NIS America has announced that it will be bringing Criminal Girls 2: Party Favors for PlayStation Vita to North America and Europe this September. The game places you in the role of a warden trying to reform seven delinquents through dungeon crawling and punishment games. Like the previous game, Criminal Girls 2 has a strong focus and the game doesn't try to hide what it is.
What's interesting about the announcement of Criminal Girls 2 is that NIS America has released a blog post being completely open about content changes and why they're being made. Instead of the guessing game that leads to people being angry at each other, NIS is being honest.
"Some of you might be asking, 'Why change anything in the first place?' The answer to that question is pretty complicated overall, but here's the short version: While we do our best to make all our fans happy, we also need to make sure that our games can be released on the platform they're made for, and released in the various territories in which we sell them," explained the company in the blog post.
"There is still a demand for the game and its content. Although some players might not be happy about the changes, we expect many will still appreciate the product for what it is and localizing it allows them the chance to enjoy the game's unique story, gameplay, and characters without needing to speak Japanese or deal with the pains of importing."
The company is making the changes primarily to ensure an M rating with the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), as AO rated titles aren't allowed on certain platforms or retail shelves. NIS America explained that time and budget were the reasons behind content changes prior to the ESRB ratings board seeing the title.
"When we submit something to ratings boards, we need to be absolutely sure that it's going to be the final version, or we risk costly delays and even the game not being released at all," said NIS America.
The biggest changes are all to the game's "Punishment" mini-games, which is likely the reason series fans might want to pick up the title. All of the game's Punishment scenes have been renamed to "Motivation" scenes (like the first game) and NIS America worked with the game's original artists to redraw most of the bondage-themed artwork. The redrawn artwork is supposed to still include the Live 2D effects of the original.
There's no English dubbing in the game, which is most likely a cost issue. This means there's no dialogue during the Motivation scenes, since that dialogue was previously voiced. There were no subtitles in the original scenes, so it represents a technical hurdle for NIS America to add them for the English release.
Many of these changes sprung from notes received from the ESRB during the release of Criminal Girls: Invite Only and further conversations prior to the release of Criminal Girls 2.
"Two of the main concerns that ratings boards had in regards to Criminal Girls: Invite Only were power imbalance and consent," said NIS America. "To avoid this, we decided to change some of the terminology to reframe the situations to be accepted by the ratings boards. Criminal Girls 2: Party Favors follows the same trend for consistency."
"I'm sure many of you noticed that I said things 'could' be an issue," the company added. "That's a little vague, and not 100% saying something would cause, for example, an AO rating. And you're right. However, we consult with rating boards, our developers, and a variety of other stakeholders before deciding on a course of action with a title, and we did so with Criminal Girls 2: Party Favors."
Jeremy previously pointed out how region ratings have a part in determining what content goes into a game, despite a developer's true intentions. Certain ratings are simply the kiss of death. Most North American retailers don't stock AO games, PlayStation and Xbox Stores avoid the rating like fire, Steam only has a few AO-rated titles, and Twitch doesn't allow AO-rated games to be streamed on the platform. Europe has the analogous PEGI 18, Japan has CERO Z. If you want to sell outside of a niche, many times your available platforms determine your reach. Hence content changes.
For some companies, it's worth the time and cost it takes to make alterations to a title. For others, it's just not in the cards: either the production is too big, or too small for the company in question.
I also wanted to point out "stakeholders", which is one of those words that's used in the industry, but generally unknown by fans. Many gamers have this view of games as a straight A > B transition. Developer decides to make a game, game gets made, players buy it. In reality, there are a ton of stakeholders for most games: directors, executives, producers, marketing and public relations teams, shareholders, licensors, and more. Most of the time, these stakeholders are around at every step in the process, providing feedback in some cases and directives in others.
Many games are the result of executives and marketing leaning development teams towards what sells, adding certain aspects purely to please fans. Bioshock Infinite creative director Ken Levine noted that the boring cover for the game was created to cater to uninformed gamers in "frathouses and places like that". The Last of Us and Uncharted 4 creative director Neil Druckmann previously mentioned that the team at Naughty Dog had to fight to keep Ellie on the cover. Rare's Dinosaur Planet became Star Fox Adventures after the input of Nintendo and Shigeru Miyamoto.
Resident Evil became more action-oriented because Capcom felt survival horror was too niche for its flagship series. Hell, I wrote an entire feature about the fact that game development is a process with many hands and heads, thus ending in cuts and changes. Even fans can get in on it, as Nintendo is currently dealing with Chinese fans unhappy with Pikachu's new name in the upcoming localized versions of Pokemon Sun/Moon. Most of your favorite games are from developers doing the best with all the demands and feedback thrown their way. (My forever question: Does Intelligent Systems love adding soft dating-sim aspects to Fire Emblem, or is that just what sells?)
Criminal Girls 2 in its original form might be good enough for Japan, but given the ratings board and additional stakeholders for the Western release, what you get in September was the best NIS America could bring across. You can be dissatisfied about that, but at least NIS America's honestly in this situation should let you know where its coming from with this release.
We're at E3 next week, covering the year's biggest gaming event. Be sure to check out all our coverage on our E3 2016 hub!