I’ve been playing almost exclusively Nintendo games for the past week or two. This wasn’t entirely deliberate, but it’s just sort of happened. And it’s allowing me to rediscover my appreciation of what Nintendo does well.
Nintendo, more than pretty much any other company out there, puts out games that feel satisfyingly complete. They don’t come out of the door half-baked, lacking in content or riddled with bugs; they’re ready to play, bursting with things to do and full of enjoyment waiting to be discovered. And this is how they’ve always been, even since the days of the NES.
The other thing I rather like about Nintendo is that their work has a very distinctive “voice”. This is partly the job of the localisation teams who work on the various properties, but the overall “tone” of most Nintendo works is so very consistent — and has been for many years — that I find it difficult to believe that this is purely a regional thing. Rather, I feel that Nintendo almost certainly makes very careful decisions about how it’s going to localise things and make them accessible and tonally appropriate in territories around the world. This even goes as far as making the British/European English and American English versions of games different to quite a considerable degree in some cases, which always feels like a pleasantly “personal” touch.
Now, Nintendo have attracted the ire of a number of people over the last few years thanks to what these folks see as unnecessarily “butchered” translations of games such as Fire Emblem Awakening and Xenoblade Chronicles X. And, for sure, some notable changes have been made from the original scripts — and, in a number of cases, content has been edited or even cut to be in keeping with the perceived values of a particular territory. Memorable examples in recent memory include the shot of Tharja’s panties-clad bum in Fire Emblem Awakening (which featured a curtain being pulled across it in the English version, inadvertently making it look more lewd by hiding her panties altogether) and the inexplicable removal of the breast size slider from Xenoblade Chronicles X‘s character creation tool.
These sorts of edits are nothing new, however. The Legend of Zelda series, for example, has a somewhat different tone in Japan to in the West, particularly in installments such as A Link to the Past on Super NES. In the Japanese original A Link to the Past, for example, the story touched on religious themes, with one of the main villains being a priest. In the English versions, however, religious references were removed, and the “priest” became a “wizard”.
Why does Nintendo do this? For an attempt at inclusivity, I guess; the company has a carefully curated “family-friendly” image to uphold, after all, and “family-friendly” means different things in different territories. From its localisation decisions, we can interpret that Nintendo believes here in the West that “family-friendly” means something that the whole family can sit down and enjoy together without any material provoking arguments or awkwardness between one another. We’ve seen on all too many occasions that discussions and material relating to both religion and sexuality are very much capable of inducing arguments and awkwardness, so out the window they go. It’s kind of a shame for those who prefer their translations to be more literal and true to the original Japanese texts, but it is, after all, what Nintendo has always done — and, I have to admit, that warm, friendly tone most of their localisations tend to have is rather comforting, and quite unlike anything from other localised Japanese works.
This is even apparent in games such as New Style Boutique 2 and Animal Crossing, where there was unlikely to be any real “offensive” content in the first place; both have been localised in such a way as to be as inclusive and welcoming as possible to a broad audience; they’re games that invite you in to enjoy the experience rather than insist you must be this skilled to ride, or whatever. And that’s rather nice, really. Not something that every game needs, of course — some games are all the better for their laser-sharp focus on a very specific, niche-interest audience — but, to be honest, I find it hard to get too riled up about censorship talk when it comes to Nintendo games, simply because I’ve grown up with that warm, friendly, familiar tone of their localisations, and it would feel kind of strange for that to change now.
Anyway. I’m enjoying my Nintendo period right now: currently playing Zelda 3, Hyrule Warriors and New Style Boutique 2. All are very different games from one another. All are simply marvellous. All are proof that Nintendo doesn’t give a shit what its competitors are doing, because they’re quite happy doing their own thing, even if it ends up causing their sales figures to look dismal in comparison to those of Sony and Microsoft.
I hope this Nintendo never goes away. They’re an important part of gaming, and it would be sad to see them go the way of Sega, becoming just another third-party publisher.