Much has been made about how hard of a time the video game industry in Japan has had it this generation. It seems to me that Keiji Inafune (Mega Man, Onimusha, Dead Rising) is the only one on the Japanese side who understands how much trouble they are in. Yet, when he spoke out about this, most of the game industry in Japan laughed at him. But what they do not realize is that he was right. This generation, for the most part, has seen the rise of western games, and the slow downfall of Japan in the games market. That is kind of a shame, because no one makes games like Japan does.
I feel no Japanese game company is stuck in the past more then Square Enix. When it comes to Square Enix and me, I admit that the only series they put out that I am actually interested in is Kingdom Hearts. Yet, while I do not claim to have any knowledge of the business of the video game industry, from the outside, I look at the way they run their operation and think it is being run by crazy people. I remember Square Enix saying at one point that the three pillars of company would be Dragon Quest, Kingdom Hearts, and Final Fantasy. However, this generation and its long development times have proved that that business plan does not work anymore, but no one seems to have let Square Enix know that.
Dragon Quest is a huge franchise in Japan, so popular that they cannot release it on weekdays because no one will go to school if they do. Following the Square and Enix merger, one of their goals was to increase Dragon Quest’s popularity worldwide. They made a huge push with Dragon Quest 8. They made a few changes to make the game appealing to western audiences. They even included a demo for the then unreleased Final Fantasy 12 in the package. It did not matter though, as not many in the west cared about the game. Since then Dragon Quest 9 was a DS game, and the upcoming Dragon Quest 10 for the Wii and Wii U is an MMO.
Kingdom Hearts and its follow-up Kingdom Hearts 2 were insanely well–liked. In fact, the first Kingdom Hearts was Square Enix’s highest selling PS2 game in North America (worldwide it was Final Fantasy 10). 2008 was the last time to date Kingdom Hearts graced the consoles with the North American only release of Re: Chain of Memories, and since then the series has been a series for portable systems. While I feel Birth by Sleep for the PSP was a great game that is on the level of Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts 2, most people believe, like the other portable games, that it is just another spin-off. This kind of misconception cannot be good when it comes to sales. Plus, since less and less people are playing portables, I would imagine that, since it has such long time since the last major console game, people (especially who do not follow video games that closely) might not even remember what Kingdom Hearts is.
Finally, there is Final Fantasy. The three major Final Fantasy games (Final Fantasy 11 not being one of them) were easily the biggest successes for them worldwide on the PS2. So it was not surprising that when this console cycle began that Final Fantasy would be the franchise they would lead with. They announced Fabula Nova Crystallis, a massive project that included two PS3 games and a cell phone game (later turned PSP game and dropped from the project). However, Final Fantasy XIII (like Metal Gear Solid 4) seemed to take longer then they expected, to the point where I wondered if that was a game that would actually be released. I did think it was smart of them to release the game on 360 as well. When the game was finally released in 2010 (about four years after it was announced) it sold pretty well, critics blasted it as being the epitome of dated game design. It makes one wonder if it was worth all the effort. Now they working on Final Fantasy 13-2, but I just do not know if the general public is really interested.
Meanwhile the Kingdom Hearts team is making yet another game in the project titled Final Fantasy Versus 13. Announced around the same time as Final Fantasy 13, the game has had the same troubled development as that game. In fact, it was never confirmed, but it is widely believed that because Final Fantasy 13 was having such problems that staff from Versus had to go over to that team to make sure the game got finished. It is only recently that Tetsuya Nomura has announced the game had entered full development. The game is still currently a PS3 exclusive, but I seriously doubt that will remain the case.
So here we are. Many are expecting this generation to be over in 2013, and Square Enix has put out one game in only one of the franchises out of three that they said would be the pillars of the company on the two major consoles. It seems they continue to live in a world where their games are the biggest event worldwide, and that is just not the case anymore. In fact, had they not bought Eidos, I think they would be much worse off then they are.
What can they do? I feel they actually have the most to gain from this recent trend of HD remakes. Sure they plan to do Final Fantasy 10 HD, but they need to go further than that. From what see there are at least three HD collections they could put out: Final Fantasy 10 Collection (10 and 10-2), Kingdom Hearts Collection (Kingdom Hearts, Re: Chain of Memories, 2, and Birth by Sleep), and Compilation of Final Fantasy 7 Collection (Dirge of Cerberus and Crisis Core). Plus, they could also do Final Fantasy Type-0, Final Fantasy 12 and Dragon Quest 8 as HD versions as well. Yet, what Square Enix has that no one else has is International Versions/Final Mixes that no one outside of Japan has played. If they put those out in North America and Europe, made an effort to market that those were versions North America and Europe have never played before, that could be huge for them.
As far as new games go, they will eventually put out Final Fantasy 13-2 and Versus 13. Then the way Kingdom Hearts has been going I would expect Kingdom Hearts 3 to happen but probably on the next consoles. However, following that I strongly feel that Square Enix should take a long hard look at how they make games and run their business. The industry is moving towards a worldwide mindset, whereas Square Enix still runs with a Japanese mindset. They will need to change their operation or they will be in for a rude awakening in a few years.