Going Beyond Localizing Western Games For Japan, A Studio Focuses On Culturalization

By Spencer . May 24, 2013 . 5:16pm

The business of bringing Western games to Japan is growing with companies like Spike Chunsoft, Konami, Cyberfront, and even Square Enix handling Activision’s games in Japan. Most of the work done for console titles like Dragon Age, Dead Island or Call of Duty is purely localization work. It’s similar to bringing over a Final Fantasy game or Rune Factory title here where a Western division translates, localizes, and handles voice acting.


Adways.it and Mutations Studio has a different approach focused on culturalization. They picked up Burn the Rope from Canadian developer Big Blue Bubble and published in Japan with new artwork.


Western version

burn-01 burn-02


Japanese version

ss1 ss2


"The original game has to have something that already appeals to the local Japanese market. We want to maintain that, but we might have to make some changes to make it appeal to the Japanese market," said Keiji Fujita, Vice President of Adways Interactive. "For non-Japanese people, they aren’t familiar with Japanese culture or the needs or preferences of the market. We aren’t just localizing games. We’re culturalizing games for the Japanese market."


"Character graphics and the art style is a big point. Instead of realistic characters, Japanese people prefer small and cute characters," Hiromi Watanabe, Localization Coordinator." Adways handles the new art design and culturalization work in house. Fujita explained to Siliconera that they didn’t change the game design of Burn the Rope at all, but added new graphics to make it appeal better to the local market. For other titles, Adways and Mutations Studio are willing to tweak games so they can monetize better in Japan and handle community management.


The Japanese version of Burn the Rope is available now and Adways plans to repeat this strategy by licensing more Western developed mobile games for the Japanese market.


ss3 ss4 ss5

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  • landlock

    I wonder if Japanese gamers hate it as much as we do when they change things like this (i.e. Nier) for example.

    • Hollowkoopa

      I remember a couple of months back some guy climb MT. Fuji dressed as Master Chief in protest of Microsoft changing MC voice actor.

      • landlock

        That doesn’t surprise me. I’d imagine alot of the Japanese gamers that actually own the XB360 now. Do so because they want to play western games. So what’s the point of messing with them.

      • Really I didn’t know about that.

    • $24431191

      What changes were made to Nier? I own the game but I haven’t played it yet.

      • SirRichard

        There were two versions of Nier in Japan, called Replicant (exclusive to the PS3) and Gestalt (exclusive to the 360). In Replicant, Nier is a scrawny teenager out to save his sister, and in Gestalt, he’s a hulking meat-wall out to save his daughter.

        We only ever got Gestalt in the West, on both systems, perhaps mainly because Square Enix figured that the bulkier, older Nier would be better accepted in the West. Personally, having seen shots of Replicant’s Nier, I prefer the one we got, but that’s just personal preference.

        • Pyrotek85

          It would be nice if we got a choice though. As others said, some seek Western or Japanese games because they prefer a certain aesthetic.

        • Kevadu

          Nier is a pretty poor example because Nier Gestalt *was* the game the creators originally wanted to make. Nier Replicant only got created after S-E decided that Gestalt wouldn’t sell in Japan and they needed a pretty boy teenage protagonist.

          I’ll stick to the creator’s vision, thanks. The story just works better in Gestalt.

          • Ninastars

            They even stated that the game was inspired somewhat by God of War overall when it comes to the gameplay and having an older man as a protagonist to appeal to more mature audience than most Square-Enix games so the argument that they “dumbed it down” just for western kids who like beefy protagonists is kinda moot.

          • TyeTheCzar

            Japan must have a stricter taste when it comes to games. Knowing that Japan is a very homogenous country while America is known for its huge ethnic and cultural diversity helps frame this issue.

        • dragoon_slayer12

          Replicant’s character was actually transgendered (not sure if t-sexual or t-vestite), and square wasn’t sure how it would have been receivedoutside of jJapan. Eastern Asia has no problem with transgendered, and some are even idolized, while, in pretty much the rest of the world, it’s still a bit of a taboo

          • ChiffonCake

            Huh… unrelated, but I’m actually not sure if you’re talking about the correct definition of transgender there? Transvestism doesn’t really have anything to do with transsexuality.

          • Kevadu

            I feel like you have things confused with Kaine (who was in both versions). I’ve never heard anything about Replicant’s character being trans-anything.

          • outlawauron

            I can tell you’ve never played the game. The thing about Nier that was changed from Gestalt and Replicant was age and relation to Yonah.

        • CirnoLakes

          I was so irritated when that happened with Nier.

          I still haven’t bought the game because of that. I keep thinking I ought to try a new game and give it a shot and buy it. But every time I look at it that big hulking guy on the cover turns me off and I’m reminded of how irritated I was by Square Enix’s decision.

          It was like they took to heart all of the people in the West who say “I’m tired of whiny androgynous boys” and decided we wouldn’t buy that version at all.

          • Amine Hsu Nekuchan

            I’m in the exact same boat people said it was a good game and even said we got the better version, but when I look at the cover I can’t help but be reminded the same way and I just can’t bring myself to toss any money at it, even second hand.

          • Laer_HeiSeiRyuu

            Except thats not the original version. LOL

      • Lazulis

        The story is mostly the same as well, though certain things are different. A certain character has a fatherly relationship with papa Nier, but has a crush on brother Nier. Brother Nier starts out idealistic typical upbeat shounen hero, and then gets cynical and jaded later on. Papa Nier is already pretty jaded. Iirc, the original version of Nier was brother Nier, not papa Nier. I wish we had a choice on which Nier we got, mainly because the story is a bit more…impactful with brother Nier imo.

    • Nier wasn’t changed for the Western market. As Sir Richard explains, there were two versions released in Japan, and only one of them was localized.

    • I have to wonder that too, although I can’t believe anyone over on this side of the world would be completely ok with this, remembering the response I saw over what happened with Kirby. I’m surprised no one here has mentioned it yet, actually. But to all the people asking “what if this happened with us”, it already totally has: http://i.imgur.com/SmSwt.jpg

      Everyone over here was annoyed by this, last I remember, and the reasons were not only because of the original being tampered with, but also because it seemed to show a stereotype that Japan seemed to have about the western market, that no one here can handle cute characters and that we only care for angry badass characters. I guess I easily see the reverse happening here now, lol…. although, I guess it is much easier for us outside of Japan to assume that everyone and their pets are obsessed with cute culture over in Japan, since that’s the kind of info we have being fed to us over here (despite there also being a popularity in the west for what is pretty much the epitome of Japanese ultraviolence and horror in media, lol).

  • TheFoolArcana

    Boy, I’d hate if this was done to us.

    • CirnoTheStrongest

      Ugh…just imagining JRPGs being retooled to look more like Dragon Age or something puts a knot in my stomach…

      • CirnoLakes

        I couldn’t agree with myself more.

      • TyeTheCzar

        Now imagine Trails in the Sky’s art replaced with comic trash that looks like Rob Liefield’s vomit.

    • SilverSven

      But they already do, by toning down sexual references and giving angry eyebrows to pink gumballs

      • Not really equivalent.

        • Crevox

          Kirby being angry on US boxart but happy on JP boxart is different than the above?

          • anarchy_panty

            Yes, it is. That’s just changing his eyes to be angry, not completely redrawing and redesigning the character. Hell, Kirby sometimes has angry eyes on the Japanese boxart. Case in point:


            Not saying what this company is doing isn’t stupid, though. Still, it’s nothing compared to what we did to Japanese properties back in the 80’s…

          • anarchy_panty

            Holy shit, this is hilarious. The purple afro is killing me. Thank you, Japan.

          • Crevox

            And yet Kirby is still happy there… maybe not those other two, but… I would still say Kirby is happy here.

            And this character up top seems similar enough with a different expression; at least, to me.

          • anarchy_panty

            I think we’re just going to have to disagree on this one. I think the two look pretty damn different. He looks like a candle flame with legs in the western release, but was changed to a super-moe DemiMeramon for the Japanese release.

      • T-X

        …and Macho Megaman

    • Hinataharem

      Revelations Persona

  • Who else thought that looked like Jigglypuff? O_o

  • ShadowDivz

    *reads article*
    ….Japanese people want western games?

    • Mrgrgr and Unacceptable World

      See Media Create on CoD.^_^

  • JustThisOne

    I wonder if this is okay, though? For some games, I suppose this is okay. But most of the time, I’m fond of them just the way they are. I play JRPGs because I enjoy that cultural difference that I can’t experience with WRPGs. (But that’s just an example, though.)

    • Pyrotek85

      Same here. I’d hate it if localization companies were westernizing character designs.

      • Hound

        Thankfully, ever since the internet became more accessible, that stopped happening with most localized games. If you were to play many games early Playstation era and prior, you’d find a lot of changes done for “western tastes” including completely improvising the storyline, changing the character designs and game titles completely, etc etc.

        An era where a game can have really bad monster translations but incredible story dialogue..

      • Namuro

        Speaking of that, the westernized box art of Breath of Fire I and II still haunts me to this day…

        • Pyrotek85

          Yeah its fun to compare box art and labels on old NES/SNES games. Mega Man is another good one (huh another Capcom title too).

    • Testsubject909

      I don’t play JRPGs for the cultural difference. I play JRPGs because they’re an interesting experience. Whether or not they display any of such cultural differences overtly… Which most tend not to, I feel.

      • JustThisOne

        Hmmm, I can’t say I can agree with that. I don’t think culture is a voluntary thing, because it’s ingrained in us. Naturally, this means it will be ingrained the things we make.

        That said, I can’t really come up with a good comparison for an example. xD Western and eastern developed games have both become so diverse that I can’t talk about specific mechanics anymore. So I guess my point’s kinda moot. :V

        • Laer_HeiSeiRyuu

          Games like Fire Emblem are still very JRPG whilst still being in a Western Setting. Its like the differences between something like Dark Souls and Skyrim vs Chrono Trigger or SMT without all the silly cultural things Japanese people enjoy

  • Interesting article. I came to eventually associate “Localization” subconsciously as a blanket term where reworking/blanching some elements of the previous game’s culture of origin was just a given. “Culturalization” is quite an interesting way of vocalizing that, but I just simply thought that’s what Localizing was lol.

  • $24431191

    I’m against this idea in every way possible.

  • DanijoEX ♬ the Cosmic Owl

    I really don’t see any problem with this.

    Although to be on the funny side, I wonder how LEGO mobile games would in Japan. Just saying…

    Edit: I wasn’t thinking right. Ignore it. None of it matters

    • $24431191

      Imagine localizing Disgaea with all of Takehito Harada’s art replaced with realistically styled bald space marines. Because that’s what appeals to “us”. Your not supposed to fuck with the original game. This company fucked with the original game. I’ll admit that Disgaea may not be the best comparison in this situation but you get the general point.

      • Kitestwinblades

        *shivers* EDF Soilders everywhere!

      • Shariest

        For us fans…Disgaea can be used in comparison to every and each single thing!

  • Göran Isacson

    Is “culturalizing” even an actual word? I’m kinda curious.

    • Guest

      It is. :)

      Cul·tur·al·ize: verb (used with object), cul·tur·al·ized, cul·tur·al·iz·ing. To expose or subject to the influence of culture.

      • Göran Isacson

        Huh. You learn something new every day :)

  • Mrgrgr and Unacceptable World

    This can actually be a double edged sword here. While it can be advantageous to attract new fans, this culturalization can actually cost the game to lose what makes the game attractive here.

  • Ethan_Twain

    I wonder if there’s a niche community in Japan that finds this abhorrent the way I’m sure Siliconera readers would find it abhorrent if anime were taken out of their favorite JRPGs?

    “Dragon Quest has never been so big outside Japan, and we think we know why! For the release of DQ XI we’ve redone all the art in the game and now it looks kinda like Wizardry.”

    Siliconera readers would go nuts. And this is exactly that, but in reverse.

    • I’m not sure if many iPhone games command the kind of dedicated following that would cry heresy at this sort of sweeping change, but I can see something like an RPG or shooter garnering outrage if it were significantly altered like this. Weren’t Japanese gamers upset a few years back due to a poor localization of Modern Warfare 2?

    • Laer_HeiSeiRyuu

      Lol I never like Akira Toriyama’s art for anything other than Chrono Trigger

  • JohnNiles

    Culturalization? Reminds me of “bowdlerization”.

  • I’ll take Japanization over Americanization any day of the week!

    • So you’re a Japanese supremacist, how hypocritic of you. So you wouldn’t mind if Call of Duty had soldier being replaced with Strike Witches, right??

      • mirumu

        I agree with you, but a massive budget, AAA, first person Strike Witches game full of set pieces actually sounds kind of neat. I admit I’d sooner buy that than a new Call of Duty. Not that I dislike Call of Duty per-se, but I’m finding the series a bit boring these days.

  • idrawrobots

    I don’t like this mindset but they did make it look better.

  • Aoshi00

    I used to be not fond of “culturalizing” any game, movie, or anime when localized for another region, but I could understand the purpose or necessity when it comes to artistic style or names.

    For example Capcom went thru great lengths westernizing the names/setting of Phoenix Wright, same for Inazuma Eleven in Europe, or the ever popular Pokemon, he would’ve been Satoshi if not for Ash Ketchum. If they didn’t westernize and made up the new names, none of the puns would translate or be meaningful to the local audience.

    I remember I hated the US soundtrack and altered script for DBZ because I grew up watching Dragonball in Jpn, thought it was an absolute abomination, but then to those who grew up watching DBZ in Eng, they liked it, I understand and respect that.

    I remember when Captain Tsubasa was aired in Hong Kong in the ’80s, all the characters’ names were changed or modified to sound Chinese.. of course I didn’t know better until I was older :) So that’s more of an old practice, but then we still have Phoenix Wright (Gyakuten Saiban/Naruhodou Ryuuichi) and Pokemon. So it’s really not that weird for Japan to be doing this at all..

    Also their games are more censored when it comes to graphic violence.. the Jpn Tomb Raider totally got rid of the realistic textures of the scattered/hanged/skewered decaying corpses.. while it’s less grotesque, unfortunately it also took away the game’s intended terrifying atmosphere, this change surprised and disappointed me because the game is rated Cero Z.

    All in all, I still like to see things in their original forms, the way it was intended w/ no changes. Nier though I actually prefer the older father saving his daughter, thought it had more of an impact.

    • Guest

      When it is done in a tasteful way and due a good reason I would gladly accept it, that is the case of Ace Attorney, some situations need local context that otherwise make them not accessible for foreigners; the characters too would lack those humorous puns.

      On the Inazuma front, for me it is a special case, in my country the anime got as scarcely dubbed as it could, getting even the original openings and endings from the Japanese airings, but of course the games got all characters new names. Why was that even necessary? The puns weren’t even localized and they’re still Inazuma Japan! xP

      I still believe Pokemon anime had been more popular and would be more appreciated nowadays if it is not for 4Kids meddling.

      About Dragon Ball, I still can not believe USA do that to some series! On Dragon Ball no less! I could not imagine the battle against Cell with other music! And they changed the script too!?

      Also, Tomb Raider, I was going to ask if the mummies from Peru went missing in Japan version, but soon I realized you were talking about the most recent entry, not 1997 “Tomb Raiders”

      But yeah, changes are bad when they’re done with the company in mind and not the audience!

      • 4kids no longer has Pokemon or any anime. Pokemon was already popular even when 4kids had it. Also DBZ has already been released uncut on DVD and Blu-ray, Funimation was kind enough to do that.

        • Guest

          I meant Pokemon anime released with the original openings, characters names, music and what not. I suppose it’s only a big “What if…” now.

          I’m really glad to know about DBZ DVD releases, It’s better to experience all media in its truer form. Did Dragon Ball also got censored due Master Roshi antics? :P

          • Both Dragonball and DBZ has now been released uncensored, and the uncut DVDs is still selling like crazy even to this day.

    • There’s several western game that got censored in Japan like Call of Duty for example:



      and this is the same country that makes Elfien Lied, Higurashi No Naku Koro Ni (most disturbing anime I’ve ever watch), and Takeshi Miike’s films yet they have to censor graphic violence in video game.

      Far Cry 3 was even censored in Japan for a sex scene:


      No, they didn’t replaced that sex scene with tentacles.

      • Aoshi00

        Yep, it’s the other way around w/ Jpn, it’s OK for anime or movies to have violence but not in games like RE4 decapitation. In the US, sex scenes are OK on TV shows or movies, but not really in animation.

        The Jpn ver. took out the short naked scene of Madison too for Heavy Rain. A bit of censor here and there I don’t mind, but Tomb Raider really stood out like a sore thumb, because the corpses now look like hairless aliens (think Promotheus giants) and just not scary at all, and they are all over the game. In the US ver you could feel how crazed and brutal the Solari is, and also when Lara was captured and hanged by the Oni, the room was stashed full of fresh and bloody corpses, really creeped me out. The graphic violence was not gratuitous and served to immerse the player in the dire situation that Lara faced in the trapped island (the imagery really is disturbing though). I originally beat the US ver, traded it in and then imported the Jpn ver for dual track, now I felt my game is kinda gimped :(..

        Also even at Cero Z (usually Jpn console games are Cero D or below), many things could still be censored, unlike the M rated games in the US, which pretty much anything goes.

        • Yes I’m aware of this too, I remember Fallout 3 even getting a CERO Z rating got censored for the nuke part (they removed Mr Burton and the ability to nuke that town), and they toned down the gore on human (but kept the gore on ghoul intact). Also Infamous and Infamous 2 although are Rated T in US, it got a CERO Z in Japan (I know, right) I was surprised when CERO gave the first Infamous a CERO Z rating and I talked to people who played both the US and JPN version, nothing was censored or added for the JPN version.

  • Fire.fire.kun

    They’re doing it wrong. Replace the fire dude with a smoking hot big-boobed chick or cute loli for moe marketability. :P

    • Testsubject909

      I think they were aiming for more gender neutral here.

  • Devil Kings!

    • Testsubject909

      Ah nobun- Devil King. Yes. I him. So imposing. It’s a good thing that man never existed in reality or we’d all be screwed.

  • No

    This is terrible localization.

    • Testsubject909

      Culturalization they said.

      Edit: Just being a smartass. Move along folks, nothing to see.

  • biskmater

    I don’t like it, but I see the point, as long as we are not talking Macekres. But still, doesn’t that just make things more expensive for the localization team?

  • Brion Valkerion

    Lol at all the people with their panties in a twist. This is only done (usually) for games with mascots that can be made … “cuter.” Not on stuff like, I dunno call of duty and what not.

    Most current/on going change is Ratchet from Ratchet and Clank. Its what the article is addressing, not massive content changes or anything. And yeah it gets done in the opposite direction too. In general though, I gotta admit most of the changes “for the Japanese market” is some trivial stuff, like bushy…er eyebrows and changing the color of his pants for no real reason. My personal money would be on the average person would never care if it stayed its original look.

    Same was done to Crash and Spyro. Already cartoony as hell but not enough apparently.

    • I don’t know why people are giving you negative reception when this is the truth.

    • Amber V.

      Hopefully they will return them back to there “proper” appearance.

  • michel

    I dilike this philosophy.

  • Alos88

    I remember reading somewhere that someone at Nintendo originally thought Pokemon was “too cute” and wanted to redesign them for the West. Nintendo dodged a bullet with that one.

  • Strid

    Ah cool, so Japanese localization companies don’t “get it” either. That’s something I suppose.

  • CirnoLakes

    Localization. All about targeting markets based upon stereotypes.

    I’m from America, take that smiling Kirby off the cover and make him look a little more badass! Americans will like that. I’m an American, I must
    like it, even if I don’t.

    You’re from Japan, take that smart-aleck off the cover and make him look a little more cute. Japanese will like that. You’re a Japanese, you must like it, even if you don’t.

    Maybe I’m just a bitter American that likes cute stuff better. But am
    constantly told I am supposed to like “hardcore” characters better. It’s like they’re trying to tell me I was born in the wrong country or that I need to like something different, even though I don’t want to live in Japan at all.

  • Monsley

    I’m currently studying film/television localisation and, from what I’ve seen, a bit of “culturalization” is rather common and often necessary.
    This, however, is a bit too extreme and not very acceptable, in my opinion. It looks more like something new, “loosely based on…”, rather than the localisation of a product.

  • Dylan

    They better not try and westernize Yakuza 5.. I want to be Haruka and I want to be an Idol!

    • PersonaSpace

      I’d be surprised if Sega was even doing it at this point.

      • Dylan


    • MrTyrant

      I remember when Atlus westernize Persona 1 for psx.

  • MrTyrant

    I don’t think that japanese people would like that either. I read some complains similar to us when a localization change a lot of things from the original.

  • transferstudentx

    no just no if they do this to all my beloved rpgs i quit gaming

  • Tsurugi

    You have to do the opposite with the 3DS, bring the games from Japan to USA and EU!

  • Alicemagic

    I think the most aggravating part is that someone made a game with “Burn The Rope” in its title and it takes more than 2 minutes to beat.

  • revenent hell

    I have to say im really not a fan of this type of thing.
    Leave the artwork as is for crying out loud, its part of what makes the game.
    I dont understand why people dont grasp why changing the art is a bad thing, It gives off a totally different feel to the game………..
    I really hope this dosent influence others to partake of this practise

  • Pichi

    Makes me a bit sad to hear. It does boil down to censorship to hopefully get more sales than usual.

  • Jirin

    Whenever they Westernize a Japanese game to get a bigger Western audience, they fail to get anybody who doesn’t like Japanese games and lose the people who do like them. They did this heavily for Persona 1 and the translation is considered a trainwreck.

    The same probably applies in Japan. If you Easternize Western games, you don’t gain any new sales and you lose the ones you would have gotten if you left it alone.

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