The English dub of a recently released Naruto game, Naruto x Boruto Ultimate Ninja Storm Connections, sounded so bad that fans theorized that the developers used artificial intelligence to generate some of the voice acting. But on Monday, Bandai Namco clarified in a statement to Polygon that the team didn’t use AI to generate lines. Instead, the publisher emphasized that the voice lines in the game just sounded bad due to “inconsistencies” in the editing and mastering process.
This controversy is representative of a larger trend where fans assume games and other forms of entertainment that are “bad” were created, at least partially, using AI. And it serves as a reminder that products can appear to be of a lower quality even when they were not created by AI, for any number of reasons — especially in an era of game development that emphasizes constant releases and updates.
Bandai Namco released the fighting game Naruto x Boruto Ultimate Ninja Storm Connections earlier this month. In a world where Naruto spinoff games are a dime a dozen, the game failed to make a splash. However, it quickly picked up attention for another reason: The voice-over for the English dub sounded stiff and hard to believe.
In response, several voice actors posted to X (formerly Twitter) about the lines. On Nov. 22, Maile Flanagan, Naruto’s English-language voice actor, said, “I can guarantee I did not say that line that way,” in a now-deleted tweet initially reported by IGN. Michael Schwalbe, who voices Kawaki in the English dub of Boruto: Next Generations, also tweeted that he did not recall saying his lines that way, noting, “ain’t no way id do myself like that.” The next day, he tweeted that he sent the clips to a friend who ran the lines through an app called Ai-SPY that claims to detect instances of generative AI. The tweet gained significant traction, spurring a conversation among fans about the use of AI in voice-over work.
Days later, Bandai Namco issued a statement to Polygon, saying its developers did not use AI to create the voice-over, but that the recordings sounded that way due to issues with the editing and sound mastering process. You can read the full statement below.
Regarding the reports about several voice over lines in NARUTO X BORUTO Ultimate Ninja STORM CONNECTIONS, Bandai Namco Entertainment can confirm that the lines in question were not AI generated, but the result of inconsistencies during the editing/mastering process. We regret that this raised a concern with Naruto fans and the voice acting community. We are currently working to fix the voice lines in question, which will be patched in the near future.
The incident comes at a time when consumers are still learning to parse what was and wasn’t made with the help of AI. It’s now becoming more and more common for people to say that any product deemed to be of lesser quality — whether it's art, voice acting, or writing — was made using AI. Just this week, fans accused the developers of Silent Hill: Ascension of using AI to generate elementary writing in the game. In another instance, fans speculated Pokémon Go developer Niantic used AI to generate blurry art for a new update.
This particular incident also shows that products can still feel cheap even when made by humans — but this doesn’t mean developers aren’t working hard or aren’t talented. More likely, it shows the consequence of other factors, like rushed timelines or expectations from management, and how those can impact the quality of a game, regardless of whether humans or algorithms made a certain component. Developers are constantly facing tight deadlines and often have to crunch, working long hours on rushed timelines. For example, when the King Kong game Skull Island: Rise of Kong was released, players dunked on its graphics. Reporting from The Verge later revealed that the team had under a year to create the game from start to finish.
We don’t know if this particular Naruto game was rushed, but Bandai Namco said it regretted the concerns the game caused and said the team would fix the voice lines in a patch. This resolution serves as a reminder that AI is a tool that can support a team’s vision, or it can be misused. Studios continue to be under never-ending pressure to push new games and updates out. This year in the games industry has seen both record profits and one of the most dramatic waves of layoffs in recent memory. And as large corporations like Microsoft continue to invest in AI — to the confusion of developers who say AI use is aimed at a problem that does not exist — concerns around its usage will likely only become more commonplace. In this context, skepticism of AI makes sense.