Not All Censorship Are Localizations, But This Localization Boasts Censorship.
It’s a practice in games media of the recent weeks to do their utmost to take heat out of Nintendo’s oven. And if we’re being clear, Fire Emblem Fates has helped fuel a controversy that’s been at least two years smoking. Efforts at rationalizing both sides, gently persuading or even aggressively dictating that you should not care, all the while trying to attract your eyes for the latest news that, thanks in massive part to Nintendo of America’s continued tight-lipped stance, has changed every week right up until release of their game. One of the most recent of these articles, penned by Mr. Thomas Whitehead, is the reason for this particular exposition. I have read numerous accounts on why you, the customer, shouldn’t care or be so quick to take a red pen or a steel axe to Nintendo and Fire Emblem Fates’s localization unit, Treehouse. I’m here to say not to put away those instruments so quickly, because there IS some fuss going on, and it’s a part of both your rights and responsibility as a customer to be as aware of the situation regarding your purchases as possible.
We’ll start with the core issue of what is localization and what is censorship. Localization is the incredibly difficult but necessary process that allows you and I to consume books, movies, shows, and games that aren’t available in our native language. The core idea is to give the material a cohesive and coherent shape as similar to its original as possible, and do so with as much finesse as time and labor will allow for that unit. Poor conveyance from a localizing team can mean no rehires or client contract renewals, even if sales are decent on the product (another point of controversy, as a lot of titles in the games industry have had questionable localizations, even those in your fondest memories). In the context of Japanese games, this is especially difficult, as Romantic languages and Japanese are as different as oranges and apples. Not every idea will have an easy translation, and not every word or phrase has a clear, quick equivalent in the other language. It’s the translator, editor, and manager’s job to make translation edits fit and make it readable to the best of their ability.
Good jobs go unnoticed. There’s no nice or gentle way of stating that. Ultimately localization holds no glory for its many unsung heroes. The optimal, no matter the school of thought prescribed to the translator or editing team, is to not disrupt the player and what the author’s trying to tell them. If the player notices, then and only then do you get to hear the names of the localization team, as…well, they dun goofed. This arm of the process of getting games to the west works best for the parent company when “no news is good news”. So then, what has brought Treehouse’s brand to the fore?
No cookies for guessing they’ve screwed up. Mostly because I already ate my last one. My apologies and I’ll remember to bring more next time.
Though it’s not exactly clear if Treehouse alone is responsible for all of the issues riddling Fire Emblem Fates’s western release, they are the ones billed as the authority on voice and content to my current knowledge. And, in both press releases and customer service responses made directly to Nintendo, it was made clear that the edits were done in the spirit of ‘appealing to the western audience’. The goof, then, belongs entirely to that department. And there are goofs. More goofs than the oft-beaten horse of the petting feature, though that in and of itself is not something to ignore. As of this time in writing, it’s growing more apparent that, aside from some centered themes, you most-certainly are not going to get an experience remotely similar to players in Japan. Personalities are reassigned, the language and syntax will fluctuate between serious to off-the-wall cutesy and cooky, memes have been used as shortcuts to tell you that hey, you should be laughing right now because it’s funny. The only arguable issue is perhaps the voice acting, and I am afraid a strong argument can’t be made in its case.
This does not fall into localization. The numerous edits of material and ideas which weren’t all that difficult to follow, as far as the public’s been made aware, was done for our own appeal. But I’m noting the various elements that would throw me off easily should I opt to pick up and play this game. This is what I can only call disservice and, concerning the even darker themes of the game, self-censorship.
And both are quite valid and inherently present within the confines of the game. To sample, the first controversy sparked in Fire Emblem came from an June 2015 outrage Tumblr made in poor judgment by a fan whose understanding of both the content and the language was novice, at best. A romance support not grave or homophobic as they purported it to be was railed against. And without verifying sources, journalists ran with the issue until Nintendo announced that the plot line would no longer feature as it had in the Japanese version. This was in spite of rather pointed and quick actions by fans in pointing out how off the mark the Tumblr post was. Instead of standing up for their product or opening communications with the public, Nintendo opted to omit the topic and hope for no further offense to be raised.
But it was raised. Because the localization team clearly in this instance acted to blot out the work for moral purposes. And compounded that issue of self-censorship with the removal of the completely optional and non-sexual petting game some time later. And it was raised by fans; customers who, like myself, have a right to voice when they have concerned about not receiving the game that was advertised to them. This is an expensive game, after all. It should be natural to raise some alarm when someone should discover how far off-center this project presents itself to be. Try to keep that in mind: can you really make a choice to be so flippant at Nintendo’s asking price? Is your money so expendable to you?
That is the question many journalists, even Mr. Whitehead, are attempting to coo into your ear. My response to the question is yes, my money is that important, as is my time. I fully-intend to make fair investigation on any project that raises so many yellow and red flags before it even has a chance to hit the shelves, and I believe you should, as well. Take time to actually dig deeper than the headlines and find out the history on this game before making a regretful decision.
In the end, those journalists will continue to toe the line of persuading you to not think on matters and have fun. And to consider that the censorship and localization is not an issue worthy of your notice. The truth is that it should be in your notice. You should be aware, alert, and knocking on Nintendo’s door, asking them for the full story. Don’t take the press at face value. Search for the answers you’re looking for.
Buyer Beware - Consider the noted flaws inherent in the localization of Fire Emblem Fates:
- Intentional altered character personalities. Several characters are nonsensically altered, to an extent where the Support features were adjusted context-wise as a result.
- Syntax and tone shifts, often with nonsensical use of memes & childish humor where there was previously no jokes at all. Players stand to be taken out of immersion with dialogue choices that are silly to even cringe-worthy.
- Censorship through removed features of the game: Removal of swimwear as gift features, removal of the optional petting minigame, as well as…
- Removal of the dual audio option, up to 1200+ sound files that would have made it apparent the English and Japanese release have two very, very different scripts.
- A very lackluster vocal performance made by the English acting staff.