Will Sega ever have what Nintendon’t? Not if they keep adding asterisks and footnotes to nearly every good piece of gaming news they give us. Take today, for example, when longtime fans and Japanophiles alike were made aware that Yakuza 3, the much sought-after PS3 beat-’em-up RPG finally arriving on Western shores after nearly a year of localization requests, would finally be coming…with missing content.
What content, you ask? According to a Sega representative (talking to IGN.com): “…parts that we felt wouldn’t make sense (like a Japanese history quiz game) or wouldn’t resonate as much (such as the concept of a hostess club).” Given how much underground buzz and cult popularity this Shenmue successor has received, how vocal fans have been in requesting a localization and how apt Sega has been to make very crucial mistakes over the past few years, I think I speak for the majority of gamers out there when I give an emphatic “sigh” to this situation. What a mess.
Don’t even try to apologize.
And while I can sympathize with development costs and localization efforts regarding a fairly niche title, I’m even more perplexed after reading Sega of America’s blog entry addressing the situation. According to today’s entry, “Ultimately, the choice that had to be made was either no Yakuza 3 in the west, or a version of the game that was almost exactly the same, but with a little less trivia.”
Really, Sega? After all of that clamoring for the localization, were hostess clubs and a small bit of historical translation that big of a deal breaker? Really?
Now please don’t get me wrong. I’m still extremely happy to see the game getting a local release after the poor western sales of the previous PS2 titles. But I just can’t help but wonder what kind of thought process or stumbling blocks Sega of America is running into when they decide to deliberately cut out some of the least offensive – yet culturally defining – content that the game has offer.
For those of you that don’t know what a Japanese hostess bar is, I’ll refer you to Brian Ashcraft’s excellent article over at Kotaku. Suffice to say, courting the ladies at the local ã‚ãƒ£ãƒã‚¯ãƒ© (kyabakura, or Caboret-Club) is one of the more innocent activities you can participate in while in Kamuro-cho. Ya know, between beating thugs with brass knuckles, going to strip clubs, gambling and god forbid, playing video games in a local arcade.
But to be more specific, visiting a hostess bar in the context of the game is fairly similar to relationship-building in the newer Persona or Mass Effect titles – listen to what people have to say and make the right choices, and friends will a good gangster make. Throw in food and drink choices and a very particular environment and you have a pretty stunningly accurate portrayal of the Kabuki-cho hostess scene. Essentially, the ladies are there to serve you and make conversation. My particular experience with the Japanese-version demo even ended with a friendly “It was a pleasure to meet you. Please come by and spend time with me again!” text message on my cell phone. What a hussy.
Oh, Kiraki Sayaka-san. Why didn’t you just renew your passport like I told you?
So what’s the real problem here? It’s not as if Sega is attempting to censor any of the content – the game’s Mature rating has already been established. Nor is the hostess scene new to the Yakuza series – both of the first games allowed you to spend time with the ladies of Kamuro-cho. But most of all, I think we can safely assume that almost all of the niche fan-base expects to have access to every activity found in the original game. Whether it resonates or not should be for us, as individual gamers, to decide.
I don’t think I need to stress how crucial Yakuza‘s environment is in conveying the cultural immersion of Tokyo’s red light district. If you’ve ever been to Kabuki-cho, talked to anyone who has, or have even seen pictures, you’ll know that the setting of this series has always stolen the show. Stores, products and logos all painstakingly detailed – I can’t put it any more bluntly than to just flat out say it: It feels like you’re there.
And it’s in that immersion that Sega’s localized port now seems a bit unnecessarily gimped. Is it ruined? Absolutely not. Is it lesser? Undoubtedly.
Between the sent-to-die release date of March 9th (The same date as Final Fantasy XIII – ever heard of it?) and now the stripping of game features, I have to wonder how well Sega knows its audience.
A hint, Sega: It’s me. And I’ve got to tell you – that “Best Hits” import version is looking more and more attractive for my region-less PS3. Just saying.