Published on July 7th, 2013 | by David Arce8
Square Enix and the Case of the Dwindling Public Image
During the 1990′s and early 2000′s, Squaresoft were the undisputed champions of the RPG genre. They released the two of my favorite games ever, Final Fantasy VI and VII, along with other superb games such as Chrono Trigger, Secret Of Mana, Super Mario RPG and Xenogears. Their run of fantastic video games releases rivaled Nintendo’s run from the mid 80′s to late 90′s. It all changed when, in 2003, Square merged with another well-known RPG developer, Enix (Makers of Star Ocean and Dragon Quest), to become what is currently Square Enix. The Frankensteined company has fallen off that high point in the public eye since then. It’s now a three way battle between Nintendo, Namco Bandai, and Atlus for best eastern RPG developer. So what happened to Square Enix?
Their most recent Final Fantasy release, XIV, was an MMO so widely panned it became something of an embarrassment to the company. It was received very poorly thanks to the unfinished nature of the game, terribly run marketplace, and bad gameplay. Worst of all, it asked for a monthly subscription fee despite this lack of quality. Shortly before this disaster we saw the release of Final Fantasy XIII. Even though it enjoyed decent sales, it has become one of the most divisive titles since VIII. The game has its supporters, but XIII naysayers (a group I subscribe to) point out the game’s unbearable characters, shallow battle system, and convoluted plot, and suggest it’s nothing more than a pretty face. Square Enix’s recent focus on the mobile market hasn’t done them any favors either, highlighted by the release of a blatant cash grab by the name of Final Fantasy: All The Bravest.
Despite this downpour of negativity, Square Enix have had a few bright spots since the merger. DS title The World Ends With You was an ambitious game with unique controls that, while a bit flawed, provided gamers with a brand new way to play RPGs. It also helped that the soundtrack hit that familiar Squaresoft high standard. Even when they’re milking Final Fantasy Square Enix can bring out the best of their old ways. Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy is, despite the stupid name, the best rhythm game on the 3DS — and a great game in its own right. With the greatest songs from every main series game, along with surprisingly difficult rhythm gameplay, Theatrhythm showed how much they appreciated their past titles, and did the music for those games justice with a brilliant spin-off. Lastly, Square Enix realised they made a huge mistake with Final Fantasy XIV and ended up rebuilding the entire game to re-release it as Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. While it still isn’t the greatest MMO out there, it’s a much improved game and will definitely help heal the PR damage caused by the first release. It’s with these flashes, and recent changes in the company that I can see Square Enix redeeming themselves in the near future and, ultimately, regaining their image as the best RPG developer from the East.
Yoichi Wada’s recent resignation as CEO of Square Enix was the first possible sign of the Square Enix’s turnaround. While he wasn’t reaching Bobby Kotick levels when it came to controversial comments on the games industry, he has had a few questionable quotes in his time. Back in 2008, he told the developers in the company that if they don’t make games catered towards the “mainstream” audience that their jobs would be cut. We already know how trying to appeal to a so-called mainstream audience works out in this industry, and such comments painted Wada (and Square Enix by extension) as shortsighted. He also pushed forward Square Enix’s recent foray into the mobile marketplace. It seemed to be a huge moneymaker at first glance, but pricing Final Fantasy III at $15 and releasing All The Bravest showed a lack of understanding of the mobile market. To the average consumer, the company looked as though they were parasitically sucking at the teat of an easy cash cow.
Wada was replaced by Yosuke Matsuda, who was previously the CFO of the company. He has reportedly been reviewing the whole company to weed out what doesn’t work and focus resources on what does. This is great news for fans of Final Fantasy, as he recently voiced an apology to them for causing worries, and has committed to revitalizing the series. Considering how well Square Enix was received at this year’s E3, he’s kept true to that commitment.
The biggest reason I see Square Enix repairing their image to gamers is the announcement that the long-awaited Final Fantasy Versus XIII is not only releasing next year on the Xbox One and PS4, but that it will be rebranded as Final Fantasy XV. The newest trailer makes XV look a lot more action-oriented than previous entries in the series. If they can pull off a cinematic feel in the game without compromising gameplay, then Square Enix would be looking at something very special, perhaps even hearkening back to earlier classics. I also appreciate the political angle they seem to have taken with the story. It’s looking a lot like Final Fantasy XII, but the main character is actually important to the plot. Getting everyone hyped for this next installment of their franchise was a smart thing to do, especially for those who were weary of all the XIII sequels.
Kingdom Hearts 3 finally became a thing at E3 as well, to many hoots and hollers. While all that was shown was a brief in-game chase scene, that was all Square Enix needed to do to get many back on board with the Kingdom Hearts IP. It’s a great move to begin development of this game, since many Kingdom Hearts fans have become weary of all the spin-offs flooding the franchise since Kingdom Hearts 2 and are eager for some closure. Hopefully they can somehow make sense of the plot in this installment, amid all the fantastical Disney action.
Another recent announcement that could do wonders for Square Enix’s image is the localization of Bravely Default for the 3DS. It was developed as the spiritual successor to the DS game Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light, right down to the art style and gameplay. What sets it apart from its predecessor is the addition of an in-depth storyline that ties into the core gameplay. The reviews over in Japan have been overwhelmingly positive, and the game’s class system looks brilliant. The system is bursting at the seams with quality JRPGs, but its a large potential audience, and Final Fantasy fans have proven their willingness to soak up portable adventures. Bravely Default is the one RPG that reminds me the most of Square Enix’s greatest games during the 1990′s.
Square Enix is in prime position to retake the RPG genre and make gamers forget about their lackluster performance in the past 10 years. With a wealth of great looking games on the horizon, a revamped MMO, and a focus on what made them great in the first place, Square Enix can bounce back and possibly become the Squaresoft that we all knew and loved.