Alright ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls. Strap yourself in, cause it’s time for a rant, and I’m good and properly pissed off. So much so that this is my seventh, that’s right, seventh, attempt at writing this. Every other attempt has degenerated into nigh incomprehensible streams of bile, rage and profanity… I’m hoping I can avoid that this time. Be warned though, there will still be some profanity, and plenty of rage.
So, this was meant to be posted last Sunday. Oh I had lots of plans for what to write about that weekend, like reviews of various movies/books/anime, or a discussion of a new World of Darkness game I’m joining and the character creation session we had for it last Friday. But on Saturday I noticed something while I was in JB HiFi picking up a game which confused me… the updated version/remake of Altelier Rorona: The Alchemist of Arland, had been rated R18+ for Sexual Violence. I was honestly puzzled, as I own the original game (also on PS3, same as the updated version), had only warranted a PG rating. “Surely this must be a mistake,” I thought. Got online when I got home, did some searching, and found out that not only had Atelier Rorona Plus been rated R18+, but so had the remake of the sequel, Atelier Totori Plus (which was released for PS Vita) had also been given an R18+ rating, for the same reasoning.
What. The. Fuck.
A bit of background. For those of you unfamiliar with the Atelier games, it’s a long running series of fairly traditional JRPGs. Where they break from tradition is in their stories. Instead of the usual world sweeping epics you get in games like Final Fantasy, Lost Odyssey or Breath of Fire, they’re generally very local, very small-scale events. You normally play as a female protagonist, more often than not a young woman (often a teenager or someone who has just become an adult). Tasks in the games tend towards day-to-day chores, often focused on various uses of alchemy to create items from ingredients you find while out adventuring in the lands surrounding your town, and time management is key, as the longer you take to complete quests, the less happy the quest giver will be (in some cases, taking too long will actually cause you to lose the entire game). Combat involves absolutely no blood, and gets no more violent than throwing cartoonish sticks of dynamite at cutesy enemies. I think for the first few hours, the only combat I took part in involved me getting my characters to bop adorable slime monsters with sticks. Atelier Rorona: The Alchemist of Arland, was the 11th game in the series, and along with its sequels, Atelier Totori: The Adventurer of Arland and Atelier Meruru: The Apprentice of Arland, formed a trilogy. The following games started a new trilogy, and I’ve yet to pick them up, but they are on my list. Anyway, the original releases of the Arland trilogy all got PG ratings upon release here in Australia. The story for Atelier Rorona is a pretty tame one… Rorona’s teacher, an alchemist, has bailed out and left Rorona in charge of the store… just in time for a royal decree to be passed stating that if a number of orders for alchemical items are not fulfilled in time, along with taking care of the townsfolk’s requests, the store will be knocked down. So Rorona and her friends take on the challenge… Well, nothing controversial there, right?
Now before we get started on this properly, just in case anyone reading this isn’t familiar with the rating system here, our ratings are (taken from Wikipedia):
- Exempt (E) – Only very specific types of material (including educational material and artistic performances) can be exempt from classification, and the material cannot contain anything that exceeds the constraints of the PG classification. The assessment of exemption may be made by the distributor or exhibitor (self-assessed) without needing to submit the product for certification by the Classification Board. Self-assessed exempt films cannot use the official marking, although it is advised that films and computer games that are self-assessed as exempt display, “This film/computer game is exempt from classification”.
- General (G) – Contains material intended for general viewing. This category does not necessarily designate a children’s film or game. Although not mandatory at this category, the Board does have the option of whether to provide consumer information or not. Consumer advice at G classification usually relates to impacts on very young children. The content is very mild in impact.
- Violence must “minimal, mild and incidental”.
- Themes must “have a low threat and be justified by context”.
- Sexual activity, nudity and drug use may only be “very discreetly implied” or “verbal referenced”.
- Coarse language must be “very mild and infrequent”. Usage of the “mildest expletives” is permitted but they must be used “justified by context”.
- Parental Guidance (PG) – Not recommended for viewing or playing by people under 15 without guidance from parents or guardians. Contains material that young viewers may find confusing or upsetting. The content is mild in impact.
- Violence should be mild and infrequent, and should be presented in “a stylised or theatrical fashion, or in a historical context”.
- Sex, nudity and drug use should be mild, infrequent, “discreetly implied” and “justified by context”.
- Coarse language must be “mild and justified by context”. This category allows the use of words such as shit and bitch.
- Mature (M) – Recommended for people aged 15 years and over. People under 15 may legally access this material because it is an advisory category. This category contains material that may require a mature perspective but is not deemed too strong for younger viewers. The content is moderate in impact.
- Moderate violence is permitted, and realistic violence with “low intensity” may be depicted if “justified by context”.
- Sexual violence must be very limited and justified by context.
- Language is moderate in impact, allowing the use of ‘F-words’, but “aggressive or strong coarse language” should be infrequent and “not gratuitous, exploitative or offensive”.
- Sexual activity may be discreetly implied, if “justified by context”.
- Themes should have a “moderate sense of menace or threat” and be “discreet”.
- Drug use can be discreetly “depicted in context”.
- Mature Accompanied (MA15+) – Contains material that is considered unsuitable for exhibition by persons under the age of 15. People under 15 may only legally purchase, rent, exhibit or viewMA15+ rated content under the supervision or accompany of an adult guardian. A person may be asked to show proof of their age before hiring or purchasing anMA15+ film or computer game. This content is strong in impact.
- Realistic violence of medium intensity is permitted. Violent depictions with a “high degree or realism” is accepted only if “justified by context”. Stylised violence, however, can be “more detailed”.
- Sexual violence is permitted only if it is “not frequent, gratuitous or exploitative”.
- Sexual activity may be “discreetly implied” or “simulated”.
- Nudity in a sexual context should “not be exploitative”.
- Strong and aggressive coarse language may be used but it should “not be exploitative” (use of the word “cunt” usually results in this rating).
- Drug use may be depicted, but not in an “advocatory manner”.
- High impact adult themes should be “discreet”.
- Restricted (R18+) – Contains material that is considered unsuitable for exhibition by persons under the age of 18. People under 18 may not legally buy, rent, exhibit or viewR18+ classified content. A person may be asked for proof of their age before purchasing, hiring or viewingR18+ films and computer games at a retail store or cinema. Some material classifiedR18+ may also be offensive to adults. The content is high in impact.
- “Realistic and explicit” depictions of violence is permitted, though violence that is “frequently gratuitous, cruel, exploitative and offensive to a reasonable adult” will not be permitted.
- Themes can have a “very high degree of intensity” but they shouldn’t be “exploitative”.
- Sexual violence is permitted only to the extent that they are “necessary to the narrative” and “not exploitative” or “not shown in detail”.
- Sexual activity can be “realistically simulated”, but depiction of “actual sexual activity is not permitted”.
- Drug use can be shown but “not gratuitously detailed” and should also “not be promoted or encouraged”.
- Nudity in a sexual context should “not include obvious genital contact”.
- Coarse language is virtually unrestricted in this category.
There’s an X18+ rating as well, but given that it exists expressly for the purposes of classifying hardcore pornography, and doesn’t exist for video games, it’s irrelevant to this update.
So then, what’s changed between now and then for the games to have shot up to R18+? Keep in mind this is a jump of three levels of severity to the highest rating we allow for video games (and that was only recently implemented after a hard-fought campaign by Australians who were sick and tired of being told that gaming was a “kid’s hobby” and seeing games that SHOULD have been adults only getting MA15+ ratings). Frankly, nothing’s changed. The graphics are a bit nicer. Some of the supposedly adult characters no longer look like children suffering from cranial gigantism, and actually look like bloody adults (I’m looking at you Sterkenberg!). But in terms of actual story content and dialogue, nothing’s changed. Are there scenes that weren’t entirely innocent? Yes, there are… which is why the original games were rated PG instead of G, because Parental Guidance was recommended. To clarify the reasoning behind the ratings, it wasn’t Sexual Violence as in “Sexual Violence is happening in this game in front of your children!” No. It’s Sexual Violence as in “This game makes some references, in context, to an event that is, technically, sexual assault”. References people. In fact, I can only really remember one reference in Atelier Rorona. Rorona goes to her friend’s restaurant/bar, and finds that the local… general store owner I think, it’s that or she’s the seamstress, is drunk and bemoaning the fact that she’s not as young and beautiful as she once was. Rorona’s friend runs out blushing, and Rorona wonder’s why, when she’s suddenly grabbed by the mournful woman who pokes, prods and gropes at her for a bit wishing she was young again. Yes, the dialogue does make it sound a bit dirty (though I suspect most children wouldn’t get it), but let me be clear, this is the most objectionable moment in the entire game, and the visuals for it are literally a static image of the drunken woman with her arm around Rorona while she looks like she’d rather be somewhere else. Here, see for yourself:
Other than the above scene, I’d say the most objectionable content in this game is that the remake allows you to change characters costumes, and yes, swimsuits are an option. So there are two minor things that parents might not be 100% comfortable with… which again, is why we have the PG rating. Hell, if the original game had been rated M, I’d have had no problem with this one being rated that as well. The problem is that when you add pretty much no new content that deserves a review of the rating from the original game (I’m not counting the swimsuits as being deserving of a rating change), you can’t just go and fucking change the game to an R18+ adults only rating. It’s inconsistent bullshit.
Same deal applies to Atelier Totori Plus… little to no new content, just updated graphics. Worst scene in it? Probably an octopus grabbing Sterkenberg (a male character) and Totori (the female lead) while they’re in swimsuits… Okay yes, we all know the jokes about Japanese girls and tentacles, but that’s literally the extent of the scene. My search fu is weak and I can’t find a screenshot, but believe me, it’s not a “High Impact Sex Scene”. Other than that, there’s a swimsuit competition where many of the female characters appear in swimsuits, some of them one pieces, others bikinis. Gasp. Shock. Horror. Oh wait, that’s nothing.
Now around here is the point where I’d like to talk about some games that HAVEN’T been rated R18+. Deception IV: Blood Ties comes to mind immediately. I’ve not played it yet, but I have played earlier games in the series, all of which are about setting cruel, brutal traps to slaughter your enemies. In fact, let’s take a look at the gameplay description from Wikipedia for it:
“The game is a revisit of Tecmo’s 1996 PlayStation game Devil’s Deception. As a game focused on strategy, the player aims to defeat enemies by luring them into a wide variety of traps. The aim of the game is to prevent the enemy from reaching the player, exclusively using traps. Players can choose to utilise a variety of different traps, including rolling boulders, electrocution, fire, spring boards, spiked walls, human cannons, falling bathtubs, banana peels, an iron maiden, and locomotives. Proper timing of traps is an important aspect of the gameplay, as the player is also able to fall victim to their own traps.
Players are able to set their trap combinations within three methods, namely Brutality, Magnificence, or Humiliation; each different type used will grant different rewards from the devil’s three servants. Effective utilisation of the environment also allows the player to deal additional damage to foes. The PlayStation Vita version of the game allows players to select and activate traps using the touch screen.”
Okay… so we’ve got a game where the goal is to use traps to murder enemies, and you’re scored on Brutality, Magnificence and Humiliation factors for the traps. Why are you doing this? Oh, you’re the daughter of the devil, and are trying to resurrect him to enslave humanity. Huh. That sounds fairly fucked up to me… what’d it get rated? MA15+ you say? Now let me be clear, I’ve watched the trailer and while it’s violent, it’s not gory… but, if Atelier Rorona Plus and Atelier Totori Plus got an R18+ rating, then there can be no justification for this being rated lower than that. Without a consistent application of ratings to games, the system is nothing more than a goddamn joke. Look at the fact that the Battlefield and Call of Duty games keep getting MA15+ ratings. Sorry, but that kind of violence is much higher impact than the very minor adult themes in these games, and again, while I don’t think those games should necessarily be rated as being for adults only, I do think it’s pretty fucking horrifying that somehow we’ve ended up in a situation where more children are going to have a chance to play these games than will get to experience a bunch of simple and charming RPGs about using alchemy to help people. These aren’t the only games it’s happened to either. For another example, just off the top of my head, have a look at another JRPG called Conception 2: Children of the Seven Stars. It got an R18+ rating as well, despite being no worse than the Persona games that it rips off (Persona is known for having enemies that are straight up based on genetalia… in the case of the big bad, Mara, it’s literally a giant green penis monster).
Just so everyone understands, I’m all for having an R18+ rating, as long as it’s applied to games that deserve it. Beyond: Two Souls? Sure, I agree. God of War: Ascension? No arguments here. Mortal Kombat? Makes sense. The issue I have here is that the people classifying these games clearly don’t have a decent grip on reality or even a baseline of common sense when it comes to this shit. How can you rate Atelier Rorona (Trailer) as more adult than Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare (Trailer). There’s no logic there. The fact that they actually thought this was a reasonable decision kind of scares me, because it makes me wonder just what they’re letting their kids, assuming they’ve spawned, watch. I’ve got this scene running through my head of a little kid having happy-go-lucky cartoons removed from his collection, and being replaced with Saving Private Ryan or some shit like that…
Getting the R18+ rating was one hell of a victory for gamers across Australia… but the problem is that we all thought that was it, the battle was won and all was right with the world. We forgot all about it, and were content in the knowledge that not only would we be able to play games that had previously been refused classification here (so long as the publisher was willing to resubmit the game of course), but that future games would be rated appropriately… no more debacles like Aliens vs Predator getting refused classification, being resubmitted with no changes and a firm statement from Sega saying the game wouldn’t be modified to suit our nanny state requirements, and the mysteriously being okayed as MA15+ (for those who didn’t play it, while playing as a Predator in that game, you had the option to collect people’s heads… with the spinal column still attached, covered in viscera. Hell, you used decapitated heads to activate retinal scanners. Not MA15+ material).
What we didn’t count on was that we still had the bloody Classification Board itself to deal with, who honestly seem to consider minor innuendo with colourful anime-esque graphics more of a problem for children and teenagers than they do high impact realistic violence. If we needed proof that our system is still flawed and, to be honest, kind of fucked, well, look no further.
So run and hide your children! Cover their eyes, block their ears, don’t let a second of these awful, corrupting games get anywhere near them… because we all know that Japanese RPGs are the root of all evil and horror and dangerous to young minds… give them good, clean games, like Call of Duty: Black Ops, where you get to see soldiers torturing and killing people.*