If Master Chief falls in Japan and no one is around, does he make a sound?

Halo 3 fever has rocked America — with nationwide midnight launches, marketing tie-ins, and $129.99 kitten helmets, it’s nearly impossible to leave your house, or turn on your television without feeling the full blast of Bungie’s first-person shooter monster. But is it making noise in Japan?

With mere hours from a Japanese launch, Master Chief and company are preparing to finish the fight in the Land of the Rising Sun. Despite the well-respected (and historically harsh) Japanese videogaming magazine Famitsu giving the game high marks (37 out of 40), if past interest in any indicator, Microsoft and Bungie might be fighting an uphill battle.

“It’s a very focused following, I would say,” says associate producer Jonty Barnes of Halo‘s Japanese audience.

Speaking to me from a private suite in Tokyo’s New Otani Hotel last week, Barnes makes no excuses. Instead, he turns his focus towards strengthening the bond with the Japanese gaming public.

“I think we have a much stronger relationship with our Western friends,” he admits, “and I think we have a closer affinity towards our community in the U.S.. I think we have some work to do with our Japanese public, which is why we’re here [at Tokyo Game Show].”

Interest for the title at the Japanese gaming event was surprisingly higher than some would have expected, with many Japanese gamers lined up to see what all of the fuss is about. While many of Halo 3’s most innovative and exciting features are directly tied to Microsoft’s Xbox Live service, Barnes thinks that there’s something else that’s going to sell Japanese gamers on the title — the narrative.

“The interesting thing is that they’ve very enthused by the story and the campaign,” he notes, “more than the matchmaking and multiplayer. The idea of social aspects, or playing the campaign cooperatively is actually very new to them.”

With a solid Japanese voice acting pedigree backing the title, one can only hope that the game’s campaign is strong enough to carry it at Japanese retail … and maybe even sell one or two Xbox 360s along the way.

Nick Chester