Emblem Fates local­iza­tion) fum­bled the treat­ment of this game, so I’d keep an eye on it.

But the bot­tom line is that it shouldn’t be up to the fans to treat a pro­duct such that fans would want to buy it. It’s beyond dis­ap­point­ing that Treehouse and Nintendo of America would treat one of their prod­ucts so badly, but these issues are sys­temic to those afore­men­tioned debates fuel­ing as much insight as it does vit­riol online from those pas­sion­ate in their posi­tions.

Translation Vs. Localization Vs. Culturalization

When it comes to what gets changed in a game when the choice to bring it to Western audi­ences comes, there seems to be a push for what is called “cul­tur­al­iza­tion” under the umbrella of “local­iza­tion.” So that we are all on the same page here, let’s go ahead and define some terms.

Translation: A direct 1:1 change in lan­guage.


Localization: Going beyond pure trans­la­tion to change things like cul­tural ref­er­ences to hol­i­days, or pop­u­lar cul­ture, so that other audi­ences iden­tify with it.

The more recent con­cept being added into this mix, and is one of those buzz­words being pitched to pub­lish­ers these days, is that of “cul­tur­al­iza­tion.”  A 2013 arti­cle from Gaming Industry IQ defined cul­tur­al­iza­tion as:

…the sci­ence of inspect­ing dia­logue, imagery – even actions, for things that may cause offense to par­tic­u­lar mar­kets or cul­tures.”

This approach to local­iz­ing games goes beyond just alter­ing ref­er­ences to be more under­stand­able to out­side audi­ences, and sug­gests that con­tent may need to be altered in order to make it more palat­able to dif­fer­ent regions.

Some com­pa­nies demon­stra­bly ago­nize over some of these deci­sions. As quoted in a pre­vi­ous piece, Vice President of XSEED Games Ken Berry says about cen­sor­ing a game local­iza­tion:

That would be plac­ing us in a very, very dif­fi­cult posi­tion because cen­sor­ing it would alien­ate the very audi­ence that we are try­ing to bring the game for, while not really appeas­ing any of the crit­ics that had no pur­chase intent in the first place. So we’d be doing a lot of extra work and going through a lot of extra trou­ble and pleas­ing nobody. So hope­fully, we’re never in that posi­tion.”

Which is in stark con­trast to Nintendo of America’s recent choices in some of their local­iza­tions. The deci­sions of Nintendo of America and XSEED reflect two major pil­lars in the argu­ments burn­ing right now in regards to which games are released for Western audi­ences, and how they are they treated when they are: are games being cen­sored, and what is the creator’s orig­i­nal intent?

Censorship and Creator Intent

Companies like XSEED work to keep the orig­i­nal vision of their prod­ucts intact for the audi­ence that will be buy­ing them or they just don’t local­ize the title. Other com­pa­nies tend to get a bit more flex­i­ble when it comes to cre­ator intent.

When speak­ing to Kotaku on these issues, long time trans­la­tor Alex Smith said:

Something intended to be sim­ply humor­ous or risqué in a Japanese game might come across to an American gamer as creepy or worse, as pedophilia… Keeping the prob­lem­atic con­tent in there with the intent of pre­serv­ing the creator’s orig­i­nal vision is mis­guided, because the cre­ator pre­sum­ably didn’t intend for the audi­ence to feel uncom­fort­able or offended. The orig­i­nal vision is bet­ter served by mak­ing adjust­ments so the new audi­ence appre­ci­ates the work on (as closely as pos­si­ble) the same terms as the orig­i­nal audi­ence.”

Alex has worked on trans­la­tions for some time, work­ing on such fran­chises as Final Fantasy, Front Mission, and Phoenix Wright. In def­er­ence to his expe­ri­ence I will assume he is talk­ing more gen­er­ally about the tightrope walked when try­ing to local­ize prod­ucts for Western audi­ences. He can also only speak to his expe­ri­ences in work­ing with local­iza­tions.

But there are two ques­tions that Nintendo of America don’t seem to be ask­ing when they are mak­ing the more egre­gious choices they have recently. First, what con­sumers are find­ing some of this con­tent “creepy?” And are they work­ing with the cre­ators to pre­serve the expe­ri­ence when mak­ing alter­ations? For now we can only spec­u­late on the later, the for­mer question’s answer points to “none” if the reac­tion to Fire Emblem Fates release in the west is looked at.

As with most choices made by pub­lish­ers, only dol­lars ulti­mately mat­ter. That leaves fans of some of these more niche titles in a tough spot. Boycotting a game entirely could send the mes­sage to higher-ups not keyed in the deeper sit­u­a­tions pre­sented that a fran­chise is not suc­cess­ful in a cer­tain ter­ri­tory, and so they may just decide to not bring over future titles. The other option that looks to be gain­ing more trac­tion is to raise as much noise as pos­si­ble so that pub­lish­ers and oth­ers lis­ten­ing know that these issues will not be ignored — cost­ing a com­pany PR dol­lars instead.

When it comes to Treehouse and Nintendo of America, that is where Operation Torrential Downpour comes in.

We reached out to dis­grun­tled Fire Emblem fan, and #TorrentialDownpour sup­porter, Mr. D about the issues sur­round­ing local­iza­tions and he was kind enough to offer his thoughts. [Editor’s Note: Mr. D natively speaks Creole, so please be kind to their gram­mar!]

First and fore­most, who are you and what is Operation [Torrential] Downpour? 

I’m just a anon from 8chan’s /v/ but just call me D for this interview’s sake, Operation Torrential Downpour is an oper­a­tion inspired by Operation Rainfall the main goals of Torrential Downpour… are to stop bad local­iza­tion and cen­sor­ship in Japanese games. Turning them into actual faith­ful trans­la­tions of the orig­i­nal pro­duct such as was intended.

How do you feel about the qual­ity of game local­iza­tions cur­rently in gen­eral?

Extremely poor in most cases just very sloppy with near com­plete rewrites of the of the orig­i­nal game, what bad local­iza­tions does can be down­right awful for a game with vast changes of character’s per­son­al­i­ties into char­ac­ters then they were in the orig­i­nal Japanese ver­sion.

One such exam­ple I can give you is Zero from Drakengard 3, Zero in the JP ver­sion is lethar­gic has odd mood swings and in all hon­esty didn’t seem like she was men­tally sta­ble while in the local­iza­tion that 8 – 4 did Zero was just bit­ter and always frus­trated and always drop­ping the  F-Nuke while the JP ver­sion didn’t shy away from bad lan­guage, Zero being the way she was in the local­iza­tion wasn’t accu­rate to her orig­i­nal char­ac­ter.

When does a games’ local­iza­tion go from an artis­tic choice to cen­sor­ship in your view?

But here is the thing let’s take a look at what the word local­iza­tion means, local­iza­tion is the adap­ta­tion of a pro­duct or ser­vice to fit the needs of lan­guage or culture’s desired  look.

Now this is an issue for many rea­sons as the teams local­iz­ing can take many lib­er­ties such as chang­ing the script and char­ac­ters among other things in the name of local­iza­tion and unfor­tu­nately peo­ple can push unwanted stuff such as memes and agenda push­ing in many cases along with cut­ting con­tent and cen­sor­ship of the games they are work­ing on such as what Treehouse has done with Fire Emblem: Fates

Are there any exam­ples of local­iza­tions that get it right you would point other devs and pub­lish­ers to?

XSEED with­out a doubt more devs and pub­lish­ers should take these guys on for more work as they are upfront about what they do and their blog on local­iza­tion shows how much respect they have to the orig­i­nal Japanese ver­sions of the games they work on and have even got­ten Japanese games to a wider audi­ence by bring games in work­ing order to the PC.

XSEED is the model all should fol­low for good local­iza­tion work  Tom and his team are very good at their jobs save a cer­tain fel­low at their PR who solely out of respect for Tom I won’t name, I wish their were more teams like XSEED work­ing on games then we wouldn’t be see­ing such awful local­iza­tions as of late look­ing at Treehouse.

If you had one thing to say to the lead­er­ship of Nintendo of Japan in regards to this issue, what would it be?

Please I mean please look at what NoA is doing they are caus­ing dam­age to the games that you worked so hard on, the dub of Fire Emblem Fates is one of the biggest blun­ders NoA has done recently look at what the teams are doing and take action on this as peo­ple have lost faith in the USA brand of your com­pany the work Treehouse has done is sim­ply awful and see­ing as it took them 8 long months with cut content,censorship very poor VA work see­ing as one of the lead roles flat out said the VA direc­tor didn’t tell them who they were voic­ing.

NoJ how can you stand to let such peo­ple ruin your good name some­thing needs to change before peo­ple give up on you out­right.

Without a doubt, the topic of trans­la­tions and local­iza­tions of prod­ucts for other regions is a nuanced and touchy issue for fans and pub­lisher employ­ees alike.

Consider this a pro­logue, because the debate over local­iza­tions is not going away. I feel a more detailed view is needed, and I look for­ward to delv­ing into this topic more for an upcom­ing series. The topic of trans­la­tions can and has filled books, and with top-down local­iza­tions deci­sions being pushed on con­sumers we feel it is wor­thy of an extended debate.

How do you feel about the state of trans­la­tions and local­iza­tions, or Fire Emblem Fates’ treat­ment? What translation/localization exam­ples do you adore (fan trans­lated or oth­er­wise)? Let us know in the com­ments below, or over on Twitter or Facebook! BrayConsoleEditorialEditorial,Localizations,TranslationsWith the Western release of Fire Emblem Fates, Nintendo of America has com­mit­ted a worse com­mer­cial sin than per­ceived cen­sor­ship. They released an infe­rior pro­duct for their audi­ence with typos, cut con­ver­sa­tions, and stripped of char­ac­ter­i­za­tion that is replaced with juve­nile jokes. Whether the removal of mechan­ics like head-patting…
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Josh Bray
Josh has worked in IT for over 15 years. Graduated Broadcasting school in 2012 with a focus on A/V pro­duc­tion. Amateur pho­tog­ra­pher with a pas­sion to make things work… by any means nec­es­sary. Leader of the crazy exper­i­ment called SuperNerdLand
Josh Bray

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