By Jerry Hrechka / November 11th, 2015
The following opinion piece is part of a debate of sorts about Fatal Frame and Nintendo. To check out the rebuttal, be sure to click here. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the writer and do not reflect the opinions at large of Operation Rainfall.
Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water came out in America this Halloween, and while I haven’t finished it, I am enjoying it enough to possibly call it my favorite game this year. (Granted I’ve been using 2015 to play catch-up with older games like Valkyria Chronicles and Folklore) It’s atmospheric, spooky, and the use of the Wii U Gamepad to take pictures adds a level of immersion that makes it very spooky.
Of course, the game has been no stranger to controversy, or at least as controversial as a fringe game off of the worst-selling console of the generation can be. We’ve had an article here by Azario Lopez detailing his grievances with how Nintendo has handled the release of the game. There’s also the debate in the comments section that I’m not reading because I’m pretty sure it would mean that oprainfall would have to start offering me hazard pay. There are parts of it that I agree with, specifically wishing for a more wide release of the game, but his overall statement — that Nintendo of America is trying to kill Fatal Frame in the west — is one that I find hard to get behind.
The thing is, for all their good or ill, Nintendo is a company with profit as its sole motivation. Attempting to ‘kill’ something isn’t in their purview. If NOA really was against Fatal Frame being a franchise in the West, it’s more likely they’d never release it in the west. Even in the tragic event that the newest Fatal Frame was never released in the Americas, I would simply see that as Nintendo not releasing it because they didn’t think it would be profitable.
It’s important to note that horror games, especially now, are not in vogue. Established horror games like Resident Evil have simply become action games with zombies in it, and it didn’t even take Dead Space the five games it took Resi to become a straight-up action game. The most popular horror games haven’t been high-profile console games but cheap — in the price sense, thought some may argue in an artistic sense as well — jump-scare-based games like Five Nights at Freddy’s or Slender. I’m reminded of Capcom’s rather ridiculous optimistic prediction of six million units for Resident Evil 6 to release, only to fall woefully short. Heck, the only Resident Evil game to release since then was done digitally first as well. If your job depended on how much money a company made, how confident can you expect Nintendo to be in this market? Physical copies take up shelf space and cost more to produce. It’s simply a higher cost-gamble and, considering that’s it’s been a decade since the last Fatal Frame game saw North American shores, there’s no way Nintendo could have been expected to have the confidence that this game would do as well as a Mario or Zelda would.
Now, it’s worth noting that the localization work was done by Nintendo of Europe, and if not for them and the digital store the Americas might not have gotten the game in the first place. This is… probably true. However, I don’t see it as a particular problem or a sign of malice from the company. It comes down to cost-effectiveness. NOA taking advantage of their European associate’s work is just clever and symbiotic business practices. Localization costs money, and the goal of localization is to make money; and, as we’ve covered, Nintendo of America has every reason to be wary of putting work into a horror game on a financially troubled console. This isn’t a question of personal feelings, it’s one of cost-effectiveness.
And as much as I’d love a pretty case and disc to sit on my shelf of horror games, I can’t say I see it as a desire to shunt the franchise away. Steam’s digital release format has made it a juggernaut in the gaming scene, and in the past Nintendo’s reticence to embrace the way the internet changed the way gaming works was on full display. To me, this looks like Nintendo is working to learn from its past mistakes, testing the waters to see how a game they release would fare on a purely digital format. Also, the fact that they released a rather sizable demo on the week before Halloween says to me that they’re trying to catch a wider market than just the diehard horror fans that will buy it no matter what. I’m wondering, what can we expect Nintendo to do? How much of a push can they be asked to give for a game with an uncertain future?
Now there are companies such as Atlus and NIS who have proven that they can make a profit off of niche titles with physical releases by setting realistic goals (the opposite of what Capcom did with Resident Evil 6 or EA did with Dead Space) but the problem is those companies aren’t Nintendo. As odd as it may seem, Nintendo is too big to be able to afford the level of care and focus those companies can, because they also have to make sure they’re releasing more sure things like Mario and Pokemon. Every dollar spent on this game would have been a dollar not spent on higher profile titles.
oprainfall prides itself on being about niche video game news. What that unfortunately means is that many times the things we love won’t be as available as the more popular things. We’re blessed to live in an era where the internet and digital distribution can make things as possible as they are. Would I love a physical copy of the game? Of course, but the times are changing and video games have moved beyond a physical medium, so I have to roll with the newest technology.
I’ve also heard about complaints about the marketing, which were… less than stellar. The use of awkward memes and silly attempts at comedy did strike some as cold. Here, I say to adhere to a simple rule: do not assume malice where incompetence will suffice. We’ve seen plenty of games that have had questionable and some outright stupid attempts at marketing. ‘Your Mom Hates Dead Space 2’ from a few years back strikes me as a particularly dumb attempt of EA’s to use social media to drum up publicity. By comparison, I find the use of ‘spoopy’ to be a simple flub, and honestly one I find more cute than bothersome. “Uncle Nintendo found tumblr! He’s trying to use memes now!”
There’s also the question of if they could have marketed more. I suppose they could have, but to what avail. Many seem to be under the impression the game would do better with more of a marketing push, but history has proven that isn’t always the case. Resident Evil 6 once again proves to be a perfect example. There should be a consideration of diminishing returns, and with the way the Wii U itself marketing push has been done in the first place, it’s not likely that TV spots or a serious viral push would have made a significant difference.
Okay, now let’s talk about the topic of censorship: Sexy censorship! I have to admit I’m baffled at Nintendo’s choice to take out the bikinis. Honestly, this isn’t out of any moral outrage. I maintain that as Nintendo of Europe has the right to make edits to property under their copyright purview and it only becomes an issue of artistic expression once developers — not fans — claim this hurts the integrity of the art. Granted, as a fan, you in turn have every right not to purchase it, but art is ultimately decided by the creators and editors. Like it or not, art is not a by-popular-vote process and we need to stop treating it as such.
No, the thing that confuses me about this game is how sexual the game already is. The Fatal Frame games have already always had a sexual tint to them. The women in the game are dressed and designed to be attractive with clothes that don’t suit the situation or the mood of the game. Fatal Frame is hardly the only franchise to do such a thing, but it’s still something I need to get over, especially since it doesn’t really match the tone of horror the game has been going for. Arguably more character-relevant is when Fatal Frame 3 had a pair of women who gaze at each other in enticing ways, though there’s no denying that was for male viewers more than out of any desire for character study or sexual diversity. Maiden of Black Water actually ups this a notch. If you follow the press releases, you may realize that water plays prominently and your avatars get wet. What this also means is that your characters’ clothes will cling to their body, showing the contours of their body off in immense detail. Certainly to an extent this is what water does to clothes, but there’s no denying that there’s an intent to show off a form pleasing to the male eye.
So why did Nintendo remove them? I think there are a number of reasons. The first could be greed; withholding it to be DLC later. Considering that Project Zero 2 on the Wii also had similar edits, that isn’t the most likely case. The other could be disc space, wanting to have those Metroid or Zelda costumes instead. The Wii U — despite having an online store — isn’t the most accommodating to high-data releases. That hard drive is only 32 gigs — there was also the 8GB version at console release, which would mean certain Wii U buyers may need to buy external memory to play this game, but people who bought those releases probably did not intend to deal with the eShop in the first place — so it’s possible that they wanted to save as much data as possible. A Wii U disc holds up to 25 gigs and while I’ve been unable to discover exactly how much of that space the physical edition of Fatal Frame 5 used, it’s not unlikely that some data crunching had to be done to get it to be that low. Another likely choice — the most likely I find — is that they simply wanted to avoid controversy as possible. The subject of objectification of women has been a hot topic in video game discussion lately and it could be Nintendo just felt removing those costumes would make the game less of a target for that.
On the flip side, why does Japan have these outfits? A lot of games in Japan add things like bikini outfits to help sales. Visual Novels often have sex scenes — some incredibly out of place — simply because they wouldn’t sell otherwise. That’s what strikes me as off about everyone being upset about the edits as the complaints imply that this is some sort of artistic butchery that harms the vision of the game. What’s being removed is marketing, something created not to improve the game, but to move units.
I have to ask why fans are mad, though. Obviously for some games, such as Bayonetta, Catherine, or pretty much everything Suda51 has ever made, sexuality is an inherent and important part of the game and we’d be rightfully angry to see content cut out of those games. From a moody ghost story? If there had never been any bikini costumes announced, would anyone be playing this game thinking “Man, this would be so much better if they had swimsuits on!”? Does it make the game scarier? I’d argue the contrary. Does it affect the game in any sizable manner? If the ability to see scantily clad women is a harsh determiner for whether or not you buy a game, there are plenty of alternatives, some of them a lot of fun. However, for a game like this, I can’t see it being a decisive factor for many.
Obviously, if these are factors that are too much for you, the choice to not buy the game is yours. However, this would be due to a failure of Nintendo of America’s attempt to court your dollars rather than a genuine attempt to turn you away. You may not think Nintendo respects you — and they might not — but they do respect your greenbacks, and the success of Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water depends on the moving of them. Nintendo of America has made a risk here, a calculated risk, but a risk to be sure. Whether it pays off or not is now in the hands of the public.
CensorshipFatal FrameMaiden of Black WaterNintendoopinion