Evaluating Localization: In Defense of NOA Treehouse

Anthony dissects the “censorship” controversy surrounding recently localized titles.

By Anthony Pelone. Posted 04/06/2016 13:00 7 Comments     ShareThis

“Argh! They censored Tharja’s butt!”

Say, remember that one time three years ago when there was that Fire Emblem Awakening DLC where the gang all went to the beach and some of the cast were presented in special swimsuits? It was fanservice heaven: you had Chrom and Gaius baring their glorious abs for the ladies, the beautiful Cordelia on the shore for the guys, and Tharja– wait, what is that in the American version? Why, they covered up her glorious gluteous maximus with a curtain! Welp, I guess this one little scene in this optional content that doesn’t even come packaged with the original game means I won’t be playing Awakening. Because that’s what’s more important than playing the actual game: looking at butts.

Okay, I didn’t actually do that, but believe it or not, there were people who boycotted the game because of it. I personally think that’s ridiculous, but for the moment I’d like to focus on how the term “censorship” has been tossed around. At first glance, it seems like a fitting term, but is it really? It’d be one thing if a unrelated third-party were the ones making the call to remove blood or mentions of alcohol/sexuality in localized releases, but these are choices made by various teams responsible for one product still in development for international release, where standards for the aforementioned qualities vary across the globe (after all, why do you think we have rating systems?). Don’t forget: in most cases, these edits are done right from the developers themselves, and they’re perfectly willing to do so. The definition may be a thin line, but that doesn’t sound like censorship to me.

I don’t mean to say every instance of this matter is okay– personally, I find removing blood and acts of violence in games like No More Heroes, which are all about excessive violence, to be in bad taste– but the recent examples of covering up breasts and butts are rather, well, trivial. I mentioned NeoGAF earlier; as a frequent poster on the board, I find the recent trend of 20+ page threads over this subject to be rather embarrassing, be it removing a sexualized victory pose for Overwatch or Star Ocean 5’s altered panty shots. Forget that the latter is also happening for the Japanese version (where, y’know, the game is being made), these are titles still in development and yet cries of censorship, elaborate conspiracy theories, and boycott threats decorate page after page.

Whether or not you feel Nintendo (or anyone else making these changes, for that matter) is telling you what is or is not appropriate is irrelevant; the fact of the matter is that these are not changes that will have any major effect (if even at all!) on your game experiences. Are our priorities so skewed that we’re letting fanservice take priority over the quality of the games themselves? Would you really deny yourself the experience of a unique game when there are countless avenues for such content available on the Internet? Whatever happened to relevant causes like Operation Rainfall, where fans got up in arms when it seemed like America wouldn’t be getting Xenoblade Chronicles or The Last Story? What about Nintendo’s refusing to provide cross-buy for Virtual Console titles we’ve already bought on other platforms, or applying darkened filters to NES and N64 games on the service? I’ve yet to see any organized effort or fan rallies against those two problems, yet everyone’s all up in arms over butts and sexy poses.

About the only valid point of contention here is how Treehouse seems to be inconsistent in this practice: for example, recent evidence suggests Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE will take measures to cover up cleavage, yet mammary glands mostly scoot by intact for Fire Emblem Fates. You could say that seems unnecessary considering the game’s niche audience, but once again, it revolves around something so trivial that I have to question the priorities of those angered over it. This leads me to my next point…

“I can’t pet my units’ heads anymore! THEY REMOVED CONTENT!”

As anyone who’s followed Fire Emblem Fates’ up to its American release knows, quite the controversy erupted when it was revealed a certain minigame, where you call up units to your bedroom so you can rub their heads, was removed for America. Was I disappointed in this move? A little, but not for the reasons they probably removed it (personally, I just wanted to see how silly it was). Look, let’s step out of our nerd bubble for a moment and review at the facts: it’s just weird no matter what you context you frame it in, especially since if you interact with any character you marry, they beg you to take them to bed and/or sensually whisper of what’s to come tonight (considering how the game is already dancing on a thin line in that you can marry your adoptive siblings, that alone plunges it into dangerous waters).

This raises the question: how much is too much? Regardless of whether or not it’s in the original version, is Nintendo’s recent trend of pandering to certain dubious audiences really what its games need? Just look at another localization controversy: Xenoblade Chronicles X. Why does my avatar need a breast customization? Does the 13-year old character who joins my party really need a super-skimpy, super-creepy swimsuit? It doesn’t matter whether or not they’re optional; their mere presence doesn’t just make me uncomfortable, but it contributes to the game’s identity, already paving the way for their inclusion in future titles. Treehouse and Monolith Soft made the right choice in removing them for American release, and I can only hope the latter avoids similar content in the future (more so the swimsuit thing).

Ask yourself this: is this “removed content” really content worth bothering with on its own merits, let alone making hissy fits over? Fire Emblem Fates and Xenoblade Chronicles X are already chock-full of stuff I can spend hours messing around with, and these removed features are a drop in the bucket relative to what I can already do. As a matter of fact, I think I prefer the stripped-down My Home we got in Fates, as the innocent whispers of sweet nothings and waking up my beloved via touch screen are far more romantic and fit better within the game’s context. Regardless, I once again have to question the priorities of those angry over not being able to see young teenagers in swimsuits.

“Stop with the memes!”

It’s no secret that Treehouse’s localizations can be laugh-out-loud funny, but there’s one area people feel they’ve gone too far in: the inclusion of Internet memes. Just look at the above example from The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes: as you can see, the European version goes for a literal translation, while Treehouse opted to reference the “doge” meme, albeit with more of a “ancient ruin” theme. So concern. Such controversy.

Now, we could elaborate on legitimate concerns regarding dated references, but I find my tolerance level depends on the game. Obviously, games like Splatoon are tailor-made for that sort of thing, but what about something like Zelda? I’m not sure I’d want to see this in a mainline Zelda, but here we have a spin-off where Link has to rescue a fashionable princess who is cursed into wearing a dismal black jumpsuit. Adding a doge meme to the mix is a silly cherry on what’s already a very goofy cake, so I’m not too concerned. As a matter of fact, I’m not sure my opinion for main Zelda games hold water, as several of them have made pop-culture references even in the original Japanese!

We can even branch out this complaint to accusations of Treehouse going far with humor in general, such as the claim that they over-exaggerate certain character traits from the original to the extent it defines their actual character. Recently, the most common citation revolves around the Hisame character from Fire Emblem Fates, whose fondness for pickles was apparently mentioned in passing for the original and has now been transformed into a full-blown obsession, as seen when he elaborates on the wonder of pickles while courting the (female) avatar and begging her to dive into brine with him.

A reasonable complaint… if it were actually true. Hisame was actually one of the main units in my Birthright playthrough, and I found it quite interesting how the word “pickles” never left his mouth. Not once did the calm swordsman mention vegetables when he let out battle cries or level-up quotes, or during his budding romance with Midori, or during his dysfunctional support conversations with his parents. Why, it’s like as if people are cherry picking specific examples to such hyperbolic extremes that fans who haven’t played the game don’t know better and cite it as an example of how Treehouse “butchered” the localization even though they didn’t. Whoops, guess it’s true what they say about not being able to trust everything you see on the Internet!

Interesting I use the phrase “cherry picking,” because that’s really what a good chunk of these complaints boil down to: citing one example of writing and accusing the entire game of being overly-reliant on memes or jokes or whatnot when that’s simply not true, as they often fail to capture the full in-game context involved. You could point out specific instances of meme references that don’t translate too well by themselves, but do they define the excellent scripts as a whole? I think not.


I’m certain you’ve all familiar with this infamous line from Super Paper Mario; why, I happened to get a hearty laugh out of it just the other week, as I’d just reached that point in a replay. Why did I laugh? Because nine years later, it’s still true. You can scream “it’s overused!” all you like, but I’ve witnessed so many of these criticisms arise from those who haven’t even played the games in question. Granted, the above image was likely in response to players frequently criticizing games that hadn’t come out, and while that’s nothing new (there are plenty of valid cases for being worried about an upcoming game, actually), that we’ve devolved into screaming over panty shots is just sad.

For the record, I want to reiterate that I don’t think every fan displeased with Treehouse’s input falls into the “frothing irrational misinformed nerd” category, nor do I believe Treehouse to be devoid from mistakes; in fact, I could probably criticize several of their localizations if I wanted to. The script for Ocarina of Time is overly dry due to the lack of contractions, and Kirby and the Amazing Mirror has some shocking mistranslations, most notably in how recurring mini-boss “Mr. Frosty” was renamed “Mr. Flosty” (and on a semi-related note, I absolutely abhor the “Angry Kirby” practice for the American box art). Voice acting/direction was always Treehouse’s Achilles heel up until 2012’s Kid Icarus: Uprising, as they relied too much on local, unknown talent rather than gunning for the best in the business. Actually, poor voice acting can still squeak by in recent releases: the reason why the Star Fox Team sounded so nasal in Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and 3DS is because they followed the misguided Star Fox 64 3D template of being purposely campy (as opposed to the genuine performances of the original, which ironically did comprise of unknown talent!).

I could go on, but the pros far, far outweigh whatever lows Treehouse reached, a stance I made on my Twitter account this past February. Before you could even say “such ruin,” dozens upon dozens of members from a certain harassment group “awareness campaign” decided to spam me with homophobic slurs and the like. It was all great entertainment, mind, but I was quite interested in the random Fates screenshots they flooded me with; screenshots, I assume, that were attempts to prove to me just how bad the game’s localization was. All of of them were taken out-of-context, involved standard cases of localization, and, in my personal favorite, compared Fates to the infamous 4Kids adaption for the anime One Piece— which, for the uninitiated, is a dub so notoriously awful that it killed any chance for the series to achieve mainstream success in America. (Bear in mind it’s Japan’s most popular series.)

You could say that any movement is going to naturally produce such individuals, but the problem here is that these “examples” have invaded relevant discussions all across the web. For every legitimate concern such as the “ellipses conversation,” there are dozens more involving out-of-context complaints involving pickles, tail-wagging, and the occasional typo. These all make the localization seem worse than it actually is, and it’s quite frustrating having to explain what’s really going in each of their respective scenarios. Even if these examples aren’t always being provided by the group in question, their handiwork remains present. If the constant harassment of Nintendo employee Twitter accounts hasn’t already poisoned the well, this has.

Maybe you subscribe to the anti-Treehouse crowd, and you remain unconvinced by this article, and will remain criticizing and/or boycotting Nintendo products. And you know what: regardless of whatever I think, that’s okay. Just as how you don’t have to buy any game that doesn’t appeal to you, you don’t have to spend money on whatever fails to meet your criteria for quality. I can only hope, however, that you made that decision after carefully evaluating various Nintendo titles on your own time instead of letting the Internet do the thinking for you. I’d also like to take the opportunity to point out there are far worse localizations out there that would make the worst of Treehouse’s output read like Shakesphere, such as how Namco won’t take the time to provide quality One Piece game localizations (as well as other anime-related titles such as J-Stars Victory Vs+) or the shockingly low efforts for both Tales of Symphonia ports (which were already extremely lazy in themselves).

As for me, however, I’ve found I cannot trust whatever online movements and examples railing against NOA Treehouse have to say on the matter. I’ll continue to evaluate game localizations by actually playing them, form my opinion, and move on from there. I mean, hey, I still haven’t reached that Saizo/Beruka support conversation yet. All the hullaballo surrounding it has made me actually want to check it out, and when I do so, I’ll take the time to witness how their relationship evolves relative to their infamous staredown. And if I don’t like it, well, there are plenty of other support conversations those two characters can engage in. Support conversations that, as a whole, number in the hundreds. Because in the end, that’s what all of this controversy amounts to: nitpicking.

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7 Responses to “Evaluating Localization: In Defense of NOA Treehouse”

  • 849 points
    ejamer says...

    Wow. Lots in this article that I don’t agree with – from your examples of good editing, to deciding what is “appropriate” content for Western audiences in an M-rated game, to the final conclusion where you ultimately dismiss any complaints as nitpicking.

    That said, I do agree (despite some specific choices I dislike) that Treehouse criticism online has gone beyond what is deserved. Localization is hard work, and there are rarely absolutes in what direction should be taken. They aren’t the best team in my opinion – and have been trending downward from their once lofty position in the industry – but are FAR from the worst.

  • 819 points
    Toadlord says...

    I have a problem with how people who don’t want content removed that has been deemed “too sexy” are viewed. Often times these people are subtly shamed by people defending these decisions.

    This particular gripe of mine really came about with the Fatal Frame costume changes. If a person is old enough to purchase an M-Rated game, they are old enough to see some skin. They don’t need to be lectured and made to feel like perverts. And really, who would have been complaining about the original costumes in such a niche title?

    Side note: I think getting rid of region locking would be good for the purists among us that would go the extra mile to experience the game in it’s original form. People might have to learn a bit of Japanese, but Nintendo would still get their game sale and the consumer might feel more satisfied.

    • 81 points
      Anthony Pelone says...

      Hmm, I think I need to clear the air here.

      I have, for the most part, no interest in shaming those with such interests; in fact, I could actually provide a related example similar to the No More Heroes one. I’d understand perfectly if, say, a raunchy dating sim game had swimsuits and naughty bits covered up and thus angered fans. That’s because those *are* the core appeal and draw of those games, and so their value becomes diminished. When I say I’m “questioning” the priorities of those complaining about it, note how I’m mainly referring to games where fanservice is a mere bonus.

      ejamer claimed this article “decided” what is appropriate for Western audiences, but that’s not the case; I’m just providing the facts (also, I hadn’t mentioned any M-rated games besides No More Heroes). No one making these choices is telling you what you’re too young for, as they’re adhering to whatever standards from rating companies so they can nab the rating they feel these games need. To provide a Nintendo-related example, Smash 3DS and Wii U actually had edits regarding “lewd” material so the games could achieve the broadest rating possible. The 3DS version had a Tharja trophy removed and the Wii U version was almost delayed in Japan thanks to Palutena’s model and the Wonder Pink trophy.

      The only issue mentioned in the article I’d *maybe* judge someone on would be the Lin swimsuit thing, and that’s honestly such a delicate line that I’m wondering why Nintendo/Monolith Soft bothered with it. Yes, you see teenage girl fanservice all the time in Japanese media, but the character’s just young enough to render anyone uncomfortable. It’s clearly sexualized and I firmly believe NOA made the right call here.

      I apologize if this is how the censorship/cut content sections came across, but if you have a problem with how this is handled in localized games, don’t take it up with me: bring it up to whatever rating systems and cultural standards exist in your country.

      (By the way, thanks for bringing up region-locking! There’s another relevant Nintendo issue)

  • 745 points
    OG75 says...

    Along similar lines to Toadlord’s comment:

    I didn’t appreciate getting shamed for wishing Bionic Commando on NES had kept references to Nazism (Swastikas, etc.) for its Western releases back in 1988.

    I of course had no idea at the time (pre-internet era). However I was disappointed upon finding out later.

    After a decade of Indiana Jones films, destroying Nazis just seemed like fun. At least they allowed us the pleasure of watching Hitler’s head explode.

    Regardless, there’s a lot I didn’t/don’t know about the topics of localization and censorship. I truly appreciate this well written piece (as well as ejamer and Toadloard’s comments.)

    • 81 points
      Anthony Pelone says...

      I actually wouldn’t shame you for that; once again, that’s the central theme of the original game and so you would’ve liked to see it retained It’s not like you’re promoting Nazism, after all.

  • 745 points
    OG75 says...

    Again, I enjoyed your write-up Anthony.

    My mentioning of “shaming” wasn’t a reference to anything you had written. Toadloard’s comment had just reminded me of an exchange I had in the past. Nothing more than that.

    Besides, I’m too old to give a rip what others think of my gaming/localization/censorship preferences. To each their own.

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