A recent interview with Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime, Monolith Soft CEO Tetsuya Takahashi, and Nintendo’s Genki Yokota reveals insight into the censorship and localization process for Nintendo games that arrive in the West.
Nintendo Everything condensed down the important bits from the original Kotaku interview, quoting Reggie Fils-Aime, who explained that Nintendo works with the Japanese development teams to ensure that the games fit the cultural standards in the West, particularly in America…
“The creators are always involved in anything that happens in the localization process. In terms of what gets localized, there’s a simple collection of words that we use to define how we think about this: It’s ‘cultural relevance’ and ‘understanding of the ratings and ratings implications.’
“It’s during those meetings that they discuss the localization process, what’s being evaluated. I am extremely comfortable with the process. And again if you look at our executives that are involved, Nate Bihldorff and members of this team, they have deep relationships with the developers and everything is being done with the best intentions of the content showing itself the best way it can.”
It’s mentioned that Nintendo’s Treehouse localizers travel to Japan about every two months to discuss content and upcoming products with the development teams. This is Nintendo’s new strategy in working with Japanese developers for games currently in production as opposed to letting the Japanese teams finish the work and then localize it later.
Nintendo’s Yokota explained that current games in development in Japan are now being made in collaboration with Nintendo’s European localization group…
“We’re really building [the game] as we’re in discussion. Whereas for the past title, the Japanese version had already been pretty much close to completion when this [localization] discussion started.”
“For past titles, because the Japanese version was done, our challenge was then to figure out what it is we need to do to make sure this game is made available in overseas, as well as, we’re able to sell this product. In that sense, I was open to making any changes that were necessary to make sure everybody can enjoy this game.”
In simple terms, it means that Western localizers can start censoring content during development as opposed to after development. So even if you want to import the Japanese version, it may already be just as censored as the American or European version.
Reggie mentioning the “cultural relevance” of localization caught the eye of Censored Gaming, who dug into the IGDA’s usage of the term in some of their documents relating to basically censoring products from one region to the next to ensure that it’s culturally appropriate.
Some of the commenters on the Nintendo Everything article tried to argue that Japanese developers don’t mind censoring their products, and invite that kind of feedback. However, others pointed out that creative directors like Masahiro Sakurai lamented having to censor characters like Palutena in the Japanese version of Super Smash Bros. on the Wii U, as reported by Source Gaming.
Nintendo previously came under fire for the localization of games like Fire Emblem: Fates and Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE, which made drastic changes to the character stories, interactions and designs in order to fit Western standards. Gamers were able to take note of these changes by comparing the American versions to the Japanese versions and spotting out the differences in side-by-side breakdowns.
With Nintendo’s new method of having European and Treehouse localizers travel to Japan and suggest censorship changes while the games are in development, like with the upcoming Xenoblade Chronicles 2, it means that the Eastern version and the Western version are going to be a lot closer in terms of content.
Genki Yokota explained that the main goal is to have very little difference between the Japanese version and the other versions released around the world, saying…
“When we have costumes or clothes that we have a little concern with, we share it with NoE and NoA and they’ll say, ‘No, no, that’s fine’ or ‘You’re right, that’s an issue.’ If it is an issue, we’ll go back and say we’ll say, ‘We adjusted it this way, what do you think?’ There’s a lot of back and forth in that sense. Rather than compromise, it’s like we’re all aiming for the same goal, of being able to provide a good experience for everybody in all regions. And we’re aiming to have a game that has very little difference between the regions.”
Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is due for release exclusively on the Nintendo Switch later this year.