Why Sony’s Omega Labyrinth Z Ban Matters

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Jun 29, 2018 · 5 min read

Omega Labyrinth Z is a niche title that a lot of people don’t care about. Sony has taken the step of refusing to allow it’s release on their platforms, including both the Playstation 4 and the Playstation Vita for unexplained reasons. The most important thing in this discussion is a simple fact, Omega Labyrinth Z has received an M-Rating from the Entertainment Software Rating Board in the United States, and Sony has decided to ban it from release anyway. (The European situation is a bit more ridiculous, but it’s worth noting it received a PEGI-18 rating over there originally.)

A lot of people may not understand why the ESRB exists. It goes back to the old days of videogame consoles. Originally, console manufacturers often practiced absurd censorship of videogames to make sure everything hit what we would currently call an E-Rating. Some famous examples of what this caused were Poison being swapped with a male character in Final Fight and crosses and all other religious symbolism being removed from Castlevania. Basically, if your game wasn’t acceptable for a 6 year old with highly protective parents, it would be denied release.

Obviously, this was retarding the development of gaming as a medium, so game developers started pushing the envelope. Nintendo, was the more conservative console manufacturer at the time and saw this as a way to attack their hated rival Sega, by bringing Sega’s more liberal release policies before the US Congress, creating a firestorm around videogames. This led to a lot of important events in the videogame industry (including, eventually, a Supreme Court case ruling that videogames are protected Free Expression under the US constitution), but possibly the most important event was the creation of a rating system. Currently, all the consoles available in the US follow this rating system (for the most part) and games from E (kids) to M (older teenagers) are allowed on them. For game developers, this is important, it means if you can get through the rating board process and receive one of these ratings, your game should be good to go. (On PCs? Ratings don’t really matter due to the Supreme Court’s ruling that videogames are protected expression. However, a lot of game studios still go through the effort and expense of getting a rating in order to reassure people, “This game fits within socially acceptable boundaries.”)

Well, after going through the expense of getting rated in all the different markets, localizing the game into English and promoting the game through advertising… Sony of America denied Omega Labyrinth Z’s US release.

What does this do? It puts us back into the bad old days of tyrannical console manufacturers imposing their whims on game developers. I suspect there are two reasons why Sony is doing this: 1. Despite the fact that we generally think of Sony as Japanese, is it really? It’s a large multinational corporation with significant operations in the West. This is the company that made 2016’s mega hits, Ghostbuster as well as the truly significant Ghostbusters tie in game during the same year. Can we please take the blinders off and realize that the US operations of Sony have tremendous pull on the whole organization? I believe that Sony of America wants to suppress release of Japanese games from smaller developers to prop up the sales of their own absolute ugly garbage like The Last of Us. Not that it makes sense, the audiences for The Last of Us 2 and Omega Labyrinth Z are likely very different, but crushing small Japanese developers is a form of protectionism for uncompetitive Western games.

2. Sony now has almost no competition in the worldwide console market, except in the handheld market which they have inexplicably decided to abandon to Nintendo (again, I suspect the influence of Sony’s American branch here). What this means is they no longer need to indulge the competitive advantage that having niche Japanese titles gave them over Microsoft. Those titles did keep them at parity with Nintendo, but having ceded the handheld market to Nintendo, they aren’t really trying to compete there.

So there you have it, Sony has become a tyrannical Western facing console manufacturer (when operating outside of Japan) that no longer feels like it has to play by the established rating systems rules. Omega Labyrinth Z is likely not even the first Japanese game they’ve suppressed (or forcefully altered, I’m looking at you Dead or Alive 6). Nor, do I suspect it will be the last. The worst part is that Sony seems to have no problem with ugly, dirty, blood-soaked games (which are completely uninteresting to me) but mainly with colorful, cheerful Japanese games. The Dead or Alive series transition into “Mortal Kombat Lite” is likely due to this baleful influence.

What is to be done? Honestly, I think only supporting their competitors will fix this situation. PCs are honestly looking considerably better than consoles these days. It’s true that strange behavior from Valve recently made Steam, PCs largest digital storefront, look a bit like Sony does now. However, Valve ended up committing to fair play toward developers on their platform, so as far as I’m concerned that crisis is behind us unless Valve changes course again. Besides, Valve is only the most popular PC storefront, they do not have a monopoly. GoG from CD Projekt Red challenges them, as do nichier platforms such as MangaGamer.

Nintendo of course, has always been a censorious and conservative platform owner itself (though for different reasons than Sony that I don’t feel like going into here), but the goal here is to increase competition in gaming rather than alter Sony’s behavior through a “boycott.” By having a lot of game sourcing options, you prevent the “wretched spirit of monopoly” from infecting gaming.

Microsoft? They were not normally a good platform for Japanese games and I am if anything an anti-fan of their company. However, if they ever manage to get their act together I guess I’d need to reluctantly consider them a viable competitor for Sony (as of now, though, they aren’t really viable).

Other stuff? I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m looking forward to the SNK NeoGeo Mini! Honestly right now my biggest problem as a gamer is having a huge list of gaming products to buy and not enough money to buy them all or time to play them all.

But of the money I do have? Less of it will be going to Sony.