*WARNING – Potentially NSFW images included in the following post!*
Earlier this year, the first game to be refused an age rating here in the UK – and effectively banned – since 2008’s Manhunt 2 fell foul of the Video Standards Council who decided that Omega Labyrinth Z for the PS4/Vita will not be permitted for sale in Britain. Publisher PQube (a company well-known for localising niche Japanese software for us Eurozone dwellers) appealed the decision but failed to change the VSC’s mind. The game was also refused classification in Australia, Germany and Ireland, leaving the United States as the only recipient of Omega Labyrinth Z outside of Japan. The game is expected to be rated as a 17+ “Mature” title.
So, what is so bad about Omega Labyrinth Z that it invited near universal condemnation? Let’s break it down and see what exactly we’re dealing with here…
Omega Labyrinth Z is – on the surface – nothing special or wholly original. Scratch that; it’s completely unoriginal seeing as how the game is a roguelike dungeon-crawler of the type that we have seen too many times to count. For those that don’t know, the “roguelike” label describes a subgenre of dungeon-crawlers, usually unforgiving in nature with randomly-generated dungeons to loot and enemies that move when the player character moves. Player death usually results in a complete loss of loot so risk/reward is the nature of the beast. The genre saw somewhat of a revival thanks to the likes of the Nintendo DS and PSP though the games were still niche and usually only on the radar of importers. One notable series that broke somewhat into the mainstream however was the Pokemon Mystery Dungeon spin-offs.
But enough of the history lesson. It isn’t the core gameplay itself that has attracted the dreaded ban hammer unless it’s now a crime to punish unoriginality in the world of videogame development (not actually a terrible idea now that I think about it…). Hopefully, this brief overview of the game’s plot from Wikipedia will explain the actual reason:
The game follows a group of girls as they explore a dungeon in search of the fabled “Holy Grail of Beauty”, which is said to be able to grant any wish. Protagonist Aina Akemiya searches for the Grail in order to increase her chest size, as she feels uncomfortable about her small breasts.
In itself, that usually wouldn’t be enough to warrant a ban. It’s the usual titilliating, Japanese fan-servicey stuff that is commonplace in anime and the anime-styled JRPG’s that Japan has been pumping out for years now, many of them being localised in the West without issue. The overriding detail that pushed things too far in the eyes of the Video Standards Council was the fact that the game takes place in a girls school and involves characters that look and sound distinctly underage.
As the girls traverse dungeons, they defeat the monsters within and release “Omega Power”, an energy which increases their stats as well as the size of their breasts, the latter depicted with animations that show their clothes ripping open, exposing their bras. In addition to this nonsensical seediness, unidentified items are appraised by wedging them between one of the character’s breasts and shaking them about (though it is worth noting that this animation is entirely skippable for those who don’t wish to see it). Other points of note are the special items that allow the player to “touch” one of the characters in order to boost their stats as well as defense-boosting equipment coming in the form of underwear.
That’s pretty much the game: another uninspiring roguelike experience dressed up with racy elements designed to titillate.
The VSC here in the UK were not impressed by any of this. Naturally, the fact that the characters are depicted as schoolgirls when all of this hyper-pervy stuff is going on was never going to down well but the touching element as well as the removal of clothing seems to have cemented their decision that the game should be refused an age rating certificate. This comes at a time when we as a society are experiencing the frequent media exposure of child abuse crimes, grooming gangs and online sexual exploitation of minors so it is understandable that organisations such as the VSC will not want to be seen to grant such risque software a retail release, even with an 18 certificate.
The VSC justified its decision to ban the game by saying that Omega Labyrinth Z‘s content would be “unacceptable to the majority of UK customers” and that it posed significant harm to the “moral development of younger people”
The refusal to grant classification also affects any digital release of the game on PSN.
Okay, so we know what the game is about and we know why we won’t be getting it here in the UK (and the the other aforementioned locations). Let’s talk about it: should Omega Labyrinth Z have been treated this way?
The very first thing I wanted to bring up was the fact that this game is a sequel and the original wasn’t localised at all. In fact, it wasn’t even attempted and subsequently blocked. It was just another breast-obsessed anime-styled RPG that was destined to remain in Japan along with countless other games over the years that have centred on similar themes. These sorts of games are pretty normal for the Japanese market and so the initial issue for me is that trying to release a game such as Omega Labyrinth over here is always going to result in a clash of culture. Is it so different to how such “normal” acts as kissing in public or consuming alcohol in the street are considered crimes in the likes of Dubai? Some things are simply considered to be wrong in certain cultures and attempting to bring the two together will result in inevitable resistance from those wishing to protect their culture/society.
In the case of my aforementioned Dubai example, those in power do not wish for their society to be influenced by Western customs. Similarly, the VSC here in the UK – as well as the authorities in general – will not wish to permit the sale of entertainment that appears to promote sexualisation of underage girls. On a moral basis, it’s not really a decision that can be argued.
What we can say is that publisher PQube should have known much better than to even try in the first place. There is undoubtedly a market for such software because Japanese games with similar themes have a niche following all over the world and at the end of the day, PQube are a business and they wouldn’t have attempted to spend money localising the game if they weren’t certain of a profit on their print run of Omega Labyrinth Z. With this been said, wouldn’t it have been fairly obvious that they’d be battening down the hatches and fighting off a storm of criticism over a game that features schoolgirls’ shirts bursting open for the gratification of the player?
Well, perhaps not as obvious as you may think and this leads me into one of my pet peeves regarding the ratings systems: one game getting banned while other similar titles hit the shelves without receiving any attention at all.
To date, SIX Senran Kagura titles have been released here in the UK, all without any blockade. These third-person beat ’em ups feature female ninjas who also look of questionable age. Gratuitous panty shots and utterly titanic boobs also star in this series of erotic fighting games while one of the spin-off games in the series (Peach Beach Splash) takes the form of a third-person water pistol FPS and yes, there are bikinis and no, not many of them are what you’d describe as modest.
A similar lack of fuss was shown when Tecmo added the brand-new character of Marie Rose to Dead or Alive 5, one of gaming’s most sexualised franchises. Though classified as being an eighteen year-old, the character definitely doesn’t look it and you have to wonder – with all of the skimpy outfits available for the characters – why this wasn’t queried.
The simple answer is that those likely to raise issue simply didn’t know about these games. They are after all pretty obscure and will only sell to the same niche target audience over and over. They aren’t widely advertised or featured on supermarket display stands like Call of Duty and FIFA are so unless they are brought to the attention of SJW killjoys, nobody would notice their existence. The same subtle release have been true of Omega Labyrinth Z though had the VSC and other ratings boards across the globe not made it publicly clear that they’d refused to rate the game so why now and why not with the likes of Senran Kagura? You can make a safe monetary bet on the fact that if you showed the games that got away to pressure groups, they’d be outraged and calling for greater controls on our media (not a great thing at all).
So now I find myself at my next point. Omega Labyrinth Z was refused a rating by the VSC on the grounds that it is unacceptable and – more importantly for the point I am about to make – damaging to the “moral development of younger people”. First of all, I feel obliged to remind everybody that the ratings system is there for a reason. Supplying your ten year-old son with Grand Theft Auto is simply bad parenting. Likewise, buying your young child an 18 or ‘Mature’ rated game that has been rated so for its sexual content is also bad parenting. It isn’t the products themselves at fault. The VSC clearly mention “younger people” so if they mean consumers below the age of eighteen then they shouldn’t be playing the game in the first place. Let’s not encourage a culture of blame where “evil” entertainment or alleged poor regulation of media are at fault. Parents not taking heed of the age ratings on a game box and the symbols identifying the content (violence, sexual themes, bad language etc.) need to take some responsibility for their actions.
But let’s say for a moment that playing Omega Labyrinth Z could – worst case scenario – potentially turn a person into a raging, perverted paedophile with unsavoury sexual tastes. On a milder scale, let’s say that it could simply make perverts out of us or promote a subconscious, warped expectation of reality in male minds where all females should be made from an idyllic mould and shopping for F-Cup bras. Young, developing minds being tainted in this way is the concern that the VSC had about Omega Labyrinth Z but if this really such an issue then it would have already happened with the slew of previously released software that the VSC did grant ratings to. Senran Kagura, Dead or Alive, Onechanbara, Valkyrie Drive and too many other games/series’ to mention should have already corrupted gamers on a mass scale yet this isn’t the case. To be so easily influenced by the smut in these games would mean that you are either too young to be in possession of the game(s) in question (see my previous point about poor parenting) or that you are already mentally unstable to some degree and easily open to suggestion. This is a tiny percentage of people in reality and the vast majority of gamers playing erotic or sexy games aren’t going to be damaged by them.
I have been playing the likes of Grand Theft Auto and other 18-rated games long before I was of the correct age according to the ratings logos on the boxes. Should my parents have bought these games for me? Not at all! However, I didn’t get negatively influenced by them and start roaming the streets, looking to terrorise the city. I didn’t get the idea of driving about dangerously at high speeds and I haven’t become some sort of sex pest with no respect for women. I played games filled with adult content and I certainly haven’t been damaged by them. Am I the only one? No. Everybody at school played the violent videogames well before they should have done and we have all grown up to lead normal, boring adult lives. Mortal Kombat didn’t spawn a generation of young gamers eager to beat others to a pulp and rip out their spines either.
We should also consider that this game originated in Japan. This is a country oft poked fun at for its seedy entertainment and obsession with schoolgirls yet it is also one of the countries with the lowest rates of sex crimes involving minors. If the likes of Omega Labyrinth were so dangerous then Japan – with its utter wealth of suspect software – should be a cultural disaster by now, ridden with rapists and paedophiles but this isn’t the case.
The evidence increasingly points to an overreaction on the VSC’s part and I while I can completely understand why they felt the need to block Omega Labyrinth Z from hitting UK store shelves, I also don’t see the game being the great devil that it has been made out to be.
My Personal Opinion on the game
So what do I think of the game and would I want to play it? First of all, no, I wouldn’t want to play Omega Labyrinth Z but not for the reasons that you’d expect. I wouldn’t play it because I find roguelikes dull and one of gaming’s lazy copy-paste formulas dressed up with different skins. As a gameplay experience, the banning of Omega Labyrinth Z is no massive loss.
Aa far as smutty content goes, I cannot deny that I do enjoy a bit of it. I’m a huge Dead or Alive fan and I also play the anime-styled JRPG’s that usually feature some saucy scripting or unnecessary hot spring side stories. As a veteran of these sorts of games, the majority of Omega Labyrinth‘s premise doesn’t strike me as anything new or particularly outrageous and had there not been a fuss kicked up about it then I wouldn’t have even raised an eyebrow at an RPG where the goal is to collect energy that increases the size of the female characters’ chests.
As far as I am concerned, videogames (like movies and books) are escapism and I firmly believe in only the very worst being censored or banned. If somebody wants to ogle anime boobs then so what? Let them. Likewise, if somebody wants to piss away hours on a mobile phone puzzler (hours that could have been used on something a lot more constructive) then let them.
If I had to remove something from Omega Labyrinth Z that I wasn’t personally sold on then it would be the whole touching mini game because that does go too far in my own mind. I love me some digital T&A but I don’t get excited by virtually touching up a female character, especially when they DO look so young. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t fear for a moment that doing so in a videogame will transform me into some sort of hideous scourge on society but at the same time, it doesn’t turn me on and I do have to concede that the ratings boards were correct to question whether this element of the game was really included in good taste. Had it not been then I’d be a lot more confident that Omega Labyrinth Z would have had an 18 (or even a 16) slapped on the box and sent on its merry way. As it is, it seems like the developers were really pushing the boundaries of what was acceptable. That said, we must remember that the game was designed for the domestic Japanese market first (likely without any concern given to international consumption) and so we are judging a product that has not been made with our society in mind.
I’m less angry about this specific game being banned than I am about a game in general getting banned. I am heavily against censorship and the chokehold that it places on creativity and the arts. I am all for people being able to decide for themselves what they wish to consume or not consume – not for organisations to decide for them. Sure, this one game alone being banned won’t change much but there is always the “where does it end?” question that inevitably comes up when you stop to consider the possibilities. We live in a world where some are shouting loudly to ban this or ban that; demanding that we agree with them about their ideas of what is or isn’t offensive. I for one would like to retain the right to decide for myself.
Ultimately, I don’t think Omega Labyrinth Z should have been banned. As I said above, I believe that the VSC were correct to say “no” to the aspect of the game that involves touching up girls because let’s face it: it isn’t something in a videogame that anybody could proudly admit to doing is it? At the same time, I don’t for a second believe that the game was developed to promote or glorify such activity in real life. Pervy games have always existed in the Japanese domestic market and I see this as a case of a developer simply getting carried away and pushing the boundaries of acceptance. For something really nasty that definitely should have been banned, look no further than the infamous “Battle Raper” fighting game on the PS2…
But due to the inconsistencies with what draws the attention of those rating our entertainment, the fact that I don’t believe a game like this could genuinely damage minds and the fact that I think we need to be free to decide for ourselves what we feel comfortable with consuming, Omega Labyrinth should have been left alone. The game should have been released with the highest rating available and then it’s up to us to say “You know, I like the look of this game but some elements are a bit too much so I’ll pass”.
We need to also bear the snowball effect in mind when it comes to censorship, the resulting damage on the arts and pre-emptively bowing to the will of pressure groups. Capcom, don’t forget, censored certain aspects of Street Fighter V that it was concerned would draw criticism from some corners and that was – in my opinion – very sad to see. I certainly won’t lament missing out on Omega Labyrinth Z‘s roguelike gameplay but its banning over here in the UK carries greater symbolic significance in my mind.