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!

Global Gamers, Global Developers: #TorrentialDownpour and Improving Localizations
Console Fanboys: What Makes ’em Tick? A Layperson’s Analysis
The fol­low­ing two tabs change con­tent be­low.
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. Editor‐in‐Chief and do‐er of tech things at SuperNerdLand