One of the last year's most uncomfortable experiences was sitting in a room full of Japanese press and watching as North and South Korea united and then overran Japan. That experience, however, is now lost to time, and the game, first person shooter Homefront, is all the less interesting because of it.
Homefront was written by John Milius, the man behind 1980s gung-ho paranoia flick Red Dawn, and takes place in a near-future in which the U.S. is invaded by a North Korean-led military force. It's fantasy, but compelling enough to strike a nerve. That nerve seems to cut a little too close to the bone in Japan. Kotaku previously reported that the game is being altered for its Japanese release. Instead of North Korea, the game's enemy is being changed to "a certain northern country". There's more to it than that.
Of course, Americans immediately will jest that now Canadians are invading the U.S. — something that many Canadians are also taking with good humor. "I'd be ecstatic at the idea of having it be in the game," says my Arcade Mania co-author and Japan-based Canadian citizen Jean Snow. "Even if we were turned into the big baddie, think of the cool maple leaf-esque uniforms they could design!"
But it's not Canada. It's North Korea, a boogie man even today in Japan. There are fears about the country attacking Japan, fears stoked a few years back when North Korea launched test missiles over Japan, and fears that reside in the kidnapping of Japanese citizens by the North Korean government. Some, like disgraced businessman Takafumi Horie, are quick to point out that there's no reason for North Korea (or China) to attack Japan, but those fears still exist.
However, the issue is far more delicate for Spike, the game's Japanese publisher. The reason speculated for the cuts is related to the Japanese rating board and the depiction of real countries and real people. Because of this, "North Korea" is no longer the aggressor, and depictions of Kim Jung-il and his son Kim Jung-un have been removed, it is being assumed.
The Japanese version's most recent trailers now feature a warning that this game is a work of fiction, but still depict North Korean flags, as does the Japanese box art. Yesterday, Kotaku contacted Spike to confirm whether the Korean flags will remain in the game. Spike did not respond before publication. Kotaku also reached out to THQ, the game's Western publisher, and will update if we hear anything.
Then there's the long, messy (and bloody) history between Korea and Japan, the effects of which are still being worked through today. There are even those calling for the spelling of "Korea" to be changed to "Corea" as "Korea" is the English spelling Japan forced upon the country and the nefarious reasons implied for it.
"Spike's great for even publishing this game," Tokyo-base game blogger Jin from the popular site My Game News Flash tells Kotaku. There is obviously more territory to wade through than simply how the Japanese rating board classifies video games. With its first-person shooting game-play and American patriotism, Homefront is hardly a mainstream title for Japan; however, there is an audience for a game like this in Japan. Jin doesn't know how Japanese players will take these changes, noting that each player is bound to have his or her own reaction.
Online, the reaction towards the change has been harsh among Japanese netizens. "They just nixed out the sales point," writes one commenter, while others state they're canceling their pre-orders. Some point to pressure from Korean-Japanese organizations within the country spearheading the change. Look for an imported market for Western copies of the game to develop.
But what makes the decision to nix North Korea so odd is that North Korea has already featured as an enemy in a Western game published in Japan: Crysis. The title was released in Japan back in 2007 and, as evident by this clip, the Japanese voice version clearly mentions North Korea (北朝鮮) as does the game's Japanese website.
While it was uncomfortable to sit in a room with Japanese press and watch as a unified North and South Korea overran Japan, its former colonial conqueror, and then moved on to America, there did seem to be online interest in the game among Japanese players, who gravitated to the use of real news footage and the mix-matching of reality and fantasy. Homefront is interesting because it is grounded in reality — it's a skewered reality, but it's still a reality. Without "North Korea", that anchor is lost.
Homefront will be released in Japan this Spring.
Culture Smash is a daily dose of things topical, interesting and sometimes even awesome — game related and beyond.