Being happy is sometimes rather pleasant, really. Japanese developers understand this mysterious truth, but while they keep trying to export their eternally sunny characters to us, we just keep transforming them into gloomy, moody tough guys.
For whatever reason, when a Japanese game is released Stateside, there's a tendency to make the box art, or even the character models, a little more hardcore. Maybe it's as simple as adding Angry Eyebrows, or maybe the character's model is completely redone. This is often done to characters who are supposed to be cute in the first place. Sometimes it goes the other way, too: an American character may be made cuter for the Japanese release.
This has to do with Values Dissonance. Japanese culture in general is very accepting of cuteness pretty much anyplace, and will take it in stride. American culture, on the other hand, often views cuteness as a sign of childishness and immaturity, and thus has a strong aversion to it in any media that's not explicitly kid-oriented. "Cutesy" is a loaded term synonymous with "wussy" or "kiddie" to most Americans, who often feel that, if a game or movie is to be taken seriously, then it must have a serious, or at least adult, tone. This attitude goes so far as to color American perceptions of Japanese culture; some historians have occasionally (and controversially) attempted to link kawaisa to the national humiliation endured by Japan in World War II and the nation's resulting 180° turn from a warrior culture to a pacifistic one.
Essentially the opposite of Bowdlerising and a subtrope of Cultural Translation. It's also not always a bad thing, mind you; if the game itself isn't particularly cutesy poo, then giving it cute box art is just weird. It can also mean that a game with cute art direction may hide a heart of blackened steel underneath and gamers missing out. On the other hand, if you're thinking about buying a game whose main character is an adorable pink puffballsurrounded by sparkles and rainbows, then whether or not he's smiling on the cover honestly shouldn't be a deal-breaker (though it's no bad thing if you're wondering why he isn't smiling).
Weblinks Are Not Examples! Please include a description of the cover art in your description.
The box art for Kirby's Dream Land 2 avoided this by having the same exact art as the Japanese box, in all its cutesy happiness.
It also showed up in Kirby Super Star; not so much the box art as the in-game dialogue, and not so much Kirby as Meta Knight. In Revenge of Meta Knight, what used to be an Anti-Hero with uncertain motives, as usual, was given several rewritten lines of dialogue to make him sound less like he was trying to do a good thing for Dream Land and more like he was trying to be the next Hitler. He even got "Prepare to Die!" as a line, replacing the fairly innocent "Now we duel!", explicitly ignoring Nintendo's policy at the time. The best part is that the changes were kept (besides "Prepare to die!", which became "Come meet your doom!") when the script was rewritten for Super Star Ultra.
Kirby's Avalanche shows Kirby as a Jerkass who acts mean to his friends and acts sarcastic, saying things like "Oh, I'm so scared" and the like. Needless to say, the game was an installment of the ineffable cute Puyo Puyo series rebranded for an American audience.
Nintendo Power lampshaded this phenomenon in the May 2011 issue's highlight on Kirby, saying he puts on his "angry eyes" for the boxart. As did IGN, when they launched a new feature comparing different box arts. Kirby went first specifically thanks to the series' use of the trope.
Even the title of 2011's DS game seems to carry on in this tradition; known as Gather! Kirby in Japan, its English title is Kirby Mass Attack. And to top it off, on the American boxart, nearly half of the Kirbies have angry faces... but the other half doesn't. This makes it... jarring, to say the least.
“Kakefu’s Jump Heaven and Speed Hell”, which is known as “Kid Kool and the Quest for the Seven Wonder Herbs”in North America.
The Angry Video Game Nerd: Is that Kid Kool? What happened? He looks nothing like the guy on the cover. Now that’s what you would call cool. Shaking his fist at a wizard. A dragon humping his leg. I love how the North American packaging changed that derpy-looking Japanese kid into a badass to deceive people and increase sales.
Totally Rad is one of the most extreme examples. The translators changed most of the dialog and even its name from the original (which was called Magic John, a reasonable change). And of course plunked in two completely different main characters in place of the originals. The result is a send-up of '80s surfer dude culture in place of a fairly forgettable platformer.
Not surprisingly, Magic John/Totally Rad was published by Jaleco, a company famous for having its game's characters and plot being almost completely altered for American release. A good example being Saiyuuki World 2, a game based loosely on Journey to the West (and sequel to a dolled-upWonder Boy In Monster Land) which became the Native American themed Whomp 'Em.
Taro's Quest, an unreleased and unfinished localization of Jaleco's Dragon Quest clone Jajamaru Ninpou Chou, had major changes to the graphics, redrawing the character portraits to be less Super-Deformed and outright replacing some of the more goofy-looking monsters.
Most The Legend of Zelda box arts invoke this, going back to the first game. US releases often either discard the generally colorful artwork of the Japanese and occasionally European versions in favor of the game's logo on a (usually) sepia background. The American box art does lean towards the yellow end of the color spectrum. Particular examples include:
The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass. Japan and Europe got a colourful spread of Link and Linebeck sailing about, the US art had them in moodier poses with a brown-shaded Phantom Ship as the backdrop.
Ico's original cover◊ did a good job of capturing the overall feel of the game - quiet, isolated, beautiful, and above all artistic. The American cover◊ takes all of that away and gives it the look of an uninspired throwaway game, while making Ico himself look gritty, aggressive and as being straight from the Uncanny Valley - something he most definitely is not. The change was infamous enough that it actually gained a short set of comments from head development staff in an interview on its PS3 re-release.
So, where's the subversion? It turns out that the SNES cover art is actually the same cover art from the earlier PC-9801 game, 4.6 Billion Year Story: The Theory of Evolution. This is the original E.V.O, made by the same developers, and the version on the Super Famicom and SNES is actually a loose port!
The American box art of No More Heroes has Travis Touchdown holding his beam katana with an aggressive look. The European and Japanese box art has Travis standing in the streets of Santa Destroy with a smile on his face and an arm around Sylvia's waist.
Considering the American version of the game also had the blood the game was originally intended to have, while others didn't, this might be reversed.
Inverted with No More Heroes 2. All covers are intense, though the Japanese cover (especially the Hopper edition cover) is even more hardcore compared to the US/EU/AU one.
In the Japanese version of the game, the titular character is voiced by a woman with a much higher pitched, child-like voice compared to the Totally Radical teenage one he had in the American version, complete with cutesy little noises nearly every time he jumps.
Astérix and Obelix XXL is a bit "American Kirby" compared to the source material, with the titular characters more aggressive than usual (with a good reason though, since the premise is the burning of their village and the capture of all their friends); however, while the European cover◊ shows their faces drawn similarly to the comic book, the American cover◊ is a render of their in-game selves, ready to fight. And, as you can notice, the game is called Asterix and Obelix Kick Buttix in the US!
The Japanese cover art for Dynasty Warriors 7 was very minimalist, with simply the game's logo on a gold background. One can't blame Koei for wanting to spruce it up a bit. But they may have gone a bit too far◊.
Averted for Dynasty Warriors 8. Both Japanese◊ and US/EU◊ covers features a screaming Zhao Yun about to kill somebody.
Now that the box art is revealed, this trope is in play again. While both the Japanese◊ and North American box◊ art show Pit with a furrowed brow, the NA version removed all traces of pink and gave him an angry frown instead of the open mouth smile.
The Japanese box art for Bayonetta is merely a shot of her from the back, holding one of her guns. The American box art, on the other hand, shows her in a badass fighting pose.
This even occurred for the advertising. Japanese advertising showed a hot Asian woman cosplaying as Bayonetta, combined with gameplay footage, all of which was set to the happy and cutesy-sounding "Something Missing" by MiChi. The American commercials showed gameplay footage accompanied by "In For the Kill" by La Roux. Then, the European advertising (which was just a magazine ad) is just a close-up of her leg, with a caption reading, "Being bad never felt so good".
The Japanese box art for◊ Lollipop Chainsaw depicts Juliet and Nick laying down on a bed, with lollipops scattered all around them. The American/European box art◊ depicts Juliet standing in front of a dark background, holding a lollipop in one hand and her chainsaw in the other hand, and looking all badass, while a zombie can be faintly seen coming out of a locker in the background.
Ninja Taro had a chibi ninja and princess surrounded by lots of colourful enemies on the Japanese cover◊, but the American cover opted for a more realistic art style and a muted colour palette, displaying a couple of ninja, (presumably) the princess, and a castle off to the side.
Wonderboy In Monster Land. The Japanese version◊ has a cute looking knight trying to hide himself from the monsters that are attacking him. With such a box art, you would believe that they would try to remove the cuteness of the character when localizing the game to America. But during the making of the American box art◊ they decided that the guy should keep it's cuteness while fighting another knight. The result can best be described as "disturbing".
In Yakuza 4, the PAL collector's edition sheath has the tagline "Do Something Terrible Today". Anybody who plays a Yakuza game for about ten minutes knows that they are essentially a manual about how to be manly, which includes being a good (if sometimes rough) person.
There is a variant cover for Gunstar Heroes is pretty much the same as the original release (right down to the poses), only all the characters are more realistically drawn, rather than the same style as the game itself.
Game Freak's action puzzle game Quinty was released in America as Mendel Palace and... well, just look.
The cover artwork of Demon Sword (the U.S. version of Fudō Myō-ō Den, a Famicom spinoff to Legend of Kage) depicts the protagonist as a long-haired Barbarian Hero instead of the Japanese swordsman actually featured in the game.
The Japanese box cover art for Jack Bros.◊ for Virtual Boy shows cutesy little Jack Bros. and fairies in a maze. The U.S. box cover art◊, on the other hand... is kinda scarier and just... plain... freaky.
Brain Dead 13's original box cover art◊ shows Fritz unloading a wide range of weapons under his trenchcoat, just like in all other console versions. When the game became localized for Japanese releases in October 1996, it is averted when the box art for the PlayStation version remains the same as in the American release, but inverted when the Japanese Sega Saturn version box art◊ is very different, in that it adds Red-HeadedIdiot Hero Lance Galahad right next to Fritz, who looks ready to slice him with a chainsaw while our hero is struggling to stay alive, indicating that Japanese Fritz is hardcore!
As a Japanese game in the early '90s, Time Gal had to have this happen to it. While the Japanese cover◊ depicts the titular character more or less how she appears in the game, the European/American cover◊... well, doesn't. The EU/NA cover is also a lot more comic book-y in art style than the Japanese cover's Animesque art style.
Inverted with Asura's Wrath, surprisingly. True, the American cover has Asura trying to smash your face in, but the Japanese version has six-armed Vajra Asura screaming in rage at you with his arms raised instead.
Heavy Rain's European and American box art. The European version simply shows the origami bird figure, while the American box art shows the main cast standing behind the origami bird, with Madison Paige standing in the foreground (wearing a revealing tank top that she wore in only one part of the game) and Scott Shelby wielding a pistol. The Japanese box art◊ was simply an ominous sighting of a seemingly drowned man. The Japanese version isn't as mysterious as the European version, but it is significantly more solemn than the American version and more effectively conveys the seriousness of the game's subject matter than the American version does.
Both versions of the game allowed you to switch between two different palettes for the turtles: the bright and colourful "Animation" ("Anime" in the Japanese version) palette, that made them look like their 80s cartoon incarnations, and the darker, pupil-less "Comic" palette, which made them look somewhat closer to the original comic designs. However, the "Animation"/"Anime" palette is used as the default in both versions.
The American (at least) boxart for the NES Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles platformer also follows this trope, giving all four turtles red masks a la the comic book series.
The American cover art of Guardian Heroes replaced the original anime-style depictions of the six main characters with a fantasy novel-like illustration of Han fighting against the Undead Knight, even though he was one of the heroes in the game. The European version used the original Japanese art, but replaced the two heroines, Serena and Nicole, with Zur the magician and Macho the bodybuilder, who aren't even main characters, turning the European cover into a complete sausage fest for no reason (see for yourself).
Guilty Gear had 2 different covers for all their installments which got ported over the Pacific, most notably the Isuka installment: The Japanese version has a visibly flushed A.B.A. between Ky Kiske (behind) and Sol Badguy (front), who are meanwhile completely ignoring her as they are engaged in a staring contest with each other (homoerotically charged full of Foe Romance Subtext). The American version on the other hand, was a rather generic image of Sol wielding his Fireseal sword in the style of a bazooka with the hilt pointed at you.
As for the actual cover art for the game, Kirby's facial expression was left alone in the U.S. version (contrary to the name of the trope) — the bright, partly cloudy blue skies◊ were removed◊, on the other hand.
In Elebits, the box art for the US audience is much more actiony that the other ones. Not only does the front of the boxart get a complete remake such that disorder can be shown, the back is also changed slightly: the back of the English European box art has three screenshots labeled "Seek!", "Find!" and "Catch!" The same three images on the back of the US box art are labeled "Hide!", "Seek!" and "Destroy!"
Revenge Of The Gator for the Game Boy. In Japan, the 'gators in the cover are happy and smiling, and look a bit cartoony. The ones in the Western releases are gruffy, serious and drawn more realistically. Coincidentally, it's made by HAL Laboratory, like Kirby.
Ristar originally only had angry eyebrows for boss fights; in the American version, they're present all the time. The enemies, too, look mean instead of neutral in the American release.
Ristar's European/American release contains a downright heart-warming inversion. While the Japanese version closed with a fairly cool scene of the villain, Greedy, and his henchmen picking themselves up on some barren world after their defeat, the English versions close with 'DAD!' and an image of Ristar throwing himself into the arms of his rescued father.
Inverted with the Super Mario Bros. 2 box art. In Japan, everybody but Toad is scowling, engaged in some act of violence, or both. America gets a picture of Mario clutching a vegetable, with a big ol' smile on his face. The Japanese version was titled Super Mario USA, so the use of this trope may have been a deliberate attempt to invoke an American feel.
At the same time, Super Mario USA's boxart is very similar to Doki Doki Panic's boxart, which was the game it mimicked.
Namco briefly considered giving Klonoa a rather drastic makeover for the U.S. release of the Wii remake of his first game. While not exactly "hard", the new look was significantly less cute, looking like a generic anthropomorphic cat, or like a wingless bat. Most bizarrely, however, they gave him "normal" anthro cat ears, despite Klonoa's droopy, almost hand-like ears having an actual gameplay role. And they took away his Pac-Man cap. Bad Namco! Fortunately, the game was released with Klonoa's original look intact- surprisingly enough, because the U.S. fanbase demanded he remain cute. Who says Japanese Klonoa Isn't Hardcore?
That's because he didn't look hardcore enough on the US Lunatea's Veil◊ box art (compare this◊), even with the angry eyebrows.
Ratchet could in fact be seen as an inversion of this trope: his depiction on Japanese covers often have him and Clank much more in character, while the American and European covers would make him appear rather angry. This is especially true of Clank, who appears rather devious in art for the original game when his character was anything but.
Crash Bandicoot is another American game where the main character was "cutened" up for the Japanese release. He even got a funky dance created by the Japanese that was carried back into the American versions. Some have speculated that this design change combined with Radical Entertainment's major character redesigns that would make such things look awkward is what's making Radical's Crash games a no-go for the Japanese.
In Mega Man ZX Advent, the cover is actually poked fun at. One of the missions in the game involves getting a data disk for a kid who wants one that has something with "a hero" on it. In the end of this "talk to the people who SHOULD have one" quest, you find out that the said kid has the only data disk with anything close to "a hero" on it, which is the American boxart of the original Mega Man. The kid openly calls it weird, and not very heroic at all. You then get the disk yourself, and the ingame description says that the character depicted on it "resembles a colorful coal miner instead of a hero".
EuropeanMega Man 3 is an odd one: the robots are illustrated accurately, but Wily is beyond hardcore.
Mega Man 4 and Mega Man 5 both had very similar artwork in the European and US releases, the only differences were that Mega Man's face in the US version was very strange◊ and "Manish"◊ while the European ones have◊ a more accurately◊ designed face.
On a similar note, the promotional artwork for the cartoon depicts Mega Man as ready to tear someone's spine out (or at least punch their lights out), and made him far more ripped than he was in the series proper.
The original boxart for Sonic the Hedgehog gave us a fairly confident looking Sonic with a tasty palette of colors surrounding him. The US boxart gave him a chubbier redesign with mohawk-like quills (said quill style was also carried over to the DiC cartoons), the art has him posing for a 'tude expression, and they sprayed him with a coat of airbrush. Even the original members of Sonic Team said they despised this Americanized Sonic design - there were especially baffled as to why the American branch of the company decided he needed the redux in the first place, considering Sonic was designed to appeal to Western audiences right from the start. (Sonic's Western redesign has tellingly appeared in-game precisely once, on the title screen of the Europe-only Master System release of Sonic Chaos, and nowhere else.)
The EU covers went in and out with both the Japanese and American styles. Interestingly cases such as Sonic the Hedgehog Chaos actually used Japanese promo artwork not related the region's original cover.
The Sonic the Hedgehog CD boss music and game over music go from being upbeat in the Japanese version to downright frightening in the American version.
Dynamite Headdy. The biggest changes are that Trouble Bruin is brown instead of purple, and a giant doll becomes a mech. The boss in Headdy Wonderland was completely redesigned for Western audiences. Originally it was a Geisha that upon defeat becomes demonic with sharp-as-hell claws. The Western release got a robot and the claws were not as sharp.
Tempo was a game about an adorable cartoon cricket that makes music. The US box art tried to make the main character look like a photo-realistic mutant cricket man in the vein of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, rippling with muscles and using kung-fu.
Rocket Knight Adventures, released by Konami for the Sega Genesis/ Mega Drive. Similar to the Kirby examples, the American boxart gives Sparkster a look of grim determination, in contrast to the smiling Funny Animal knight the other regions got. It's interesting that the front artwork is almost identical on all other aspects, and that the EU version used the Japanese and not the American art.
This change is in fact a rare example that became the definitive characterization, as even the Japanese promotional artwork (and even the in game sprite art) for the sequel Sparkster depicts the title character with a serious scowl (even if his original wackier demeanor blatantly reappears from time to time in game).
Then came the PSN/XBLA reboot, developed in the UK. In this one, Sparkster fights wolves instead of pigs, in order to make him feel more badass.
The American version of Castlevania: Bloodlines redrew Eric Lecarde's face to look manlier and less pretty boy-like (see for yourself). The European version, Castlevania: The New Generation, reverted Eric back to his original design, reusing the artwork of the Japanese box. The weirdest part of all this? Eric's American redesign was made canon! Look at the supplemental artwork for Portrait Of Ruin.
Strangely inverted in Lament of Innocence's cover. The US cover◊ shows Leon Belmont looking upward, probably in prayer, while the Japanese◊ and European covers◊ show him in an action pose (And note how the European cover's done in CG, while the other two retain Ayami Kojima's famed artwork)
Comparing Panic Restaurant's box art Japan, Europe and United States pretty much defines this trope, too. The in-game graphics were also altered in a comparatively minor way. The Japanese version of the game had a cute young brown-haired chef in the title role. For the international release, he was switched out for a different, older, white-haired character resembling Chef Boyardee.
We all know Donkey Kong, right? Well, we bet you've never seen him like this◊.
The NES version of A Boy and His Blob and its Game Boy sequel had a small overhaul with the Boy's design, title screen and box art in Japan to make it look cuter.
Chameleon Twist was a charming, adorable game starring Davy, a chameleon transformed into a bubble-headed long-tongued chibi alien, and his friends. Its boxart is an interesting variation on this trope: (The American boxart◊ shows Davy gobbling up foes with a cheery grin, while the PAL version◊ shows him gobbling up foes with a look of death in his eyes. Chameleon Twist 2, of course, played this trope straight for America and Europe— while Japanese buyers got the same adorable bubble-headed aliens◊ as before, the American and European versions swapped the colors of Davy and his friend Jack (the localizers might have thought green was a better "default color" for a lizard) and turned all four characters into grotesque anthropomorphized lizards with semi-realistic heads. Also compare the US◊ and EU◊ boxart to see yet another cheerful-wrathful dichotomy.
Not even Disney games were immune to this. The Genesis/Megadrive title Quackshot features a dynamic shot of a scowling Donald Duck baring his gun with a evil looking Pete plotting in the background. The Japanese cover features Donald and his nephews smiling at you with Pete throwing a comical tantrum behind them. Granted Donaldbeing Donald the Western cover might be considered more in-character.
The same goes for The Lucky Dime Caper. The US got a cover in which a courageous Donald is about to crush a bear with a hammer. The japanese cover for the Game Gear version has him looking all happy, having somehow shrunked Magica De Spell.
In some of the Bonk games, Bonk's second powerup form was changed. In the japanese verison he showed his love of meat by turning into a doe-eyed version of himself who attacked with hearts. In the US version he was changed into a scowling form with a scar rather similar to the page image. Though his third form was hardcore in both versions.
An example that seemingly has nothing to do with America: Namco's Legend of Valkyrie series is rarely seen outside of Japan, but one of the side games, Sandra's Great Adventure, was released in Europe under the name Whirlo. As part of the localization, the main character's in-game sprite was changed to give him angry eyes.
Kabuki Quantum Fighter is an odd example: while the American cover is indeed a bit darker than the Japanese one, it's the Japanese version of the game that has more realistic-looking character portraits, perhaps because it was released in Japan as a Distant Sequel to the Jidai Geki film Zipang.
A rare case of European hardcore is M.C. Kids (Wikipedia), whose European boxart turned the kids into cool teens.
The arcade platformer Athena. In the Japanese cover◊, Athena is a cute anime chick wearing just a bikini. In the American cover◊, she was turned into a She-Hulk-like muscular woman, apparently traced off bodybuilder Lisa Lyon. Wearing just a bikini.
Inverted with Astyanax. The muscle dude brandishing a torch and shield in the Japanese cover for the Famicom version was replaced on the American NES cover with a pretty-boy warrior, albeit trying to stab a dragon.
On that note, one of Nintendo Power's in-house artists did a much better job on making an accurate illustration based on the game while still producing a quality piece. See for yourself◊.
The North American NES version of The New Zealand Story, retitled Kiwi Kraze: A Bird-Brained Adventure, had a creature on the cover looking more like a real bird than the Waddling Head seen in the game, with a bear wearing Cool Shades aiming an arrow straight at it.
The Japanese commercial for Super Princess Peach is a short and sweet montage that shows Princess Peach's emotion-based powers to a catchy song. The American one shows a group of princess soldiers going through boot camp while heavy military fanfare plays in the background, and the emotions are instead touted as being "elements" that must be mastered. Of course, the only one they actually show is the one that involves anger and fire.
This game's western-region boxart is a mild example, in which the only part that differs from the Japanese cover (aside from the logo, and Peach's face taking up three-fourths of the box for some reason) is what's in the bubbles surrounding Peach. America and Europe◊ gets a bubble featuring Mario all tied up, staring angrily at the Hammer Bro. leader, while Japan◊ gets four bubbles featuring each of Peach's emotion-based abilities..
European example: The original box art◊ for Kao the Kangaroo Round 2 shows Kao jumping along, raising his boxing glove high in the air while avoiding a fish. For the U.S. release, however, the game developers made him into a scary-looking kangaroo wearing an army hat and a dog tag on his neck and aiming a bullet cannon with giant monster bullets flying around, as if to show his foes that Kao means business◊!
This happened with a good few titles in the series until later games, which omitted the cute little dinosaur/dragon mascots in favor of dynamically angled shots of detonating bubbles in a space age style background.
Baku Baku Animal is a falling blocks puzzler game starring cutesy animals. Nothing could possibly makes it looks hardcore but that didn't stop whoever did the American cover◊ from trying.
This happened to the rather obscure NES puzzle game Palamedes. The game is basically a Match Three Game with dice. The music is cheery, the graphics are cutesy; all player sprites are tiny, sugary little SD characters. There's absolutely nothing weird or bizarre or Gonk in this game. So where the hell didTHIS◊come from?!
Not exactly "hardcore", but Professor Layton and the Curious Village suffered a case of "European Layton is Noir". While the Japanese and American covers of the game call attention to both the puzzle-solving aspect of it and its colorful characters, the European cover is completely dedicated to puzzle-solving and mystery, with the characters pretty much completely absent. This was allegedly a decision by Nintendo of Europe, who believed that emphasizing those aspects of the game would boost sales. Later covers still follow a similar "model", but are just edited versions of the original covers instead of radical redesigns.
Interestingly, while most of Yoshi's dialogue in Tetris Attack is a fairly straight translation of Lip's dialogue in Panel de Pon, his attitude in one area of the game was changed. Yoshi gets impatient and yells at you if you stick around for too long at the "Congratulations!" screen you get at the end of Easy mode, while Lip is friendly and polite the entire time.
The Nintendo DS version of Shiren the Wanderer. The original Japanese cover art (by former Capcom illustrator Akiman) is very nice◊, the Western one, well...◊. Shiren looks like he's going to slit your throat or something. And what they did to poor Koppa and Oryu is just wrong. Bad, bad Sega!
Azure Dreams for the PlayStation had 2 different covers: The Japanese version◊ was cute and emphasized the dating-sim/harem-romance aspects of the game (featuring all the girls in the game you can eventually get, plus your kid sister and your sidekick), while the American version◊ was scenic and emphasized the treasure-hunting/dungeon-crawling aspects of the game (the hero gazing at his hometown from a mountain cliff).
The European version's manual has the Japanese cover though.
Pikmin has two covers. The Japanese image contains Pikmin just hanging out on a branch. The North-American and European cover image contains a battle. The same thing happened with the sequel, though Canada and Europe had a different, also peaceful cover.
The Settlers European cover shows a cartoonish RTS city builder while the American Cover shows a rather stern looking lord in managing his kingdom/army Comparisons here◊. Upon further inspection, the American cover of the settler usually just features the armor clad knight on the cover while the other shows the other professions being as prominent. The subsequent one features a slightly more colorful boxart seen here◊
The PSP version of Lemmings exhibits this trope. The Japanese box art◊ depicts a bunch of happy Lemmings in a happy, bright environment. The European box art◊ shows a crowd of Lemmings smiling at you. The American box art◊ depicts a more active scene, and has a slightly duller color scheme compared to the other boxes.
Breath of Fire is a major example of this. Compare the Japanese box art◊ with the American version◊, featuring Jim Lee-esque cover art in which Ryu became a Conan impersonator even though he is clearly depicted as a pretty-average built teenager in-game and Nina looked like a man.
On the Chrono Trigger packaging in Japan, there were images of all the playable characters in the game. In the US version, it had Frog, Crono, and Marle fighting Heckran, the scene captured while the party was using the Arc Impulse/Frost Arc Triple Tech. (The Nintendo DSUpdated Re-release gave a Shout-Out to this artwork by allowing players to replicate this in the form of having battles with Heckran-like enemies on a snowy mountain in a bonus dungeon.)
The box art of the early Dragon Warrior games for the NES was very different from the Japanese Dragon Quest box arts.
Guardians Crusade. The Japanese box art◊ is more colorful and rather whimsical in looks: showing Knight and Baby doing various activities you can do in the game, all the while looking dang adorable. The back cover is even more cuter◊. The American version◊ is more generic in comparison. The game came out about a year and a half after Final Fantasy VII, during that dark period when American game companies thought that RPGs that weren't dark and existential wouldn't sell.
When Pokémon was being localized for America, a significant portion of people at Nintendo thought that the characters were too cute to sell well, and tried to get all of the Pokémon redone for the states as muscle-bound humanoid Pro-Wrestling monsters. In other words, they wanted to turn Pikachu into Kinnikuman.
Some of the move names were made hardcore, though. "Tail Wag" was translated to the more badass sounding "Tail Whip" and "Cry" to "Growl", which confused many when in later generations those two moves were classified as "cute" moves and were described as endearing.
The Last Remnant's Xbox 360 artwork depicted the young, typical Final Fantasy-style androgynous male protagonist. The PC version, marketed to Western gamers, had a picture of an older, more badass antagonist, and a more energetic color scheme.
Digital Devil Saga: Avatar Tuner arguably benefited from this phenomenon. The original box art for the two games depicted Serph/Varna and Sera/Varnani in static poses more reminiscent of action figures in a blister pack; the U.S. versions depict the exact same characters, but in more active poses. (Assuming, of course, you reverse the cover insert for the second game; the display box art depicts the entire cast in a battle scene, arguably embracing this trope in its entirety.) Though it's not like the game needed to be made any more hardcore, seeing as how it has plenty of demonic cannibalization anyway.
In Fragile Dreams: Farewell Ruins of the Moon for the Wii, the English voices are closer to the age of the characters, around 14/15, while the Japanese voices make the characters sound younger. In addition, the box art, which was reversible in the American version, showed a vicious looking Seto holding a golf club on the American side, while the Japanese box art shows Seto and Ren holding hands over a watery background.
NieR is quite possibly the ultimate logical conclusion of this trope, to where it not only deals with cover art but the actual game. To explain: NieR is the name of two parallel-developed, Square Enix-published games, NieR Gestalt (Xbox 360) and NieR Replicant (PS3). In Gestalt, the eponymous protagonist is a hulking, white-haired middle-aged man searching for a cure to the Black Scrawl virus, which is ailing his daughter, Yonah. In Replicant, the eponymous protagonist is a young boy who is searching for a cure to the Black Scrawl virus, which is ailing his little sister, Yonah. In case you haven't caught on yet, this is literally the only difference between the two versions. The American branch of Square Enix actually paid to develop an entirely separate version of the game where the only difference is the design of the protagonist. The official reason behind the two versions is that they believed the game would not sell well in the west if the protagonist was young and pretty, rather than grizzled and muscle-bound. While Replicant was the original idea, in Japan both versions of the game are available, and overseas only Gestalt was released (entitled simply NIER).
On the flip side, this is why the young, pretty Vaan was added to Final Fantasy XII. The original protagonist was supposed to be Basch. This is why Vaan has nearly no character development.
The even bigger shocker is that, ultimately, it seems as if this decision paid off; when polled, American fans almost always say they prefer "Gestalt Nier" to "Replicant Nier".
The Wild ARMs series usually either retains the original cover art or replaces it by something that, while different, keeps the tone. Exceptions can be found in the first title (J; U) and Wild ARMs 5 (J; U).
Shadow Hearts: From the New World's Japanese cover is actually pretty happy, which actually matches the Lighter and Softer nature of the game when compared to its predecessors (it's also the only of the game's covers that goes for a hand-drawn illustration instead of CGI). The American cover chose instead to showcase a much more tragic/aggressive scene, complete with strong red background to emphasize edginess. The European cover is a middle ground — more hardcore than the Japanese cover, but quite less than the American one.
Final Fantasy III had an intricate design in the Japanese and European versions while in the US release, everything was removed except for the logo.
Interestingly, this is a reversal of the usual trend for new entries. Typically, the Japanese and European cover art for any one main instalment will consist almost entirely of the logo against a clean white background, while the American cover art will move the logo to a corner to focus on a rendering of one or more of the central cast.
Anyone seen the Suikoden boxart? Yeesh◊, there are still debates over who is supposed to be depicted on that cover, because it's clearly not anyone present in the game. The only part of that cover that's in the game is the 3 headed skull monster in the bottom right corner! Here's the Japanese cover◊ to compare. The icing on the cake? The image on the Japanese cover is used on the US version's instruction manual, so gamers got a nice moment of surprise before they even started up the game for the first time. Future installments in the series thankfully ditched this artwork in favor of the Japanese art.
EarthBound has a minor example: the Japanese boxart was just blank red with the logo, whereas the English boxart instead depicts a Final Starman towering imposingly over Ness on a psychadelic background. Also, the English release material made and used modified versions of Ness and Paula's clay-model artwork to make them look more realistically proportioned, less cutesy, and in Ness's case more Totally Radical (strangely, neither Jeff nor Poo were modified the same way).
Monster Rancher plays this straight for almost every one of its games. Compare the artwork for original game, where the Japanese◊ artwork just has several monsters posing while the American◊ one has a fight going on. Compare the idealistic Japanese◊ fourth game cover to the intense American version.◊
In Monster Rancher 3, it's done IN GAME. In the Japanese version, the assistant, Fleria, is a little girl◊. Western fans complained about the design making the game look "kiddie", so in response, Fleria was turned into an adult◊ in the American version, complete with new portraits.
Dark Souls has a calmer scene in the Japanese◊ art, with a character resting at a bonfire, while the American◊ art is a silhouette of a man walking, with blue fire effects and hostile looking knights all around.
The Phantasy Star series has always had awful, awful box art for the western releases, but they went all out for the fourth game. They hired renowned fantasy artist Boris effing Vallejo to re-do the cover for the European and American editions of the game, which turned Rune into a 40-something kung-fu movie villain, Rika into a brunette elf with an 80's secretary haircut, and Chaz into Hans from Die Hard.
While still decent representations of the game's plot, the box covers of the first two Mario & Luigi games are much busier in their international releases than their Japanese counterparts, which take the minimalistic route. Interestingly, Bowser's Inside Story and Dream Team use the Japanese boxart for all regions.
Inverted with Dungeon Maker 2 in which the American Cover emphasizes the dungeon creation aspect, and the Japanese cover shows a dynamic battle with the first boss.
The European/Australian boxarts have the same one as Japan, so America gets an exclusive boxart of Mario bashing a Goomba with his hammer.
Digimon: Digimon games in Japan tend to have two flavors of covers: cute ones and badass ones. Naturally, Bandai tends to keep the latter in North American and European releases, but as for the former...well, they get badassified, with stronger Digimon, strikier collor choices, etc. The Digimon World series is a good example: The Japanese cover has a nice handdrawn illustration of the main character happily hanging around the many Digimon (some of their creepiness notwithstanding), while the American cover depicts a defiant MetalGreymon. The second game is an even better example: while definetly a little edgier, it still has a very smily human in the center. For the US version, they got VeeDramon, the big beast stationed at the corner of the Japanese cover and gave him the entire cover. And finally, for Digimon World DS: a very cute group shot in the Japanese cover, replaced by a still-cute but more battle inclined group shot in the US cover.
Shoot Em Ups
Castle of Shikigami, a bullet-hell game for the PS2 in Japan, is a game about various people teaming up to defeat the villain and save the day by flying through the air and shooting things with various types of laser-like projectiles, and featured cute anime characters on the box art. In America, the game is called Mobile Light Force and the cover features three leather-clad, gun-toting, large-breasted Charlie's-Angels-esque babes running around and outright lying about the content of the game. Castle of Shikigami 2 did not suffer this treatment, however, it DID suffer from being completely un-localized despite being translated and voice-acted, with some scenes not being translated or voice-acted in English at all and left with Japanese text and/or dialogue. Despite this, they're not bad games.
Insector X is normally a Cute 'em Up where you play as a boy or girl killing giant cartoonish bugs. The American and European versions of the Genesis port have a more realistic style and made the cyborg bugs even more mechanical..
Two sets of promo character renders were made for Metal Gear Solid 3D - one for Japan, and one for America. The Japanese renders show Big Boss and The Boss standing unarmed, with Big Boss looking a little naive but also tough and sexy, and The Boss looking noble and idealistic but also muscular and strong. The American renders show them both scowling and in Ass Kicking Poses, brandishing knives. And they are both dressed in less revealing clothes, and The Boss has her Absolute Cleavage done up, because America considers Fanserviceless innocuous than violence.
Compare the US/UK cover of Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker to the Japanese one. The Japanese cover has a yellow background and depicts Big Boss and other soldiers in battle stances, with tanks and choppers faintly seen in the background. The US/UK cover on the other hand, is in black-and-white, Big Boss has a more mean and tough facial expression, and an explosion can be seen in the background.
Miku's actual in-game model in the first game was altered to look slightly older and less schoolgirl-y for the US release.
In Dino Crisis, Regina's character model in CG artwork was modified. In the Japanese version, she had small lips and big anime-style eyes. In the western version, she was given smaller eyes and fuller lips.
Both this and the Fatal Frame touch-up are to accommodate the very different concepts of sexiness that Americans and the Japanese generally hold (yup, cute can also be considered sexy in Japan).
Something akin to this trope occurred in Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions, where Barrington's dialogue with Rafa on the Rooftop of Riovanes Castle was "punched up" to make it even more creepy and blatantly sexual. The original PSX version's translation instead very slightlydownplayed that aspect.
Non-Video Game Examples:
Astro Boy is known to be very cute and innocent. But when the 2003 anime was brought to America, most of the advertisement focused on the action scenes and his super hero side. The dubbing gave him a harsher and more snarky attitude as well. It also cut out most of Astro's cute child-like moments. To say nothing of the DVD boxset cover which is just his face looking absurdly angry.
The French dub (And the many other dubs that translated from it) inverted this trope by giving Z a happier OP about Gohan. Also a case of Mood Whiplash.
In a variation, the European Spanish dub of Cha-La Head-Cha-La keeps the music but changes the comedy lyrics to standard "We'll beat up the villains" fare, which is more this trope.
Nelvana's infamous Macekre English dub of Cardcaptor Sakura, while not exactly "hardcore," considerably downplayed the Shōjo (Demographic) cuteness of the original, essentially trying to change it into Shōnen (even changing the show's name to just Cardcaptors, presumably to downplay the fact that the main character is a girl, and cutting out the first seven episodes, which take place before Sakura's male rival Syaoran is introduced). The original opening theme was replaced with a more histrionic rock song, Sakura and her friends sounded more like teenagers than elementary schoolers, and perhaps most egregiously of all, Kero was given a Totally Radical dudebro voice and his characterization was changed to be more like a comedic foil sidekick akin to Mushu from Mulan. As a result, the English dub had a completely different feel from the Japanese original, and anyone who's seen the latter would be able to spot the dub's attempts to turn the show into something quite different from what it was originally.
A similar thing was done for the American Fox Kids edit of the Ocean dub of Vision of Escaflowne: the entire first episode was removed (and then reedited as flashbacks in later episodes, abridged) since it was deemed "too romantic" and unfitting for an action anime block. The soundtrack was also edited to become more hardcore: some pieces were replaced by others, and original music was composed to fill in the silence (this was seriously striking, as Fox/Saban's orchestral pieces were very stylistically different from Yoko Kanno's). This version only lasted ten(ish) episodes — some claim that it was due to plot content that could not be edited out without extensive redubbing (illegitimate children, for example), others say the ratings were simply bad. Canada simply aired the dub unedited.
Some of the dub voices in Axis Powers Hetalia. Most notably is Russia, who had a higher-pitched, cuter, somewhat happier voice in the Japanese version, and a deeper, gruffer voice in the English dub. It's left up to the watchers to determine whether this was done to better fit the stereotype or to defuse some of the horror.
Puella Magi Madoka Magica was released as 6 two-episode boxsets in Japan, with different boxarts for each. Three of the boxarts show characters looking happy and/or cute, two are relatively neutral, and one has a very dark and angsty mood to it. The U.S. release was 3 four-episode boxsets, and used three of the existing boxart pictures. To the surprise of no one, they chose the two neutral ones (the first and last) and the angsty one (number four). This may be somewhat justified given the nature of the series, but still...
The DVD cover art for Princess Tutu is very much pink and fluffy in Japan; the American DVDs feature much darker, ominously-edited images. ADV admitted that it was a marketing strategy — maybe some buyers would be too embarassed to take a pink-and-happy anime called "Princess Tutu" off a store shelf, thus the covers. And, of course, it's not completely unfitting for the series.
Here's the Japanese trailer for Rinne no Lagrange, which is reasonably close to the sorta-serious but mostly lighthearted tone of the show. The English dub trailer replaces the cheery music with dark instrumental rock, mostly removes the female voices (you know, the protagonists?) in favor of a Don LaFontaine-style narrator, and generally makes the whole show look serious enough to induce loads of narm.
Sankarea. Japanese Cover: Cute, smiling teenage girl with long, dark hair, wearing a blue sundress. American Cover: Teenage girl wearing a tattered school uniform, still smiling (but it's more of a Psychotic Smirk), not to mention it's A Dark And Stormy Night and the girl happens to have a bloody, gaping wound where her stomach should be. Judging by what Sankarea is actually about, the Japanese cover could be accused of Covers Always Lie. Rea (the girl on the cover) is indeed cute, but she's also undead. Watch.
The Redwall series has produced a lot of covers over the years, ranging from cartoonish to realistic, from gritty and abstract to epic and clear-drawn. Although every country's publications had their own different variations of all ends of the scale, there are some pretty standard levels for their home country (which may not least be due to the artists themselves):
Original British covers are realistic and colourfully traditional. Here◊ and here◊.
American Covers are similarly colourful but almost always more epic, playing this trope completely straight (here◊ and here◊). But their chapter illustrations are either rather humurous, cartoonish and abstract (here◊) or beautifully copperplated faux-medieval illustration(here◊).
Russian Covers are traditional, epically detailed in both physique and attire. (here◊ and (here)◊
Israeli Covers are... interestingly cartoonish, but certainly light-hearted (here◊ and here◊).
German covers stay usually on par with the British ones (like here◊), but have quite some... unnerving exceptions (here◊ and here◊) that can head both into lighthearted crayon and gritty absurd territory. Uncanny Valley ahead.
More like "Russian Warriors is Hardcore". Compare this◊ to this◊. There's a lot more where that came from: The title translation is also subject to this having been translated as Raging Storm rather then Rising Storm. Also, the French title for Fire and Ice roughly means In Fire and In Blood.
Inverted with the Japanese covers. The Japanese cover◊ for The Darkest Hour, which is probably the most carnage-tastic book in the series, is of two fluffy kitties smiling.
To ensure that it sells with the mainstream crowd, Yen Press was told by distributors that (the first volume) American Spice and Wolf is Trashy and Realistic. It didn't go well, so the original art was used from the second volume onwards.
The ''Protector of the Small' quartet has different covers in the US and the UK from book 2 on. American Squire◊ has Keladry of Mindelan holding a baby griffin and looking at the viewer with a faint smile; in the UK◊ she's looking at it and smiling more broadly. US Lady Knight◊ has her staring at us with a hostile expression; in the UK she looks to the side◊ and seems more hopeful. Notably, although three books out of the quartet have different artwork, they all feature the same subject, just interpreted differently.
The original cover art for Japanese Doom Metal band Boris' album Smile is cute◊. The American release's cover is edgy◊.
An inversion occurred when Within Temptation's album The Unforgiving made it to Japan...and the gothed-up Sharon DenAdel cover was replaced by one with a busty, MoeMeganekko schoolgirl waggling her finger at the buyer.
For the international release of Indianapolis 500, some European games had the playfield and cabinet colors changed to use more primary colors to make the game more manly and appealing in certain distributors' countries.
Most paintings by the infamous Handre de Jager from Something Awful mercilessly parody this trope. The artist himself stated that his initial inspiration was the aforementioned original American boxart for Mega Man. Handre's works can be found on his website (Not safe for work). Be warned, they're disgusting and scary.
The Mega Man cartoon had Mega Man, Roll and Proto Man look more like teenagers and gave the Robot Masters a more muscular look. This also had an unusual effect on X, who looked like an adult and acted much more violently than he did in the games.
There's actually a reason for this; the first episode was animated twice, once with the art style used in the games and once with the style the show ended up using, and focus groups preferred the latter.
Just to be clear, this is not the first time that Japan has made Americans very confused about the continuity choices the Japanese side makes.
Transformers Prime's Japanese dub takes a page from their localization of the Beast shows by turning what was originally a mostly somber-toned, serious action show full of (at times needlessly) dark scenes into another quirky robot cartoon, with scary villains becoming comedic and the moody instrumental theme-music being replaced with an upbeat pop song.
The French publicity posters◊ for The Secret of Kells is much more action-oriented (having the two main characters surrounded by black, angry dogs while holding up the eye of Crom like it's magical) than the subtle, reserved posters◊ the rest of the world got (a small face gently smiling, most hidden by leaves).
Ōban Star-Racers had a mixed french/japanese J-pop opening theme in France, Great Britain & Japan. The US got a generic rock song called "Never say Never" (No, notthat one)
This was during the times Poland was under communist regime - most of the times, the artists making these posters were not even given a vague sense of what the movie was about.
This one is more of a coincidence, but notice back when there were two "Noah's Ark" amusement park attractions left (only the American one is still running), compare this (Blackpool Pleasure Beach, Blackpool, Lancashire, England, UK) to this (Kennywood, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA).
It should be noted though that the video of the Kennywood version of the ride was taken after a Darker and Edgier remodel. On the other hand, you should see it on Halloween.
When boys and men are trying to impress girls and women, in Japan and Europe, males usually try to attract females by being "pretty". In America, males usually try to attract females by being "macho".
In Europe, the LEGO Dino Attack toyline (called Dino2010 in this market) focused on a specialized action team trying to contain mutant dinosaurs with all sorts of traps in a jungle setting. The sets' American versions replaced the capturing gear with ridiculous weaponry designed to kill and harm, and the setting was also changed to an apocalyptic, ruined city. This caused a great uproar within the LEGO community at the time, not only because the dual setline gave off the impression that the company thought the US is only interested in violence, but also because it went straight against their oft-praised (and nowadays much more loosened-up) anti-violence policy.
The TV commercials for the Disney attraction, Splash Mountain, when it first opened, are an interesting display of contrast. Check out the commercial for the ride at Tokyo Disneyland (opened in 1992), compared to the commercial for the same ride at Disneyland (opened in 1989). Both emphasize the huge climatic drop (and both play "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah"), but the Tokyo commercial just sounds and feels more happy, whereas the Anaheim commercial has, to quote another Disney attraction, an aura of foreboding.