Fire Emblem Fates Poor Localization Points To Growing Issues

Josh goes into the poor localization of Fire Emblem Fates and how it reflects the growing divide between schools of thought on bringing content overseas


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!

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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. Editor-in-Chief and do-er of tech things at SuperNerdLand

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