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Is Square-Enix Relevant Anymore? A Final Fantasy Discussion

Saturday, February 12th, 2011 by

About a month ago, Final Fantasy XIII-2 was announced and the internet reacted with a hiss. When James Plafke posted his reaction, entitled “An Open Letter To Square-Enix Regarding Final Fantasy XIII-2: This Is Why You Aren’t Relevant Anymore“, it caught our attention and prompted our own discussion on the subject.

Some key excerpts from James’s article:

After Final Fantasy XII seemed to breathe life back into your most beloved franchise, you turned right around and basically harassed your loyal fans with Final Fantasy XIII. According to a comprehensive Metacritic comparison of every main (read: numbered and direct sequel; not a port, re-release or remake) Final Fantasy, FFXIII was literally the worst-received installment, trailing even the excruciating Final Fantasy X-2, the game that was a direct sequel featuring the character that (at the time) held the privilege of being the Worst Final Fantasy Character, and also dedicated an entire chapter (one-fifth of the story!) to watching CommSpheres from a menu, which are basically boring webcam feeds of everything happening in the boring world.

There’s a theory, of course: The worst Final Fantasy games are the only ones to get direct playable sequels because you are trying to salvage the games’ universes. Seeing as how X-2 was released before XII, and X-2 was your second worst-received main game while XII was your second best-received main game, wouldn’t common sense dictate that the formula to follow is to flee the sinking ship rather than spend another handful of years and a huge budget attempting to bail out an amount of flowing water much larger than your buckets can fit?

All of the above signifies why you are bordering on irrelevance, Square.

Feel free to read Mr. Plafke’s article for the full context at [geekosystem.com]

XIII-2? That’s depressing as hell. This guy makes some really good points.

I get the frustration, sure. Boil down all the disappointed rhetoric, though, and he’s basically saying he misses the days when Sakaguchi was in charge of Final Fantasy, an era when JRPGs were less uninspired than they tend to be now.

I think maybe this guy’s frustration should be directed at Yoichi Wada, who’s helped guide Square into the nostalgia-trapped, innovation-starved waters it’s been treading for nearly a decade now. I just don’t believe that Final Fantasy will ever be anything like it was prior to FFX without the ‘Guch, who went on to found Mistwalker at right about the same time Square started to suck. From what I understand, Mistwalker’s games are pretty stellar and well-received. I wonder why?

I’m withholding judgment on FFXIII-2 until the time comes. I thought X-2 was really fun, despite the cartoonish story. And sometimes I feel like I’m the only one in the world who enjoyed Final Fantasy XIII. Sure, it was battle heavy and stripped of all exploration, but I didn’t mind the change. It felt like an experiment, an exercise in efficiency. Not my favorite Final Fantasy by any means but it was still more or less the same explosive combination of graphical prowess, good music, and involved story that’s defined each game in the main series.

Square has proven stubborn as shit. I suppose I’m stubborn too, though. I still enjoy JRPGs, even though it’s clear they’ve been stuck in a rut for years. I’m playing through Eternal Sonata right now and the battles take too long, the dungeons are too big, and the save points are too far in between. And I love it!

I would argue that Square is still relevant in Japan, even if they appear out of touch over here. I don’t think they’ve ever catered to us, anyway, which might explain the stubborn attitude towards our complaints. That said, it’s sad that Square’s games aren’t automatic gold anymore, like they used to be.

Hmm, well I’m still in agreement with the original letter, but I see your points.

XII looks like the only one that I might still enjoy – if I ever find a way to play it given that I don’t have a PS2, and the newer PS3s are not backwards compatible.

Remember when there were fantasy elements to Final Fantasy games?

If I had to pinpoint where Final Fantasy went wrong, I’d say it’s when they started to modernize things. Increased graphic capabilities made things that were not previously silly, such as having a protagonist that was a teenager, into a ridiculous thing. When you then equipped them with these modernized takes on classic weaponry (gun sword, anyone?), it was hard to understand why.

I feel like my ability to suspend my disbelief in most RPGs, Japanese or not, all amount to the world they take place in. Giant birds that can be tamed to ride? Believable. 16 year old girl with mystical powers who saves the world? Okay, perhaps. I mean, girls do mature faster than boys. But isn’t it time we get rid of the hero-by-happenstance lead character? Mind you, my favorite Final Fantasy game (5, for anyone not in the know) features one, but that’s one of the better playing games in the series.

The best story in Final Fantasy games, at least in my eyes, was a tightly-woven story of redemption of a soldier, trained since birth, trying to do the right thing regardless of the circumstances. I love the SNES Final Fantasy games. I imagine I will own every version that ever gets released, renewed, and repackaged. You have a group of friends, a dysfunctional family of alien descent (FuSoYa, KluYa, Cecil, Golbez), and a love triangle (Cecil, Rosa, Kain). You travel to the moon. Which one? I don’t know. There’s TWO. You travel to the center of the Earth. You have tragedy, you have sacrifice, you have time-displacement/distortion, all sorts of cool angles to the world you are in. No guns, though there were cannons.

I want a Final Fantasy that’s got the old, medieval “Middle Ages” feel. I want names that aren’t taken from The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Wicca: How I Learned to Stop Trying and Just Love the Earth. Stop forcing things, start trying again. If it takes killing Moogles and Chocobos off and starting fresh, fucking do it, dammit! Moogles didn’t even originate in Final Fantasy, anyhow. Make a game that has fantasy elements and classes, but don’t force yourself into some stupid constraints of what being a Final Fantasy game is.

Maybe those games didn’t sell well enough, but that’s because you stopped making them once you got popular. It’s a Japanese game genre that they’ve bastardized while trying to Americanize. Forget it. Just go back to what worked in Japan and hope that you pick up some of those gamers who were already playing your games.

No, forget that, too. Go back to 2D. It worked for Castlevania and Mega Man. There’s no shame in retro.

I agree with your assessment of Final Fantasy going wrong with over-modernization. Steam power and airships were fine, but when they started adding in things like guns that only do lethal damage when it suits the story and huge floating schools that somehow fly via rotating discs, the cheese that we tolerate and often enjoy in RPGs started growing moldy.

I also agree on enjoying more the days of the medieval FF titles, namely 4 and 6 (though I later played 5 on the GBA and also liked it a lot; the job class system is quite fun).

4 is, among the things that you mentioned, a classic, mostly straightforward story of good and evil. You grow to care about every character, except perhaps that pussy Edward. The pacing was also excellent, always keeping you wondering what would happen next. Hopefully 4 will eventually get a remake that overhauls the battle system, as that’s about the only complaint I have of the game these days. The DS version did add some fun new abilities, plus a much-needed auto-battle option.

6 was deeply story-driven and managed to draw you in to the lives of fourteen different characters as they struggled against a completely unpredictable madman. Each had their own unique abilities, such as Edgar with his tools and Sabin’s fighter-game-esque Blitz techniques. Unfortunately, Espers sort of evened everyone out by giving them access to any magical spell, but the more focused/hardcore of players could keep each character unique via select Esper pairings. That aside, the game stands out in the series for me. The variety of environments and scenarios, the strategy of party combinations, and the apparent destruction of the world and the melancholy that followed, which was then re-tempered into hope as you scoured the planet for your lost teammates, all make 6 my favorite in the series, followed very closely by 4.

Many people took a shit that could have choked a hippo when 7 came out. Yes, it had sweet graphics, but it got so freaking weird. Half the time you didn’t even understand what was happening. Then when you beat the game, you kind of felt like, “Huh?” Replays, the movie Final Fantasy 7: Advent Children, and the prequel Crisis Core: Final Fantasy 7 have helped me understand the story more, but it still feel overly convoluted just for the sake of complexity. The game’s still pretty fun to play through, though, especially if you only use one character.

8 was also a train wreck in terms of story and character development, but at least it had a fun card game. I was sorely let down by 8, but again, it’s fun to play through with one character.

9 promised series redemption and a return to Final Fantasy roots, but it seemed Square couldn’t help but weird-up the story again toward the end. What seemed like an old-school tale about crystals turned into some shit about another dimension and Zidane being part of an entire people that had monkey tales. Why fuck it up? The characters were largely likable, especially Vivi, and it was really fun to play.

10… well, another new system to up the graphics, and another step down in quality of substance. I don’t care who says otherwise, Tidus is a douchelord who should have his girly hair shaved and then be fed to a pack of rabid moogles. I don’t remember liking any of the characters, not even Lulu with her huge woohoos. All of their personalities seemed randomly generated and the story was picked up on a clearance rack at Tart-Mart. I did think Auron was kind of cool, though.

As for 11 – that is, Final Fantasy 11 Online – give me a fucking break. That should have been called Final Fantasy Online. I didn’t even play it.

12, which should have been 11: This was pretty solid, thought it had two major flaws. First, it was set in the world of Ivalice, which is the same as Final Fantasy Tactics. This is a world that could be really cool except that the story spinners expect you to keep track of the history, traits, and desires of multiple countries and dozens of minor characters. As with Tactics, I played it more for the gameplay than the story, which brings me to the second major flaw: the gambit system. It seemed really cool at first, since I could effectively program my characters to act in certain ways depending on battle situations, but eventually I was just wandering around while they gave the enemies the business, reducing me to a tourist of the overly large environments.

13 was decent. Considering the epic delay, they should have called it Final Fantasy Forever, ala Duke Nukem. Also, considering that delay, I was expecting a lot more, especially since 12 seemed to be a step back in the right direction. The role/paradigm system was pretty fun and yielded some of the most enjoyable boss battles I’ve fought in the series, but the characters were as enjoyable as the cast of 10 and were all severely in need of a kick in the teeth. Especially Vanille. With her, as with Lulu in 10, it seemed obvious that they were trying to make up for a severe lack of a likable personality by making her attractive.

I think that the next time I get the desire to play a Final Fantasy game, I’ll shell out $10 for the main module of Final Fantasy 4: The After Years on WiiWare. Sure, I’d have to pay $37 total to get the main module and all the additional ones, but at least I can try it for $10 and see if it’s worth it. At least it would be 2D… they would have had to work really hard to put in a character that looks like Justin Bieber. Plus, praise Jebus, it’s medieval and not likely to get too weird with the story.

[Note that this was about a month before I found out about the FF4 Collection.]

It is very easy for me to agree with Mr. Plafke; something needs to be said and done about the state of innovation in the Final Fantasy games, but it is too late for me. I feel like Squeenix has forgotten about providing value to their customers, and just concerned themselves with extracting money from us with half hearted attempts at innovation in the titles.

The last title I owned was FF:X, and although FF:XII looks fun, I probably will never play another one unless they change the design to be less weird. And for a gamer like me to say something is weird, is well, saying something – I’m just not sure what.

My opinion can be summed up with this quote: “Don’t try to outweird me, three-eyes. I get stranger things than you free with my breakfast cereal.”

I’d like it on the record that I like Edward. Edward loses his fiance, gets his ass beat by her decrepit father who proceeds to call him spoony, gets smacked around by a dark knight when he is only trying to grieve, and then finds the courage to play a harp while everyone else is showing off flashy abilities or brute strength. He had no business being a hero, but he stood up and fought the good fight. Final Fantasy VI had Setzer who, for all intents and purposes, was the same type of character. You don’t find out about the tragic nature until after the end of the world, though. Those are the characters that actually resonate with me. He’s the Xander Harris or “Wash” Washburne of the Final Fantasy world.

I should also note that, really, I don’t think I’ve related to any of the characters in recent Final Fantasy games. The only reason Aeris’ death really had an impact was because every other character in Final Fantasy VII was an asshole. At some point, Final Fantasy started to think it needed to do what anime was doing to be cool. Anti-heroes aren’t cool. You’re not cool. You’re a roleplaying game. Embrace your fanbase and cater to those same nerds.

No one ever faults Dragon Quest for being basically the same, old-school game it was in the past. Moreover, people get upset at the idea of change with that series. Meanwhile, Final Fantasy is constantly changing.

Can we also get on board the idea that huge worlds are no longer impressive? You don’t need to be the Elder Scrolls games. There are games that do that. They’re called Elder Scrolls. I don’t want to spend five minutes walking across town. I can do that in real life and have something tangible to show for it, like a better game that isn’t wasting my time to pad “game hours.”

SquareEnix, please hear me out. You must not have heard the saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” If you want to bring back the materia system, by all means do. Same for the job system or espers. Hell, create new franchises that use these perfectly fine systems as their core.

Final Fantasy, though? It’s broken. Perhaps this is the year to lay the franchise to rest next to Guitar Hero.

When Nomura replaced Amano as character designer for Final Fantasy, circa FFVII, it changed the whole look and feel of the series into the anti-hero, guns ablazin’ anime universe you just described. I like Nomura’s work, especially on Kingdom Hearts, but I get the sense that Square lets his character design dictate the attitude of the games, and has since Final Fantasy VII.

I mean, look at Final Fantasy XII, which many feel had more of that old school Final Fantasy spirit in it than anything else the past decade. Nomura was, curiously, not involved in that one. Fancy that.

I don’t think it’s time for the series to be struck down ala Guitar Hero. Final Fantasy XIII’s sales are well beyond the six million mark, globally. That’s greater than any Dragon Quest game; an impressive figure for what, according to the unwashed masses, is easily the worst Final Fantasy ever.

Final Fantasy is still a cash cow no matter how much western gamers hate it. The series just needs some new blood, STAT.

About the Author

I was introduced to video games on the Atari 2600, and quickly moved to a Nintendo, where The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, and Dragon Warrior dominated my early non-Mario years. Now days, I do mostly PC gaming, and some console gaming. I’ve been in and out of rehab, and there’s no saving a nerd like me.

ikecube has written 101 posts on Delta Attack

30 Responses to “Is Square-Enix Relevant Anymore? A Final Fantasy Discussion”

  1. Eliza says:

    Man, you guys are really hating on Square. Not only does Final Fantasy continue to be a lead in RPG genre, but even their old titles continue to get re-released, and SOLD. Granted, not every one of their games is a winner (let’s not even mention the dreaded Final Fantasy Chronicles for GC), but a good score of their titles are.

    The gaming industry is changing and IMHO, people whine way too much. You say FFVIII sucked, well, that was one of my favorites. It all comes down to a matter of opinion. Now, if the buzz about FFXIV is true..well, I hope Square addresses those concerns before the PS3 version comes out.

    • Markham Asylum says:

      I wouldn’t say we’re hating on Square so much as lamenting the loss of the old Final Fantasy days and grieving the direction in which they’ve taken the series over the past ~decade. In an alternate universe, nearly all FF games could be as good as 4 and 6 in terms of great characters, character development, and stories.

      For sure, opinion plays a -huge- role, hence the roundtable with our varying outlooks. While I don’t much care for 8, I happen to know that Fade to Slack agrees with you about it being one of the best in the series, and I don’t think badly of him or you for holding that belief.

      • Fade to Slack says:

        No, sir, you have me mistaken. I actually believe Final Fantasy VIII to be the low point in the series that doesn’t include sequels. I actually place Final Fantasy X-2 ahead of it, if only for the kitschy appeal (and job system).

        • Markham Asylum says:

          My bad. You had said several years back that you like it more than most people, which I must have taken to mean that you like it very much.

      • Eliza says:

        I loved the opera scene in 6

    • Fade to Slack says:

      The buzz about Final Fantasy XIV? I would not be surprised if the Playstation 3 version gets canned as the game has hemorrhaged players since its release. The mishandling of the game prior to its release reminds me greatly of Asheron’s Call 2.

      Personally, I still love SquareEnix. I have Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy II, Secret of Mana, and Choas Rings on my iPhone. I have money set aside for Final Fantasy Tactics when it comes out. However, with the exception of Chaos Rings, those titles are all over ten years old. That has to say a little something about the state of SquareEnix and its fanbase.

      Nostalgia can only do so much. Really, it’s like that Janet Jackson song, “What Have You Done for Me Lately?”

      • mulletsaurus says:

        I think it’s a testament to Square’s awesomeness in the 90s that their fanbase sees fit to complain so much. It’s a tantrum of love.

        • Fade to Slack says:

          The same could be said for Capcom and Konami, though, couldn’t it? At least Capcom is trying to make up for some less than stellar years.

          • mulletsaurus says:

            Choosing to ignore their cash-grabbier-than-usual DLC habits, I think that Capcom’s been doing everything right for the most part. Street Fighter IV for shit’s sake! Talk about instant redemption.

            Konami, though… I am somewhat afraid for the new Metal Gear and Silent Hill games. But also full of hopes and dreams.

  2. MKL says:

    Tactics ogre
    The 3rd birthday
    Dissidia 012
    The new tomb raider
    Deus ex 3
    Versus XIII

    How could they not be relevant? Just because some guys on the internet didn’t like their previous final fantasy? What about the pile of other great games they bring?

    Seriously, think before making blogs like this.

    • Fade to Slack says:

      Seriously, you consider these games relevant? Tomb Raider hasn’t been relevant since the 32-bit days and is riding on nostalgia.

      Final Fantasy XIII-2 is rehashing a game that wasn’t hated, but it was fairly panned for a Final Fantasy game.

      You’re obviously a fan. I am, too, but I’m not going to ever refer to anything with the word “Tactics” as a relevant, mainstream title.

      If we really wanted to hate on SquareEnix, we’d mention Front Mission.

    • mulletsaurus says:

      I have high hopes for Versus XIII and Deus Ex is likely to sell like whoa (although that one’s Square strictly by acquisition, right?). The rest of the list is niche.

      It’d be just as easy to draft up a list of reminders of why Square Enix games should be approached with an air of caution… high profile, big budget stuff like MindJack, Front Mission Evolved, Final Fantasy XIV, The Last Remnant, Infinite Undiscovery, Dawn of Mana, Dirge of Cerberus, anything with SaGa in it, the list goes on.

      Point is, a remarkable chunk of Square’s loyal fanbase, the folks who remember the 90s, have been screaming at them to just take things back a little, to a formula more like what established their following to begin with. They don’t listen, and, as of consequence, for many are hinging on irrelevancy.

      • Muimi says:

        I couldnt agree with you more. The route the Square Enix is taking is just sad. The quality of their use to be work is no longer there. I miss KH when it was on the console. They keep letting out these hand held games, I guess to tide us over. FF XIII was a bad game sorry it just was to me it was anyway. I didnt like the song they used at the end Leona Lewis is didnt go… I just feel like for them its all about money now. No longer about how we recieve the game. I-XII were the best then something went wrong. The thing is the something very wrong with Square Enix. I mean Versus XIII better be awesome! Thr stuff that they have been giving us. It’s not just us I have a lot of Japanese friends that live in Japan they didnt like FF XIII either…Said it was boring.Yeah FF XIII may have a lot of sales, but im sure it has al lot of trade ins. And that’s why its only 20 bucks now. Cause it was a really good game like Zelda or something it would be more. Twilight Princess is nearly 30 bucks and look how old it is. Quality is key here..

  3. Fanboy Hater says:

    FFXIII was brilliant, perfect almost!
    Impossible to keep all the fanboys happy.

    • Fade to Slack says:

      Yeah, I liked that part where I ran forward, too…

    • ikecube says:

      “Impossible to keep all the fanboys happy.”

      That statement is true in any context, and I think this is SE’s primary problem.
      Over the course of the series, SE created two types of Final Fantasy games that appeal to two different groups of players, and future titles are unable to appeal to both fanbases equally well.

      Defining the divide is a tricky and much more contentious matter, however. But the obvious and most widely cited divide is between the pre-FFVII players (those like myself who played their first FF title prior to FVII), and those who played FVII as their first.

      The next, and perhaps closely related divide would be the “traditional” RPG style versus the “JRPG” style. Although this would require creating a agreed definition of RPG and JRPG.

      But as “Fanboy Hater” clearly states, it is unlikely we can keep all the fanboy’s happy, whether they prefer the JRPG, started playing before VII, or what have you.

  4. Saviour says:

    Wow… FFXII was the biggest piece of shit. Ask anybody who follow the Final Fantasy series casually and they will say XII was beyond boring and the only one they haven’t completed.

    There is some valid points in the arguments, but to counter argue using a horse’s ass of a game that was as split opinioned as FFXIII is weaksauce.

    • Fade to Slack says:

      “Ask anybody who follow the Final Fantasy series casually and they will say XII was beyond boring and the only one they haven’t completed.”

      Are casual gamers the ones who are playing these games? I don’t think casual gamers are the ones who follow game studios, read game sites, or try to play every Final Fantasy game.

      I’m a casual gamer nowadays. I played through Final Fantasy XII. It was good and not the worst in the series, but I had played Final Fantasy XI before it. I was already accustomed to the MMORPG feel.

      It takes diff’rent strokes to move the world.

  5. Tom Ato says:

    Are Square – Enix relevant anymore? Unless you’re a complete retard you wouldn’t even have to ask that question considering they’re still the second – most successful RPG developer on the planet (Second only to Gamefreak).

    Like it or not, S – E rake in 6 – 7 times the amount of money garbage RPG dev’s like Bioware and Bethesda scrape out of the bin. Final Fantasy XIII sold more than 6 million copies worldwide, more than double what trash like Borderlands and Mass Effect put up.

    Come December millions of REAL gamers will be picking up Final Fantasy XIII – 2 on day 1, eager to play the sequel to the best RPG of this generation. If you would rather be in the minority of weirdos who wants to play a crap game like Mass Effect 3 so you can watch your character having sex with giant blue aliens then be my guest. I can already guarantee you which game will sell more, proving that Final Fantasy is still on the top of the mountain when it comes to home console RPG’s.

    • Markham Asylum says:

      I think you’d have to be completely ignorant to call Oblivion, Fallout 3, and Mass Effect “trash.” Western RPGs are a relatively new breed, meaning their sales are somewhat lower, but those games do many things right that JRPGs don’t, such as higher levels of character customization, more focus on plot development, and a general lack of the androgynous bullshit we’ve seen in most JRPGs since the late 90s.

      Of course Square-Enix sells a ton of copies of even their shittiest games; they’re -the- name in video game role-playing. They have the top spot because they helped invent an entire genre.

      However, now Square-Enix is pretty much like Dungeons & Dragons and Magic: The Gathering. They were revolutionary games that, again, help created entire genres. They’re super-established and continue to generate tons of revenue. There are many games now that trump D&D in the pencil-and-paper category in terms of enjoyability and ease of play, and many that likewise trump Magic amongst collectible card games, but the chances of any of those ever growing more popular than their original ancestor are extremely slim. Many people continue to play them just because they are in the top spot.

      The same is true of Square-Enix. People play their new games not because they are innovative, enjoyable, and possessed of great play mechanics and stories, which most of them are not these days, but because they were made by Square-Enix.

      Being in the top spot does not mean you make the best games.

      • Muimi says:

        AGREE SOOO MUCH! That’s what I do i buy them to see if there is that little hope that this game may be better.

    • Fade to Slack says:

      Perhaps a better question, then, is “How bad does Square suck, nowadays?”

  6. dormantreign says:

    I can tell you where final fantasy went in two words…

    “Lost Odyssey”

  7. Shizuko Linman says:

    Despite the fact that I’m not in agreement with every thing that you’ve claimed, it is really an interesting perspective.

  8. Danny says:

    Squaresoft was always relevant. SquarEnix however could not make a decent Final Fantasy game to save their lives. Enix basically killed the Final Fantasy franchise.

    • Fade to Slack says:

      Honestly, I don’t blame Enix. There was a lot of awful Squaresoft RPGs before the merger. Threads of Fate, Legend of Mana, Front Mission, and the SaGa games were all made by Squaresoft, not Square Enix. Furthermore, Squaresoft kept trying to branch out and failing with games like Ehrgeiz and Bouncer.

      Since we had this discussion, though, Square Enix has once again become relevant through its acquisitions of other gaming companies. Their once heralded position of the best RPG maker in the world, though, seems like a distant memory.

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