Interviews with the developers of Square Enix’s new Nier franchise reveal a bizarre development saga in which arguments over whether western audiences could stomach a typical girly JRPG lead eventually lead to the company making two versions of the game.
Square Enix’s new “Nier” franchise launched with two games, Gestalt (PS3/360) and Replicant (PS3), each with radically differnet character designs for the hero; however only Gestalt was released in the west, as “Nier” – comparisons of the two attracted some attention.
The interview concerning this odd decision included publisher Square Enix’s Executive Producer Yosuke Saito, and developer Cavia’s Nier director Taro Yoko:
Saito: We were initially planning an Xbox 360 target, which we expanded to PS3 multiplatform afterwards. However, the production process turned out to be quite storied.
Yoko: At first we were just doing the youthful protagonist version (which became “Replicant”), but Square Enix started taking talking about international markets during development.
Yoko: In fact, an argument erupted at Square Enix’s Los Angeles studio, over whether a thin looking male character [hereafter translated as “girly”] was possible for the game. For the North American consumers, it was decided to provide a macho main.
Yoko: A heated discussion ensued once the American and European staff were gathered to discuss it. It was said that “A slender and girly protagonist like this couldn’t possibly swing a huge sword like that, it’s ridiculous.” Certainly, if you look at American games it’s always muscle bound mains who look like they play American football.
Saito: We thought that as it’s a new IP, it really must sell, and we were persuaded [by the Japanese staff’s desire to make a girly lead] – we opted to leave the Japanese version with the girly character, and instead make two different versions.
Saito: We did realize that not all international audiences are the same though – it was thought that Replicant [the girly version] might be suitable for the French, as they have a greater appreciation of Japanese culture.
Yoko: That meeting was pretty amazing. A lot of people were arguing for making only the macho old guy version for cost reasons, and we [the Japanese developers] were saying “But if we don’t make a girly version we’ll lose heart and it’ll take even longer.”
Saito: As a result, the Japanese PS3 version only became the girly version, and both PS3 and Xbox 360 international version were the macho old guy versions.
Curiously, the obvious choice of eschewing the entire “Epic vs Enix” problem by just making universally sexy Kainé the protagonist seems not to have occurred to them, although considering the approach they took to depicting her in the US comics this is perhaps for the best.
The obsession Japanese RPG publishers have with supplying western audiences with its crude interpretation of the muscle bound heroes they see as key to the success of American games seems almost pathological – Square Enix actually made two games rather than have to risk releasing an insufficiently masculine lead to supposedly testosterone loving American audiences.
Unfortunately for both supporters and detractors of macho protagonists, the Nier games have received mediocre reviews and would likely have sunk without trace were it not for the cunning inclusion of futanari Kainé – finally proving whether western audiences (apparently shorthand for “American audiences” amongst RPG publishers) really can’t stomach girly androgynous protagonists will have to wait.