Goddammit Square Enix. Seriously.
I am well aware I’m very late to this particular party. It doesn’t help that there really hasn’t been much talk regarding Square Enix’s World of Final Fantasy‘s pre-orders beyond the typical reveal process way back in July. And with the game launching literally the 25th of this month I nearly didn’t want to bring this topic up at all.
However, I am going to talk about this because apparently not many people have since this “pre-order bonus” was announced. PushSquare is really the only source I’ve personally come across that even questions the notion of locking the Japanese voice overs behind an exclusive DLC pack. And that’s not good.
Now I already know what some of you are thinking: why care? Only the “weeaboos” and similar fans would be angry of such a thing, right? What’s important is that the text is in English and we can understand what we’re doing, right?
Well…no. In all honesty this move should incite more outrage than it has because of what this could open up in language accessibility for gaming in the future.
Why we should be pissed about gating languages behind “pre-order bonuses”
1. It’s another case of a feature that should be offered in the game by default being pieced apart to pry open your wallet.
Let’s just get this reason out of the way: DLC, when done correctly, are meant to enhance a gaming experience and lengthen the overall lifespan of a title. Yet we all know that the bulk of publishers have instead used DLC as a reason to force developers to ship out unfinished games or slice them up as if they were pieces of cake. Which forces us consumers to be nickeled-and-dimed in order to get a full experience. Unfortunately, Square Enix has been one of the greatest offenders in recent years.
JRPGs usually have dual audio as an option by default (Ni no Kuni is a great example). Whenever titles don’t it’s usually due to licensing reasons that can be traced back to how much money a publisher was willing to spend during the localization process. Now, Square Enix is ironically one of the few JRPG publishers out there that normally doesn’t include Japanese voice overs in their globalized versions.
Yet back in 2014 SE answered player demands in the Steam community to allow Final Fantasy XIII to carry the original Japanese audio. The trend continued for both XIII-2 and Lightning Returns, both games featuring full English and Japanese audio options as well as subtitles for five (plus) different languages. Even the mega-hyped Final Fantasy XV has also been confirmed to not just contain Japanese audio, but has voice-over options in French and German by default as well…if you live in Europe. So Square Enix is more than well aware that having options when it comes to a game’s audio is a profitable choice and is clearly not against shipping a game with said options as part of a game’s built-in launch product.
So what’s with the cherry-picking of which regions get what languages? The NA store page for FFXV STILL has no mention of any other audio options for the region, which is terrible for keeping a uniform brand identity for any publisher in every industry. If you make one feature public knowledge for one region of your fanbase, then you need to make it known for everyone else (even if we don’t get it). But of course Square Enix wouldn’t do that out of fear of losing its precious pre-orders.
It also just doesn’t make any sense. Square Enix already owns the rights to the Japanese voice over. There shouldn’t be any extra fees to include it in the globalized version of World of Final Fantasy. Yet again the answer is simple: greed. Square Enix now knows that a large enough portion of their fanbase wants multiple audio options. Large enough that their money-grubbing CEOs can see the profit in offering it as paid extra content. If they didn’t, this pre-order shenanigan wouldn’t exist at all.
And you can bet that if they tie World of Final Fantasy‘s pre-order success even partially to the dangling of the Japanese audio in front of consumers, then it’s only going to get worse for future games.
2. It’s a matter of accessibility: like it or not, not everyone is a native English speaker.
While English is a language that is used world-wide, it is most definitely not required by schools in every nation across the globe for their children to learn English. And as we have found out through Japanese anime and gaming fandoms over the last few decades, only the truly zealous are willing to pick up a second language just to take part in a hobby. Hell, even now there are thousands of players willing to dive head first into Japanese app games on mobile without even knowing Hiragana, and without the intention of ever actually picking the language up.
So the very idea of locking a video game’s language packs behind DLC of any kind is outright terrifying for anyone not an English native speaker. Video games are becoming more and more action-oriented across genres, leaving very little room for players to read subtitles while they’re bashing a boss monster’s face in. We have to rely on audio cues now more than ever before. If you’re not an English native speaker? Well…you’re fucked is basically what this approach more or less says.
Now again, it’s possible this could actually be used fairly if we knew language DLC packs would be free within their respective stores. Games could ship with English and Japanese audio by default while other languages could simply be downloaded for free from respective eshops to save hard drive space for those who don’t want other languages, but would still allow the choice to be there for those not so comfortable with English (or who just flat out prefer the acting chops of one language’s cast over the other).
But this is the video game industry, which has already proved that anything publishers can abuse for more profit, will indeed be exploited. And just like with DLC in general we know good and well the system and demand for multi-language support will in fact be yet another feature that publishers will attempt to nickel-and-dime us for. Which is grossly unfair because anyone not a native speaker of English will be forced to pay more for the same product as everyone else, just so they can understand it. World of Final Fantasy using Japanese voice overs as a pre-order incentive already proves Square Enix will be one of the publishers pushing for this line of thinking. And you can bet your ass other big dogs in the industry will follow in Square Enix’s footsteps if it proves profitable.
3. This can, and will, lead to some very troubling trends in the future if this method of gating is successful.
DLC is optional. It’s not hurting anyone! I remember very clearly hearing this all over the internet when the PS3 and XBox first started rolling out digital updates for games. And the sad thing is that the crowd singing that song should have been right. DLC should be purely optional (unless there’s a game-breaking glitch), DLC should only add to an already completed experience.
Except most of the time, we know that’s not the case. And unless people speak out against it, DLC abuse is only going to get worse.
This little scheme of hiding an entire language’s voice over as a pre-order DLC is no different. Remember that FFXV in Europe is going to have four audio voice-over options? What if you had to pay extra just to get access to the French or German dubs? Or even worse, you have to pre-order the game or risk the languages never being offered in console eshops after the game’s launch?
That’s exactly the current situation with World of Final Fantasy. There is no confirmation anywhere that the Japanese audio pack will be available, or even sold, on the PSN after the game launches on the 25th. Meaning the only way to ensure the game’s dual language option will be available to you is to cough up $48-$60+ upfront to Square Enix and pre-order. No waiting for reviews to see if you’ll enjoy the game. No renting it first or borrowing it from a friend to try it out. It’s buy now, or the option is gone for good. They’re giving you, the consumer they supposedly cherish, an ultimatum.
This method of withholding what many consider base game content hostage behind a pre-order gate is downright disgusting. Something as simple as language choice should be included in the damn game by default and offered long after the game has gone live. What’s next? You want subtitles? Pre-order, or none for you!
Speaking of: how far is this rabbit hole going to go? FFXV is currently being praised for offering subtitles in several languages beyond the audio offerings. Who could say that Square Enix (or other publishers) wouldn’t gate those behind DLC for future games as well?
Now I can hear people already asking: “But isn’t translating expensive because it’s difficult to do? They need the money to pay those hard-working people!” And I agree completely. I translate Japanese on the side myself. I know first-hand how much time and effort goes into translating even a page of Japanese text into English. First you have to learn the language (I’m on my eighth or ninth year of study, the first four being at university), then you have to also learn the culture the language stems from to understand certain tropes, phrases, slang, and many other things. Then you also have to be fluent in the target language (ex: English) and have a good handle on all those same things so that you can localize properly and seamlessly. Which that alone takes years of practice itself after the years it takes to learn the language.
So the amount of time and money to translate a full RPG from Japanese to even one other language is a massive investment. Let alone five plus.
But Square Enix in particular is a publisher that isn’t short on money. Oh they want you to believe they are because they’re so bad at budgeting their money, but they’re a multi-million dollar company. Remember, within the first few hours of FFXV’s Uncovered event earlier this year they sold out of the first thirty thousand copies of their Ultimate Collector’s Edition (UCE). That edition was priced at $270 USD.
That means within literally hours of the game’s initial release date announcement, Square Enix pulled in $8.1 million in sales from the UCE alone. That’s not including the pre-orders for all of their other editions world-wide, that’s not including all the money that was made from Kingsglaive Final Fantasy XV, that’s not including the money made from the second batch of UCE’s they tried to roll out, etc, etc.
Square Enix has money. Their priorities in how they spend that money on the other hand are terrible at best.
Trust me, there’s a reason why they’re rolling out the idea of gating any language-based content with World of Final Fantasy and not FFXV. The truth of the matter is while it looks to be a fun game (I’m even looking forward to it), it has nowhere near the same press coverage power as a numbered Final Fantasy title.
So while everyone on the internet is praising FFXV for being the first Final Fantasy game to have such a varied and strong multi-language support, World of Final Fantasy can (and has) slip under the radar mostly unchallenged and test the waters of gating languages behind pre-order DLC. Because Square Enix knows this is a scummy move. Square Enix knows that if they had tried to pull this with a game like FFXV the whole world would have put them on blast.
Which only makes this move even worse in my eyes. They know they’re trying to cheat their consumers, but they don’t have the balls to tell us to our faces that they’re doing it. They think they can hide it like a child trying to sneak a cookie before dinner. And even worse, we’re letting them do it.
Stop letting them do it.
This gating of base game content will not stop at just languages, and certainly not at just voice over packs. Fuck, Overwatch holds something as simple as more voiced English lines behind gacha mechanics. Furthermore outright holding base-game content hostage behind pre-orders is only getting worse. It’s bad enough that Square Enix is holding Brotherhood: FFXV hostage behind the game’s UCE and the horrendously overpriced collector’s edition of Kingsglaive, now we have this.
Except this is different even from that. At least we know people will upload the complete Brotherhood series on YouTube once their copies roll in. Let’s plays however will not be able to replace an actual gameplay experience, and good luck finding let’s plays that actually use languages other than English. I’m sure there will be some fans that will use the Japanese audio in World of Final Fantasy for their videos, but they will be vastly outnumbered. And if this trend continues then finding videos just to get the language you understand best will be even more common than it is now.
Ten years ago, maybe, that would have been viewed as normal. But gaming has a wider audience now than it ever has before, and from various language backgrounds. Gating the very thing required to understand or simply enjoy our experiences is not a practice I want to endorse or see grow into a common thing. There’s literally no reason for it other than to fill an already rich publisher’s fat pockets even further.
If you also agree that this is utter bullshit (I can’t be the only who feels this way, I can’t. ) then you need to let Square Enix, and the rest of the gaming industry know. Please share this article with others, call out Square Enix on Twitter (@SquareEnix), use the hashtag for World of Final Fantasy, (respectfully) bombard them on Facebook, or just don’t pre-order the game (unless you want that one collector’s edition with the pop-up book).
We take languages for granted every single day for just about every aspect of our lives. Including games. Please do not publishers like Square Enix steal from our wallets because of that.