Localisation has become somewhat divisive word. For some it’s almost a curse, a method to taint the sanctity of the original work, be it whatever it may. To others it’s more like an overall way to tell you’re doing your best to bring over a work with a whole new translation thrown in there.
Localisation costs money, there’s no debate about that. In the years past localisation was only done to pieces that garnered that extra effort in order to maximise the exposure and consumption of the product in good faith. I’ve used Godzilla: King of the Monsters as an example before, as it’s a damn good example of localisation adding something to the piece while not taking anything essential to the story. While purists will always claim that Godzilla/Gojira/ゴジラ is the only true version of the movie, the Raymond Burr starred version was instrumental in the success of the franchise in the West and changed landscape in many ways.
Godzilla: King of the Monsters wasn’t a run of the mill dub, it was more and took itself seriously. Burr’s character was essential at the time to bring the events closer the American (and European) audience, as none of us experiences the A-bomb like they did. Not that the current Japanese society has, they’ve more or less inherited the cultural trauma, but with Fukushima accident being used as the background with Shin Godzilla, we have a good branching point with the whole runaway nuclear message. Burr’s narration and scenes added to the work, but never tried to take anything away from the core piece. It helps that Burr was an excellent actor.
Keep in mind that original Godzilla had hit the theatres in the US in a very limited way, and with equally limited success. It wasn’t until King of the Monsters was localised, or Americanized, the franchise made the cultural impact in the US as we recall the franchise starting as today.
New World’s Godzilla 1985 tried to replicate the localisation that the original had, but the less said about how largely they lacked the respect for the work and how much Dr. Pepper had advertisement in it, the better. One of the best bits that came from the disaster was Burr’s ending speech, which still can resonate with viewers. Not because it’s that well scripted, but because Burr manages to put some damn effort into it.
With movie companies getting more lax with their localisation, often just throwing in a dumpster-tier dub or the rare hastily collected translation, Nintendo tightened their grip with the games released on their system, removing religious tones, violence and gore. While Current Year is no argument for anything, you’d think that in these thirty years and some, Nintendo and other companies would’ve loosened up and stopped dictating what consumer can and can not take.
That is the crux between the current idea of localisation compared to the 1950’s. Rather than thinking How do we add to this piece so it can be enjoyed by a larger amount of people?, it seems places like Nintendo Treehouse and 8-4 translations are in a stance of How do we change this so it won’t hurt anyone’s feelings while pushing an agenda? The agenda bit may seem a bit overbearing, but when you remember 8-4 turning a character into Tumblr pronouns in Gunvolt and changing Panthera’s name into Zonda, fucking the script and characterisations in Drakengard 3, Treehouse cutting in-game content and screwing up the translation in latest Fire Emblem and removed character modifiers in Xenoblade X.
The basic main intention is there across all the variations; to allow the piece to have as large exposure as possible to general audience. For Godzilla: King of the Monsters it was believed to be a movie worth the localisation effort because the movie was too good to leave to the smaller audiences. Then with Godzilla 1985 you had the deal with Dr. Pepper in there with the Cold War making an impact on the editing table. Now you have these companies not only localising these pieces, but doing intentional omissions and changes to fit certain world view, in some cases catering only on sort of audience rather than towards the general consumers.
You have to question whether or not it would be a good idea to cater to niche audience within niche audience rather than aim for the things that makes bigger bucks. For Fire Emblem, the audience is already within a niche, and as gaming consumers seem to demand more puristic localisations, if not just straight up translations with nothing else, you really have to sit down and think twice whether or not you want your core fans to throw their arms and call your localisation team on changing the content of the game. We should be asking why was Fire Emblem If… developed to have head patting minigame, but that’s as the developers intended and catered to the adult otaku audience, the crowd Treehouse didn’t seem to want to attract. Often a raging fanboy will just cave in at some point and nevertheless purchase the product they so vehemently opposed. Then again, Nintendo does whatever the fuck it wants without giving two shits about what the general consumer wants, so meddling with game content pretty much fits with that.
There has always been a sub-cultural movement to gain foreign products in their most unchanged form, but yet the overall cultural atmosphere e.g. in the US, Germany, Spain, Italy and France require almost everything to be dubbed, maybe even localised to a large degree. Japan themselves are not foreign to this either, but nobody in the West ever calls out them for dubbing or whatever Japanese equivalent for whitewashing is. We’re not even getting some games to West because of rampant feeling hurting imaginary bodies have on some, and the games we do get seem to always go through this sort of content removal and censorship process. Even now, games are being censored to keep certain age rating, like with the upcoming Western release of God Eater. This sort of changes are more understandable than outright omission of gameplay elements. Most people don’t have the option of importing either, due to lack of language skills or due to other issues, like local legislation on import goods or the like.
Of course, people have argued that games should be grown up and already do away with content that could hurt somebody’s feelings, but equally so these people should grow some balls and let things be as intended and allow people to enjoy them in whatever way they want without any bells and whistles attached with the localisers’ own interests. Then again, if it sells well, then it sells well. And then again, any company can save a lot of money on not spending resources on unnecessary changes and just give a title good and proper translation without taking anything else into count.