July 2, 2022

Have Square-Enix RPGs lost it?

At a Tokyo press conference today reported by Sponichi (translated by Andriasang, Eurogamer.net original source) , Square Enix boss Yoichi Wada said of FF14: “The Final Fantasy brand has been greatly damaged.”

However, I suspect that is simplifying the issue. Final Fantasy 14 isn’t the worst MMO on the market (that dubious honour still and will always go to Darkfall, sorry chaps), but it certainly lacks the polish and refinement that it so desperately needed to stand out from the crowd.

That said, Square-Enix are becoming less and less known for their quality RPG output – and for a company with a raft of RPG franchises under it’s belt, that is a shocking and problematic realisation for them.

It’s difficult to imagine that once upon a time, the two companies that would eventually merge would make anything other than RPGs. And in the years up to now, they have bought many other RPG licences out – from the excellent Grandia series to the outstanding Lufia moniker, and right though countless genre staples – from Dragon Quest, to Secret of Evermore right through to the Chrono series.

And yet, the quality of these games has, in recent years, begun to wane. Grandia 3 wasn’t even released here in Europe, but was certainly not a patch on its predecessors. Lufia was a poor attempt at a reboot, and many of their classic titles are gathering dust rather than being tuned for an era where we pay good money for retro refits. Couple this with buying Eidos and other studios, which are focused on games outside the RPG stable, and it is clear that when it comes to RPGs in general, Square-Enix are kind of missing the point a bit.

Nowhere was this more obvious than FFXIII. Whereas yes, FFX, X-2 and 12 were brushed with a thin vaneer of western ideal, XIII went the whole hog. The combat engine is sublime in it, but the plot isn’t there. The gameplay isn’t there. It’s just a corridor trawl with random fights in it.

This is an issue when you consider that Square-Enix are under considerable pressure from fans and shareholders alike to cave in and get on with a remake of Final Fantasy 7, something people have been asking about for years. Square-Enix have always been coy about this idea, always playfully teased and strung fans along, but it seems even the fans have gotten bored waiting.

And this is amplified by the revival of the JRPG with excellent titles like Tales of Vesperia from Namco, and Xenoblade Chronicles by Nintendo. And others are headed for the 3DS. At a time when the quirky, kitsch and delightfully imaginative has finally found its way through the ultra-realistic monoliths, Square-Enix – a company you’d expect to be primed for this kind of revival – is suddenly caught on the hop.

I don’t believe they’ve lost their golden touch however – just that they changed for the market, rather than pleasing their legions of adoring fans, and even in Dragon Quest, this is noticeable. Their main disaster was having no contingency should the market suddenly swing back to wanting some pure RPG escapism – something the JRPG always does so brilliantly.

And with the pressures on them to put out a FF7 remake, the question is no longer if, but when – when will they unveil it? It seems an inevitability now, and that may be no bad thing, but it is a curious sign of the times that companies who had to adapt to a growing market expansion are now finding that the deafening cries of their previous customers are now audible as everyone else has become more content with their lot.

You do have to feel sorry for them. But with all those franchises, licences and games available, where are they all? Secret of Evermore! Heck, Terranigma – remember that Square-Enix? One of the finest RPGs ever made OF ALL TIME?!

They’ve got tons of material to work with. Let’s hope they get back to using it, and can the awful announcement of Kane and Lynch 3.


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