For as long as there have been Japanese role-playing games, there has been censorship.
Since the NES days, Nintendo and other big Japanese companies have been quick to stamp their big black bars on anything that might be considered offensive to American sensibilities: alcohol, religion, sex, octopus statues, whatever. And JRPGs have been the biggest victim of this misguided crusade.
There are tons of egregious examples. Dragon Quest's churches were transformed to Houses of Healing, perhaps because Nintendo believed that Americans do not go to church. During the Magicant sequence of Earthbound, during which our protagonist Ness is supposed to be totally nude, he got pajamas, perhaps because Nintendo believed that Americans do not get naked.
Putting aside the conversation about what's tasteful—or why Tharja would be wearing a swimsuit—I think we can all agree that this sort of censorship is absolutely asinine. So let's look back at some of the strangest and silliest examples.
Here's an image from Suikoden, sent in by reader Ahmed just this week.
In this scene, the characters Varkas and Sydonia have been tied up in the back of a mansion by some nasty soldiers from Suikoden's obligatory Evil Empire. There's really no narrative explanation for the crosses—at least in the English translation—so this act of censorship is rather mild. But if the developers at Konami wanted Varkas and Sydonia to be hanging on crosses, then we should let them hang on friggin' crosses.
Then there's this bizarre choice, from Super Mario RPG:
In the Japanese version of the game (left), Bowser's victory move is to cross his left arm over his right arm, which I guess is some sort of slang for "screw you" or "up yours." Nintendo changed this for the American version (right), in which Bowser raises his fists to the air in victory. Thank goodness. I'm sure fans across the country would have taken offense at the questionable hand gestures of a grumpy cartoon lizard. (Update: Wired's Chris Kohler points out that in Japan, the bras d'honneur is actually the equivalent of a bicep flex. So perhaps it was changed to be clearer.)
There's a great site called Legends of Localization, where Clyde "Tomato" Mandelin—best known for leading the Mother 3 translation project—writes all sorts of fascinating things about game localization. He's also got some great breakdowns of the changes made when Japanese publishers bring their games to U.S. shores.
One example of a game full of weird changes: Earthbound.
Japan's version: a bar. America's version: a cafe. BECAUSE AMERICA DOES NOT HAVE BARS.
Here's another ridiculous one, also via Legends of Localization:
In this scene, the heroine Rosa has been kidnapped by the villain Golbez. She's all tied up in some sort of diabolical trap. A big object is about to fall on her head. In Japan, it's a giant blade. In North America (and in the "easy version" of the game released in Japan), it's a giant boulder.
That's right. The folks who brought over Final Fantasy IV thought a blade might seem too violent, but they were okay with the image of a giant boulder crushing Rosa's skull.
Okay, your turn. What are some of the most egregious examples of JRPG censorship? Post'em below.
Random Encounters is a weekly column dedicated to all things JRPG. It runs every Friday at 3pm ET.