There’s quite a lot of discussion on the internet in the past few days concerning the censorship of video games, pressure from so-called “Social Justice Warriors,” and pressure from so-called “GamerGaters.” The crux of this discussion appears to center around the latest installment of the Fire Emblem series, Fire Emblem: Fates, although there has been other recent controversies concerning games like Dead or Alive Extreme 3 and Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water.
Concerning Fire Emblem: Fates, a subquest involving a character named Soleil, who seems to be a female of a bisexual orientation (1 of 3 possible for humans, at least before Tumblr existed), could be romanced by an avatar character of the player’s design. The context of this romance appears to be that Soleil seems to get weak-kneed around cute girls of her type, which lessens her effectiveness in war and impedes her quest to become “smooth,” in her (fan translated at this point) words. The player character concocts a magic potion that makes the imbiber see people in opposite genders (1 of 2, at least before… oh, I already did that joke…) causing Soleil to see people in the opposite gender that they are. This medicine is supplied to Soleil in clandestine means, which to say, her drink was spiked. Hilarious hijinks ensue. This is obviously squarely in 90’s sitcom territory, or something out of the romantic comedy manga Ranma 1/2. The outcome is comical, and at the end the misadventure allows the player avatar to get closer to Soleil and say that she finds interacting with the player character “fun,” regardless of the unawareness of her medication. Who could possibly object?
Of course, reducing the events to two sentences and removing context is what the Outrage Merchants on the internet are wont to do on any occasion, so this support conversation event was reinterpreted as “gay conversion therapy via mickey-slipping.” Cue tweets condemning Nintendo for being super conservative and possibly donating to Donald Trump’s political campaign. Make Video Games Great Again, indeed.
Nintendo apparently heard and read these complaints and (if rumors are true) rewrote this scenario for Western release, allegedly citing LGBT sensitivities and differing cultures. They also (again, rumor where the only source is Kotaku) removed a “skinship” or “petting” minigame, similar to Pokémon Amie from the 3DS editions of Pokémon in function, for the spouses of the player’s avatar character. Cue tweets condemning Nintendo for being an “SJW”-infected butcher shop and possibly donating to Black Lives Matter and Bernie Sanders. Feel The Bern, indeed.
Here you can see Nintendo’s dilemma when it comes to localizing material from a culture more liberal about sexuality than America. Not sexuality as in orientation, but sexuality as in actual sexuality. In Japan, bare bosoms and secret views of feminine underwear, as well as the sexual organs of boy toddlers and infants are available even in such children’s fare as Dragon Ball or Crayon Shin-Chan, popular Japanese anime. However, America is much more conservative in its animation choices for children. Even “progressive” cartoons in America, like Steven Universe, only imply alternate sexualities in their characters, with no sexual content to be seen whatsoever. This culture clash can be seen when certain features either get cut or replaced when localized. For example, a swimsuit costume in Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water was removed and replaced with Samus and Zelda themed costumes due to the age of the characters and certain laws in Europe about the depiction and so-called “objectification” of minors. Dead or Alive Dimensions, a 3DS fighting game from a series known for having an emphasis on attractive girls and women, had a model viewer outright removed for the same reason. This also affected the Western release of Bravely Default, where the teenage characters in the games fell victim to the same European Laws, again concerning costumes that were toned down for sexuality. As you can see, sometimes laws in Europe dictate western localization, even for American games.
Of course, with the hyper-analysis that is ubiquitous in today’s snap-judgment Twitter world, it’s easy to infer nefarious intent in these localization decisions. Accusations of “SJW” influence and liberal agenda on one side, accusations of misogyny, racism, sexism, colonialism on the other. The true answer, of course, is much more nuanced than that. And to explain, we’re going to take a small trip in history.
It’s no secret that Nintendo of America has instituted censorship policies in the past for NES games and SNES games, loosening their policies from then on. There hasn’t been much in the way of recent stories, or even rumors of Nintendo deliberately censoring a third party game in order to be licensed for their consoles. The censorship policy for the NES is typically explained by the necessity for video games to stay out of the eye of the “Silent Majority” religious types in America. Knowing that history, from stories from my parents about book-banning in the 70’s and the historical religious fervor against things like Dungeons & Dragons and comic books thanks to writings by Rona Jaffe, Jack Chick, and Frederic Wertham, respectively, it’s easy to see why a controversy-averse Nintendo would want to avoid this negative publicity.
Video games, especially consoles, were in a fragile state after the crash of 1983, and they just climbed out of muck of destruction. Localization policies that favored editing controversial content were necessary to keep video games as far out of the media eye as much as possible, except in regards to sales numbers. The Silent Majority and Religious Right wielded immense power in the 80’s and were constantly protesting movies, even ones explicitly for adults, such as The Last Temptation of Christ and Monty Python’s The Life of Brian. Video games, already seen as toys for children despite the entire family-oriented marketing for the NES (this included shooting games for father and son), were simply not seen as artistic endeavors. They were viewed in the same way as board games and pinball machines, as disposable entertainment. Console games, already weak, might not have survived a massive protest from religious figures under the guise of the protection of children and with the backing of opportunistic politicians. Content editing was a defensive measure against such protests and political targeting, which led to the toning down of religious content, violence, and sexuality, until they could build a consumer base that could resist such protests. One should notice that these policies were loosened around the end of the SNES, and since then Nintendo has never been in the news much for editing the content of their licensed third party partners, as the old Religious Right’s protesting power waned in the 90’s and 00’s.
However, both they and we did not expect to still have an ideological protest group today that will target video games that displease them. The mostly dwell on Twitter and possibly write for various Vox Media and Gawker properties, either creating controversy for ideological purposes or pageviews for their websites, which increases revenue for them. If something does not sit well with them, they will pen one of their articles in a negative light, colloquially referred to as a “hitpiece,” condemning the content creator for being one of the aforementioned “-isms,” possibly repeating the current year in an attempt to make their target and dissenters primitive, and subtly threatening the content creator with increased negative invective and possibly lowered review scores if said offensive material is not altered or removed. While there have been several instances of review scores being lowered for ideological reasons, of particular note is the recent case of the 7.5 score awarded to Bayonetta 2 by Polygon.
The exemplary quality of Bayonetta 2 can’t be easily challenged. Its reviews, from both professionals and users, are exceptional, with lows being 9’s and high being 10’s. Except for Polygon, who gave the game a 7.5, a decent score no doubt, but clearly an outlier. The content of the review says the game is an excellent action game, praising graphics, framerate, controls, challenge, design, everything. So, why the relatively low score? According to Polygon writer Arthur Gies, the game was simply way too sexually objectifying for Bayonetta, citing repeated examples of “gratuitous ass-shots,” “revealing clothing,” and something he refers to as “under-butt cleavage.” One would be remiss to wonder if this review came from a video game magazine or a Chick tract. Such demerits for something so arbitrary!
However, it was soon discovered that Arthur Gies had an account on the softcore porn site SuicideGirls, including a collection of his favorite girls, even a few he financially supported with tips for their sexually explicit photos. This puts the reviewer and his review in something of a quandary. If he is fine with sexually explicit content in his entertainment as is evidenced by his porn account, then he is intellectually dishonest for pushing an ideology he clearly doesn’t believe. If he is morally opposed to the depiction of females in entertainment in a sexual way, supporting a porn site and having a collection of his favorite erotic photos throws his moral authority into the trash. Either way, his view on Bayonetta 2 is hypocritical. Keep hypocrisy in your mind, because I’ll come back to it later.
Regardless of the hypocrisy of Arthur Gies’s Bayonetta 2 review, the score is still a stain on the game’s MetaCritic average, a scale still used, for good or ill, by the medium-information video game consumer for making game purchases. If such an influential press outlet can drive a game’s score down for such an arbitrary reason, and considering the evidence that a lot of influential game sites have reviewers of similar views, and seem to capriciously dock or not dock points from video games that violate their ideology, it can make a chilling effect on art-products, not to mention the day-to-day meme-throwing and haranguing directed at the company on Twitter and other game-related blogs, whether reviews or editorials. Nintendo, an already conservative company (in an apolitical sense) and incredibly controversy averse, will do whatever to ensure that their games are received by the press and public without incident. It’s an admirable goal. I too would want my works judged on merit and not praised or panned based on ideology or mood. Saturday Night Live had an amusing and poignant faux-commercial named “Asian American Doll” that shows the struggle of trying to make an ethnic, inclusive girl’s doll with an Asian theme without touching any of the third rails of Racism, Sexism, or Colonialism. No stereotypical names, no stereotypical talents, nothing that could offend. The result is a boring, bland product. It should be noted that the girls in the skit still found something to be troubling in that the Asian doll comes with a cute puppy and a chef’s hat, two focus-grouped accessories normally bereft of any prejudice, that still give off the impression that Asian American Doll wants to eat the dog. Oops. A similar thing happened to Nintendo, who got embroiled in a controversy despite making all of the necessary steps to avoid it.
Tomodachi Life is a game that could not be more inoffensive if it tried. A game where you insert Mii characters of your own creation, either yourself or others, and they simply interact in a Sims-ish way. They have weird experiences, buy accessories, fart around, have crazy dreams, build relationships, get married, etc. It’s Animal Crossing, really. Nothing could be more pure. However, there existed a rumor on the internet that a bug caused same-sex marriage to be possible in the game, and that Nintendo patched it out of the localized release. The truth was that it was never possible to do so. The patch fixed an unrelated issue, and any images “confirming” same sex marriage were simply people making two Miis look like members of the same sex (because all features are gender-neutral in Mii Creation.) But it was too late. Nintendo had a controversy on their hands. Accusations of homophobia flew across twitter. The games press piled on. Points deducted from reviews. Promises of boycotts and condemnation of Japanese developers. All from a quirky little game about Miis. They promised to consider other sexualities in the future, and that was that. Please remember this too, as I’ll come back to this.
So now we have a controversy-averse company that got knocked for something noncontroversial over a gross misunderstanding spread on twitter without verification. Nintendo, regardless of region, now thinks that controversy and negative media attention can come from anywhere. We have a mandate to include homosexual and bisexual characters, and a games press corps licking their chops for any mistake. Nintendo is in a vulnerable position, marketwise, and any mistake might cause lowered profits and sales. Time to look real long and hard at what you’re bringing over. Thus, the “gay conversion” subquest had to be modified and the “petting” minigame had to go. Already reeling from a previous homosexual relationship scandal (God this sounds like a tabloid), they simply could not risk another in such a short time. Nothing that could be taken out of context and twisted could remain. The petting minigame, the “objectification” of women, so to speak, had to go. Doesn’t matter if the feature is unisex. Too risky. “Made from a place of fear,” indeed. Other theories include the hesitation to ask English voice actresses to do the vocals (how should I say… moaning? Purring?) required to complete the petting minigame. But it’s obviously the censorious “place of fear” that dominates the field.
Something not considered is that the minigame was cut for overall game quality concerns.
Now that it looks likely that the subquest and minigame are cut, we have a large controversy, and two groups to discuss it. We have the Outrage Merchants, the so-called “Social Justice Warriors,” the shadow instigators of the “place of fear” and Gamergate, who claim to be a loose coalition of culture protestors against corruption and collusion in the video game industry, the press in particular.
As an aside, if you asked me where I stand in between these two sides and I could not remain neutral, I’d say my sympathies lie closer to Gamergate. The Video Game Press is certainly in a sorry state, and their scandal-prone sensationalism is doing them and their field no favors. Most of the manufactured scandals discussed in this article were either invented by them or magnified by their influence. Nintendo’s decisions in regards to editing their games have a lot to do with the zeitgeist of the consumer and media, both general and enthusiast, or the malaise of the same. And much of that malaise comes from constant and endless nitpicking of social issues and the prevalence of male characters and the design of female characters and whether female characters make sexual noises when they are struck (???) and the “overuse” of tropes made by reporters, faux-academics, and social media gadflies alike, before they even write anything on their websites proper. The message is clear. Cross us and be prepared for editorial Armageddon. This is, in my opinion, a greater threat to the industry than “harassing tweets.”
However, now I’d like to remind you of hypocrisy. There are definitely hypocrites on both sides of this debate. And they are mostly of the same stripe. The loud non-customer. On one hand, we have a side that approves of the removal of these materials because of the positive social message it would give. They approve of the changes, but all too often they will make their intent known that they are not and most likely were not ever interested in the game or its entire series and have no plans to purchase the game even with the edits. This can give the frustrating situation of a finicky near-customer who scoffs at anything you make, even something made to or altered for their tastes. On the other side, you have people that feel the game is a butchered mess now, with a lifetime of Nintendo of America localization “gaffes” and “mistakes” and the sharing of 4Kids logos, comparisons to Bowdler, and particular ire for NOA Treehouse manager Alison Rapp, who almost certainly isn’t responsible for the edits, but has a few views in common with the aforementioned malaise-makers. Some critics, though, have decided to revive Nintendo’s old game edits and censorship policies of the 80’s to say that Nintendo of America was always like this, despite the large gulf of time in between large-scale content edits and content-editing policies. Some of them seem to have it out for the Big N, and they will loudly proclaim that they were never interested in anything Nintendo-related, taking an opportunity where Nintendo is having a negative controversy and piling on. They also proclaim they are not going to buy Fire Emblem: Fates, although I suspect, like the other side of shouting, they never were going to in the first place. Again, defiant, loud non-customers.
The hypocrisy in the former example is the act of not rewarding an entity that gives in to their demands. These edits were certainly going to be unpopular with those anticipating these features, and they should reward Nintendo’s willingness to edit their own software in order to reach customers who may be put off by these features. But to still rebuff the game leaves Nintendo holding the ball with a loud group, however small, of angry fans. It’s bad form to demand change and then not reinforce the change with needed support. The hypocrisy of the latter example can be best summed up in a quote from Comedian Bill Maher on the subject of the Olive Garden Restaurant chain: “Someone has to figure out a way for me to boycott a restaurant I would never eat at in the first place.” Some come into the censorship discussion with a savings account of banked grievances stretching as far back as the removal of crosses or some such in an NES Castlevania game to as obscure as an obtuse Japanese idiom edited out of an RPG on the GBA. They also had no intention of buying Fire Emblem: Fates, but complain as if they did. They try to enhance their position on censorship by claiming the status of jilted fans. There are even a few who normally bemoan the incursion of anime “weeaboo” influence into Fire Emblem, and then turn around and claim censorship when the most “weeaboo” feature, the one they would complain and castigate the developer and fans the most about, is cut, that being a waifu petting minigame, the most weeaboo thing anybody can think of.
On the subject of censorship, I’ve seen claims from those of the GamerGate persuasion that ANY change to a game’s script from the original language’s text amounts to placing a black bar over the original author’s mouth and shuffling him off to a Ministry of Truth prison cell next to Winston Smith. This is, of course, ridiculous as script edition and changes are always necessary to convey the true meaning or a close facsimile in another language. It’s hardly fitting to simply run the game through Google Translate and be done with it. The text must be translated and localized so that the same feeling and meaning can be conveyed, and failing that a reasonable substitute. A good example of this is Fawful from the Mario and Luigi RPG series. Oh, sorry I mean Gerakobits. You know the way F… Gerakobits talks, right? “I have fury,” “mustard of doom,” that sort of broken English, right? Well he doesn’t talk like that in the original Japanese version. In fact his only quirk is adding the Japanese syllable “ru” at the end on everything he says. Not so funny, is it? I actually talked with Bill Trinen (or was it Thom Leonard?) long ago at E3 2003 specifically about this character and why he talks that way in the English language version. His response was that there was a note next to the dialogue on the translated script for Fawful simply saying “This guy talks weird. Make him funny.” And so the character of Fawful changed from a simple weird henchmen to the Engrish-spewing classic character we know today.
It’s hard to see oneself going up to Nintendo of America and browbeating their localization choices for every single changed line, or from changing Pokémon names from lame Japanese puns that don’t make sense in English to lame English puns to do make sense in English and accusing them of artistic censorship. With no permission for interpretation, wiggle room, or freedom to discern meaning by translators, the true meaning of any text will be lost completely due to rote, machine-esque translations.
The usual result.
Recently the focus of the criticism of localization has been the employment of popular internet jokes, or “memes” I believe the kids say. Apparently this is artistic hackery of the worst sort and it’s only from the new crop of Nintendo localizers that do this and older, NES-era to Wii-era Nintendo of America certainly didn’t, right? They followed the Japanese script, text, dialogue, and names to the letter, didn’t they?
One only needs to jaunt on over to the very reputable website Legends of Localization to see an assortment of localization changes to select NES and SNES games. There you’ll find that those churlish scumbags at Nintendo of America changed 90% of the character names in Super Mario Bros. They may as well have shit on Shigeru Miyamoto’s face. What’s a “goomba,” anyway? Were they referencing the recently released mafia film Once Upon a Time in America, or do they just like randomly referencing mafia terminology? Quit memeing! Please tell me that they left The Legend of Zelda alone, right? No, they even cut content from that game, in addition to changing the text! In the Japanese Famicom version, you could defeat the enemy Pols Voice by using a microphone on the second Famicom controller, but those assholes at NOA didn’t put the microphone on any NES controller. An entire mode of gameplay, gone. Cut out while laughing maniacally and drinking the blood of innocents. And don’t even get me started on the hackjob that was Super Mario Bros. 2. When they got done with it, it barely resembled the Japanese Famicom version. It was so bad that Nintendo’s Japanese branch released the game in Japan as Super Mario USA, which then proceeded to intermarry with Japanese people and slowly erase their culture.
Of course I’m being facetious. These games are beloved classics, and you’d be hard-pressed to find an American Super Mario fan referring to a Koopa Troopa as a Noko Noko. To require strict adherence to the original script in naming and narrative delivery would create a gatekeeping checkpoint which would require intricate knowledge of the Japanese language and Japanese customs to enjoy games made from Japan. Somehow, going “full weeb” doesn’t seem like the path to mainstream success in America. Plus, there are plenty of examples of Nintendo of America adding small jokes to small, out-of-the-way dialogue in text-heavy games going back to the NES. The Western version of Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door had a parrot that would say random, parroty gibberish, which would sometimes include “Shine Get! Shine Get!” For those too young to remember, this was a funny little translation quirk in the early Japanese version of Super Mario Sunshine that stayed in the E3 2002 build of the game. Before those butchers at Nintendo of America dragged their diseased, censorious genitals over the artistic vision of Miyamoto to have this sacred English text translated into simply “Shine!” in the final game, the phrase became something of a joke on the internet. Now… what is a joke on the internet again? Something passed around forums, perhaps being Photoshopped into other images? What is that called, again? Oh right, a meme!
Hypocrisy again rears its ugly head as most of the people who would condemn Nintendo’s rampant “meme-ing” do so on Twitter, while they share memes themselves between each other like they’re trading baseballs cards. Some are artists that insert memes into their own work and then have the temerity to call out someone else who does the same. What they don’t realize is that while they do this, they also have a hand in creating the very internet culture that influences what they hate. Who remembers Homestar Runner? Well Nintendo of America remembered it in 2004 during their localization of the GBA version of Final Fantasy I & II: Dawn of Souls when they took a nameless NPC in a bonus dungeon that would say something like “Trespassers not allowed” and changed it to “Trespassers will be burninated.” That’s a direct reference to the popular Homestar Runner character Trogdor. What charlatans! They might as well have broken into the original Japanese artist’s home and broken his fingers! Their rampant joke-telling doesn’t stop there. In NOA’s localization of Final Fantasy V for the GBA, they had the absolute temerity to replace one of the boss character Gilgamesh’s classic lines into something referencing the catchphrase of Team Rocket from the Pokémon anime. Even worse, they changed the description of a move from the Gladiator Job Class that said something about making a critical hit, to a reference to Sony’s E3 2006 show about flipping enemies and attacking their weak points for massive damage. LOL, right? But that’s the thing, we did LOL, or that is, laugh out loud, at the time. Because it was a funny joke at the time, even if it is a groaner now. There are some that would hold the text of these games as if they were sacred dialogue from the gods that simply was not to be touched. As my buddy Bill said in our usual Skype chats, “These games aren’t Shakespeare.”
You know, that Shakespeare dude was something of an odd fellow. I doubt that he, at the time, thought he was writing plays that would be studied in theatre and literature to the end of time. He mostly thought he was just writing entertainment. Interesting to note that Shakespeare himself altered the content of his plays routinely, in order gauge audience reaction and adapt to it. Further, consider that the majority of his plays concern countries not his own, like Italy, Greece, and Denmark. He was, in fact, the great localizer of his day, bringing the histories and stories of other lands to England without the approval of the original authors or historical figures, sloppily translating their texts into English, and then adding in jokes to keep the groundlings happy. I’m sure the Elizabethan Twitterverse was completely afire with vitriol for the Immortal Bard. He even added characters to histories in an attempt curry favor to those in power, either in fact or in deed. The character Banquo was added in to Macbeth because this character was ancestor of the current Tudor monarch, Elizabeth I. This addition adds nearly zero to the plot of Macbeth and is only there so the Tudors in the balcony seats could trade knowing glances with each other. For the guy we think of when we talk about untouchable, sacred English literature in the Western canon, he was a bit of a “censor” himself.
To be completely honest, pretty much everything you will read, watch, or play will have been “censored” at some point. Movie scripts will be edited versions of original screenplays that have been altered by directors for the sake of the film. Novels will have many previous drafts, some unread because they will be discarded by the author after publication acceptance. Video games will have several concepts, characters, and text abandoned from alpha to beta to final (Just ask Molyneaux). In the absolute definition of the word, all of these events are censorship. Particularly irksome are the movie directors editing the screenplays they often didn’t write. I mean they aren’t even the original artists! I hope none of you like the film version of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Peter Jackson took his +1 Machete of Art Destruction and took it to several characters and events from the novels. Even in the half-day long epic that is the extended version, there’s still no Tom Bombadil, no Scouring of the Shire, nor details of the White Tree in Minas Tirith. They all lay on the floor, bloodied and crying, as Peter Jackson flashes a toothy grin as proof of the pride he has of his own evil. How could people have made these films successes? I just don’t know.
But the worst censorship in history concerns Agatha Christie’s seminal mystery book An Then There Were None, a long and tragic series of murders that ends in the psychotic suicide of the main heroine. However, And Then There Were None isn’t the original title of the book. The original title was Ten Little Indians and changed due to social pressure. But even weirder, Ten Little Indians wasn’t even the original title of the book to begin with! The real original was Ten Little Ni**ers. Oh, well I can see why that was changed, but it’s still censorship! Even worse than all of this, there existed stage plays and teleplays of And Then There Were None which altered the ending of the novel! They changed the tragic suicide of the heroine into a sappy Hollywood ending where she and another male character, previously a murder victim, save the day and get married and have children and live happily ever after! What vapid, censorious butchery! And worst of all, all of these edits, all of them, are the result of one single person. That person is… Agatha Christie.
“What?!” Yes, Agatha Christie. She altered the title of her book in order to keep sales up in the global market, especially America. She also wrote the stageplays of her own work, providing happy endings to her tragic mysteries. But, “why?” you might ask. Money. She, like Nintendo, realizes that the “art market” is still a market. It’s art, sure, but it’s also business, and she’d rather make more money changing the title a little and altering the content a little than stand on artistic principle and suffer the inevitable protest, negative media, and lost sales.
There is, of course, the accusation of self-censorship for Fire Emblem: Fates. It’s not like NOA is completely separate from the main headquarters in Japan. I’m certain every edition and localization decision is discussed thoroughly with the original creators, much like the update teleconferences between Retro and Nintendo for their Metroid Prime series. The image of NOA localizers taking rusty, bloody hatchets to original works and having the original creators in the room look on helplessly sobbing and crying is, unfortunately, a myth formed from young, disappointed minds. There is always the discussion of what would garner the most sales in each individual market, and this of course includes the original development team. See, they have a vested interest in seeing the game sell as well. Nobody wants to be starving artists. They tend to starve! The idea of NOA censoring games over the will of the original creators at Nintendo Co. Ltd., is of course, a fantasy.
The other issue, cut content, is unfortunately nothing new for Western localizations. Just before the release of Pokémon Platinum, a new regulation in Europe meant that any game that had simulated gambling in it would instantly shoot the PEGI rating to a 12+. To avoid this, the European version of Pokémon Platinum simply cut all the slot machines and had the player simply collect coins off the ground. A quick and dirty fix to a sudden government regulation. The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures had an entire third of its content cut for its European and American release. Tetra’s Trackers was a treasure hunt game where the character Tetra would read off a person’s name and give a directions or make commentary on progress. This was a lot easier in a discrete syllable-based language like Japanese and much harder in English. The game also did not test well at E3. So, naturally, the game was cut from Western release. If there was an uproar similar to the current one about Fire Emblem: Fates, nobody seems to remember or care. The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures is considered an underrated entry into the Zelda series regardless of the removal of this content and almost all people agree that the lack of this mode didn’t hurt the gameplay, regardless of the reason for its edition.
As for myself, I do think that Fire Emblem: Fates was censored, but not in the way everybody is currently chattering on the internet about. I believe it was censored all the way back in early 2014 when the Tomodachi Life same-sex marriage scandal happened. Nintendo at that point, pledged be more inclusive in response to threats and abuse from people repeatedly calling them homophobes. Right when that happened, people were unsure how this would be reflected in future games, but it seems that an editorial mandate had appeared to insert a few LGBT characters in the next game that features character nuptials. That next game that did is Fire Emblem: Fates. This may not seem like censorship, but censorship isn’t always subtraction. It can also be addition. Consider the Special Editions of the Original Star Wars trilogy. Don’t tell me you prefer the original, pared-down, content-cut, censored version of George Lucas’s true vision of his own creation?
With that addition, here comes a subquest that sports a plotline that has gender and orientation fluidity via magic powder. This would be aforementioned “gay conversion” subquest, which of course had to be cut. A minigame allowing all player avatars character to show affection to their “waifus” or “husbandos” is created in the spirit of equality, but that same mob that pressured for LGBT content also pressured for the non-objectification of women, so that had to go too. It all stems from that one event.
For those angry at Nintendo’s localization choice, there’s not a lot that might soothe the indignation they feel. For some reason, Nintendo is not afforded the sympathy for altering their game and releasing it that Tecmo was given for not releasing their game (DOAX3) at all and blaming the pitchfork and torch bearing mob as they cancelled it. A small capitulation is somehow worse than a defiant, yet total capitulation. Seems a bit unfair to me.
There is no need to defend this outcome or offer apologia for it. It can only be explained, and to explain I will need to call on a similar event where the zeitgeist for artistic works was also a cynical and skeptical malaise. In 1497 Italy, a widespread condemnation of works of art by non-governmental, but incredibly influential authorities, that resulted in the mass destruction of several pieces of art, including paintings, books, tomes on magic, as well as items more directly related to vanity like cosmetics and mirrors, all thrown into large fires. The event is known as The Bonfire of the Vanities, led by a powerful Dominican priest named Girolamo Savonarola who led a large posse of followers that went around and collected so-called “immoral objects.” If you were an artist, you had two choices: Hand over your “offensive” art to be burned or defy them and they knocked you down and took it anyway. Many artists resisted in total defiance. Brave souls, indeed. Too bad nobody knows who they were because all their work was destroyed. According to history, albeit possibly apocryphal, a few artists, like Sandro Botticelli, actually gave a few of their pieces to be burned by the mob. Why they would do this isn’t known, and the story may be apocryphal, but I would suggest that they simply hid their greater works and the works that they loved, and offered a few of their unfinished or lesser works for lesser patrons to the mob to satiate them. Who knows? But I do know that Botticelli’s work survived the Bonfire, and some of it was exactly the sort of pagan material that the mob was searching for, like his most famous painting, The Birth of Venus. Botticelli, much like Nintendo in the 1980’s, chose to survive instead of attempt to bar the mob from his studio. He offered small concessions to placate them and they moved on. Because of this, most of Botticelli’s paintings survived, while some of his contemporaries, who stood on principle, had their works destroyed and their names forgotten.
The bonfire mob was not an unstoppable force that was the new, permanent law of the land. After Savonarola committed his artistic destruction, he earned the disdain of high church officials, including Pope Alexander VI. He was captured, excommunicated, and executed, and the destructive censorious mob was disbanded. All it took was a little patience and prudence on the part of artists to weather the mob until it subsided. Similarly, Nintendo is beset with an angry mob themselves (two, really,) and they feel it’s in their business’s best interest not to get on the bad side of this mob while it’s roving the internet and holding positions of media power. It may be disappointing to see them offer concessions to this mob in exchange for relief from having their business targeted and call them cowards, but if you aren’t a content creator yourself, or a run a large scale business, you can never know the feeling of being extorted like this, especially if you are not rewarded for resisting. If I had to choose between artists mulling artistic content decisions in a struggle to survive a moral panic, and an angry mob demanding concessions and making the zeitgeist that gives them the ability to demand, I’ll choose the artists every time. I won’t turn around and join the mob or form a mob of my own if the artist slightly acquiesces and help destroy their work, either in voice or in deed.
And that is what will happen if you blindly condemn Nintendo of America for this localization decision without even attempting to understand the reasons why it was made. You are removing the context in which they made this decision, accusing them of all sorts of crimes against humanity, virtue-signaling your disgust by loudly proclaiming your non-customer status, openly scheming ways to pirate the game with intent to share it, depriving the developers of livelihood, and even attempting to get employees like Alison Rapp fired for her political views, regardless of what they are. Are you sure you’re not the Outrage Merchants here? Is this not an “SJW” mob? Imagine, after Botticelli placated the Savonarola mob, another group of moralistic parabolani showed up, furious that he dealt with or even talked to the mob, and demanded he turn over all of his paintings to be “saved” for crimes against artistic freedom. Would he think they were any different? No. He would think this was another mob there to harass him, another enemy to avoid. And make no mistake, most of the time, the mob is the enemy regardless of their political beliefs.
Nintendo of America did not create the malaise that’s currently targeting foreign games with more liberal ideas of sexuality. They didn’t create the gaggle of outrage merchants that overanalyze every line and character detail in search of some slight to a social issue, real or imagined, to rage about. They didn’t want to be attacked by opportunistic politicians, both left and right, and their general media enablers who pen know-nothing editorials about how video games are satanic in the 80’s, brain-rotting in the 90’s, violent in the 00’s, and racist/sexist in the 10’s. It’s not their fault that the atmosphere is stifling nor is it truly their responsibility to ensure that the video game market and consumer base is ideologically receptive to foreign games. That’s up to us, the consumer, to demand the games press and outrage warriors buzz off, and if they do not, to take up the mantle of press ourselves (if you have the aptitude) and become the opinion-makers and experts to create the ideological security that engenders free expression. We have to want more liberal games and in large enough numbers to drown out the Bonfire mob, rewarding the company financially when they make them. Until we do that, Nintendo and companies like them are stuck in the middle between two groups of hypocritical non-consumers, each with conflicting demands, and having to judge which group is the smaller of the two that they will definitely have to piss off to survive.
“…and my soul aches
To know, when two authorities are up,
Neither supreme, how soon confusion
May enter ‘twixt the gap of both and take
the one by the other.” – Coriolanus Act III, Scene I