Xenoblade Chronicles X's Director On Localisation Changes: 'I Didn't Mind Much At All' 

In the heated ongoing conversation over "censorship" in localisation, we've heard a whole lot from fans and even translators, but we haven't seen much discussion from Japanese developers. Which is why, when speaking to Tetsuya Takahashi this week in Los Angeles, I asked him for his thoughts on the matter. His answers were a little surprising.

Takahashi, CEO of the Japanese developer Monolith Soft, was the executive director of Xenoblade Chronicles X, a game that caused a stir in late 2015 among certain crowds who complained when Nintendo removed certain features for the Western version of the game. In Japan, for example, the 13-year-old character Lin Lee could wear a bikini that exposed most of her body. For the West, Nintendo removed that.

Fans cried out that Nintendo had censored the developers of Xenoblade Chronicles X, but it didn't seem to bother Tetsuya Takahashi.

"In terms of Xenoblade Chronicles X, there's been a few different changes that were made to the game, but my personality is such that I'm not a stickler for products that I've already made, so I don't really mind what the final product turns out to be in that sense," Takahashi told me. "I really didn't mind much at all, actually."

I'd asked him about a few of those localisation changes that proved controversial among a subset of gamers, which also included the removal of Xenoblade Chronicles X's breast slider -- a toggle in the Japanese version that allows you to control the size of your main character's chest, if you choose to play as a woman.

Lin Lee's bikini outfit in the Japanese version of Xenoblade Chronicles X is not an option in the West.

"As a developer, I do feel like it'd be ideal to be able to adjust the content so that it's culturally acceptable, whether it's in the US or in the EU," said Takahashi. "For example, there was a discussion about the breast slider. Jokingly, I said, 'Well would it help if we had a crotch slider for the male?' Obviously it was a joke, but they responded obviously it's not gonna work out. I do realise there's a cultural difference between what Japanese people think and what the rest of the world thinks."

"Fans sometimes accuse the Treehouse of censorship," I said, referring to Nintendo's well-known North American localisation team, one of whom was translating for Takahashi. "As a developer, do you feel like you're being censored or are you OK with changes like that?"

"I think what's important is that we make sure that the end user who actually plays the game doesn't have a bad experience," Takahashi said. "If that change is going to help alleviate that, then I think we should definitely make it."

While Nintendo of America localised Xenoblade Chronicles X, Nintendo of Europe is handling Takahashi's next game, Xenoblade Chronicles 2. (NoE also localised the original Xenoblade Chronicles.) Director Genki Yokota, who works for Nintendo's Japanese division (NCL), says all three companies are communicating about localisation decisions that may prove to be controversial.

"When we have costumes or clothes that we have a little concern with, we share it with NoE and NoA and they will say, 'No, no, that's fine' or 'You're right, that's an issue,'" Yokota said. "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."

Nintendo is often at the centre of the online debate about changes being made to Japanese games, though the man running the company's US division said decisions for changes aren't made solely by his American team. "The creators are always involved in anything that happens in the localisation process," Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime told Kotaku boss Stephen Totilo at E3. "In terms of what gets localised, 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'." He said, as an example, that a character's age might be changed to avoid an M rating in a game. A more severe rating could make the game harder for Nintendo to sell, "which clearly is not in the best interest of the developers or the business for that to happen".

Fils-Aime said Nintendo of America's Treehouse localisers travel to Japan about "every two months" to work with Japanese developers whose work is being brought to America. "It's during those meetings that they discuss the localisation process, what's being evaluated," he said. "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."

The breast-size slider in the Japanese version of Xenoblade Chronicles X was removed from the Western version of the game. Image via GameXplain.

For Xenoblade Chronicles 2, Nintendo is aiming for a simultaneous worldwide launch. Whereas Xenoblade Chronicles X launched in Japan eight months before it came to the West, the next game in the series is slated to release in all three regions (Japan, Europe, North America) in the spring of 2017. This allows the developers to talk about potential localisation issues as they make the game rather than having to deal with them post-release. "We're really building [the game] as we're in discussion," said Yokota. "Whereas for the past title, the Japanese version had already been pretty much close to completion when this [localisation] discussion started."

Although these answers will undoubtedly lead some to cry censorship -- to accuse Nintendo of forcing its Japanese developers to make changes just to appeal to Western gamers -- the people who actually work at Nintendo say they're far more concerned with pleasing everyone.

"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," said Yokota. "In that sense, I was open to making any changes that were necessary to make sure everybody can enjoy this game."

Here's hoping they added a crotch slider.

WATCH MORE: Nintendo News


Comments

    Developer at major first-party studio agrees with whatever the publisher wants. News at 11.

      B-But.. his ART!

        I have to say I don't really like the approach and would prefer they left stuff as-is, but it's better than modifying it after the Japanese release I guess?

        Boob sliders and revealing bikinis on thirteen-year-olds are not a hill I'd choose to die on regardless.

          I'm sure they're only doing it for commercial reasons (they don't want their latest game to be at the centre the next Mass Effect alien sex controversy or the next GTA hot coffee controversy).

          It still boils my potatoes that they do it though.

            Agree. It's all about preserving that ever-important ESRB T rating because if they got an M it would be harder to sell and would be un-Nintendo-like to have a horrible dirty game for mature people come out of their kid-friendly game factory.

            I honestly don't understand why they go making changes either. Like, I understand, but I also don't think they have a good reason for it for JRPGs. The core of the target market is going to be a bunch of weebs and JRPG fans that generally get really upset about localization changes / "censorship".

            Then again, Nintendo being tone-deaf and not understanding their target market isn't news.

    As long as companies believe Westerners to be a bunch of easily-scandalised prudes, nothing's going to change.

      But this is proven time and time again to be a real concern when it comes to retail boycotts.

      The publishers don't think their demographic is a bunch of prudes, but they're wary as shit of some loud, non-gaming minority who gets your game pulled from shelves.

      GTA V got done for fabricated evidence, how do you think XCX would've done if fox news caught wind of a child in a bikini? Retail suicide.

        I dunno, it might have actually generated enough publicity that it actually increased sales of the Wii U and the game itself.

        I like PQube's attitude with Valkyrie Drive Bhikkhuni: "Do we look like we would censor this awesomeness!?"

        True, that did result in the fuckwits at the ACB saying: The computer game is classified RC in accordance with the National Classification Code, Computer Games Table, 1. (a) as computer games that "depict, express or otherwise deal with matters of sex, drug misuse or addiction, crime, cruelty, violence or revolting or abhorrent phenomena in such a way that they offend against the standards of morality, decency and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults to the extent that they should not be classified.

        In other words, it made us clutch our pearls and gasp in shock at the concept that fantasy girls can turn into weapons when aroused...

      The problem is that there are a bunch of Westerners that are a bunch of easily-scandalized prudes.

      Nintendo is a huge target being a household name that's associated with kid-friendly stuff. If some newspaper or news network decided to go after them, it'd be pretty low-hanging fruit to target. It's all about risk mitigation.

      Companies like Sony and Microsoft aren't strict about this sort of thing to the same degree because they already have a reputation as having violent or sexualized content aimed at mature audience on their platforms as it is, so it's much harder to make something stick (it'd need to be a "hot coffee" incident in a first-party game). Valve don't give two shits about content on Steam as long as they get their cut and it's not obviously porn. Similarly Nintendo doesn't seem to mind having mature content on their platforms - they'll even publish it sometimes - they just seem to take a lot of steps to avoid anything 1st party or using their characters or IP be 'tainted' in any way.

    No, it is not surprising at all. Only creators with an "auteur" mentality care about such stuff (not that there's anything inherently wrong with such mentality, just saying that it takes a special type of creator). Most other creators understand the practical side of things, especially when it comes to such non-essential features of their work as certain cosmetic aspects.

      Especially creators that want to keep their jobs :-)

        Yeah, that was pretty much what my "practical side" was referring to, heh.

    Adjusting the product to meet customer satisfaction is perfectly normal, of course, but I wonder if that's what's really happening. Usually when these stories come up it's the fans that are saying "we want X, don't take it out of the game", which suggests it's less about player satisfaction and more about the conforming to regional sensitivities as a whole.

    That undoubtedly sounds fine when you're talking about things western culture has a strong aversion to, like scantily clad children, but what if they decided to remove homosexual relationships from the game to cater to Russian sensitivities? Would people still support the developer for respecting regional sensitivities, or would it be seen as a bitter disappointment and a regrettable change to the original artistic vision?

    It seems like this kind of thing would be a lot simpler if developers actually did what Takahashi said he was doing, and design the content of their games to satisfy its players, regardless of what regional social sensitivities might be.

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