Censorship in current Media can be a necessary evil that can be found mostly in Japanese games. Sometimes things need to change to accept the culture of the region it releases in. While at other times it’s necessary to be able to achieve the ESRB or PEGI rating that your target audience falls into. No matter what the reason for censorship is, it’ll never fail to upset the gaming community and create some controversies in the process.
Just a couple of days ago Nintendo Japan announced that Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE encore, the remake of the Wii-U crossover between SMT and Fire Emblem released in 2015, will be based on the censored western version of the game worldwide. This means that Japan will be receiving the censored version for the first time, which has greatly upset fans from all over the world that were looking forward to playing the non-censored version.
This controversy has lead to Nintendo opening a form for Japanese customers to cancel their e-shop preorder (something which is unheard of for Nintendo) and actually caused the Japanese Wii-U version to raise to the #1 spot on the Amazon.jp Wii-U chart. All the negative attention for the game aren’t working in his favor, and quite possibly will be negatively affecting the sales figured in the feature.
The reason for censorship.
The most important thing in trying to understand why companies would negatively affect their games by censoring it is trying to understand the reason behind that decision.
There’s a lot of different reasons why a game may be censored, but more often than not the changes have to do with cultural differences between the country where the game has been developed and the country the games get localized to. Every culture has a different view on what’s appropriate to display in media, and what is not. Most recently this has happened to media that describes race or gender (or might be seen as such, see the example of the Tales of Zesteria opening before), but has been going on for longer for things like nudity.
There is a lot of debate on whenever censorship should be allowed and when it’s against the freedom of speech most 1st and 2nd world countries have and is hurting the original creative vision the developers had when creating the game. At times, developers don’t want to censor their games, but they’re forced to so they can sell their games in stores in the first place.
Fan reactions to censorship
No matter how good the reason behind censorship is, it will inevitably lead to an outcry of upset fans. One of the best examples of this is the localization of Fire Emblem: Fates, in Japan known as Fire Emblem: if), where a lot of changes were made to appeal to the western audience. Supports were completely rewritten because they had implications of drug use, removal of a scene because it was problematically homophobic and the removal of the petting minigame called “skinship”.
Once the censorship of the game came to light, a lot of fans were left with conflicted feelings about its localization and were slightly offended by the self-censorship in the hope to prevent an outcry from offended consumers. Offended fans felt left in the dark by Nintendo, which in their point of view tried to appeal to the general market rather than core Fire Emblem fans. At that point, Nintendo found themselves on a very slippery road that left a bad taste in the mouth of core fans, one that thankfully still resulted in 1.6 million sold copies as of March 2017.
However, the Fire Emblem brand didn’t come out unscathed. After Fire Emblem: Fates, fans had lost their trust in the series and were extremely skeptical for the installments that came after that, resulting in Fire Emblem: Echoes of Valentia selling just 182,371 copies during its first month. When compared to Fire Emblem: Awakening’s 262.399 copies and Fire Emblem: Fates’ 353.201 copies it becomes apparent how big the drop was and how much the brand in total was negatively affected by the controversy Fates had bought with it.
The slippery road.
All in all, censorship is a very slippery road where decisions have to be made where some people won’t ever be happy with. Do you appeal to the core fans and risk creating a controversy due to being homophobic or racist, or do you risk upsetting your core fans and bring a version that’s more culturally accepted. I honestly don’t think that there is a middle road here and that one of the two groups is always going to be upset. On this point, we have to trust publishers to make the right decision and try to not be blinded by the elitism of being a “core fan” when it comes to reaction to censorship.