Game Localization and Nintendo of America’s Content Policies in the 1990s (NSFW)

95 Comments

In my articles and books, I’m always mentioning how Nintendo of America didn’t allow certain types of content in games during the 1990s – things like death, religious content, and stuff like that. The topic comes up often enough that I thought it’d be nice to take an actual look at those policies in detail.

Background

Oh boy it's Captain Novolin Night!
In the 1990s, parents and politicians grew outraged over violent and inappropriate content in video games. The game industry responded by establishing a ratings system, and individual companies updated their internal content policies. These companies then shared their official policies with the public.

Conveniently for us, the 1994 book Parent’s Guide to Video Games compiled some of these content policies into one place. So although we’ll be looking at Nintendo of America’s policies this time, maybe we’ll look at Sega’s policies in a different article someday. For now, here’s how the authors sum up the situation in 1994:

Let’s consider an analogy. Periodically, we’ll hear on the news that a child has fallen into a well. Although it doesn’t happen often, this can have dire consequences for a child.

If Nintendo were to handle the situation, they might alter all the wells so that none was more than two feet deep. Sega would leave the wells as they found them, but post a conspicuous warning sign on any one that posed a danger to small children.

Indeed, Nintendo’s content policies in the 1990s meant that many games had to abide by strict rules before being published. And since many of the big-name games at the time were coming from Japan, many Japanese games had to be altered during the game localization process.

Official Policies

This was Nintendo of America’s official policy notice around 1994:

Nintendo of America’s priority is to deliver high quality video game entertainment for our customers. When those customers are children, parental involvement in their game playing is recommended. Nintendo is concerned that our products do not contain material that society as a whole deems unacceptable.

Consequently, since 1988 we have consistently tested the content of all games developed for Nintendo systems against our evolving game standards. As our business has matured, we have adapted our guidelines to meet the concerns of the members of our target age group and their parents. Although we realize that definitions of social, cultural and political values are highly subjective, we will continue to provide consumers with entertainment that reflects the acceptable norms of society.

The following Game Content Guidelines are presented for assistance in the development of authorized game paks (i.e., both Nintendo and licensee game paks) by defining the type of content and themes inconsistent with Nintendo’s corporate and marketing philosophy. Although exceptions may be made to preserve the context of a game, Nintendo will not approve games for the NES, Game Boy, or Super NES systems (i.e., audio-visual work, packaging, and instruction manuals) which:

  • include sexually suggestive or explicit content including rape and/or nudity;
  • contain language or depictions which specifically denigrates members of either sex;
  • depict random, gratuitous, and/or excessive violence;
  • depict graphic illustration of death;
  • depict domestic violence and/or abuse;
  • depict excessive force in a sports game beyond what is inherent in actual contact sports;
  • reflect ethnic, racial, religious, nationalistic, or sexual stereotypes of language; this includes symbols that are related to any racial, religious, nationalistic, or ethnic group, such as crosses, pentagrams, God, Gods (Roman mythological gods are acceptable), Satan, hell, Buddha;
  • use profanity or obscenity in any form or incorporate language or gestures that could be offensive by prevailing public standards and tastes;
  • incorporate or encourage the use of illegal drugs, smoking materials, and/or alcohol (Nintendo does not allow a beer or cigarette ad
    to be placed on an arena, stadium or playing field wall, or fence in a sports game);
  • include subliminal political messages or overt political statements.

Examples of Policy-Based Localization Changes

It’s common knowledge that games like Mortal Kombat got tamed down due to Nintendo of America’s content policy at the time:

But as a translator/localizer, I’m personally more interested in how these policies affected Japanese games that were localized into English. So I gathered a handful of old localization changes to see how they fit into the big checklist above.

Note that EarthBound (known as MOTHER 2 in Japan) appears a lot in this article, largely because it’s the game localization I’ve studied the most. I’m on a slow quest to study other localizations in similar detail though.

Sexually Suggestive or Explicit Content

The English localization of Final Fantasy VI adds clothing and other obstructions to cover up exposed skin in places:

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Similarly, the English localization of MOTHER 2 puts clothes on Ness when he visits the world within his mind. It’s common for Japanese entertainment to strip characters of everything when they enter mental realms or weird dimensions as a way to indicate that they’re in their rawest, purest, or most vulnerable form:

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During a side quest in Chrono Trigger, Ayla originally talks about nursing babies and breasts. This was rephrased with “leave the nest” to avoid the specific topic:

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Sexist Content

In the Japanese version of Lufia II, the big casino is full of women dressed in sexy bunny outfits. They were replaced in the English localization with women who dress more modestly:

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Although I’m pretty sure I recall Playboy bunny outfits being equated with sexism back in the 90s, I personally feel these NPCs were probably changed to avoid legal issues with Playboy itself. But just to be safe, I figured I’d list it here as a “maybe”. If you have any further info/insight, let me know!

Random, Gratuitous, or Excessive Violence

The Super Famicom version of The Combatribes portrayed bad guys covered in blood after being defeated. These graphics were altered and toned down in the English localization, even though the core gameplay is still about violence and physical assault.

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Some of the depictions of violence in Final Fight were marginally toned down during the localization process. For example, blood graphics were replaced with cartoon-like impact graphics:

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Graphic Illustration of Death

I’m not sure if any localized games ever depicted anything that fits this category. The only thing that comes to mind at the moment is when Celes attempts suicide in the Japanese version of Final Fantasy VI by throwing herself off a cliff. She still jumps off the cliff in the localized version, but all the text before it was rewritten to reframe the jump as a nice way for Celes to “perk up” after feeling sad:

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Domestic Violence

The only examples of domestic violence changes that come to mind right now are from MOTHER 2/EarthBound. There are several examples, but one early one includes Pokey’s mention of “getting spanked/paddled 100 times” being changed to “I’m gonna get it”:

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Shortly after, Pokey and his brother do get punished by their father, but the depiction of the punishment changed in the localization. The off-screen sound effect was changed from heavy pounding to a cartoon-like angry sound:

After getting punished, Pokey mentions that his butt hurts in Japanese. This was changed in the localization, so he now says he “gets no dessert for the rest of the decade”:

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Not too many Nintendo games had scenes involving modern domestic situations, so I don’t know if any other games underwent similar localization changes during the 1990s. If you know of any others, let me know.


Excessive Force in a Sports Game

I’m not sure if this category ever came into play when a 1990s game was localized into Japanese for Nintendo consoles. I’m not a sports gamer in general, so if anyone out there has more info, let me know!


Ethnic, Racial, Religious, Nationalistic, or Sexual Stereotypes

It turns out Final Fight underwent lots of policy-related changes during the localization process. In this case, some enemies had their dark skin lightened, presumably to avoid backlash against violence toward specific races:

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In the second generation of Pokémon games, Jynx was changed from a black-colored Pokémon into a purple-colored Pokémon. This was done after Jynx’s initial appearance caused some controversy outside of Japan.

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In the original Final Fantasy game, you had to revive fallen party members by visiting a church. This was changed into a “clinic” in the localized release. The building’s appearance was changed on the outside, and the priest on the inside was changed into a generic, non-religious character. The associated text was changed as well – even the text about reviving a fallen character’s soul was changed:

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In the Japanese version of Actraiser, you’re God and you have to fight Satan. In the English localization, you’re “The Master” and you have to fight “Tanzra”:

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Profanity, Obscenities, or Offensive Gestures

In the Japanese version of Super Mario RPG, Bowser does a gesture with his arms after winning a battle. It’s a common, positive gesture seen in Japanese entertainment (example 1, example 2), but it’s considered rude in some places outside of Japan, so Bowser’s gesture was changed for the English release:

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Illegal Drugs, Smoking Materials, or Alcohol

The Japanese version of Super Mario Kart shows Bowser drinking a bunch of celebratory champagne after he wins a race circuit. Nintendo of America altered this for the localized version:

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There’s a good amount of alcohol-related content in MOTHER 2, so when it was localized into English as EarthBound it was all replaced with coffee-related content. Even the bars became cafes:

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In Tecmo’s Secret of the Stars, the original Japanese version has a town called “Drunkards” that’s full of alcohol-related stuff, including bars. For the localization, the town was renamed “Sleepers” and everyone now relies on coffee to get through the day. Naturally, the bars are now coffee shops, complete with newly drawn signs:

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In the original Japanese Pokémon games, a drunk guy blocks the path early in the story. In the localized versions, he’s just an old guy who really loves coffee:

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In the Japanese version of Final Fantasy Legend II, one part of the story revolves around opium and opium smugglers. All of these opium references were replaced with bananas in the English localization:

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Subliminal Political Messages or Overt Political Statements

As far as I know, there aren’t many examples of this sort of change. The only two I can think of at the moment are from MOTHER 2/EarthBound, and even then they kind of overlap with some previous policy rules.

First, the cultists in Happy Happy Village were given a graphical makeover for the English localization to avoid comparisons with the Ku Klux Klan:

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The town of “Threek” was renamed “Threed” for the English localization too. The reason baffled fans for years, until it was revealed that the localization team realized “Threek” could be read as “Three K”, or “KKK” – another coincidental connection with the Ku Klux Klan.

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Publisher Concerns

Many of the games listed above were made or published by Nintendo of America, but third parties also had to abide by Nintendo of America’s policies. If a third party company failed to meet the content guidelines, they would have to make more changes and resubmit the game for approval. This would result in costly delays.

As an actual example, the “Holy” spell in Final Fantasy VI wound up getting renamed as “Pearl” in the English localization, due to the concern that it might run afoul of NOA’s religious content policy.

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The head localizer explained the decision in an interview a decade later:

I mean, Holy and Pearl, obviously there wouldn’t be an issue there. I think that was obviously just the word Holy and just trying to avoid being dinged by Nintendo. Any time you submitted a game to Nintendo you had to take the entire screen text, which for Final Fantasy was 50 or 60 hours of having one of your testers do that for you. Then you had to submit the print out, the entire screen text, the ROMs and do all that stuff and give it to them and they’d spend time going through it. If you had something like that, that stopped the submission you were in trouble. It was very expensive and you could miss your deadline to ship.

A lot of companies just decided to err on the safe side, which is probably unfortunate but just to strip out as much as they could in advance just to reduce the time to market.

In short, third party companies sometimes altered more content during the localization process than necessary, just to be safe. These excessive changes stemmed from internal business decisions.

Summary

We’ve taken a brief look at Nintendo of America’s old content policies and how they affected specific game localizations. Nintendo has changed and evolved since the 1990s, so many these policies are no longer in place. Still, some of the localization changes made during this era became iconic and even laid the foundation for later game localizations. So I’m glad to finally know more about the details that shaped video game localization in the 1990s.


There are many more examples than what I’ve listed above, so if you can think of any other big or notable additions, let me know. I’d like to create big, dedicated gallery pages for specific categories or specific games sometime. I think they’d be lots of fun to build up over time and browse through!


Also, if you enjoyed this article, check out this classic article about NOA's content policies!

95 Comments
  1. Coffee sure is an easy G-rated replacement for another “grown-up drink”, huh?

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    1. Caffeine IS the most widely abused drug in the world.

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    2. The first Grandia even did the coffee instead of alcohol thing too and that wasn’t even on a Nintendo system.

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  2. Captain Novolin Night would have been a surreal experience.

    I mentioned how Golgo 13: Top Secret Episode somehow evaded Nintendo’s policies in a previous post. Another one is Shadowgate. A number of death scenes are graphic by 1980’s Nintendo standards, particularly when killing the Cyclops. The text describes your character thrusting your sword into the cyclops’ and then blood spilling onto the ground. Additionally your character utters the word “death” during a battlecry.

    Clear smoking references slipped through at least two games: the aforementioned Golgo 13 and Metal Gear.

    A game to look at for “excessive force in a sports game” is NFL Blitz, though this came out for the Nintendo 64, after Nintendo loosened its policies. I have no experience with the N64 port but can say the original arcade version of the game has mechanics for late hits and other unsportsmanlike conduct. Perhaps ironically, late hits and other acts of aggression were removed from the later entries, not by Nintendo but due to complaints from the NFL.

    Another Final Fight censorship was replacing the female fighters with skinny, effeminate males. I always thought this change was amusing because instead of “denigrating” women now they’re “denigrating” gay stereotypes.

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    1. I think that just illustrates how the policy got tightened up over time. The article says that Nintendo started focusing on this kind of thing in 1988. Golgo 13 (1988) and Shadowgate (1989) might have already passed review before policies were finalized, or they might have been among the games that made them think their policies might have needed further refinement.

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  3. This article on how it ended is likely worth a mention when we’re on the subject
    http://articles.latimes.com/1994-09-09/business/fi-36631_1_mortal-kombat-ii

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  4. In Super Mario Kart, Bowser wasn’t the only one drinking on the winner’s podium – Peach chugged from a bottle of champagne, too.

    https://tcrf.net/Super_Mario_Kart#Victory_Animations

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    1. Note: The comment there says she’s “daintily sipping”. That doesn’t look like sipping to me.

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    2. This change feels so ironic to me. They’re admitting the game has alcohol in it, but it’s okay if none of the characters drink it?
      As a kid I probably woulda assumed it was a soft drink.

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  5. If I remember correctly, the DS port of Chrono Trigger did feature that breast feeding comment in its retranslation. I can clearly remember being shocked when i played that version and saw that line. I also remember that version having a few jokes regarded characters getting drunk and even one instance where it kind of implies a character may be homosexual.

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    1. Which character? I know it established that Ayla is probably pan.

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      1. I’ve seen stuff about Ayla a number of times, is it all stemming from her line when she first meets the party?

        “You strong, too. Ayla like strong person. Man, woman…both like!”

        I never saw this as an attraction type ‘like,’ but more as just a general use of the word, or in a respect type way. Though I have know knowledge of the original Japanese, so it’s possible that more explicitly states it.

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  6. Regarding political messages: wouldn’t games with Nazis be a good example of that? I think i remember the SNES port of Wolfenstein had some problems with that.

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    1. Yep, they removed all Nazi symbolism, and even switched the guards to speaking English.

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    2. Was that a localized game though? I tried to focus on Japanese games released outside of Japan… but sometimes it’s hard to distinguish things whenever a port is involved.

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      1. According to the Wolfenstein Wiki, the US version probably had the least changes; the Japanese version was altered even further.

        https://wolfenstein.wikia.com/wiki/SNES_port_of_Wolfenstein_3D

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    3. One of the most infamous examples led to an entire SNES game being outright cancelled and unreleased. Though lately the rom has actually been found and made available. “Socks The Cat Rocks The Hill” is a game in which you play as Bill Clinton’s pet cat and you go through the levels “battling” political figures and other political party stereotypes. The game actually does take a very clearly Democratic side to it’s “satire”, and as much as I don’t want to make this into a political discussion even though I myself identify as a libertarian, even I have to admit that this game veers pretty close to propaganda, and was a bit overt in it’s message that Nintendo clearly had reason to enforce it’s guidelines on.

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      1. Funny that. That game was probably a victim of circumstances. It has been delayed, which means a cert rejection to adjust it was probable, but it had a Genesis version (that’s very different) that was cancelled as well.

        The artists may be American, but the premise is so Japanese in the way it’s so taking the piss out of everyone. Certain late bosses in the game are… counter-intuitive choices to say the least for its political message (which is still to be assumed, considering they got permission to use the name and everything) I know some people on twitter who were ecstatic then disappointed with it, then dismissed it as this worthless weird Japanese game (and hey, it’s not the best game… but what i’m saying here is, it’s slightly more than just a propaganda game, even though the references are so terribly outdated for a current player’s enjoyment like all pop culture joke heavy works turn out to be… ah, the plight of Japanese Quiz game fans.)

        Nintendo allowed a few propaganda games that promoted anti-drug efforts (and in the process made generous exceptions for their usual alcoholism, drug, politics and gore guidelines). There were some political simulators by Koei as well localized, but some things were still just off-limits, like a complete localization of “Genocide 2” (most of its problems were the title) and the Daisenryaku war sim series (set in Europe, in various World War contexts, and were you can play as everyone… the title that made it on the Saturn was met with controversy).

        Some of it was initiated by publishers to avoid public backlash. SNK changed the entire premise of Guevara on NES (where your P2 is Fidel Castro) for a nondescript setting in the US version, “Guerilla Wars”, but that could be argued to have been self-censorship considering even the Arcade version was affected. The Contra series, a glorification of the Nicaraguan civil war and the US role’s within at the time, was spelled in ateji in Japan, and got a complete name change in Europe where public opinion of that political event weren’t as favorable to say the least.

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  7. The Spectacular Llama

    Helicopter parents and their paranoia of video games and cartoons teaching “naughty things” to their kids, ugh. I’m glad the “protect the children” era of squeaky clean censorship ended long ago, but sadly there are still cases of censorship happening today for things no one cares about. It’s not as bad it was in the 90s and early 2000s though.

    On the other hand, while the Japanese retain their right to embarrass their female characters in fiction by showing off as much as they can, they have a very strong aversion to violence and it gets censored quite a bit in their media.

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    1. “they have a very strong aversion to violence and it gets censored quite a bit in their media”

      Really? Watching preteen-aimed Japanese shows has given me a very different idea as to how permissive they are. But I could be wrong.

      I will say that it makes sense to be stricter with violence than sexual references, in terms of what can make children unsettled.

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      1. It’s true, Japan heavily censors it’s own content now, and especially that of foreign content being localized into it’s country. It didn’t used to be this way in Japan, actually it’s been directly the opposite for many years, where they let TONS of things get past the radar so much the radar might as well have been nonexistent… but now Japan has been going so far in the other direction lately, it’s almost comparable to moral whiplash.

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        1. I think a serial killer known as “The Otaku Murderer” may have caused this moral backlash against violence in media such as shonen manga and videogames. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tsutomu_Miyazaki

          Enjoy your nightmares, kids!

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          1. Serial killing was a mistake.

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      2. Yes really. For example, the terribly awful Blood-C anime had these splashes of white screen appear over all the violent deaths when the show first aired on TV, though it wasn’t a very half-assed effort. You can still see the person dead with a horrified look on their face.

        And it turns out even cases like this incident are getting Japanese parents angry: https://www.animenewsnetwork.com/interest/2018-08-07/yo-kai-watch-character-groin-target-in-latest-bpo-complaint/.135150

        Still, I find it odd that it’s okay for little boys to learn about things like seeing a “cool lady” type woman with big bouncing breasts or catching a peek at a girl’s panties when the wind decides to be conveniently playful for the male character.

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        1. *was a half-assed

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      3. If you watch the JoJo anime, you can see them shadow-censoring smoking. That’s one of the things you can’t say on TV.

        Another is a long list of truly offensive Japanese words (mostly insults) that you’ll never hear on TV, or at this point anywhere else. There’s one in an early episode of the mahjong anime Akagi, the only example I can think of. Even Japanese twitter has imported US insults instead.

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        1. The shadow-censoring of smoking had certain circumstances around it.

          Basically, it’s against television broadcast standards in Japan to depict someone underage smoking. Now note that the censor smoking only happens with Jotaro during Stardust Crusaders, when he’s 17, meanwhile, the time when someone who actually is in his twenties is seen trying to disguise himself as Jotaro, they don’t censor him smoking. Now, they can’t just drop Jotaro’s underage smoking from the anime adaptation of JoJo, because Jotaro’s smoking is plot-relevant at several points, so they do a very weak censorship job of it for televised broadcasting, and remove the shadows for the Blu-Rays.

          For another way such a thing has been handled in a work, Sanji from One Piece smokes, but when he’s introduced into the story, he’s nineteen. Because again, Sanji’s smoking is too cemented into his character to adapt out, the anime just tweaks things by having any references to his age nudged up to 20. They couldn’t do this to Jotaro though, as he’s specifically supposed to be a high school student during the events of Stardust Crusaders.

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          1. Ah, I ended up losing a bit of my post in revision. While it’s possible to infer it given what I said about Sanji and Jotaro’s ages, I’ll clarify a bit more. The legal age for smoking in Japan is 20, hence why Sanji could just have his age nudged up a bit to make it acceptable for him, but Jotaro couldn’t.

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          2. The no underage smoking rule on TV is quite old. It was around when Yu Yu Hakusho aired, and in that case some of the scene was rewritten. But for the older Kimagure Orange Road it was somehow allowed… in a context where the protagonist smacks a cigarette out of the sukeban heroine’s hands. She then stops to keep her promise, and at some points other underage characters smoke too, but it seems to be tolerated somehow because it doesn’t make it seem cool. Which it does when it comes to Jotaro (and Josuke).

            There’s one time the Gintama author did a meta commentary complaining how he was told by Shueisha to remove Hijikata’s cigarette from a manga volume’s color cover illustration because kids would see it in stores, and they would probably think it’s cool, despite the character being in his twenties.

            Drugs is another big thing that gets cut all the time. Shaman King received heavy rewrites in its adaptation because of this (13-year-old protagonist heavily implied to smoke, and an anti-hero doctor who gets himself injected with morphine all the time to improve his performance, and lots of 20/4 imagery) but then you have the Gintama anime (episode 203) where a certain character with an anpan obsession is seemingly getting wasted onscreen with the actual drugs replaced with anpan, and psychedelic trips in lots of media (Yoshi’s Island, Mother 3, LSD Dream Simulator) that get away with showing similar results and experiences as long as the actual act isn’t shown. Respecting the letter of the “law” but not the spirit of, in other terms, a practice sexually-explicit media produced in Japan is more infamous for, but can be seen in other areas.

            Reply
  8. If anyone here has an ok grasp of Japanese, this video should be quite interesting. As far as I can tell, it happens to touch upon games and censorship, not always japanese-to-english.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NfaAaAzk5q0

    Reply
    1. Oh, they made a second one! Mato linked the first one in one of his articles.

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      1. These videos sure can be informative so to speak. Have you seen any of those before?

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  9. I’ve always wondered how Hitler’s exlpoding head in Bionic Commando managed to make the cut…

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  10. I have mixed feelings about these?

    The Earthbound changes relating to the KKK were absolutely an improvement, and the changes to the spanking scene make it a lot more fun. I like the FF6 Siren’s cute shorts a lot. Yes, change Jynx from Pokemon, blackface is gross and that was a good change.

    I don’t really miss the blood or the alcohol references. Maybe keep the blood for Mortal Combat, but the other blood examples are a bit ‘just for the sake of it’ judging by screenshots.

    Is the Lufia II example even an improvement? The new sprite makes her boobs look more prominent.

    However, Celes towing herself off a cliff ‘for fun’ is a nightmare translation. I liked Ness’ nude sprite. I don’t want bowser to be thirsty give him the champagne. The Final Fight example brings up the argument of ‘bad representation v no representation’ which is not one we’ll settle in these comments.

    I worry that framing this all as ‘censorship’ inheriently makes the point that these changes were all bad. Which I know isn’t your stance.

    Reply
    1. I think these specific examples classify as censorship in that the changes are being made due to perceived incompatibilities with the target market’s sensibilities. It is actually the intention that the changes would be viewed positively; that’s why they’re done. It’s just that there are irreconcilable philosophical disagreements over the practice of censorship in the first place and what to censor if practiced.

      You are correct that changes are made for the sake of improvements. For example, the graphical changes in Dragon Warrior from Dragon Quest do not stem from censorship; they were part of a localization effort that took advantage of a three-year cartridge hardware advancement.

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    2. Jynx wasn’t actually intended to be blackface, though. It was people ignorant of Japanese culture that caused that controversy. In fact, Jynx was actually a completely unrelated mythological Japanese yokai/monster type of character adapted from Japanese folklore that merely accidentally resembled a blackface stereotype. Meaning that particular controversy was actually drummed up by the oversensitive, over-active imaginations of people who only saw things through their own biased historical lens and not the intended local scope of Japanese culture.

      And also I heavily disagree about your acceptance of alcohol censorship, as that completely destroys the natural context of such scenes and their intended implication. In fact, for many of the censorship examples you’re “ok with”, I disagree in general on the grounds that painting over society’s problems and acting as if they’re not a real thing or not something that is allowed to be referenced or talked about as if they are not real is MUCH worse and far more damaging denial of reality that is not mentally healthy for anyone in the long run.

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      1. On the flip side, your own response is colored by a similar type of knee-jerk reaction to the one that prompted the change in the first place. When one has become sensitized to the idea of political correctness, it’s easy for that lens to distort one’s view of history, to see it in places that contemporary viewers would not have seen it.

        Jynx was not changed as a result of a massive controversy drummed up by outraged foreigners.

        Jynx was changed because the localizers were trying to be sensitive to the opinions of foreign cultures. There was some talk about it in America, yes, and that talk certainly did prompt Game Freak to revise the character’s design. But this isn’t a big political-correctness rage machine being oversensitive to unintended slights forcing creators to make a change: this is an experienced franchise preemptively watching for things that might be misinterpreted due to cultural differences. The fact that they DID change something probably drew more attention to it than anything else.

        Similarly, just because a change is prompted by something that is undeniably censorship doesn’t automatically mean that the end result is inferior to the original. It’s entirely a matter of opinion, not morality, if the use of alcohol makes for good storytelling. And if it’s just incidental to the story instead of a core aspect of the story, then changing it isn’t really hurting anything. While it’s true that some localizers will make a sloppy change just to be in compliance with the rules, in a good localization you’d never notice that anything was amiss unless you went out of your way to compare the before-and-after.

        In the end, it goes right back to what Mato has discussed several times: There are several schools of thought when it comes to how to translate a game between cultures, and none of them are objectively right. Is a localizer’s job to preserve the original as close as possible? Is it to preserve the intended experience even if that means changing things based on the expectations of the target culture? Is it to make an enjoyable experience even if it’s not the same experience as the original? None of these choices are BAD. They just appeal to different audiences.

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        1. Man, I wish I could like comments on this website, because I couldn’t agree more with your comment. Too many people have a very black-and-white view of this whole affair where any localization that changes stuff to accomodate different cultural sensitivities is automatically RUINED forever because of the evil PC police or something.

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        2. On the… uh, flip side of the flip side, “removing content that is less accepted by parents in region A than in region B because you also want these people to purchase your game for their children” doesn’t exactly stop being censorship just because it doesn’t ultimately matter THAT much whether an irrelevant NPC is drunk or just overly tired. No matter what words you use to describe it, you are removing something from the game because you think someone is going to find it objectionable and you don’t want these people to think you game has anything objectionable in it.

          If the comments you’re replying to are knee-jerk reactions, then surely the same goes for comments of the “it doesn’t REALLY matter if this character has a cigarette in his mouth, GOD who cares” kind?

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          1. Did you… not READ my post…? I straight up said that it can still be censorship.

            Certainly you can make a moral argument about censorship being bad on principle, and there are rational reasons to support that argument, and you’ve cited some. I’m definitely not going to oppose you on that. It’s certainly a valid discussion in and of itself.

            But that’s not what I’m talking about at all.

            What I said is that a change being motivated by censorship doesn’t automatically make the end result bad. Even if you oppose the change on principle, it’s still possible that a skilled localizer can do a good job with it to produce an end result that carries the intended message to the intended audience without distraction.

            And distraction is key there: Even if some subject matter really shouldn’t be as sensitive as people make it out to be, NOT changing it could in some circumstances interfere with the scene more than changing it would. At that point it goes from “removing something from the game because you think someone is going to find it objectionable and you don’t want these people to think you game has anything objectionable in it” as you say to “removing something from the game because you think someone is going to find it objectionable and you don’t want players to get distracted from the game by something irrelevant.” You might still call it censorship, but it’s a different motivation, and one that’s a lot more defensible.

            From another perspective: You can be ideologically opposed to censorship and still not have a problem with specific changes. You might have rather it wasn’t changed, but if the choice is between “censor irrelevant things” and “don’t release the game at all” there’s a perfectly good reason to tolerate certain things while you campaign for it to not be necessary.

            —–

            If I’m guilty of a knee-jerk reaction, it’s not a knee-jerk reaction against anti-censorship stances. It’s a knee-jerk reaction against arguments being made using incorrect information — against spreading falsehoods and polluting the discourse.

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    3. I still think the “Threek = KKK” thing to be a bit of a stretch. Then again, there are lots of stupid parents, so maybe.

      Reply
      1. Considering this was the mid-90s and the band 311 did have people mistaking their name for a coded KKK reference, I could see someone making that leap.

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    4. I worry that framing this all as ‘censorship’

      I’m curious, are you referring to this article or just the general attitude people have? I tried to approach the subject and frame it in a way that’s more than just shouting “censooooorshippp!!” but if I could’ve done it a better way let me know.

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      1. I’m not the poster in question, but it seems to me that it’s more about the general attitude people have. I can definitely tell by the way you wrote it that you’re not trying to pass value judgments on the specific changes, but rather you’re trying to inform the reader about the judgments made by the localizers at the time the change was made. I honestly can’t see a way it could have been done better.

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    5. It’s funny – the localization of Celes’ suicide attempt removes the direct reference to death, but when I played it, I read it as being sarcastic, and therefore, a lot darker. “Perked’em right up!” as implying they’re happier dead, basically.

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      1. I’d never thought of that, but it makes a lot of sense now that I think about it.

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    6. About the Celes scene, pretty much everyone in the comments on that part of Mato’s playthrough had the same reaction I did, that Cid was basically saying that they were happier dead. It was pretty obvious.

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      1. Yeah – but I think there’s almost a second level to it, written/localized as it is. It’s not just a sort of grim acknowledgement that death is better than the life they’ve been leading there, but the tone of it has the feel of some real gallows humor, combined with some actual encouragement toward suicide.

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    7. Sure, most of the examples are pretty silly and change little on most’s overall experience, but if we go by the definition of the word, it is still “censorship.” They still changed the original meaning and depictions to better fit with the moral values overseas. Just because it is called that doesn’t make it outright bad in all cases. And as Mr. Mandelin said, he didn’t use the word itself in the article anyway

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    8. The one with Bowser and the champagne bottle seemed the most ridiculous to me. Apparently it’s okay for him to be waving around what’s still clearly a bottle of champagne, it’s just not okay for him to actually drink it.

      I suppose, though, that’s consistent with the characters from EarthBound who were drinking beer in the original Japanese: you can see that their faces are turning red as they drink from the big glass mugs that they’re carrying, full of nice, cool, amber-colored, frothy…. iced coffee. Well, naturally. What else would you think they would be drinking?

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    9. For what it is worth, I always read Celes’ “Perked ’em right up” line as sarcasm, or dark humor. In that it was clear to me the folks that jumped off the cliff didn’t come back.

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  11. You know, a thought occurs to me as I read this list. I know there’s always a certain amount of shock when a SNES-era game leaves in a reference to death or killing: “OMG! I thought the content policy didn’t allow that!” But I notice the wording in a policy itself specifically references EXCESSIVE references or exceptionally VIOLENT depictions–not the concept of death itself. This is probably why simply saying the words “death” and “die” are OK sometimes–and the bit about translators being exceptionally zealous explains why sometimes even the idiomatic references to death got cut.

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  12. I actually recall a game that didn’t come over here despite the fact that it was about the American election system. Nintendo Power gave the game a bit of coverage, talking about this NES game where you played as a presidential candidate and you had to use strategy to win votes in each state. I’m assuming one of the reasons for it not being localized was because of the political messages contained therein. Despite the fact that the game used slightly altered named for everyone involved (George Bush became “George Push”, for example), I imagine it would be very easy to twist the game’s themes into being for either the Democrats or the Republicans, depending on what the localization team’s own beliefs were.

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  13. But… if you alter the well so that it’s two feet deep, the well literally won’t work any more! I could be generous and assume they’re taking a dig at Nintendo’s policy, but I think they should have rethought that one.

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  14. Final Fantasy 8 was censored when localized, some blood was changed to blue liquid.

    https://www.movie-censorship.com/report.php?ID=432714

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  15. In Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for the SNES, there was similar censorship to Siren from FF6:

    http://turtlepedia.wikia.com/wiki/Aska

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  16. Saturn from the Puyo Puyo series is referred to as Dark Prince in the few English releases. It’s a shame he is called that in Puyo Puyo Tetris and we live in the year 2018 where video games and religion have nothing in common.

    A funny one is Metal Slug english releases had the red blood changes to gray sweat, but you still have the ability to flame the enemies to death as they scream in horror…

    The game Freaky Flying had the GameCube cover modified so Traci Torpedeos breasts were reduced in size and Cactus Rose’s cloths were modified to cover up more of her skin. What’s strange is the game’s content isn’t censored, so the change is odd, especially when the rating clearly mentions “Suggestive Theme”.

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    1. They considered the name Saturn to be too religious? Frickin POKÉMON has a character named Saturn.

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      1. No, the above poster is mistaken. He’s called Satan, not Saturn. (サタン, not サターン.)

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    2. “It’s a shame he is called that in Puyo Puyo Tetris and we live in the year 2018 where video games and religion have nothing in common.”

      Censorship will always eventually cut something you like. So much fear mongering that videogames make young impressionable kids more prone to violence, or sexual assaults… with that line of thought given credit, it’s only a matter of time until some focus group feedback at Sega says “oh noes, this cartoony game is trying to act as a religious reeducation gateway drug for kids to tell them Satan is cool” and there’s just no wiggle room away from it because that’s the message. We don’t live in a post-religion world, so that consumer base would be still large in 2018 and worth catering to.

      Considering the game is not a MegaTen in the biblical sense, this is actually good localization to suit target markets. A similar rationale why “[Color] Face” boss names in Xenoblades 1 was changed in the otherwise uncensored European version to a less direct equivalent that’s not as much of a loaded term. Just Sega’s commitment to Sherzo’s quirk (accidental innuendos) instead of purging it for rating reasons (then getting slapped with a T rating when they could have gone for an E instead at the cost of a compromised localization) is admirable enough.

      That cover art change is probably ERSB. Even if the game is M rated, there are guidelines for how much explicit content can be used on the packaging since everyone can see it. If you want a clearer example, check the differences between Senran Kagura’s European and US covers, or strategic sword placements to hide cleavage in Dragon Quest IX’s US cover, or some interesting shading differences for the same artwork for the recent Berserk console game.

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  17. When the SNES port of Brandish was released in the U.S. in 1995, the artwork used for the front of the box was slightly altered to hide Dela Delon’s butt.

    Original Super Famicom box art: https://imgur.com/buovcJj
    Altered Super NES box art: https://imgur.com/gWLqDtT

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    1. The game data itself was censored twice for explicit sexual content, first time when it was ported from PC-98 computers (unregulated, aside from a general law against pornographic content) to the Japanese Super Famicom, then for the localization. Same goes for the sequel.

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  18. In Link’s Awakening, there’s a mermaid who loses her top (aka a bikini), which is changed to a necklace in English (and her associated dialogue is changed too), as well as a hippo that loses her… boobs… (she’s supposed to be modeling nude for an artist).
    Interestingly, TCRF says both were uncensored in the original French and German versions, but DX changed them to match the English version!
    https://tcrf.net/The_Legend_of_Zelda:_Link%27s_Awakening/Version_Differences

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    1. That’s actually very interesting, because it suggests that the French and German versions were based on the original Japanese release of the game instead of the English localization.

      For the few Japanese-made games in the 90s that got translated into more languages than just English, what would almost always happen is that the English version of the game would be made first, and the localizations for the other languages would be made using the English version as a base, with the script being translated from the English version instead of the Japanese version. This seems to be because at that time, it was much easier to hire people with experience translating from English to other European languages than it was to hire people with experience translating from Japanese to any other European language besides English. (Another thing that might have been a factor is that languages like French and German also use the Latin alphabet, so if the localization teams for those languages started with the English version, they wouldn’t need to redo any changes to the game’s code that needed to be made to make the text display properly; the most they’d need to do is to add some characters with diacritics to the font the game used.)

      In theory, being translated directly from Japanese would allow the translations into other languages to be more faithful to the original script than if they had been based on the English translation, but the German translator apparently took a lot of bizarre liberties with the script anyway.

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  19. The choice to localize Holy as Pearl has a bit of a legacy, too. The problem of how to localize Holy came up again in Kingdom Hearts, but it was Disney, rather than Nintendo, that Square was concerned about upsetting. Holy got variously localized as Holy, Faith, and — in a nod to the SNES FF6 localization — Pearl. It even got localized different ways in the same game at least once: In KH2, Mickey’s Holy becomes “Pearl” but Minnie’s Holy becomes “Faith.”

    https://www.khwiki.com/Faith

    The games have largely settled on “Faith” as a localization now, though, which I think is a good compromise. Faith is a very central theme in Kingdom Hearts, although it’s more “faith in your friends” than religious faith. And it feels a little less weird to have Mickey Mouse casting Faith than Holy. Like, yeah, I do think Mickey Mouse would have faith in me! He has faith in everyone!

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  20. Censorship in the 90s is cool an’ all, but the 2000s is where it’s AT! Take Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, released in Japan in July 2004 and in the Americas the following October:

    Much like Lufia II, this game had its OWN casino girl drop the bunny ears.
    https://tcrf.net/Paper_Mario:_The_Thousand-Year_Door/Regional_Differences#Peeka

    In Rogueport’s back alley, a secret shed originally hid this incriminating evidence of Toad murder.
    https://tcrf.net/Paper_Mario:_The_Thousand-Year_Door/Regional_Differences#Messy_Shed

    Finally, Vivian’s character is no longer transgender in the English and German releases, oddly retained in all other translations.

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  21. Do you have any idea how Faxanadu managed to sneak past Nintendo’s policies? Many of the characters throughout the game are very clearly smoking (even in their portraits), and not only was this game released in America in 1989, it was released just as cigarette companies were coming under fire for advertising to children. It feels like a pretty big feature for Nintendo to miss.

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    1. Sounds like Nintendo considered that as a niche title more than anything.

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  22. Interestingly, the alcohol reference is still there in the French version of Pokémon. The girl next to him asks “T’as vidé la cave ou quoi?” it would translates to something like “Did you empty the cellar or what?” which, in this context, implies he drank all the wine from the cellar. He still wakes up thanks to coffee later.

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  23. Pretty sure that the reason for changing “playboy bunnies” in Lufia 2 wasn’t censorship, but “playboy bunny” outfit being copyrighted.
    Sailors from Pokemon Ruby/Sapphire do the same pose as Bowser from the SMRPG example
    https://tcrf.net/Pok%C3%A9mon_Ruby_and_Sapphire/Regional_Differences#Trainer_Sprites

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    1. I actually agree with you and was hesitant at first to list it where it is now. After looking at various censorship articles and fan sites I figured it was worth mentioning there just in case, but I definitely should’ve added a note or disclaimer or something.

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  24. I wonder if those rules about excessive force in sports are why we didn’t get some of the later Kunio-kun sports titles on NES. One was planned for English release, the hockey game, but it never made it. We got the first soccer game but not its sequel, nor the basketball game (which is especially over-the-top!)

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  25. There’s the scene in Golgo 13 where cherry actually gets naked in the Japanese version.

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  26. A political message/statement example may be the game Guerrilla War.

    In the Japanese release (titled ゲバラ), you are clearly playing as Che Guevara and Fidel Castro overthrowing Fulgencio Batista. For the NES English release, both the game and manual was changed to make it two unnamed commandos overthrowing an unnamed dictator.

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    1. Che’s likeness is in the game’s intro, so the context is still fairly obvious if you know what he looks like. Kind of surprised that was allowed to remain.

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  27. I always forget that Playboy bunnies are a thing… I just thought they were afraid to show us fishnet stockings or something…

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  28. I’ve actually always thought the spell names “Doom” and “Pearl” (of great price, maybe?) from the Super NES release of Final Fantasy 6 were much more evocative and memorable than having spells called “Death” and “Holy”. Ironically, there are far more people who have been offended just by hearing me, personally, say that not every aspect of the “censored” script was all bad than there have ever been people who were offended by seeing the word “death” in a video game.

    Also, Nintendo was very arbitrary about what they would and wouldn’t count as a reference to death. Apparently Final Fantasy 4 couldn’t have a spell called “Death”, but it was allowed to have a spell called “Fatal”. The change to “Doom” at least had some logic behind it in that the word “doom” doesn’t always refer to death; it’s a word that can refer to any inevitable catastrophe, but there’s no way you can interpret “fatal” as not referring to death.

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  29. I just want a possible future release of KH2 to restore ALL content that were censored in the english version. Xigbar’s scope, lighting undead pirates on fire and so on. Sure, I suppose at least some of those changes were mandated by Disney but overall, it’s just weird…

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  30. I don’t think anyone mentioned Kid Icarus on the NES yet. Bear in mind, this is an in-house Nintendo game! Both in the game and in an illustration in the manual, the Syren enemy has exposed breasts, nipples and all. Given how strict Nintendo was at the time, this is a strange exception to the rule. I wonder if Nintendo’s heavy-handed censorship was driven only by a few individuals who took their jobs too seriously, and maybe a few who didn’t. Bionic Commando’s exploding Hitler face… I mean “Master D”… was an incredible oversight if Nintendo was as picky as they were with other games.

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    1. Kid Icarus was an early release, to my recollection. And Nintendo America wasn’t as stringent with their policy enforcement before Nintendo became a household word and a generic term for video games. Heck, the Super Mario Brothers manual talks about lives and killing , which are both terms explicitly banned by Nintendo America’s content policy. And then other places are carefully reworded to avoid any implication of death.

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