Maybe you've heard Final Fantasy XIII looks better on the Xbox 360. Or that it looks better on the PS3. Or that it's 720p. Or 1080p. Or 1080p sometimes, but 720p others.
Want the facts?
Fact number one: Final Fantasy XIII is a Japanese-style role-playing game by publisher Square Enix, the thirteenth installment in a series that's sold over 92 million units worldwide, one that reaches all the way back to the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1987. (In case you're just dropping by and didn't know.) 'Japanese' in the sense that each installment is fundamentally story-driven, and, in terms of its visual design, narrative flow, and battle-driven gameplay, all-around over-the-top. Also: The English-language version is finally out for Xbox 360 and PS3 on Tuesday March 9.
Fact number two: We don't have all the facts here. That's not a cop-out, just full disclosure. Square Enix has the answers, but like any hyper-scrutinized games publisher, they play their cards close.
That said, let's see if we can't separate the stuff we know about the game from the stuff we don't.
I've heard they cut tons of stuff from the game and that it might resurface as downloadable content. True or false?
True and false. Back in August 2009, RPGSite scored an interview with Final Fantasy XIII's producer, Yoshinori Kitase. During the interview, Kitase said the company was "exploring the option of downloadable content, perhaps adding new areas, items or enemies, but these would not be expansions to the story, only the gameplay."
Adding to the mystery, in mid-January, game site Siliconera translated a summary (in Japanese) of an interview (also in Japanese) with Final Fantasy XIII art director Isamu Kamikokuryou, who reportedly said that several areas were cut (a secret base, a home for one of the characters, a zoo) from the final product. Siliconera credits Kamikokuryou as saying there was actually enough cutting-room-floor content to make another game entirely.
Earlier this week, Final Fantasy XIII battle director Yuji Abe set the record straight, stating Square Enix has no plans to release DLC "at this time." Regarding the dropped content, Abe said "There was content that were 'ideas' that didn't make the final content, but the team isn't looking to release that as downloadable content."
So no, the lopped off content probably won't be resurfacing, no Square Enix has no imminent plans for DLC, and yes, when Abe says no DLC "at this time," he's left the door cracked for something down the road.
Just don't count on it.
Will any of the English language versions of the game support a spoken Japanese option with English subtitles?
No, they won't. Much as I'd like to see this myself, including it wouldn't be as simple as it sounds. For one, Final Fantasy XIII is the first game in series to support full English-language lip-syncing. Prior installments just ran the Japanese character mouth animations with English actor overdubs.
To support a spoken Japanese option with English subs, you'd need to include (a) double the character lip-sync code, (b) double the cut scene video, and (c) double the voice acting. Who knows how much space that'd take up, but it certainly wouldn't bode well for the Xbox 360 version, which already ships on three DVDs. That, and you'd increase manufacturing time (the time it takes to burn all that extra data to however-many millions of discs).
Final Fantasy XIII producer Yoshinori Kitase told PlayStation UK that he'd "heard at other media presentations that this was a popular request," and that it "came to [him] as a surprise." Which, just speculating here, could mean "wake up call." It's down to demand, obviously, and I have no idea how much there is for this sort of thing, but fingers crossed Square Enix takes it seriously and at least runs the research.
Why would someone who doesn't understand Japanese prefer the Japanese version with English subtitles? Because some of us enjoy the vocal inflections of the game's Japanese actors, which, depending on your vantage, arguably jibe better with the rest of a game crafted by Japanese designers.
Does the game install anything to the hard drive?
No, it doesn't. The PS3 versions runs entirely off the Blu-ray disc. Hands-on with final English code, the game's installed nothing to my 'Game Data Utility' folder.
The Xbox 360 version can either run off the DVDs, or from the hard drive if you opt for an install, though it still requires the disc be in the drive to play.
Also: Save files run between 370k and 455k each on the PS3 version, and can be copied to external media.