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How racy fan service is ruining otherwise great games

Introducing new, obscure Japanese games to some of my friends used to be fun, but it's becoming a battle I’m tired of fighting. Sure, I could detail the great gameplay, slick art, and creative ideas on display in a niche JRPG they’ve never heard of. But I know I’ll also need to explain why the title stars adolescent girls in bikinis and has a massage minigame, and I just don’t have the energy to cover for those regrettable design choices anymore.

This situation came up for me a few times over the past year, like with the release of Dragon’s Crown. I’d been excited for the 2D brawler with deep RPG elements for awhile, mainly because it’s the spiritual successor to Capcom’s Dungeons & Dragons games that I really enjoyed in the early ‘90s. But on top of that satisfyingly retro gameplay, Dragon’s Crown had to ruin the fun by making its scantily clad female characters curvaceous to the point of ludicrousness. The same thing happened with Code of Princess. I wanted to like this follow-up to Guardian Heroes--one of my favorite Saturn titles--but Code of Princess stars a heroine who’s basically naked for no reason at all.

And then there are the numerous Japanese RPGs and strategy games that just keep getting more perverted with each new release. Major franchises like Disgaea fell into this trap nearly a decade ago, but lesser known role-playing games sadly use sex appeal to stand out from the crowd in the smaller genre. Obscure titles like Agarest War, Demon Gaze, and Hyperdimension Neptunia appear to be in a race to see who can spoil a good premise with unneeded porn the fastest. Even Nintendo got into the act with some Fire Emblem content that got censored in the US. As someone who has spent hundreds of hours in turn-based battles, it’s all very disheartening.

This trend is a particularly annoying when I see it in a very promising title like Conception II, a game I’m really looking forward to playing despite my issues with some of its content. The dungeon exploration, turn-based combat, and monster collecting take inspiration from classics like Persona and Pokemon, and Conception puts creative new spins on those concepts. But to experience the game in its totality, I have to hit on high school girls whose idle animations take special care to include heaving breasts. It seems like this gross gauntlet I have to endure to play the part I’ll enjoy.

These recent examples show the sad epidemic that’s quickly ruining my ability to root for many quality Japanese releases. The problem is seen across a range of publishers, from niche experts to industry giants alike. This scourge has a name: fan service. Except in this case, fan service doesn't mean a nod to an old character, but more scenes that have one or more of the game’s female characters in some risque or sexualized situation. Nine times out of ten, these overtly sexual vignettes have little impact on the core gameplay, and have been gratuitously included for the sole purpose of titillating young male players. They're there under the assumption that if you like niche genre games from Japan, you probably enjoy the objectification of women too. Judging by their recent work, some game developers seem to believe that the two concepts are inseparable.

Western publishers are hardly innocent of using sex to sell a game, though violence seems to be the preferred fetish these days. In fact, releases like BMX XXX and Leisure Suit Larry seem like relics of a lost age, while Japanese titles like Akiba’s Trip, Senran Kagura, and Deception IV are just a few of the salacious titles coming soon to the US. Are cult Japanese games merely filling the void left by American made sexploitation titles?

I don’t mean to come off as a prude, and if you like drawings of underdressed young ladies (THAT ARE OVER THE AGE OF 18 AND CONSENTING), that’s totally within your rights as a human being. Maybe it’s something that’s simply been lost in translation, a cultural phenomenon that I’m not entirely getting. Still, even if you’re a western gamer that’s into this brand of fan service, doesn’t it all feel a bit too pandering? Don’t you feel a little insulted that no one thinks you’ll play these games unless there's copious amounts of T&A on the box art? I know I do--nevermind how off-putting this tactic might be to any woman that may want to play these games.

I’d like to think widespread indignation over unneeded fan service will get some developers to reverse course, but I don't think it’ll happen without dissatisfaction coming from the fans in Japan. Many of the titles I mentioned are made primarily for their home country, with overseas consumers seen as the secondary market. And while I’ve visited Tokyo enough times to witness game shops selling way too many items that make me similarly uncomfortable, I won’t try to guess at what the average Japanese gamer thinks of these titles. What I do know is that fan service like this is giving Japan’s games a bad reputation in the rest of the world, and I hope the devs start to notice that.

In the meantime, I’ll have to endure enjoying these games in spite of the puerile material--you don’t have to agree with a piece of art 100% to appreciate it. Perhaps I simply need to get over myself and not feel pushed into making excuses for games I didn’t create. But even if I can deal with it, I hope the creators of these games come to realize that if body pillow special editions are chasing off the hardcore folks that love these genres, imagine how many potential fans are driven away with that junk. Is that worth the microscopic metal underwear?

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155 comments

  • shadowds - July 4, 2014 4:46 a.m.

    Post found on my Facebook wall for some reason felt it needed a reply. "GamesRadar: Is this really necessary? No. No it isn't." Even though the game been out for a year now is there a reason why you did this? So really GameRadar, since when were you in charge of making this game??? Last time I check the game wasn't made by you guys and if you dislike this game, then why did you look this game up? Why did you post about it? Why did you want to bug everyone about it if you dislike the game so much? You can't say you didn't want to, it's more like you were looking for attention or felt insecure about it for no reason. Fun fact, she not real... So no reason why you have to be insecure about it.... And so what if she made up or look young the main point is she not real so get over it because there things are 100x worse than this game that are real if you didn't know this. It's called prostitute/stripper so really compare these to a simple video game and tell me which one worse. If you're really worried about this game being on the market for young and older consumers than your first goal is to ban pornography, all types of media that tag selfie, sexy, hot, etc., and ban the internet. So if you want to get started try the easiest one 1st unplug your modem, replace your smart phone for a normal phone that can only display text, and never touch a computer again. Don't say you can't because if you were that serious about this then you will do it right now.
  • lordgodalming - July 4, 2014 2:19 a.m.

    Were any of your easily offended friends part of the group cheering at E3 a couple years ago when Naughty Dog demoed Joel from The Last of Us shotgunning that guy--who was begging for his life, by the way--in the face? Or when Kratos ripped off Helios's head in slow motion? To me it's the hyper violence, not the sexuality, in games that's getting harder and harder to shrug off or defend.
  • Ausfalia - July 4, 2014 12:26 a.m.

    So basically you want an entire culture to censor itself because it's video games make you feel uncomfortable. Good luck with that. Before anyone says' that's not what he means', Henry may as well say that. Our entertainment and media is built around our cultural values. Japan makes games and anime like this due to its culture and some offended people from another country wont change that. Japanese game developers develop there games for a Japanese audience. Very, very rarely does a Japanese game developer make a game with a western audience in mind just as western developers don't make their games for an eastern audience. In most cases getting a game from Japan to be ported to a western audience is hard. I can name a few games that I wanted to play but never saw an English release (Gundam Breaker being the latest addition to that list) and when a game does get ported to the west its for one reason; The fan base will buy enough copies to justify the cost of translating and porting regions. They release the games because the fan base is large enough to see a profit and a developer wouldn't jeopardize that by censoring their games because some people outside their fan base got offended. Now I am not into the sexual fan service offered in most Japanese media (I do enjoy the fan service of stuff like Carnival Phantasm simply for the cheese factor) but I understand there are people who enjoy that. I didn't like the designs in Dragons Crown for the most part but I still bought the game and played it as I was able to look past the designs and enjoy the gameplay and some of the less full blown designs. I ignored the fan service in FF X-2 to enjoy the job system, music and story. The simple fact is I can look past the fan service to enjoy the game or anime and if I can't then I simply shrug and move on to something I do like. Most of the people I know are the same, if it doesn't appeal to them they say 'nah not for me' and move on. it seems only the vocal minority dig their heels in and cry foul over it. I don't see otaku posting up big articles complaining the latest wrpg didn't have scantly clad women, fan service and massive amounts of T&A or complain that the protagonist of the latest Tomb Raider wasn't a loli, so why do you people feel the need to kick their door in and complain about the fan service in their games? The entire gaming culture needs to take a collective chill pill and understand that different games are made for different people. Sometimes you are not the primary audience and you should not complain about that but go enjoy a game that is targeted at you. We need to stop tearing down others for enjoying what they enjoy ad instead just go find what we enjoy and play that. Now if you will excuse me, I'm gonna go order Gundam Breaker off amazon cause alas, Japan has yet to learn the international market for the Gundam franchise is massive...
  • gooberboobs - July 3, 2014 11:29 p.m.

    How does it feel you be a fucking faggot.
  • gooberboobs - July 3, 2014 11:34 p.m.

    to be* You're a still a faggot.
  • ellgieff - July 4, 2014 12:11 a.m.

    A bundle of sticks? Oh, wait, you're trying to suggest he must be homosexual if he doesn't enjoy the objectification of women. My bad. How does it feel to be a fucking American *note: I'm suggesting you must be stupid*
  • DJFoodstamps - July 3, 2014 11:02 p.m.

    Leave the otaku alone man. Give us a break. This stuff has always been niche. The fanservice is for pandering to us, and we enjoy the games more because of it. It's OK for you not to like it. It isn't meant for you. You can call us immature or basement-dwellers or whatever else, just ignore us in our little niche of gaming. We don't try to change the industry or challenge the games other people enjoy. We understand that it's ok for different games to market to different people, and that not everything will be palatable to every single person. So don't try to advocate the change of a small part of gaming that we're perfectly fine with keeping insignificant and to ourselves. Something that doesn't hurt anybody (No, finding something distasteful does not hurt anybody. It's ok not to like things, that doesn't make them inherently bad nor make you inherently right.) Especially when the industry will undoubtedly continue to churn out games that do cater to you and that you will enjoy. Now of course I'm only talking about the otaku market. Tackle whatever issues in other realms of gaming, it won't matter to me because I'm not a part of it. But OTAKU PANDERING AND FANSERVICE is fine as it is. Because that's what us loney turbo-nerds enjoy. And that's who these games are setting out to appease. Sorry that you find it 'yucky' but you, and gaming as a whole, will carry on fine regardless.
  • TenFiveTwo - July 3, 2014 10:57 p.m.

    How can an article like this seriously call out the players of these games as implied young males, that only teens enjoy an attractive female form? That it is nothing more than female objectification? And you say that it's insulting to our intelligence that we won't buy the game without it, but just as much it's insulting that you think it's the only selling point to the audience. Maybe people like good games and good fanservice? I'm not into girls, but I'm happy that guys get to see what they want. If they enjoy breasts and butts, yo, that's cool with me. Even though it's not my preference, am I supposed to be scared or disgusted at an idealized female form? How is this game-ruining to you? Are you insecure of your sexuality? Do you see hot chicks walking down the street and recoil in horror? I cannot believe we've gotten to the age where characters designed to be visually attractive have gotten to be a bad thing.
  • BunnyMage - July 3, 2014 10:22 p.m.

    I really wish websites featuring articles written by pretend game journalists would stop trying to manufacture controversy where it doesn't exist. There is nothing inherently wrong with the artistic representation of sexuality in forms of fiction. To claim that a game is somehow bad simply because it contains fanservice is extremely ignorant as well as intolerant to the freedoms of artists. The video game industry does not need the advocacy for excessive political correctness. It needs the advocacy of art. Learn to enjoy creativity in all forms, or find a new line of work. I suggest looking into a degree in Women's Studies.
  • hardcpy - July 3, 2014 10:23 p.m.

    i would like to give you a thumbs up, this is what i have been saying for years.
  • hector-perez - July 3, 2014 10:37 p.m.

    I'm just responded to say that you are an awesome person.
  • gooberboobs - July 3, 2014 11:47 p.m.

    Don't choke on that cock, now.
  • ellgieff - July 4, 2014 12:13 a.m.

    Excessive political correctness? The objectification of humans (in this case, females) is wrong. There's nothing politically correct to suggest that it's wrong. *shrugs* Cunts. The world is full of cunts like you, and I'm fucking tired of it.
  • hardcpy - July 4, 2014 1:54 a.m.

    But video games don't objectify real human beings, be them female or male, by your reasoning murder of a computer game character would be enforced by the real world law, also one thing you can do if these games disgust you, don't play them so simple just don't play them, no one is forcing you just move on with your life and let people who like having fun continue doing so.
  • BunnyMage - July 4, 2014 4:20 a.m.

    These are not humans. They are fictional pieces of artwork contained within a fictional world. You are trying to insinuate that elements of story and art should be held to the same moral criminality as real life. It is difficult to argue with someone who literally can't separate fantasy from reality. And as for the argument that we need to censor what is displayed in art due to the possible social influences art may have on society, there is a term for this line of belief: it's called fascism. It's what the nazis did during world war 2 and what the russians did in soviet russia. These paranoid beliefs are both regressive and dangerous to any free society. It is also important to note that this sort of argument is a topic of politics, not art. None of what you nor the writer of this article suggests actually helps video games to be more fun or enjoyable as an artform. You don't want to help video games, you want to disassemble them in the name of socialism.
  • hardcpy - July 3, 2014 10:07 p.m.

    A otherwise good game news website ruined by social justice anti fun police that don't understand freedom of expression.
  • imthenigth - July 3, 2014 7:20 p.m.

    Do you realize that those games still have graet game play and history right? the "fan service" is there for people that enjoy the fan service, if that kind of "oversexualized" characters offend you or botter you in any way, maybe you're focus in your attention in the wrong place, i've never hear of somebody who buy Mass Effect just to see the "sex" scene, or King of Fighter just to see the bouncing friends of Mai. So please don't say that tings ok? enjoy your games, don't focus your atenttion in some oversized boobs, just remember that if you don't like that boobs, then that boobs are there for someone else. peace.
  • chiarafan - July 3, 2014 12:31 p.m.

    Let´s be serious and honest: developers of this kind of games design oversexualized underage girls. Then they say that tha girl is 19 to avoid scandal. But if you're sexually excited to see this kind of girls ... Well, you know what it is.
  • Crofto - July 3, 2014 12:11 p.m.

    Full kudos to you Henry for having the nerve to write this article. Tackling rampant sexism and male-juvenile fantasy portrayals of women (mostly) is something that gaming needs to address quickly if it ever hopes to be taken seriously. The sad fact remains that many gamers will dismiss articles like these and claim that gaming is fine as is, with it's over-the-top violence and sexism. However, no other medium (except, perhaps, porn for obvious reasons) can have universal progression when it ostracizes 50% of the world's population. It's pretty simple logic, and makes absolute business sense to stop pandering to the acne-ridden basement boys; a wider audience can be reached if developers, publishers and gaming media alter their attitudes. Thanks Henry.
  • hardcpy - July 3, 2014 11:09 p.m.

    you really have no idea what you are saying do you, my question to you if that so called 50% of the population played games(I gather you are talking about women) how would it affect your gaming. would you play more or less. think about that and then make a bone headed response to a sexual frustrated social justice warrior who calls him/herself a journalist.

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