When Square and Enix merged back April 1, 2003, it raised a lot of questions of how some of the companies best franchises will fare, and while those alarming questions where met with the release of titles like Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles and Kingdom Hearts, the marriage should have been looked at as a warning of the dangers ahead—a warning that gamers should have noticed a long time ago.
That warning was a loss of structure, self-awareness and an insatiable flavor of games, attributes that the former parent company Square had too much of. Fast forward to today, and we see both the developers and directors of Square-Enix and their loyal gamers are coming to grips with the fact that the company is not where it’s supposed to be. Where they disagree lies in what lead to the decline in the first place.
For Square-Enix, their lack of success is derivative from their fans—and boy, do we know all about that. As if they were cut from the same thread as Capcom, the company released an official report yesterday evening concerning financial results for the 2013 Fiscal Year. It basically explained that the company suffered $60 million in losses. Despite receiving huge thumbs up from gamers and reviews, Square-Enix also recently expressed their disappointment in Hitman: Absolution, Sleeping Dogs and Tomb Raider, because they were unable to reach anticipated sales in units. Compound their “corporate reconstruction” after Yoichi Wada vacated his position as CEO alongside multiple staff layoffs and you have a giant business kick to the crotch. These setbacks, however, are not the primary sources of their financial sterility.
If Square-Enix wants to find the real root of the problem, they should open their eyes and look at how they have presented their content in the last nine years and how they’ve shafted some of masterminds behind their core franchises while flimsily handing those titles off to directors who didn’t know how to construct them with the same flair.
Before the marriage between the two companies, Square had everything going right for them. They practically developed a schematic for RPGs in the 90’s. Sensational titles like Secret of Mana, Chrono Trigger, Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars and the oh-so-famous Final Fantasy VII brought them nothing but gold. During this era, many gaming companies have tried to emulate some of the characteristics that Square had (such as Sega’s Shining Force, Phantasy Star and respectfully HAL Laboratory’s Earthbound) but none of them came remotely close. The company also greatly benefited from other non-RPGs such as Bushido Blade and Parasite Eve. The gameplay from all of these games were well placed, but Square knew how to present an accessible storyline, and that triggered both Western and Japanese consumers wanting more.
Square also had key individuals helped that sparked the success of their most beloved games: Masashi Miyamoto, Hiranobu Sakaguchi and Nobuo Uematsu. Not to take away from the current board of producers and directors present within the company, but even they have to show some appreciation to the founding father of Final Fantasy, one of the best video game music composers and a director who had a vision for the company and made it into reality. It is within these three individuals that lifted Square to be the talk of the industry and despite their sequential leave from the company, their vision seemed to have continued to appear in the company’s content.
Today, not so much. Since the merger, that vision is long gone and has been since games like Final Fantasy X-2 and Drakengard started to appear. These games were not bad, but deep down inside, you can tell something was missing. A certain aesthetic vibe was absent and I would like to think that friends and fellow developers of Sakaguichi and Miyamoto simply just lost touch of how things were. However, the vision never returned as the company went on and thus, we are left with Front Mission Evolved, Final Fantasy XIII and The Last Remnant. Great games, but still a lacking effort.
This is not to say that all games under Square-Enix are lacking that type of style, as the Kingdom Hearts series and The World Ends With You gained quite a reputation for helping the company make a comeback in the industry. The catalyst to that happening was fueled by the fact they these games were developed in-house. If the company is getting salty about how their Westernized games are meeting their unreasonable expectations and if they’re so set on making more money, then maybe that’s where they need to revert to—home.
God forbid they take the ‘go mobile’ route as they have suggested. Alternatively, they need to take a good look in the mirror and figure out what made them so hot in the first place. Let’s remind ourselves that the companies holding the gold for RPGs right now is at somewhat of a tie between Atlus and Bethesda because, conceptually, they’ve stuck with the formula that has brought them most success. Simply put, Square-Enix need to go back to their roots and they need to stay there. Create some games that Sakaguchi and Miyamoto would have wanted to push and execute on the games that are currently in development. They could also give fans what they’ve been craving for the past 7 years. A Final Fantasy VII Remake and Kingdom Hearts 3 would be a logical and solid start.