Editorial: What IS Square-Enix Doing?
Let's get one thing straight right off the bat: I've been a fan of Square since the early days of Final Fantasy. They were one of the main reasons I adored the SNES and PS1 so much (to list all the titles would take too long), and while they didn't do so hot in the PS2 generation, I still got Final Fantasy X, Final Fantasy X-2 (shut up, it was better than most RPGs), Final Fantasy XII, Kingdom Hearts, Kingdom Hearts II and Star Ocean: 'Til the End of Time. So far this generation, I have nothing, but then again, I didn't expect anything just yet, and I have extremely high expectations for The Last Remnant, Final Fantasy XIII and Final Fantasy XIII Versus. But that hasn't been making the news lately; what has been making the news is Square-Enix's new resolve to appeal to the Western gamer.
At first, I understood the philosophy. Squaresoft and Square-Enix have always made games designed for a certain type of hardcore player and RPG fan, and that appeals - first and foremost - to the Japanese sense of taste. For the most part, they really didn't have a blockbuster presence in Western territories unless the title of their game had "Final Fantasy" somewhere in it. Kingdom Hearts has done well, but we all have to admit that it's not exactly "vintage Square," and I can see why it would sell to the US and Europe. And it makes perfect sense to want to expand westward; limiting your high sales to only one territory is completely illogical, especially with the level of Western competition that currently exists. But what exactly is the point of abusing a name that has brought you fame and glory in the past? What's the point of hurting your own well-earned and highly respected reputation of delivering a top-quality product? Back in the PS1 days, if it said "Squaresoft" on it, we knew it'd be good. "Good" at the minimum; more likely, it'd be great.
Perhaps it started with Dirge of Cerberus, but regardless of when it began, Square-Enix is apparently happy with driving age-old mascots and themes down our throats. ...didn't we just say that their old style would appeal more to the Japanese gamer? Isn't a common fact that the unique quality and diversity of the Square lineup made those games as good as they were? Each FF after IV could really be considered a separate IP they were so different, and as for the rest of their efforts back in those days...well, fans know what I'm talking about. Now, I have no problem with sticking with a formula that works. None whatsoever. I do, however, have a problem with a company that seemingly and with no reason whatsoever, works to dismantle a reputation they worked so hard to establish. Is it really necessary to do this to gain attention from the Western audience? I just refuse to believe the only possibility centers on reusing and rehashing until we're all blue in the face. Of course, I've no doubt that FFXIII will deliver on all counts; I'm talking about S-E games outside the FF world. In these areas, they're just falling off the radar.
It makes me a little sad. I most certainly remember the good ol' days of Squaresoft, and while I will always maintain that FFX and FFXII are two of the greatest games ever made, there was already evidence of a downward shift in the PS2 generation. And now, they add one final slap in the face by letting The Last Remnant debut on the Xbox 360 and obviously giving Microsoft's console the nod on other projects. I have no problem with including the 360; but what's wrong with a simple multiplat simultaneous release? Don't ignore the Sony platform; it was on the Sony platforms where Square originally garnered much of its legion of fans (after the SNES made the initial impact). I just don't get this new business focus. I get the concept, but I'm seriously questioning the execution. Whatever happened to simply committing to quality and letting the gamers decide? Western gamers like quality, too, you know...
6/13/2008 Ben Dutka