Another sort-of-addendum to the old post about ethical choices in videogames, where I talked about the Bravely Second sidequests. You probably remember that Bravely Second‘s release in the west was met with some backlash due to several localisation changes. One job outfit was changed to avoid racist stereotyping, a few other outfits were slightly modified to show less skin, but most importantly: the way that the sidequests worked was amended.
When news of this broke, it was quickly picked up by people who had no knowledge of Bravely Second, but who were alrady enraged about the removal of pointless fanservice in different JRPGs, such as Fire Emblem Fates and Xenoblade 2.
The extent of the changes to Bravely Second was greatly exaggerated in the process. You can tell that many people barely bothered to understand what was actually being changed, because there are still people today whining that the game’s overall story was allegedly changed and that alternative game endings were removed. This is not true. It’s the result of a chain of hearsay and misunderstandings, brought about by the fact that almost no one had played any version of the game when the story broke. And most people didn’t actually care about the game, they just loved the opportunity to attack Nintendo, Square Enix and other gamers.
I didn’t follow the discussion too closely at the time. I was trying to avoid spoilers, and I couldn’t stand the quality of the discussion, which was dominated by the sort of people who’ll tell every woman or minority to stop being such a baby about discrimination and death threats, but consider the removal of a bikini outfit in a videogame to be the worst oppression of our time. Since few people knew the first thing about the game, and nobody seemed all that curious about the exact nature of the changes, the discussion was pretty worthless anyway.
It wasn’t until months later, after I had finished – and enjoyed – the game, that I dared have another look and seek answers to the question of what exactly had I been missing out on?
I found a GameFaqs thread where user misedejem explains the actual differences between the Japanese and the NA/EU versions of Bravely Second. Interestingly, from what I understand … I “missed out on” a design flaw that was rightfully fixed for the Western releases! This was not censorship but, as Nintendo explained, an improvement based on user feedback.
The thing I find most interesting about this is that the main argument against this change … is actually the best argument for the change!
Based on hearsay, misunderstandings and exaggerations, Western players worried that by removing negative outcomes to the sidequest scenarios, their choices would ultimately not matter. That they were being denied the experience of facing the consequences of their decision. It seemed to them that this removed depth and complexity from the moral choices, as well as material from the game. They could only come up with one explanation for this: that the localisation team thought that Western gamers are stupid and couldn’t handle the complicated themes from the Japanese original.*
But in reality: The Japanese players complained that the original version of the game made them feel that their decisions didn’t matter!
Because in the Japanese version, you always get a negative ending the first time you do a sidequest. Regardless of your actual choice! This was probably done in order to encourage players to try the other option the second time, but it sounds really frustrating, especially for players who take the moral choices seriously and put a lot of thought in their decision.
It’s important to keep in mind that the outcome of the sidequests don’t affect the game’s story in any way. We’re only talking about little wrap-up dialogue scenes. This isn’t about “living with the consequences of your mistakes”, but it’s the game arbitrarily making you feel bad about your choice, regardless of the choice itself. It’s the equivalent of posing someone a riddle but changing the right answer so that he can never guess correctly.
The NA/EU version of Bravely Second changes things so that Edea is content with her choice, and why shouldn’t she be?
What I find interestingly is that while the Japanese version encourages you to try the other option and get that second job, the Western version makes that decision a lot tougher! After all, you’re most likely completely satisfied with your previous choice. Would you really do things differently, betray your own convictions, just to get another job asterisk? This dilemma weights much more heavily if the game allows you to be happy with your initial decision. Or if you’re unhappy with it, it’s because of your own thoughts and ambivalent feelings, not because the game is artificially guilt-tripping you.
So, while the Western versions are altered from the Japanese one, you could really argue about whether these alterations make it inferior or … superior! Purists might disapprove of such improvements on principle, but I am sure they make up a really small percentage of the players. Most people would surely prefer a better gaming experience over a faithful recreation of the original’s known frustrations and design flaws.
And even if you disagree with the decision to change this, it’s just not fair to attack the localisation team for supposed disrespect towars the players, when their goals were to implement player feedback and provide a better product. It’s completely inaproppriate to insult them and claim that they had some kind of ill intent.
Of course, I’ve written all of that without having played the Japanese version of the game myself. If I am misunderstanding something, I’d love to hear from people who’ve played the game in Japanese.
*) This persecution complex runs strong in the gaming community. I think it’s the reason why people react with such venom towards Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest, a perfectly harmless, if simplistic SNES RPG. But it was specifically created for the US market as a kind of “role-playing game for beginners”, which was taken as a personal insult.