The controversy surrounding the violence in Mortal Kombat, and the supposedly titillating content in Night Trap, led to the creation of the ESRB ratings system. It is the job of the ESRB (and similar organizations in other countries) to give games an age rating based upon their content.
Even though games are more tightly regulated now, it doesn't mean that every title made before 1994 was a sex & violence fest. Companies like Nintendo had strict guidelines for their content, so you weren't likely to see anything too objectionable in the latest Mario game.
With that being said, a lot of classic games needed to be censored due to cultural differences between Japan and the English speaking world. Some of the greatest games ever made had to go under the knife in order to be released. We are here today to reveal what was intended to be hidden from our innocent eyes. From drunkards and boundary-pushing relationships in Pokémon, to transgender confusion in the Street Fighter canon. Here are 15 Classic Video Games That Had To Be Censored In America.
15 The Drunk Old Man In Pokémon Red & Blue
The Pokémon series is known for railroading the player in stupid ways. One way this is done is with the HMs, like how you cannot get past a single bush without possessing the Cut move. In some cases, a man will just stand at the only exit to town, and will push your ten year old butt back into the dirt if you try to leave. He won't let you go past until you have completed some arbitrary task (like getting a certain amount of Gym badges).
One of the earliest examples of this happens in Pokémon Red & Blue. When you first arrive in Viridian City, the exit north from the town is blocked by a tired old man in the road. His grandchild will tell you that he is tired because he hasn't had his morning coffee yet. The protagonist will respect the fact that this tired geezer now owns the road, and will not use the ample space around him to walk past. This is just a barrier put in by the developers to stop you from leaving the town before you deliver Professor Oak's parcel.
In the Japanese version of the game, the old man wasn't tired from a lack of caffeine, he was passed out drunk on the ground. The time it takes to deliver the parcel is also how long it takes for him to sober up. Once he finally has his faculties back, this hungover old man can teach you how to catch a Pokémon.
14 The Censored Nudity in Final Fantasy VI
The early Final Fantasy games had a sporadic and confusing release schedule. Due to Final Fantasy II & III not being released outside of Japan, Final Fantasy IV had its name changed to Final Fantasy II in America. A similar thing happened with VI, which had its name changed to III, as V had not been released in America. Thankfully, the release of Final Fantasy VII restored the original numbers, and every game since has the same title as the Japanese version.
When Final Fantasy VI was released in America, it needed numerous changes in order to adhere to Nintendo's strict content guidelines. The standard toning down of alcohol and religious elements was in effect, as well as editing out some references to smoking.
Despite Final Fantasy VI appearing on the Super Nintendo, the game had a surprising amount of nudity for the time. This meant that many sprites had to be censored. These include the the final battle against Kefka, the Goddess, Power, Magic, Siren, Alluring Rider, Lakshmi, Chadarnook, and Lady. They needed to have their sprites redrawn in order to take out the excessive skin on display.
13 UmJammer Lammy Goes Back To Her Home On Hell Island
UmJammer Lammy was the sequel to PaRappa the Rapper on the original PlayStation. Unlike the first game, which was based around rapping, UmJammer Lammy was based around guitar playing (by following on-screen button prompts). The game was essentially Guitar Hero, only six years earlier.
The American version of UmJammer Lammy contained alterations that were not present in the Japanese or European editions of the game. Originally, in the sixth stage of the game, Lammy trips up on a Banana, and her soul leaves her body. Lammy ends up in Hell, and must challenge a demon in a Tenacious D style rock off, in order to return to life.
When the game was released in America, the sixth stage was drastically altered. Instead of being banished to the Underworld, Lammy gets her belt buckle attached to a door knob, and she is flung to a faraway island. Instead of playing for the freedom of her immortal soul, she challenges a woman for passage off the island.
12 The Disney Self-Censorhip In Kingdom Hearts 2
The future looks bright for the Kingdom Hearts series. With Disney buying up lots of intellectual properties, like Marvel Comics, Indiana Jones, and Star Wars, there is going to be lots more cool worlds to explore in the later games. At least there might be, assuming Kingdom Hearts 3 is finished sometime within the next Ice Age. At the current rate of development, our great-grandchildren should be enjoying Kingdom Hearts 3 on their PlayStation 7, as they driven to school in a rocket car.
Despite the fact that the developers have access to a lot of Disney content, the games still receive censorship when depicting scenes from movies. This is due to a disconnect between what is acceptable to show in a movie (as they are more regulated), and a video game.
In Kingdom Hearts 2, while the standard edits from the Japanese version are in play (guns being toned down in appearance, blood changing colour). The biggest edits came during the Pirates of the Caribbean section of the game. Scenes from the original movie, like when Will Turner threatened to kill himself, had to be toned for the English release. A scene where Jack Sparrow is stabbed through the chest and stumbles backwards needed to have the sword removed in America. You can also no longer burn the undead pirates through the use of Fire magic. The Pirates muskets were also changed into crossbows (like in the infamous 4kids dub of One Piece).
11 Resident Evil (Without The Blood & Cigarettes)
It might seem odd that an incredibly violent and disturbing series like Resident Evil would undergo censorship, as the games are usually given the maximum age rating out of the gate. Sensibilities are different the world over, and even games with a Mature/18+ rating can face cuts if they want to be released.
The original Resident Evil on the PlayStation was truly unlike anything anyone had seen before. The game opened with a badly acted scene of live action actors playing out the setup for the game. A team of special forces agents are sent to investigate the disappearance of one of their teams, and end up trapped inside a mansion filled with monsters. When the game was released in America, the opening cinematic was made black & white, in order to not show the blood. The cinematic that showed profiles of all of the characters originally featured a shot of Chris Redfield smoking a cigarette. This was taken out of the International release.
As the player progresses through the starting area, they will encounter the first zombie in the game. This zombie is chowing down on fellow teammate Kenneth. In the Japanese version of this FMV, the zombie drops Kenneths half-devoured head, in a sequence that was cut in America. Luckily, Resident Evil has received numerous ports and remakes over the years, so these scenes were eventually restored in later versions (and can be seen easily online).
10 Final Fantasy Banana Smuggling
While the Final Fantasy series has had numerous references to sex and violence, the games have almost never referenced drug use. While alcohol and tobacco have shown up occasionally (and were usually censored in the games released before Final Fantasy VII), harder drugs have never came up. While there is certainly drama to be had with storylines involving addiction, Square-Enix are likely playing it safe, as even the relatively liberal ratings boards of today would likely not approve a general audience (or even T rated) game that featured heavy drug use.
Outside of a brief mention of opium in the PSP remake of Final Fantasy Tactics, real world drugs have almost never shown up in the Final Fantasy series.
There is one big exception to this, although we were not aware of it at the time. In the Game Boy game Final Fantasy Legends II, the player can visit the world of Edo. In the original Japanese version of the game, there was an undercover opium smuggling operation going on in Edo. When the game was released in America, opium was changed to... bananas.
This was most likely the developers having some fun at the situation's expense. They must have known that Nintendo would never have allowed a drug smuggling operation in one of their games, so they took it the other extreme of absurdity.
9 Yoshi Loves Eating Dolphins
The Super Mario Bros. series is about as clean-cut as you can get when it comes to content. It is our sad duty to report that even the Mario games must face the editors' wrath from time to time. So what dirty secret is it that our Italian Plumber friend has been hiding away in his closet?
Dolphins... or rather, the fact that Yoshi loves eating them.
There are regions in Japan where Dolphin hunting is considered a festival event. In the Taiji region, Dolphins are killed in cruel and gruesome ways, and their bodies are chopped up and resold for meat. This has caused a huge backlash from international animal rights organisations like Greenpeace, who have strongly opposed the Dolphin hunts for years now.
So what does this have to do with Mario? In Super Mario World for the Super Nintendo, Dolphins appear in one of the secret areas of the game. They jump out of the water, and Mario can use them as a sort of moving platform. In the original Japanese version of the game, if you took Yoshi with you into the level, then he could eat the Dolphins. This was taken out of the American release of the game.
8 Bravely Default Adds Years And Inches
When Bravely Default was first announced for release in Japan, RPG fans across the world grew excited. The game looked like a return to form for Square Enix, and it resembled a classic job based Final Fantasy (like V or Tactics). It seemed at first that Square Enix had no intention of releasing the game overseas, as the 3DS was not selling well at the time, and they believed that interest had waned in the RPG genre. Nintendo stepped in, and they took over as the publishers of the game. Thankfully, Bravely Default sold very well, and a sequel to the game was later released worldwide.
It is unknown whether Nintendo's more prominent presence had anything to do with the surprising amount of censorship in the game. What is known, however, is that the game was changed a lot from the original Japanese release.
The first major change in Bravely Default was to the ages of the cast. Everyone who was under eighteen had it raised to that number. Many of the costumes worn by characters were lengthened to make them less revealing, and several outfits were removed entirely. Ringabel's Eastern War-Garb was taken out of the game (a rare case of a male costume being removed for being too sexy).
7 Persona Had A Race-Lift
Even though the Persona games are technically spin-offs from the Shin Megami Tensei series, they saw a western release first. Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne on the PlayStation 2 was the first mainline game in the series to see a release, while the Persona games had been appearing on the original PlayStation for years at that point.
Revelations: Persona was a game about a group of schoolchildren whose world is turned upside down, when the gods and monsters of mythology appear in the real world. They must use the power of "Personas" (spirits that are reflections of their own personality, that grant them magical powers), in order to decide the fate of the world.
When Revelations: Persona was released in America, the game was heavily censored. One of the biggest changes was the removal of an entire quest (the Snow Queen storyline) due to it being too text heavy. The biggest change involves many of the main characters, whose appearances were altered, presumably to be more appealing to an American audience. The anime hair colours were changed into more normal ones, and the character of Mark was changed from punk style white kid, into to an African-American kid wearing a baseball cap.
6 Tekken 3 Keeps Anna's Top On
Fighting games were once the king of both the arcade, and the home console market. Games like Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat were huge financial successes for their developers. This led to Hollywood calling, with offers of movie adaptations. While the Street Fighter & Mortal Kombat movies are notorious enough, their also exists several anime adaptations of fighting games, and these were often well-received by fans of the day.
The prominent fighting game anime movies all have something in common - topless shower scenes. It was an unwritten rule back in the day for characters like Chun-Li (Street Fighter), Mai Shiranui (King of Fighters), Anna (Tekken), and Sofia (Battle Arena Toshinden) to be shown partially nude, in order to bring in the teenage boy demographic.
This level of juvenile titillation almost extended to the video games. In Tekken 3 for the PlayStation, Anna had two different endings depending on the version of the game. The original Japanese version of the game showed Anna clowning around with some guys on the beach, when her annoyed sister Nina walks over and tears her top off. This was changed for the American/European release of the game, as Anna just walks off with the guys... and that's it.
5 The Godless Legend Of Zelda
The Legend of Zelda series has required little in the way of censorship over the years. The games have had almost no graphic violence that has needed changing(with the exception of Ganon's blood being altered from red to green in Ocarina of Time). Link's Awakening needed some of its more risque content censored, but that game is a big exception in an otherwise sexless series.
One aspect in which the Zelda series constantly needed changing was its use of religious iconography. Of all of Nintendo's first party franchises, it is Zelda that has needed the most censorship (with the possible exception of the earlier Pokémon titles).
The most common change that happens in the Zelda series involves names. A lot of buildings that were referred to as "Temples" in the original Japanese versions were changed to "Palaces" and "Sanctuaries". Numerous crosses (like the one on Link's shield) needed to be removed. A Link to the Past needed to have its whole name changed, as it was originally known as Triforce of the Gods in Japan.
It is not just symbols of Christianity that needed changing. The music of the Fire Temple in Ocarina of Time needed to be changed in later versions of the game. This was because it was discovered that a piece of the background music was taken from a generic sound effects album. This music included a chant that contained an actual Islamic prayer, and Nintendo removed it in later printings of the game.
4 Mega Man Censors Oil Man
The original Mega Man titles are synonymous with Nintendo. As time went on, Capcom created Mega Man games for other systems, like the ones owned by Sega and Sony. In 2006, Capcom created a ground-up remake of the original Mega Man for the PlayStation Portable. This game was Mega Man Powered Up, and it featured numerous improvements and additions to the original game.
Mega Man Powered Up also included two new Robot Masters for the player to battle. One of these was Time Man, who resembled an alarm clock, and has the ability to slow down time. The other Robot Master was Oil Man, who can fire balls of oil that can force the player to slip up. Oil Man would need to be changed for the western release of the game, due to his controversial design.
Oil Man resembles the "blackface" stereotype, that was used in artwork and theatre of the past, and is now considered racist. Oil Man's design was changed so that his skin tone was made blue, and his lips made yellow. In his comic book appearances, Oil Man also wears a scarf that obscure his features.
3 Chrono Trigger Changes Condiments Into Rock Stars
Akira Toriyama has an odd predisposition for naming characters after food. You only need to look at Dragon Ball Z to see evidence of this. Raditz, Gohan, Chi-Chi, Chiaotzu, Zarbon, and Kakarot are all named after food (to name but a few). This is actually common in Japanese media, and themed/pun names appear quite frequently there.
A similar naming scheme showed up in the classic SNES RPG, Chrono Trigger. Akira Toriyama was the character designer on the game, and his incredible artistic talent is what makes the cast of characters so distinct. During the course of the game, you have to invade the fortress of the evil wizard known as Magus. The player must fight through the one hundred beasts that guard the castle, including Magus' three generals.
The three generals are named after rock stars in the English version of Chrono Trigger. There is Slash the swordsman (named after Slash of Guns N' Roses), Flea the Mage (after Flea from the Red Hot Chilli Peppers), and the slovenly Ozzie (after the lead singer of Black Sabbath).
In the Japanese version of the game, the three generals were named after condiments. Slash was originally Soy (after soy sauce), Flea was named Mayonnaise, and Ozzie was named Vinegar. The localizers presumably thought these names sounded stupid, and they were changed accordingly.
2 I Now Pronounce You Man And Pokémon
For as long there have been Pokémon websites on the Internet, there has also existed Pokémon porn. Even back in the late nineties, it didn't take much searching to find grainy drawings of all kinds of pocket monster perversion. Cartoon pornography has somehow found its way onto mainstream websites, as anyone who has seen a banner ad of Marge Simpson having sex with Lois Griffon can attest to.
To their credit, Game Freak has always distanced itself from this side of the fandom. Pokémon is, ostensibly, intended for kids, and they keep the content as family friendly as possible. At least that's the case in the English versions of the game. The Japanese version has the occasional bit of questionable content. The most shocking piece of Pokémon perversion happened in Pokémon Diamond & Pearl, where the player can discover some surprising information about the past.
If the player finds a book known as Sinnoh Folk Tales, there is a chapter inside talking about how in the past, humans and Pokémon treated each other as equals, and would dine at the same table. In the Japanese version of the game, the book says that humans and Pokémon used to marry each other. Whether these nuptials were Game of Thrones style political alliances, or earnest love affairs, will have to be left to the imagination of the player.
1 Poison Running Through My Games
The beat 'em-up genre of games was popularised by titles like Double Dragon and Streets of Rage. The games generally were not shy about including female protagonists/enemies when in the arcades. Things tended to be different when the games were ported to home consoles, as the rules concerning depictions of violence were a lot tighter there.
When Capcom was preparing a port of Final Fight for the Super Nintendo, they ran into a problem with female enemies. Poison and Roxy were two female antagonists in the game, and Capcom were worried that Nintendo would have an issue with the all-male cast beating them up.
So what was Capcom's response? Beating up women was bad, but beating up a transgender person was fine!
Anticipating a problem with Nintendo regarding Poison and Roxy, Capcom decided that they were both "newhalfs" (trans women), and promoted them as such. Nintendo still refused their inclusion into the game, and they were replaced with generic male thugs.
Poison and Roxy's status has been ambiguous ever since, with Capcom representatives changing their minds depending on who is being asked at the time. Poison has since become a prominent character in the Street Fighter universe, and has appeared in several games since Final Fight. At this point, it seems as if Capcom are fine with leaving Poison & Roxy's gender a mystery, as they want to avoid any possible controversy that would come with giving a definitive answer.