Late last month, If My Heart Had Wings, a winner of several visual novel related awards, was released in the United States. This English version of the game has all the sex scenes removed and numerous scenes and lines of dialogue edited to fit a “T for Teen” rating.
And while I stand by what I said in my review of the game—that it still had a strong emotional impact, regardless of anything that was missing—I'm not quite sure how I feel about there being cuts and edits in the first place.
In my heart, I feel that an artistic work should never be edited—that a localization should strive to be as close to the original creator's work as possible. However, the more rational part of me knows that this feeling is more than a little unrealistic. Translation by its very nature changes any number of minute details. And cultural differences, traditions, food, holidays, taboos, and special language issues all have to be addressed in one way or another in the localization process, also.
When the characters in a visual novel mention hitting the convenience store and getting an “onigiri,” for example, how do you translate it? Do you just leave the food name in Japanese as “onigiri” and thus demand the players have a certain level of Japanese cultural knowledge to play the game? Or do you still keep it as “onigiri” but add a blurb explaining what onigiri is, potentially breaking the flow of the game? Or do you translate literally what it is and call it a “rice ball?” Or do you simply replace “onigiri” with a cultural equivalent like, say, a microwave burrito.
Really, all of the above approaches are correct. It's just a question of accessibility versus accuracy.
Then there is the commercial point of view. If you sell a product—any product—you want it to be able to reach as many potential customers as possible. And given how any game that has graphic erotic content automatically eliminates the under 18 audience from potential sales—not to mention that the game will likely be labeled a “porn game” and then shunned by the general gaming audience—it’s easy to see how editing the sex out of a visual novel for a Western release would seem like a good business decision. Moreover, it's not like this is unprecedented as successful visual novels often lose their pornographic elements when they are ported to home and handheld consoles within Japan.
Unfortunately, this wider potential audience comes at the possible loss of those who are fans of visual novels already—as such major edits seem like a betrayal and make them want to avoid what they see as an inferior version of the product.
When it all comes down to it, I suppose that for me personally, I am okay with such cuts—unless the sexual content is a vital aspect of the plot rather than the most literal interpretation of the old adage: “sex sells.”
Of course, in an ideal world, it would be best to have two versions of the game, so everyone could have their cake and eat it too, so to speak. But as this option would cost the localizer additional time and money, it seems an impractical solution.
As for If My Heart Had Wings, though, there is already a happy ending. Thanks to the fans of If My Heart Had Wings, there is now a fan-made patch that restores the sexual content to what it was in the Japanese version (with further patches planned to restore much of the edited dialogue as well). Not exactly the ideal resolution, but at least now everyone has access to what they want.