I rarely pre-order a game. Typically, it’s just not worth the possible lack of quality. However, once in a while, some silly pre-order bonus will actually make me do it.
Dishonored had a deck of cards, Wind Waker came with Ocarina of Time, and LEGO Batman 3 came with Plastic Man. So when I heard you could summon chibi Sephiroth if you pre-ordered World of Final Fantasy I was intrigued. When I found out you also get the Japanese voice actors I was shocked.
You want me to pre-order the game to listen to the game in a language you’ve recorded it in anyway? Is English a pre-order bonus in Japan?
Let me be clear, I don’t mind that the Japanese voices are DLC. I happen think all the audio languages should be free DLC regardless of region. What I mind is the attempt to incentivize early sales by way of an entire language. I’m far from the first person to ever decry pre-order bonuses but I don’t remember an instance when an entire language was either restricted to early purchases or cost extra.
Games from Japan have been including the Japanese audio for years without any need to pre-order. Dragon Ball XenoVerse and the Naruto series immediately leap to mind. That may be due to their rich anime history but even the very not Japanese XCOM comes with the ability to change the spoken language for individual soldiers. XCOM even offers multiple intonations and timbres.
The reason behind this is most likely simple, and not diabolical at all. Most likely someone thought that “hardcore fans” (whatever that means) will want the Japanese voice overs and would be willing to buy early in order to get them. But diabolical or not, it feels exploitative, especially since another game by the same company, Final Fantasy XV, will ship to the US both with English and Japanese options out of the box.
Oddly, Final Fantasy doesn’t even have the well-known differences between Japanese and English that Naruto or Dragon Ball Z do. Final Fantasy as a series didn’t even have voice overs until 2001’s Final Fantasy X. Since then, the 2013 remaster of that game (as well as Final Fantasy X-2) includes both the Japanese and English voice actors at no additional cost.
What’s more is that language makes a massive difference. Character’s names, social cues, puns, and double entendres are entirely reliant on language and its context. It’s why Nappa’s name in Dragon Ball Z isn’t a pun in English or why players spent so much time trying to find Sheng Long in Street Fighter II.
Language is a powerful tool, not a selling point. Even without getting into the questions of accessibility it just feels wrong that an entire language was isolated as a luxury item when it’s been a common, core feature. It’s not an extra side of fries, it’s a complex, important, and occasionally, necessary component.
Language should open doors and borders, the only gate to it should be the time it takes to learn it. What’s next? Will someone offer special color palettes when you pre-order? Or what about menu sounds? Maybe someone will find that the real key to getting more people to pre-order is to make their native language a bonus, if they want voice acting at all.