While Sony Interactive Entertainment has pretty much confirmed its descent into the realm of censorship, Nintendo has been quietly accepting of games featuring fanservice, while not making too much an issue of it.
They haven’t gone out of their way to clarify their overall policies all that much. Yet, they haven’t interfered with developers as of late, and according to the Wall Street Journal, they’re ok with leaving games alone as long as their publishers manage to secure a rating from the dedicated regional boards.
Of course, this is far from conclusive: looking back to a year ago, if you told me that Sony would have become the strictest among the console first-parties I’d have probably laughed at the idea. Yet, it happened, showing that stances can change quite radically depending on the mood swings of society.
To be fair, Nintendo as a company is likely less prone to swinging with every little breeze simply because of its nature: the house of Mario and Zelda is an old-school corporation from Kyoto, where concepts like tradition and a patient, levelheaded (and some would say slow) approach to decision making still have value. That’s why in 2019 we’re still waiting for a full-fledged Pokémon RPG on a home console.
That being said, Nintendo leaving third-party games pretty much alone isn’t completely new: while they have been no strangers to censorship in the past, the most egregious cases have almost always been focused on their first-party or second-party games in the west.
Just over a year ago, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 showcased a degree of improvement from previous examples. The absence of cut content in the west made many breathe in relief, but the localization team was still given considerable latitude in straight-out neutering the dialogue in multiple instances.
Whether this can be defined as actual censorship or not depends on how you interpret the word, but if you value the integrity of the original content, it’s certainly far from ideal.
Yet, things have further evolved at Nintendo since the end of 2017, and the console Manufacturer appears to have made conscious efforts to attract a more mature audience by facilitating the release of several games with themes that aren’t exactly family-friendly.
The real litmus test of Nintendo’s stance on censorship and fanservice has to be a game that matches the manufacturer’s worst offenses in the past, which inevitably means a high-profile RPG from Japan published by Nintendo itself.
The next likely example will be Fire Emblem: Three Houses, which is coming exclusively to Switch on July 26. As a matter of fact, it’s a perfect case study since the Fire Emblem series has seen its (un)fair share of censorship and localization “liberties” in the past.
By taking a cold, hard look at the new Fire Emblem game and at how it’ll be localized for the western markets, we’ll probably get a better idea of Nintendo’s intentions about this kind of issues. If it goes smoothly, we’ll have pretty conclusive evidence that the company really has turned over a new leaf.
There is one intriguing element that gives me hope, and it can be found in another game of which we haven’t seen much yet: Nintendo is investing in Astral Chain by PlatinumGames. Besides being a very promising title, the game is tied to a very well known name among fans of manga and anime: Masakazu Katsura.
If you’re not familiar with him, he is the author of timeless classics like Video Girl Ai, DNA², and I”s. Never in my wildest dreams, I’d have imagined seeing ol’ family-friendly Nintendo associating itself with Katsura-sensei’s name.
We don’t know what kind of fanservice the game will include (if any). Yet, not only Katsura-sensei’s manga have been heavily censored in the past, but a cursory glance at the content of quite a few of his volumes would likely give Sony’s wannabe censors a conniption.
His name certainly doesn’t evoke tame mental images and seeing it in the credits of a video game published by Nintendo broadcasts a very interesting signal. This kind of association isn’t trivial for a Japanese company.
Ultimately, we’ll have to wait and see. The fact that Nintendo is allowing openly and unapologetically naughty games like Senran Kagura Peach Ball and Dead or Alive Xtreme 3: Scarlet to land untouched on the Switch is promising, but the real test will likely come in July with Fire Emblem: Three Houses. Fingers crossed.