I want to start this off by saying there is a difference between localization and censorship. Localization is the translation of a game from it’s original language to the local language, along with tweaking some hard to understand cultural differences. One example that immediately comes to me personally is Fire Emblem Awakening, where Sumia was making Chrom bento, which is a home-packed meal. This instance is changed to the baking of a pie in the western version. At first glance, this seems like a needless change; the concept of making Bento in a world with many western-inspired ideas may be out of place to those who live in the west. So as meme-heavy as this turned out to be, baking a pie is an action that is easier to digest to a gamer that may not be up to snuff on their Japanese culture, while keeping the intent of this scene fully intact. Things get significantly more questionable when censorship gets involved though.
The official definition of censorship is, “The suppression of speech, public communication, or other information, on the basis that such material is considered objectionable, harmful, sensitive, or “inconvenient”.” Unfortunately, this is often very subjective, and there is rarely a time where censorship has been beneficial. While parents may find this useful for their 8-year-olds, the people buying, playing, and talking about games are often forced to go through roundabout ways to get past this censorship, which includes, but not limited to importing.
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The Issue at Hand
So Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE for the Wii U took a pretty big hit from the censorship bug. While their changes are expected, such as covering up revealing outfits, or removing overly sexual scenes, the plot itself was also changed.
To those who don’t know, the game is divided up into chapters. In the Japanese version of the game, Chapter 2 is about gravure modelling, a practice that is very big in Japan. Gravure Modeling is all about appealing to the younger male audience; being playful and enticing. Maiko, a retired gravure model, was one of the best at this as she is flirtatious and very free and confident with her sexuality. So much so that this attracts the attention of the villains. Tsubasa, the leading heroine of the game, needs to learn how to break out of her shyness and learn the art of gravure modelling to save Maiko.
Now, the western version of Chapter 2 strips out gravure modelling entirely and makes this about shaping in general. On top of this, the dialogue is also changed to address this, and even the aesthetics. One example of an adverse change in dialogue is Touma, one of the leading males, wants to go to a photoshoot to check out the girls, which Itsuki, the protagonist, can call him out on. In the western version, this is changed to Touma wanting to go to the photoshoot to check on Tsubasa as she walked into a pole and apologised to it. Don’t get me wrong, Tsubasa is an airhead, but she isn’t a space cadet.
I wouldn’t find this as much of a problem as I do if it were merely about covering up the females of this chapter. But gravure modelling is about being sexually enticing to men, and it is a big part of being an idol in Japanese culture. Even further, this game is about Japanese idols. Therefore, it damages the vision the creators had, let alone the story itself.
Considering the public outcry regarding the Wii U version of Tokyo Mirage Sessions, I’m hoping the localisation process has been re-evaluated for this game and thus keeping the full Japanese culture intact. People boycotted this game and either imported the Japanese version or patched the English version to lift the censorship. Even further, the game didn’t sell well. It’s a real shock that this game was green-lit for a remaster on the Switch, giving it a second chance.
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Tokyo Mirage Sessions was my favourite game on the Wii U, and I’ve always considered it’s gameplay equal in quality to the Persona series. However, I’ve always found its plot incomplete like it was missing vital content to get the full scope of things. While it’s easy to say Atlus didn’t have time to implement all of their ideas into the original game, localisation teams are nefarious for stripping content out of a game. In the past, games could lose hours of content. Look no further than the very first Persona game on the PS1 for that one. While things have gotten better in recent years, this should still be a significant concern for international players as we are getting new story content which can fall victim to these practices. They’ve already banned DLC content for the original game for being too “steamy.”
Regardless of these concerns, I am very excited about the Switch version of this game. I can confidently say this is the game I’m waiting for. But, I can’t stress enough that TMS is an exploration of Japanese culture, so changing the meaning behind these scenes can be very damaging. However, it’s safe to say the process has already been completed and they’re using these final months for bug testing, so all of this may be for naught.
Yet, it’s essential for us as gamers to do our due diligence. We’re the only ones who can tell the gaming industry that this is not okay. And the moment we stop communicating is the moment censorship will take our favourite games and make them become a shadow of their true selves.