Massage Freaks gets backlash over its risqué subject matter prompting the developer to respond [UPDATE]

Written by. Nick Mosier based on the original Japanese article (original article’s publication date: 2022-07-18 16:01 JST)

Developer qureate recently released a statement about their rhythm game Massage Freaks which is coming to the Nintendo switch. The Developer has asked that opinions about the game be sent to them directly and says they are considering adjusting elements of the game such as character names and what’s depicted.

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Massage Freaks delayed after receiving backlash in Japan over its risqué subject matter

Massage Freaks is a rhythm game that’s scheduled to release August 4 on the Nintendo Switch. In the game, the protagonist Atsushi Yubihara takes over his late grandfather’s massage parlor and performs massages on the young women who visit to help relieve them of their troubles and pay off his grandfather’s debt.

Atsushi’s secret massage technique lies in massaging to the rhythm of the music customers subliminally want to hear to heal them both inside and out. Players massage to the rhythm by pressing the appropriate buttons in time with the music. This will increase customers’ affection toward Atsushi which can lead to love and seeing “unexpected things that would leave most men standing in excitement!”

The game made a splash when it was announced on July 14 (JST). While gameplay footage hadn’t been revealed and information was limited, the screenshots and game synopsis were quite provocative. As the songs progress, the girls’ clothing gets more revealing, and if a certain score is reached, “Nice! Totally Relaxed! Mode” (NTR Mode) *1 will activate. The game describes this mode as the women baring their hearts being represented by physical nudity. And it looks like this kind of game getting a Nintendo Switch release has been met with surprise online.

*1 “NTR” is also a known acronym in Japan for the word “netorare,” which describes when a man or protagonist loses their partner or wife to another man.

There are also critical opinions of the game being shared online, with some saying it shows discrimination against women, is a sexually exploitative game, and reminds some of sexual crimes at massage parlors that have happened recently in Japan. In addition, the game has been rated CERO:D (17+) in Japan and some are concerned about children being able to purchase the game. Some of this criticism is also being aimed at Nintendo due to the game being approved for sale on their platform.

This led to qureate making a statement on July 17 (JST). The company says that they are the only ones who can adjust the content of the game and ask that opinions on the game be sent directly to them. This was likely a response to opinions of the game being addressed to Nintendo.

Regarding what games Nintendo allows to appear on their platform, company president Shuntaro Furukawa had this to say during a shareholders’ meeting in June of 2019:

“For titles released for our hardware, we want consumers to use the objective information provided in the age ratings of third-party organizations to understand the title’s content and target age. As we operate a platform, we believe that arbitrarily approving or not approving software for sale will hinder game software diversity and fairness.

Also, parental controls are built into our platforms, and parents can set a PIN to prevent the display of content inappropriate for children.”

In other words, Nintendo doesn’t necessarily draw a line in the sand and leaves it to the ratings boards. In Japan, Massage Freaks was reviewed by the CERO ratings board and given a CERO D (17+) rating. For Nintendo, as long as a game has the appropriate rating, they likely don’t see a problem with it releasing on their platform. Furukawa’s above quote also mentions the Switch’s parental control settings which can be used to hide content inappropriate for children.

Massage Freaks is also releasing in regions outside of Japan, and if we check those ratings we can see it received an ESRB:T (13+) rating in North America and PEGI:12 (12+) rating in the UK. While those ratings do warn of sexual content, the actual concerned age groups aren’t that high with the games being considered not inappropriate for teens. Even in Germany which is relatively strict on what can be shown in games, the game passed through the ratings process with a USK:16 (16+) rating.

Something else that’s interesting is the screenshots shown on the Nintendo eShop. There are sometimes cases where the same game will have different screenshots on the eShop between Japan and other regions. This normally involves swapping screenshots that feature sexual content with different ones. When we previously asked a game publisher about this, they said that it isn’t a decision made by Nintendo but a regulation of the rating organizations. Despite this, Massage Freaks has the same screenshots displayed on the eShop in Japan in other regions as well.

In recent years, especially outside of Japan, a stricter stance has been taken against sexism against women depicted in games. In some cases, this has resulted in games not clearing ratings reviews and being removed from sale in certain countries. But in the case of Massage Freaks, the same provocative screenshots have been posted outside of Japan and the game received a relatively low age rating compared to Japan. It makes you wonder just what kind of content is actually in the game.

The developer qureate mentioned looking into adjusting what’s depicted in the game, but as of now haven’t made any indications towards what that may look like. On the other hand, they did announce that they are changing the names of some characters in the game, along with an apology to the concerned parties and those displeased with the names.

The official website features profiles for six of the women that visit the massage parlor in the game. It was then pointed out that all of the characters names are the same as members of the idol group Hinatazaka46 (though the last names are different). Considering this also includes uncommon names, some are of the opinion that it wasn’t a mere coincidence.

And judging by qureate’s statement, it likely wasn’t. It isn’t unusual to see parodies of the names of famous figures, and qureate has parodied names in the past as well. However, in a game with this sort of content, a name reference could be seen as more than just a simple parody. The developer has promised that they will work to not let something like this happen again.

qureate also revealed in their announcement that many have already preordered Massage Freaks. qureate asks that players send their impressions and requests to them through the official website and says they will use all of them as reference for future development.

[UPDATE 2022/07/21 10:47 JST]
The official website has been updated to reflect the changes made to the female characters.