Square Enix wasted a console generation, but it's not too late for redemption
- Posted February 14th, 2013 at 14:05 EDT by Kyle Prahl
- 28 Comments
For Japanese RPG veterans Square Enix, this console generation has been utterly divisive. To use a word as noncommittal as "divisive" feels like I'm selling the legendary developer short, but it's absolutely true. Final Fantasy XIII was a hold-your-hand romp through a confusing plot with unlikable characters. Final Fantasy XIII-2 gave players more creative reign but saddled them with a plot one reviewer called "borderline insulting." While the studio trudges onward with yet another installment in this ham-fisted narrative arc, a vocal majority of Square fans young and old cry out for change.
Between false hopes raised, never-ending development cycles, and frustrating silences, this is not the Square we once knew.
This is not the Square that redefined and popularized an entire genre with a single release. This is not the Square that pumped out dozens of classic PlayStation RPGs year after year. This is not the Square that took creative risks during the PS2's heyday, but backed every experiment with rock-solid gameplay and storytelling. No, today's Square Enix is almost unrecognizable; a facade of "excellence" that only masks ignorance. Where is Kingdom Hearts III? Where is Final Fantasy Versus XIII? Where is Final Fantasy X HD, revealed at Tokyo Game Show 2011 and given nary a word since?
For these reasons and more, I can't help but feel that Square Enix development has effectively wasted a console generation. (The same probably shouldn't be said for the publishing arm, which has scored relative hits like Deus Ex: Human Revolution and the upcoming Tomb Raider reboot.) The last six years have only served to transform my opinion of the studio from adoration to disdain. But it's not too late. I firmly believe that the forthcoming generation of consoles - set to begin on February 20, with the PlayStation 4's reveal - presents Square's best chance for redemption.
It all starts with a back-to-basics approach that puts consumer needs ahead of Square's experimental desires. I'm all for new ideas, but Square needs to actively listen to the vocal majority and understand exactly why many gamers couldn't get behind the Final Fantasy XIII trilogy. Was it the ultra-linear environments of XIII? The non-sensical, deus ex machina-ridden plot of XIII-2? Everyone has different tastes, but unearthing a consensus on what went wrong with these releases shouldn't be difficult.
Of course, lessons learned mean nothing without the proper application. Square wowed us at E3 2012 with the gorgeous Agni's Philosophy tech demo, so why not start with the demo's environments and atmosphere as artistic building blocks for Final Fantasy XV? A neo-medieval world of courts, lords, poverty, and fugitives both hearkens back to simpler (better) times and presents an opportunity for critique of modern class systems and wealth distribution. Ambitious? Sure! Preachy? Perhaps. Either way, it's loads simpler than the fal'Cie nonsense of XIII and its obtuse sequel, which gave us worlds that were anything BUT likable or relatable.
Rumors abound that the oft-delayed Final Fantasy Versus XIII is actually being rebranded for release on PlayStation 4. At this point, I'm all for it. Just knowing that Square has a plan for this game is comforting, and what little we've seen of Versus' modern setting and Kingdom Hearts-inspired gameplay looks promising. There's another good reason for Versus to get on the development fast track - much of the original team behind Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts II are committed to the project. While recent handheld entries have admittedly been quite good, it's flabbergasting that this insanely popular series effectively skipped a console generation and hasn't received a proper console sequel in seven years.
These last seven years have left me pining for more than Kingdom Hearts III, though. Maybe E3 2006's Final Fantasy VII tech demo doomed Square Enix to infamy, but I'd be remiss to not mention the positive impact that revisiting past franchise titles could have on the company's fortunes (and profits). It's simple - fans demand it, and a business should strive to meet such passionate consumer desire. Nostalgic gamers are somewhat divided on which entries deserve a remake, but I don't think Square could go wrong by tossing VI through IX into a hat and blindly picking one. However, remake development is contingent on Square actually finishing Final Fantasy ... (continued on next page)
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- 2:33pm EST - February 14th, 2013
You summed up my thought on Square. Good read.
- 2:39pm EST - February 14th, 2013
Spot on remarks, Kyle. Agreed with everything.
I dont think I need to add anything else here regarding my disdain for Square as a development company. Its either already been said here or elsewhere.
I do wish that they'd do a new ip though. Isnt it about time? Preferably one like Kingdom Hearts, a real time combat rpg. I'd also be interested in seeing what they can do with online multiplayer for a game like that as well.
One more thing, if their new tech demo turns out to be fake and the final products look absolutely nothing like what they've shown us, that will severely reduce any likelihood of me being interested in their pre-release trailers ever again.
Sir_Scud | Sir_Scud
- 2:53pm EST - February 14th, 2013
This is basically how I feel in a nutshell. They went from my favorite developer to being a major disappointment. I was really interested in playing FFX HD, but after waiting over a year I realized I'm better suited playing the ps2 version.
For me to be a 'fan' again is simple: make a FF game that's good with no excuses, major delays, etc. Get back to making numbered entries. The FF fan club is diverse, when a group might love one title they hate the other. So it might be better suited not making a triology out of one.
- 3:14pm EST - February 14th, 2013
is this article for real?
- 3:20pm EST - February 14th, 2013
"I'm all for new ideas, but Square needs to actively listen to the vocal majority and understand exactly why many gamers couldn't get behind the Final Fantasy XIII trilogy. "
I think it's important to be careful here. Final Fantasy XIII was a sucessful entry to the franchise no matter how you spin it. So was Final Fantasy XII, which also received very vocal distaste from the online community. But vocal does not mean majority, in fact it often just means a very loud minority. Final Fantasy isn't a franchise for those specific fans anymore. It can be, but it's obviously targeting new demographics with each installment. As much as older gamers like me would like to see more stuff like Sakaguchi's Lost Odyssey, at the end of the day, that's not what the market wants. There is still a market for it, but Square just found a bigger one.
Quality can always be debated, but Square Enix got to where they are because of smart decision making. They are only hurting now because of the failure of FFXIV, not the XIII trilogy.
- 3:24pm EST - February 14th, 2013
@5 "There is still a market for it, but Square just found a bigger one."
I don't see how you can make any argument of Square finding a bigger market, as even X-2 has sold more copies globally than 13.
- 3:33pm EST - February 14th, 2013
Those are two different time periods and thus different environments. I'm not arguing that XIII was as big as X in units, but by current generation's standards, XIII is an undeniable juggernaut. You are saying it's a game the "majority' of gamers didn't want, though it seems to be sitting pretty on the sales end of things in comparison to games that the "majority" do want. Even XIII-2, a considberably less polished game and a sequel to the abosuley horrid XIII, outsold Lost Odyssey 2:1. The internet loves Lost Odyssey, but random message board opinions on game franchises do not represent the average consumer.
Ernsty | LazerBlader
- 3:53pm EST - February 14th, 2013
Amen, Kyle. Like I said before, you hit the nail on the head, except for leaving out Final Fantasy Type-0 which I so badly want to play!
- 4:01pm EST - February 14th, 2013
@7 My perception of XIII's sales has always been that many gamers purchased it on name recognition (I totally fall into this camp), believing it couldn't possibly be as divisive as the Internet made it seem, before realizing that, yes, it's absolutely horrid. Be wary of equating sales to "enjoyment" - everything I've seen, read, and personally felt since the game's launch indicates that a majority of buyers found it to be a step backwards.
- 4:13pm EST - February 14th, 2013
That's not a fair assumption, though, there is no proof. In fact, it's very belittling of people who did enjoy FFXIII. You have a negative opinion on a game, so it's convenient for you to make the logical leap that, "hey, this sold less than a game I thought was better on the PS2, I now have an argument." But that is to neglect so many factors. The PS2 era as a whole was much more lucrative for all developers, and though I'm not a business expert, I'm sure there's reasons for that other than the games were simply "better."
Gran Turismo 3 sold what, 15 million on that machine? Gran Turismo 5 is faithful to its fans and I think it's better in every feature, but it sold half of what it's PS2 counter-part did. Half. Does that mean GT5 is a failure for Polyphony? That they need to go back to the drawing board because they couldn't recreate a market reaction from a different era? It is delusional to think so.
Cultures change. Markets change. Numbers will change. FFXIII in the current market is one of the heaviest hitting games out of Japan this generation, and its spin-offs are serving Square some easy profits. If you went to their conference meetings and said they needed to go back to their roots, they would kindly show you the door.
Arimax | Netherlord
- 4:30pm EST - February 14th, 2013
I'm going to stop you there and tell you to head over to GTplanet.com to see how a good amount of fans feel including me as I'm a member there, and I can tell you just like with FFXIII fans were highly upset with GT5.
- 4:42pm EST - February 14th, 2013
No, I believe you. But does 8 million sold for a racing simulator really mean diaster for Polyphony? Did they waste this generation? Do you honestly think they could of sold 16 million by addressing the issues your forum is angry about?
- 5:15pm EST - February 14th, 2013
@10 I don't believe I'm making any kind of logical leap. My perception is that the majority of FF XIII owners liked it less than prior entries in the series, based on years of reading Internet opinions that express as much. I also cite sales data that shows FF XIII and XIII-2 are the lowest-selling entries in the series.
Granted, they are also the newest, and it IS a different generation, but at least I have two forms of evidence, including testimonial. You're just SAYING that I'm wrong, and repeating it. Kudos.
- 5:19pm EST - February 14th, 2013
Your evidence is inferred, not proven. It's guesswork with a lot of possible holes. I'm just pointing out those holes.
But I guess I'm in the wrong here, then. Hopefully Square can turn things around and be as popular on the internet as Lost Odyssey was. That's all that matters to a game developer, anyway.
Cheers to the next generation!
- 5:35pm EST - February 14th, 2013
@14 Cheers! Thank you for your feedback and criticism. My argument is admittedly not perfect, nor does it hold true for every Square fan.
Arimax | Netherlord
- 6:04pm EST - February 14th, 2013
Maybe or maybe not it just depends from my own experience with the game I took it back Career mode is the shortest of any GT game ever made heck it might as well had been GT Prolouge Ver. 2 according to a good bit of people because you had previous gen things carried over to next-gen result wasn't so good.
As for this argument you and KyleOnTheRun are in I'll take KOTR(KyleOnTheRun) word for that because this is a time where sales don't mean anything.
These games weren't downright horrid like FFXIV is(which doesn't really exist lol), but compared to their history they don't stack up at all. GT, FF, Midnight Club, GTA, etc etc.
Basically this generation what I noticed a lot of games that had sequels from previous years tend to do worse compared to the previous game in the series. Look it up I've played a lot of titles that had sequels and 9 time out 10 they weren't as good as last ones.
- 6:11pm EST - February 14th, 2013
Yes, yes, I submit. You win. The old days were always better. FFXIII sold a few million less because it's bad. No other external factors affect markets.
Arimax | Netherlord
- 6:20pm EST - February 14th, 2013
I sense scarasm, and I didn't say they were bad.
I'll leave it alone though.
- 6:39pm EST - February 14th, 2013
You had me until the remake part. To "remake" 7 they would have to create and entire new game from the ground up using FF7 char and story. They can not just port over the engine, insert some 0's and 1' and bam suddenlly there it is. It would take time away from other projects, such as FFvs13, thus pushing that game back even more and still listing to complaints about it being pushed back, not to mention putting off KH3 for even longer(it is coming we just do not know when they will even start on it).
So lets say SE starts "remaking" all your old fav. Then you would complains, "all SE is doing is remaking old stuff. Come on give us something new!!!"
SE did fail this gen but remaking old games is NOT the answer. They just need to get thier FF games back to thier roots in terms of gameplay and story.
- 9:03pm EST - February 14th, 2013
Anyone that says FFXIII was a "hold your hand romp" with a confusing story and unlikeable characters obviously never played the game, or didn't pay attention to the game at all. Sure it was different than FF's before it, but it was a great game in it's own right. Stop jumping on this "FF13 sucked" bandwagon when you clearly never understood or maybe even played the game.
This will permanently ban this user and delete all associated comments. This action is irreversible, are you SURE you want to do this?!