The Trouble With Square-Enix
Quick, go and grab your nearest JRPG nerd and ask him or her what company has been the most disappointing for at least the past six or seven years. Did he or she say, “Square-Enix”? Yeah, I thought so.
Now, don’t get me totally wrong here. Square-Enix is an excellent publisher when it comes to the games industry. Games like Batman: Arkham Asylum, Tomb Raider, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, and Sleeping Dogs are proof that Square-Enix has the ability to recognize quality software. They certainly know how to appeal to today’s Western gamers with stuff like that; I definitely plan on purchasing the “Director’s Cut” version of Deus Ex: Human Revolution near the end of this year. They haven’t shied away from grittier, gorier content, and for that I can applaud them, even though I don’t necessarily have an interest in everything I’ve seen from companies like Eidos and Crystal Dynamics.
And of course, people will be quick to point out that Square-Enix’s Japanese offerings aren’t all completely mediocre. Gamers love games like The World Ends With You and Bravely Default (though that was co-developed with Silicon Studio - the guys who made 3D Dot Game Heroes). Games like Infinite Undiscovery and The Last Remnant had their fans as well (the latter is much better when you play the PC version), though many were put off by them. I also enjoyed Valkyrie Profile 2 a whole lot; in my opinion, it’s one of the few Tri-Ace games that actually has a good story and characters.
But there’s quite a bit of negativity surrounding the company, and a lot of it seems to be coming from the old timers – people who’ve been playing JRPGs since before Square merged with Enix. Now, everyone likes to talk about how older fans and those who have given up on modern gaming are simpletons because they can’t accept change. In some cases, they’re right; change is the only real constant in the world today, in all aspects, and it’s neither absolutely good nor absolutely terrible. Generally speaking, an NES game isn’t going to hold a candle to a PS3 game with regards to production values, gameplay, content, characters, and plot. However, there’s no reason to be a complete radical in the games industry, and that’s exactly where Square-Enix has been heading for quite some time now.
Case in point? Square’s flagship series, Final Fantasy. Up to around the tenth iteration of the main series, the games had differences between them but retained a lot of the old aspects that made them work – a turn-based battle system, a world with magic and technology, towns, quests, cool characters, etc. Each world was different, but with moogles and chocobos and airships you felt right at home. In other words, Square didn’t look like they were just trying to make each game completely different from the one before it; the differences were (usually) not off-putting, and Square showed us that it liked doing its own thing. But then came something explosively different – Final Fantasy X-2. However, this wasn’t a completely terrible thing. Sure, the story felt confusing, and the characters (especially Rikku) were changed in decidedly unfavorable ways, but you still got to see a lot of old faces and places return alongside plenty of new ones. The battle system is considered to be one of the best things about it; it’s probably my favorite of the ATB battle systems. I thought the soundtrack was worse, though, and the overall story was quite silly, but whatever – it’s still not a bad game. But it was a bad omen, especially for me; it was the first FF game I had no interest in replaying for a very long time. And since then, I (and many others) have been quite disappointed. I don’t care for MMOs so I skipped two of the main titles. FF XII was disappointing due to its long, boring landscapes that I had to trudge through just to get some sort of plot event (there’s a reason why people say the game has no story – I can’t imagine how much better it would’ve been if Yasumi Matsuno hadn’t “gotten ill”). And don’t even get me started on Revenant Wings. The FF XIII trilogy, so far, has been quite off-putting as well to many (sure, these games sell a lot, but sales don’t equal quality). It’s also a testament to what SE’s whole shtick is, which is change for the sake of change. Even though it’s a trilogy, the games are too different to really feel like they make up one amazing storyline (unlike, say, Mass Effect). At this point SE is just taking bits from other, better games, and trying to combine them into some sort of super game, only to irritate fans even more than usual.
But wait! There’s hope! Final Fantasy Type-0. A game with near-universal praise. A game with old-school elements like airships, with new twists (RTS battles, airship battles). A game with maturity. A game…that Square-Enix doesn’t want anyone else to have, despite a huge demand for it. But wait! We’re getting Final Fantasy Agito, a spin-off title of Type-0. Maybe it’ll have similar gameplay and set up and…no? It’s a social mobile phone app? Yeah…no thanks. Sure, it’s F2P, but unless SE plans on releasing Type-0 to the West if enough people purchase all the premium items most of us aren’t going to bother.
Unfortunately, Dragon Quest is going the same route. When Dragon Quest IX was going to have an action-based battle system, fans freaked out and SE had no choice but to stick to turn-based. People thought they learned, but then Dragon Quest X came out as an…MMO. Yeah. But hey, they did a remake of Dragon Quest VII for the 3DS! The 3DS, a portable system that actually sells in the West! So that means we’ll be getting that…what’s that? No? Oh. But at least SE is giving us Bravely Default...oh wait, that’s because of Nintendo, because SE wasn’t going to bother with it until Ninty stepped in. Hopefully Nintendo will step in for DQ VII.
We still have Kingdom Hearts, though I have no interest in the series. I'm not going to deny its initial quality, and I wouldn't mind playing the first and second games. However, the storyline is convoluted, and it seems to just cater to people who like button-mashing for fights and heaps of Disney and Final Fantasy references. It's completely ridiculous that there are more spin-off titles than main titles, and story-wise they don't do much more than confuse people.
Look, I know that Square-Enix is a video game BUSINESS. Yes, I know that. And things change and all that crap. But SE simply ignores many of its fans (while trying to expand its fan base by pandering to those who are taken by great graphics and cut scenes) that were there when both companies were wowing us with their stuff a decade ago. How about another Tactics Ogre? Or more "Ivalice Alliance" games with Matsuno's input? Going the complete moneymaking route can work wonders for you in the short-run, but after a while people will notice, get tired of it, and move on to a company that delivers. Like Atlus, or Bandai Namco - companies who seem to care for their core fan bases. The very fact that Square-Enix announces projects and then shows nothing for them for years while expecting fans to sit tight and wait is quite the show of arrogance. All I can do now is hope that Final Fantasy XV doesn’t end up trying to incorporate what’s popular by shoehorning in multiplayer features, decision-making, dialogue trees, and a story that’s only six hours long while side quests take up hundreds of hours to complete. If so, then once I’m done with Bravely Default there’s a good chance I’ll be done with Square-Enix as an RPG developer – as many others have already done.