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.
“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!