Yakuza 3, the crime drama from SEGA, is finally coming to the West after being released in Japan almost a year ago. The game will have subtitles. That's not what SEGA is screwing up. This is.
"The content between Yakuza 3 US/UK and Yakuza JP is a little different in that we took out certain bits in order to bring the game to the west in the time allotted for us to do so. The parts we ended up taking out were parts that we felt wouldn't make sense (like a Japanese history quiz game) or wouldn't resonate as much (such as the concept of a hostess club)," SEGA told website IGN. "We didn't replace the parts we took out, but we made absolutely sure that the story continuity stayed intact so that the story experience was the same as the Japanese version and that it didn't take away the human drama so inherent to the Yakuza series."
The entire appeal of yakuza for Japanese players is that the game is a peek into the criminal underworld. For Westerners, this appeal is compounded: the game is not only a tour of the Japanese underworld, but a tour of Japan as well. Japanese history quizzes might be difficult for players who do not understand Japanese history. But SEGA has unilaterally decided that a hostess club would not resonate with Western players.
Hostess bars appear in Japanese movies, and in turn, some of those movies are released in the West, complete with hostess bar scenes intact. But it's not just Japanese movies. Hollywood film Black Rain featured an American hostess character played by Kate Capshaw. And yet, SEGA doesn't think hostesses or hostess bars would resonate with you, the foreign player.
There are a wide variety of hostess bars in Japan, and they are very much part of business country. Deals are made at hostess bars. They are a place salarymen can unwind and bond. Some businessmen go simply because they do not want to drink alone. Not all Japanese businessmen go to hostess bars, so do not assume that they do.
Depending on the bar, visitors will either pay an entrance fee or buy a bottle, which the bar will then keep for the next time they come. Some large hostess bars have the hostesses rotate all night long from customer to customer like a game of musical chairs. Smaller hostess bars often do not.
At hostess bars, customers tend to talk about their job or flirt with the hostesses, who pour them drinks, light their cigarettes and sing karaoke songs. The girls are dressed to the nines in fancy evening wear (though, there are casual clubs, too!) and many even have their hair done at hair salons before their evening work starts at typically 8pm or 9pm. Girls enter hostessing for a variety of reasons: They want to save money for a trip abroad, they owe people money, they have a kid to support or they like the salary. Good hostesses in high end clubs are good at conversation. They're knowledgeable and well-versed in many subjects so that they can talk to a wide variety of customers. However, there are hostesses that simply giggle and talk incessantly about sex.
They may talk about sex, but that doesn't mean they're necessarily doing it. The goal for a clever hostess is to string a customer on as long as possible without actually having sex. It's all about the pursuit. Drawing in the customer and keeping him interested as long as possible so he continues to visit the hostess bar and spends cashola. There may be dinner or movie dates as well. Keep in mind, everyone involved is an adult and everyone understands the dynamic. However, that does not mean customers do not fall in love with hostesses or vice-versa. It is not unheard of for a customer to marry a hostess.
It's not just men. Women also have the option to go to host bars, which are staffed by young males who serve the same purpose as hostesses: Hold a conversation, pour drinks, light cigarettes and sing karaoke. It's more about getting good service, having fun, letting off steam. However, hostessing is considered mizu shobai ("the water trade"), which encompasses things like actual prostitution. (Prostitution is legal as long as it does not encompass vaginal sex. Everything else is fair play.) Hostessing has been called "psychological prostitution".
SEGA does not have the space to explain all of this in Yakuza 3. But it doesn't have to. Playing a video game is an experience. Part of the experience for Yakuza 3 is visiting hostess bars — an experience that SEGA does not think has to resonate with Western players. The first Yakuza game SEGA released in 2006 was dubbed horribly in English as SEGA seemed to think players did not want to experience the title in its original language. Here we are almost four years later, and SEGA continues to underestimate its consumers.