Why I Am Reluctantly OK With Cutting The Sex Out Of Visual Novels

Late last month, If My Heart Had Wings, a winner of several visual novel related awards, was released in the United States. This English version of the game has all the sex scenes removed and numerous scenes and lines of dialogue edited to fit a “T for Teen” rating.

And while I stand by what I said in my review of the game — that it still had a strong emotional impact, regardless of anything that was missing — I'm not quite sure how I feel about there being cuts and edits in the first place.

In my heart, I feel that an artistic work should never be edited — that a localisation should strive to be as close to the original creator's work as possible. However, the more rational part of me knows that this feeling is more than a little unrealistic. Translation by its very nature changes any number of minute details. And cultural differences, traditions, food, holidays, taboos, and special language issues all have to be addressed in one way or another in the localisation process, also.

When the characters in a visual novel mention hitting the convenience store and getting an “onigiri”, for example, how do you translate it? Do you just leave the food name in Japanese as “onigiri” and thus demand the players have a certain level of Japanese cultural knowledge to play the game? Or do you still keep it as “onigiri” but add a blurb explaining what onigiri is, potentially breaking the flow of the game? Or do you translate literally what it is and call it a “rice ball?” Or do you simply replace “onigiri” with a cultural equivalent like, say, a microwave burrito.

Really, all of the above approaches are correct. It's just a question of accessibility versus accuracy.

Then there is the commercial point of view. If you sell a product — any product — you want it to be able to reach as many potential customers as possible. And given how any game that has graphic erotic content automatically eliminates the under 18 audience from potential sales — not to mention that the game will likely be labelled a “porn game” and then shunned by the general gaming audience — it’s easy to see how editing the sex out of a visual novel for a Western release would seem like a good business decision. Moreover, it's not like this is unprecedented as successful visual novels often lose their pornographic elements when they are ported to home and handheld consoles within Japan.

Unfortunately, this wider potential audience comes at the possible loss of those who are fans of visual novels already — as such major edits seem like a betrayal and make them want to avoid what they see as an inferior version of the product.

When it all comes down to it, I suppose that for me personally, I am OK with such cuts — unless the sexual content is a vital aspect of the plot rather than the most literal interpretation of the old adage: “sex sells.”

Of course, in an ideal world, it would be best to have two versions of the game, so everyone could have their cake and eat it too, so to speak. But as this option would cost the localiser additional time and money, it seems an impractical solution.

As for If My Heart Had Wings, though, there is already a happy ending. Thanks to the fans of If My Heart Had Wings, there is now a fan-made patch that restores the sexual content to what it was in the Japanese version (with further patches planned to restore much of the edited dialogue as well). Not exactly the ideal resolution, but at least now everyone has access to what they want.

If My Heart Had Wings was released for the PC in English on June 28, 2013, and can be purchased at Mangagamer and J-List. The restoration patch can be downloaded here.


    While I truly hate censorship in general, I've always preferred my visual novels without sex scenes. I find that in many story-focused VNs, there's often a sex scene or two that occur during the story, and I find that in almost every case, they detract from the story. I recently played Key's 'Kanon' for a second time, as I quite like it, but this time, I opted for a all ages version, because the sex scenes in the original seem to have been such an afterthought, that they're never alluded to again in the whole story, which actually sours a lot of the dialogue for me.

    Wish TV screen writers would cut back aswell, can't just watch a damn tv show with a family member without some sex scene barging it's way onto the screen. Homeland, Breaking Bad, Last Resort etc omg enough already.

      Aren't they all rated "M" or higher in Australia. So anyone watching should be mature enough or have a guardian with them. Just saying.

      Do you read the ratings for these shows before watching them with a family member?

      Sex scenes, nudity and sexual references are all shown on the ratings logo when included in the show.

      Better sex than violence, though that's another topic.

      Though on topic, why not add an opt-in option at the games beginning, similar to what Call of Duty does with their "distressing" stages e.g. No Russian.

      To be fair, there is minimal sex scenes in BrBa.
      Surprised you didn't mention this and not Game of Thrones! lol.

    In regards to translations, I think a mix is good. Take Persona 4 Golden which just came out: One of the top games for vita yet it uses a lot of culture specific lingo only substituting the more extremely specific words for English equivelants. It's about finding the right balance I think. (Completely substituting à la burritos just never works though imo)

    Same goes for erotic scene removals. There's a "sweetspot" balance to be had. If you remove too much of it you start losing the original intentions of the authors / developers, but having too much can distract from the story.

    Admittingly, sometimes the original japanese uncuts can be a little over the top, to the point of just being interactive porn. These games I'm ok with being cut down, but they usually lack decent story anyway so meh.

    Censorship can be good in small amounts, but there is always just one name when it comes to overdoing it

      I'd argue that Tokyopop was just as bad, but fortunately they aren't an issue anymore (what with going out of business and all).

    Some VNs most definitely don't need their sex scenes but they are ones that you most likely wouldnt even play if you werent wanting to see those anyway. Others such as Fate/Stay Night are actually important in-universe as in the case of Mana Transfers...I mean nobody wants to see that dragon again like in the anime right?

    Last edited 28/07/13 2:30 am

    Keep the sex in erotic novels, but force the Japanese to write better sex scenes. Most are so cringe worthy that i just skip them, then check out the bonus art unlocks afterwards. As for other genres, its ok to have a few sex scenes, but again it needs to be well written. 3 art slides combined with 5 minutes of clicking through "Noooooo!" "Im putting it in!" "Youre inside me!" "You are so tight!" isnt enjoyable.

    "sex is a participant sport, not a spectators oracle". I wish more things more games etc would have some kind of options like that as well. I dont think a full on sex scene has really ever benefited any form of media ive ever watched. To make it obvious what happened without the image rather than throw it in your face is much more tasteful.

    What's a "visual novel" and why am I reading about hentai in the PC gaming section of Kotaku?

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