The upcoming Xbox 360 version of “Final Fantasy XIII” may have become a little less enticing this week when one of the game’s producers suggested that, because of disc-space issues, 360 owners might only get English-language dialogue.

In an interview with IGN, Square Enix’s Yoshinori Katase said of the game, “Obviously, when we talk about XIII it’s for PS3 and Xbox – with PS3
being on Blu ray there would be enough memory, but on Xbox probably
not. At the moment we’re thinking of releasing the voice in English
only. Are there many people who would like to play with Japanese voices?”

[For the uninitiated, the Blu-ray high-definition discs used by the PlayStation 3 are capable of holding about five times more data than the dual-layer DVDs that play in the Xbox 360. What Kitase is suggesting is that his “Final Fantasy XIII” team might include just one audio track for the 360 version in the name of limiting the number of DVDs needed to store all the game’s data.]

Katase’s question about whether Americans like to have the Japanese audio makes me wonder whether he’s had much dialogue about the issue with American fans of his games. I’m a casual fan of Japanese role-playing games, at best. Yeah, many of the character types and storytelling elements have become predictable cliches, but sometimes nothing beats assembling a posse of four or five misfits with bizarre fashion sense, slogging through ancient ruins and fighting fantastical creatures using some grid-based combat system that bears little resemblance to actual fighting.

But even a dabbler such as I know that the English-language actors game companies get to voice their characters for are sometimes so terrible they can ruin the experience. In times like these, it’s nice to have the option of switching the voice track to the original Japanese and turning on the subtitles. Having this option turned “Enchanted Arms” from unbearably bad to halfway decent, while being forced to listen to bad English dialogue in the Square Enix-published “Star Ocean: The Last Hope” was one of the factors that kept me from getting into that game when I gave it a whirl.

Chris Kohler, of Wired’s GameLife blog, says the failure to include the dialogue of the original language is yet another sign that games have yet to mature as an artistic medium. “Imagine this,” he writes. “The Criterion Collection announces that it will release a Blu-ray disc edition of Kurosawa’s masterpiece Seven Samurai with a high-def transfer, new audio commentary – and only English dubbing. Would that strike you as being completely insane? Because in all likelihood, that’s exactly what’s going to happen with Final Fantasy XIII.”

He then goes on to meld the discussion of the missing Japanese audio track with Japanese publishers’ tendencies to try to localize their work for America and Europe by removing characteristically Japanese characters and traits, such as turning a character who loves miso soup into a character who loves hamburgers.

Honestly, I think these are two separate issues if Kitase is telling the whole story and the second voice track is being cut for space reasons. Nonetheless, it’s up to Square Enix to figure out a way to make the Japanese audio available to U.S. and European 360 owners, whether by including an extra DVD or making the audio available via download.