Video games are a worldwide industry, with games being created in numerous countries and languages around the world. Japan has been, and still is, one of the epicenters of video games. RPGs are a bread-and-butter genre that western fans clamor over when the next big thing is released. Fire Emblem is currently one of those franchises that people want to get their hands on, in particular, because of the breakout success of “Fire Emblem: Awakening” on Nintendo 3DS. But it is a Japanese game, so how are non-Japanese speakers able to play it? Easy, it gets ‘localized’ into the language of choice.

Localization is nothing new to the industry; since the beginning of video games themselves, Japanese titles have been translated and content-modified for an English-speaking audience. Nevertheless, only until recently has more and more scrutiny been placed on the translations. Ten to twenty years ago, the Internet was not what it is today, and the average gamer did not have much information and behind-the-scenes knowledge of the inner workings of the localization process, or the industry as a whole. In my experience back then, all I ever knew about how a game came over to the West was thanks to the ‘Making of’ discs packaged with some of Working Designs’ titles (in particular, Lunar 1, Lunar 2 and Arc the Lad).

fire emblem fates forever alone

Why…Why did Treehouse do this?

Right now, Fire Emblem Fates–the follow-up to Awakening–is embroiled in a controversy over its localization, specifically the cutting and censoring of content and quality of the English-speaking dialogue. Personally, as I’ve grown older, I’ve become more of a purist. I like what I’m reading to be as close to the original source material as possible. Others believe differently. I’ve had debates with many people about the quality and accuracy of the game’s English translations, and after comparing the official translations to a fan version, it’s clear there is room for interpretation in the text. In comparing these two translations, for example, I found some characters acted differently and, as a result, became different people.

This is not to say there were never any crazy changes made to games in the past. A person only has to look at “Persona 1” and the race-swapping of one character to see how extreme localization can be. Working Designs, linked previously, even tells us their process of how they don’t do a strict translation. So what’s changed between then and now? I’d argue social media is the reason why fans and gamers are more boisterous and angry about how a game gets translated.

Before Twitter and Youtube, we lived in the “magazine era,” as I dub it. There were websites, obviously, but little interaction could be had between companies and the consumers. Unless you were in the media, there was an ivory tower, a wall, between creator and fan. In 1995, how would I be able to say anything to or hear anything from Shigeru Miyamoto? I couldn’t, unless he popped up at a fan event, or I wrote a fan letter. However, such communication would be secret, isolated, and would have a little impact on the larger conversation.

fire emblem fates censorship parody

People did actually tweet this picture out to Nintendo of America.

However, thanks to social media, everyone’s views and thoughts are open for the public to see. Good or bad, we can now see people’s political and social thoughts and ideologies, or go digging for them. This is the crux of the entire issue: the unknown is lifted. An RPG is an interactive novel. Every character and setting is put there for major or minor purposes. What they say and do, how they interact with each other, defines not only the characters but also the world they live in and the narrative, meanings, and symbolism of the story.

Because Fire Emblem is being translated from Japanese to English, obviously not everything can carry over word-for-word. There are different syntax and spellings that make a rhyme incompatible between languages, or the available menu space is too small for the strict English translation and needs a smaller, similar word. So it is left in the hands of the localization team to translate the spirit of the words. However, that spirit can be tainted. If fans do not know anything about the localizer, there is no conflict of interest in their mind.

As there is an assumption of professionalism and them (the localizer) doing the right thing. That´s not always the case though, because when you’re reading people’s views on social, political and other matters. Well, it sure ruins the masquerade. As doubts creep in, and now people have to question ‘is that really what was said in the Japanese version? In the case of Fire Emblem it is completely true.

I’ve lived and worked overseas in numerous Asian countries. I didn’t speak the local language, and so I’ve had to rely on co-workers and friends to help me from time to time to accomplish important tasks. This requires a level of trust that what I say to them is properly translated to the other person. Watch a sports interview and some players have interpreters. This is nothing unique, but it is the real world. I feel the most interesting issue of this entire controversy is trust and professionalism.

treehouse kills off fire emblem fates

It´s not even worthy of a “Lost in translation” joke, because this is pure SJW rubbish with no doubt (correction, Henry and Olivia are from FE:Awakening).

If I hire a translator, I expect that person to translate what I say. I don’t expect him to make something up. I have to trust that person. If I learn that what I said was not translated correctly, would I re-hire that person? Of course not. There are real-world implications and consequences. Why should video games be any different? If the video game industry is supposed to be an adult, grown-up industry, why does it accept less of something so important that is basic in the real world? Why is expecting quality work considered childish and entitled behavior? If people spend money on a TV, is it childish and entitled to expect the remote to be labeled correctly?

People have given lots of arguments as to why they have zero-to-little issue with the Fire Emblem situation. “It’s either this or nothing”, “the original dialogue was too dry or boring or did nothing for the scene” to even the juvenile reply of “if you don’t like it, learn Japanese” or “Its only video games. There are more important things in the world.”

The first reply is the most heart breaking. There is a fan base that enjoys the series but due to company decisions, they are starved of one of their favorite titles. I can relate with my love of the Yakuza series. However, it feels almost abusive at worst, insulting at best, that fans have to go through this line of thought to get a product they enjoy. They have to settle for an inferior version of what other people are getting. It only shows there is a contrast between the real world and the gaming world. Would someone say “at least I got the meat” if they ordered a cheeseburger and didn’t get the cheese? No, they would demand to get the product they paid for.

treehouse slaughter of fire emblem fates

Localization, or censorship? I would love to hear statement from Treehouse on this matter.

Not every story or character can appeal to everyone. Star Wars is a huge franchise but not everyone likes it, just look at how divisive Anakin is. So when I hear someone say “Oh, the original dialogue was too dry for English ”it has me think where is the respect to the original creator, or the characters themselves? This video shows official version vs. a fan translation of a support convo. How people talk to each other influences the perception of who they are, their personality, or what is happening in the moment. Seeing the blank stares in the official translation, it could mean different things.

Do they hate or love each other? Did something embarrassing happen between them? Is one mute or injured? Are they hiding? The point is by changing what they said from the original text, those characters are different people. A character that could have been liked by a player could now be disliked and vice-versa. It should not be the job of the localizer to re-write an author’s work by making up stuff up. Again, their job should be to translate. If the character is boring, then the character is boring. If the author wanted the character to talk like a dragon, he’d have done that originally.

I can understand where people are coming from with numbers one and two. Obviously, I disagree with them, but I can respect their passion to get the product they want. Even so, the third and fourth replies, especially when coming from people in the gaming media, is not only a juvenile insult, it adds nothing to the debate. If a person could read and speak Japanese, why would they bother to care if it came in English? Additionally, not everyone has the time or the ability to learn a second, third, or fourth language to match every interest they have in life.

fire emblem fates censorship

It´s no wonder why people want to import the Japanese version instead.

I like Bayern Munich, JRPGs and Three Kingdoms history. Does that mean I have to learn German, Japanese and Chinese to enjoy them? More importantly, it tells you that person doesn’t care about quality control. If a company cannot translate a game properly, a game which they are making the business decision to produce in a foreign language, how they can be trusted to do something so-called more important? If I can’t trust Jimmy to hit the ball in pre-season, why would I trust him in the regular season, or the playoffs?

Again, this all comes back to trust. We, the gaming public, have to trust the localization team that they are putting their ideological, social, and political differences aside and be professional by translating the game properly. It was easy to automatically trust them years ago when social media allowed us to live behind the iron curtain. But today it can’t happen, and so that trust is harder to earn and easier to break. Fire Emblem Fates is another example of us escaping the cave. We cannot unsee what we’ve seen in the industry today.

We have unparalleled access to it, and with it, a greater level of scrutiny can be focused on every move they make. Some people see this as a negative kind of thing, believing some segments of the fandom to be entitled whiners when raising grievances about their game of choice. Nevertheless, I see this as something positive, as I like the idea of consumers having more power to keep their industry in check and ensure higher-quality standards.

Fire Emblem Fates Changes
Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance Interview

This is a personal opinion of the writer, and it doesn’t necessarily represent the other writers (nor The Gaming Ground´s) opinions.

Dane Smith
The Gaming Ground
Twitter: LasombraFiles

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28 Comments ON " Fire Emblem: Fates – A broken trust, a perso... "
  • Philip Weigel

    It’s not entitlement. Look at the anime community. For crying out loud, they have anime and manga translated mere days after it’s out in Japan. Funimation had to step up its game for One Piece because fan translators were doing such a good job.

    I bet you dollars to donuts (Vash: Mmm! Donuts!) that the anime community could have gotten Fates, translated it and put it out there to DL within 2 weeks.

    • I´ll pass this one to Dane, because I´m not a pro when it comes to translations in the anime community. I´ve heard about the One Piece and Funimation case though.

      • Philip Weigel

        Basically the anime fandom was sick and tired of 4Kids level B.S. “localization” and decided to fans-late all anime and manga ASAP. There are HUGE communities dedicated to making sure that translations get done quickly and accurately when new episodes air.

        That way we can see the anime at the same time as Japan, granted on a bit of a delay, but, man, it’s absurd how fast it goes sometimes.

        • Dane Smith

          I agree with you. Quality work is never entitlement. Its just a shame that some of the paid professionals hired by the companies don’t take as much pride in their craft as fan subbers.

        • Ah, I understand. Thanks for the info 😉 Well, they are hardcore dedicated fans I guess =)

          • Philip Weigel


            Heck, I remember for awhile I was watching the Cardfight!! Vanguard season 4 anime as it came out every week.

            The new episodes would be subbed mere hours and uploaded mere hours after the show premiered.

            Sure, sometimes the subs seemed off, but 99 times out of 100 they fit.

          • That´s really impressive. Imo, they should start their own localization studio, and then contact Nintendo (Treehouse needs to go).

          • Philip Weigel

            Don’t forget that Weekly Shonen Jump mangas are scanned, translated and edited every week.

          • That´s pretty darn impressive if you ask me. Treehouse should take notes…

          • Hajjster

            I do work for a Japanese localization companies and it’s quite fast and very high quality. I can usually knock out a tankobon in a day at my fastest.

          • Well, maybe you should get in contact with Nintendo then? 😉

  • Unacceptable.

    • Yep, that´s also why I hope that Nintendo will clean up the mess at Treehouse Studios.

      • ForeVision

        Let us hope it will prevent the “History repeats itself” issue. However I sincerely hope they will patch and try to save Fates, as nobody deserves having a game with such good moments and story be trampled by voice acting and writing that can be put to shame easily by games with less budget.

        • Word on that. Yes, that would be the best thing to do at this time. Well, it´s either that or the Japanese import.

          • ForeVision

            Except the Japanese import would have you import a Japanese 3DS along with it, which is quite the expense for your everyday gamer. Back on topic: The most baffling thing about this whole localization, is that it even happened. How can nobody involved in this, in even a mildly influential position not have been like “Hold up guys, this is going wrong. If you all don’t want to relay what’s going on, then i should”? Let us hope Nintendo strengthens the internal ties between it’s regions, that this atrocity may never happen again.

          • That´s true of course. Well, yeah. Then again, I have no idea how Nintendo´s intern quality control looks like. At least not anymore (I knew their process quite well in the early 90s).

          • ForeVision

            I think we can safely deduce from your article that they probably only give each other a call every month to say “hey, how are things? good? okay goodbye”. It’s a very sad thing to see things so easily given out of hand, one could argue it’s trust, but then all the more it’s that trust that (should) now be severely damaged between Treehouse and anyone looking to localize via them. Also a little tidbit that i happen to know via someone owning a European game news website: before Fire Emblem: Fates even released in America, he had a review copy given to him by NINTENDO themselves, which was the Japanese version with an English patch. Now if that doesn’t get you thinking…..

  • Hajjster

    As someone that professionally does localization for manga, it looks like they didn’t even pay for a translator but just went with visual cues.

    • Really? Cool =) And you have no idea how close to the truth you are. As it seems like Nintendo paid very little (to nothing) for the Western localization of the game (those are the rumors at least), thus the terrible localization.

      • ForeVision

        It’s more than simply abhorrent considering the game’s popularity probably launched it from “niche” to “mainstream” (also having to do with the characters appearing in smash bros). You’d think such games tend to get a better treatment? But no, as i seriously doubt they’ve even done typecasting on this. Take for example Stella Glow which, in my opinion, is an excellent piece of voice acting on the English side, even though it doesn’t have dual-audio, you may not get a choice, but what you do have is great, then we compare that to Fates and i may need to get a crowbar to pry my hand from my face…

        Food for thought tho, maybe it’s a major screw-up that went under the radar due to how Nintendo operates and this incident will bring much needed change and regulation when it comes to localization and quality control.

        • I think the main reason is money, because like I said earlier. Rumors has it that Nintendo pays really badly for Western localization jobs. In short, they let in all kinds of garbage to do the work for pennies and a handful of cents. I don´t know if this is the truth, but for the last couple of days three different people had me know that they turned down jobs at Nintendo due to bad paychecks.

          • ForeVision

            Hmmm, this could explain why Patrick Seitz isn’t in Fates but is in Stella Glow (one of my personal favorite VA’s). Do you happen to have any idea why Nintendo is penny-pinching the West’s localizations? And if that’s really the case, i hope we as the consumers can in some way pressure Nintendo to leave it up to companies like Xseed or 8-4 to do the work, speaking of 8-4 it makes you wonder how the previous Fire Emblem had Dual Audio and a so much better localization when it was supposed to be the last one, and now that new life has been breathed into the franchise it’s OK to drop all of that and cut costs to the point where it makes such a massive cavity of difference between the Japanese and Western versions’ quality.

            Can this really be attributed to what they call “Saving the best for last”?

      • Hajjster

        It doesn’t cost much to get someone to grind out a manga series or game script for you – maybe $5,000 at most.

        • Really, interesting. So doing a Western localization of “Star Fox Zero” would cost about 5K USD then? (just the text translation).

          • Hajjster

            Somewhere around there for a part-time translator. I translate manga for $2 a page or 8 cents a word and my rate is actually a bit high.

          • Interesting, and impressive. You should sell your services to Nintendo 😉

  • ForeVision

    Ladies and gentlemen, there may be a bright point on the horizon in regards to what happened with Fire Emblem: Fates. As per my understanding this:

    “Now I would like to explain about the changes in
    Nintendo’s corporate governance system as resolved in the meeting of the
    Board of Directors held yesterday. We resolved to transition to a
    system with an audit and supervisory committee, and to introduce an
    executive officer system.

    The intent of this transition is to create an audit and supervisory
    committee with a majority of external directors to strengthen the
    auditing and oversight over the Board of Directors and enhance our
    corporate governance.

    As for the timing of this transition, we will transition once we have
    the necessary changes to the company statutes approved at the general
    meeting of shareholders for the 76th fiscal term, to be held this year
    on June 29th.”

    The purpose of introducing an executive officer system is to separate
    business decision-making and oversight from business execution, and to
    delegate authority for executing business.

    This clarifies the responsibility for business execution and enables us
    to create a flexible management system that can respond quickly and
    effectively to sudden changes in our business environment.”

    This, which comes from Kimishima himself, would mean (according to someone in said discussion) the following:

    “It means they will give more power to people to make decisions. At
    present the Japanese system means that every decision.. and I mean every
    decision must have Kimishima’s hanko stamped on it. The new system will
    mean that one person at Nintendo does not control everything and
    decisions on the direction of products and all business activities will
    allow more input from outside the inner circle of the company.

    I work in Japan and the decision making system is very frustrating. Also a
    boss can make totally irrational decisions and no one can stop them.
    (Iwata insisting on the Wii u when many, including Kimishima, did not
    think it would fly. )”

    Of course this could be a problem as Reggie is also a part of that board, but so Satoru Shibata. I also have reason to believe this system may have been called in due to what happened with Treehouse and Fates. Let’s hope this is that cue we’ve all been waiting for which means bullsh!t like this never happens again.

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