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On Death, Despair and Pandering Games

by Donald Theriault - October 5, 2015, 4:46 am PDT
Total comments: 8

Ultra Despair Girls makes Donald wonder just where a certain class of games can end up.

At the recent Eurogamer Expo (EGX), Sony President of Worldwide Studios Shuhei Yoshida was asked about the possibility of a successor handheld following the PlayStation Vita. Yoshida’s response was simple, yet obvious: “The climate is not healthy right now”. This statement isn’t new to anyone who’s followed the system’s history since launch, but a combination of desire to focus on the PlayStation 4, mobile gaming taking a huge chunk of the handheld market and the Vita’s hyper-proprietary storage led Sony to realistically end support for the ailing system after 2013.

There has been a good stream of content for the platform from 3rd parties, as is par for the course for any Sony platform. However, the Vita’s success in Japan has led to a lot of it coming from the same 3rd parties still supporting the 3DS: Atlus, XSEED, Aksys and especially NIS America. NISA and Spike Chunsoft’s Danganronpa visual novel/court games were both in my top 10 last year, and the second game was in my top 5. Recently, they released an interquel to the games called Danganronpa: Ultra Despair Girls, which swaps the court elements in the name of a 3rd person shooter. Unfortunately, one chapter of the game in particular is extremely disturbing.

SPOILERS AND STRONG LANGUAGE BELOW

In Ultra Despair Girls, you are attempting to save a city from destruction at the hands of a group of children who are trying to kill every adult in sight. Each of the children has been abused in some fashion by their parents: physically, emotionally and in one chapter, sexually. Late in the sexually abused character’s chapter, there is an extended scene in which your (female) player-character is tied to a machine with multiple hands attempting to grope – or worse – her. In this scene, your objective is to knock the hands away enough so that an “Obedience” meter (represented by hearts at the bottom of the screen) doesn’t max out.

Following the scene, the character makes an off-handed reference to being 18 – before, these antagonists were all attending elementary school – so that the scene would pass ESRB muster, presumably. As well, the game says “If the meter gets full, it’s game over. So enjoy yourself, but, y’know, keep that in mind” in the tutorial, which I missed the first time because I just wanted to get it over with. The girl – again, an elementary school student who has been sexually abused – then proceeds to have a scene where her underwear is exposed, and flashes your character as a way of proving she is unarmed later.

END WARNINGS

The game has apparently decided to lampshade the stereotypical Vita game in Japan, as the system has three things that do consistent sales numbers there: Minecraft, big RPG franchises and their spinoffs, and games which often feature underage protagonists in explicit sexual situations. Since they appear on the platform, companies who want to have a steady supply of Vita content have to resort to localizing these games which ordinarily wouldn’t leave Japan.

There is a backlash against these games – the prominent gaming messageboard NeoGAF bans discussion of several Vita titles (these titles are Criminal Girls and its sequel, Monster Monpiece and its followups Moero Chronicles and Moero Crystal, plus Dungeon Travellers 2). According to the moderation team, the trigger is “obvious sexual portrayal” of obviously underage characters, which differentiates them from the likes of Senran Kagura or Gal*Gun.

But with the Vita entering its legacy platform phase, where are these games going to go? It’s entirely possible that if the Vita lasts another 10 years on indie ports, it will give the developers of these games in Japan the impetus to keep making them for the Vita. Given that one of my most anticipated games for the rest of this year is actually a PSP game, Vita games through the end of the decade would not be out of the question. If the Vita taps out early though, will this type of game come to Nintendo’s next handheld?

Presumably, these games would go to PC, but there’s clearly a market for these games on a portable system or they wouldn’t keep coming out on the Vita. At this point, it appears the only dedicated handheld that will come out in the foreseeable future is Nintendo’s handheld running NX (assuming NX is an OS). Nintendo has licensed games that are close to the line before; Conception II, which has a prominent place in my Vita’s “I’m Going To Hell” fanservice game folder, also has a 3DS port. And some people have called recent Fire Emblem titles out for scantily clad young-looking female characters (who are actually a thousand years old). Etrian Odyssey games with the female Dancer are on my no-buy list.

Nintendo is in a bind here; they would be giving up some very loyal customers if they disallowed these exploitative games from appearing on their platforms, but it would damage their public image if the platform you play, say, Pokémon on also has Criminal Girls 3: Death Penalty. I think Nintendo will err on the side of being family friendly, but I don’t know for sure. It’ll be worth keeping an eye on as we move to the next handheld, if nothing else.

Thanks to the NeoGAF moderation team for clarification on their policies.

Talkback

Triforce HermitOctober 05, 2015

Nintendo is learning "anime fanservice = money because people are idiots." If Fire Emblem is any indicator, they don't care. Throw out the "I'm not as young as I look" dialogue and they are good to go. That is just how I see it though.

If anyone is hesitant, I say it is the publisher/developer who believes that there isn't enough of an audience there for it to be worth porting the game. Which may have some ounce of truth, but the only example we have was Conception 2, which ultimately was just terrible.

CyrianOctober 05, 2015

How much of a say does NOA have in which third party games are allowed to be localized? It's probably much more likely that games that would make NOA balk would be allowed to go on a Nintendo system in Japan. But if say there was a 3DS version of Criminal Girls and NIS wanted to localize it would NOA be able to say no?

ejamerOctober 05, 2015

I almost bought the Vita release of Conception 2, because I own a PSTV and there aren't that many compatible games to start with.  A $15 Atlus RPG sounded pretty good.


Couldn't do it after reading a bit about the game and watching a YouTube trailer.


This sounds so much worse.  I'm all for giving content creators full reign over what they produce, and don't think that Nintendo should censor third parties or prevent them from releasing whatever content they want (that's what ESRB is for)... but it's an embarrassment and a shame that this type of scene has enough demand to be put into games at all.

broodwarsOctober 05, 2015

Quote from: Cyrian

How much of a say does NOA have in which third party games are allowed to be localized? It's probably much more likely that games that would make NOA balk would be allowed to go on a Nintendo system in Japan. But if say there was a 3DS version of Criminal Girls and NIS wanted to localize it would NOA be able to say no?

If the game were an AO title, then no current console manufacturer allows those games on their devices. Otherwise, NoA can voice their concerns during certification, but they'd get overruled by NCL unless the content was just "that" objectionable. So they "could" block them but unless there was good reason to do so it just doesn't make business sense to do so.

Ian SaneOctober 05, 2015

I tend to prefer Japanese games.  There is just a certain feel that games made by Japanese developers have that Western games do not.  The NES-to-PS2 time period that made up my childhood, teenage years and young adulthood (ie: the prime years one plays videogames) was also dominated by Japanese developers on consoles.  It just seems natural that a console gamer of my age would have such tastes.

The downturn in the Japanese market over the last ten years or so is why more and more Japanese games have this sort of weird pedo-pandering nonsense.  The Japanese mainstream isn't buying the games so they're focusing more on a niche market that eats this stuff up.  But there really isn't the need to pander to such an audience in the West.  There is a market of Western gamers that want to play good Japanese console/handheld games (ie: not mobile).  This sort of thing is unnecessary to attract the Western market and is also a turnoff.  Such devs could lose the larger Western customer base by pandering to a niche Japanese one.

It seems like the first Japanese devs to pick up on the fact that they could make games that have that Japanese "feel" but focus on Western gamers that grew up playing Final Fantasy, Mario, Castlevania, etc. will make a bundle.  Hell Western indies have already figured this out, busting out tons of NES-inspired games that have Japanese game design without sexy ten year olds mucking it all up.

KhushrenadaOctober 05, 2015

I don't understand the thinking behind tying an underage girl to a machine to grope her with many hands. How is that fun? Games need to stop trying to be so cool and edgy and just stick with what works. Where are the games where you just dutch oven an underage girl? Now that's fun! Sure, it might sound rather tame and maybe a bit gross (if you're the underage girl) but it always gives the player making the dutch oven a laugh. If publishers started putting that in a game, it would have awesome sales and go through localization with no worries.

Problem solved.

broodwarsOctober 05, 2015

Quote from: Khushrenada

I don't understand the thinking behind tying an underage girl to a machine to grope her with many hands. How is that fun? Games need to stop trying to be so cool and edgy and just stick with what works. Where are the games where you just dutch oven an underage girl? Now that's fun! Sure, it might sound rather tame and maybe a bit gross (if you're the underage girl) but it always gives the player making the dutch oven a laugh. If publishers started putting that in a game, it would have awesome sales and go through localization with no worries.

Problem solved.

There is a story reason for the sequence in question. That scene nearly broke me when I played through the game (suffice it to say that NFR listeners were fortunate that I had a week to stew on that scene before we discussed it on the show), but the game does give a reason for that scene. Suffice it to say that the underage girl in question has "issues" related to sexual molestation that cause her to want to inflict them on girls similar to herself.

EnnerOctober 06, 2015

My head is already filled with similar garbage, so to me I don't Nintendo has to worry too much about Atlus, Xseed, Nippon Ichi Software America, or Aksys localizing young-male-otaku-centric video games with extremely questionable sexually provocative content on the NX handheld. In my naive mind, even with the weird relationship the American society has with sex and sexuality, niche-otaku games can fly under the radar on Nintendo systems.


Then again, the NA and EU versions of Nintendo-published games have had event graphics edited, costumes modified, and ages aged. The upcoming Xenoblade Chronicles X has Lin Lee's age change from 13 to 15.

Quote from: Khushrenada

I don't understand the thinking behind tying an underage girl to a machine to grope her with many hands. How is that fun? Games need to stop trying to be so cool and edgy and just stick with what works.

Putting my armchair-nutty-psychologist hat on, I believe there is value in interactive simulations putting players in traumatic situations, whether in a realistic or fantastical fashion. Also, video games should be pushing themselves to dare more, to go to places that might not be safe or standard.


However, reality plays a sour note on that notion when attempts lack tact or sensitivity, or at worst are doing things only to shock and provoke.

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