The State of Square Enix

Posted by TepidShark (1059 posts) -

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.

An example of what could be done with Square Enix HD Collections

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.

#1 Edited by TepidShark (1059 posts) -

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.

An example of what could be done with Square Enix HD Collections

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.

#2 Posted by SlightConfuse (3963 posts) -

They did publish feud ex and tomb raider looks awesome. But they don't seem to know how to handle their rpgs

#3 Edited by Ravenlight (8040 posts) -

I can envision a future where Square-Enix makes the majority of their games for a solely Japanese market and only publishes non-Japanese games.

Regional markets are weird.

@TepidShark said:

Finally, there is Final Fantasy.

Nice one.

#4 Posted by Hailinel (24272 posts) -

It seems like someone is sounding the alarm bells for Square Enix every year, yet the supposedly inevitable death knell never comes.

You seem to forget that they have plenty of franchises that are non-Japanese now. As slightconfuse mentioned, they released Deus Ex: Human Revolution, and there's the Tomb Raider reboot coming next year. Are these games that Eidos would have made regardless of the merger? Yes, perhaps, from playing Human Revolution, I couldn't help but feel a certain Square Enix touch to the proceedings.

#5 Posted by EuanDewar (4873 posts) -
@Hailinel Curious to know what you thought was square enix about Deus ex. I didn't get any of that.
#6 Posted by Hailinel (24272 posts) -

@EuanDewar said:

@Hailinel Curious to know what you thought was square enix about Deus ex. I didn't get any of that.

There was just a general feel to the way the game looks and feels. It's hard to really put into words; it just didn't feel to me as a game that stylistically would have come from a western studio that had no Japanese influence. I also recall an interview from a long while ago where the devs actually mentioned receiving help from Square Enix in certain development aspects. It wasn't a game built in a bubble outside of Square Enix's influence.

#7 Posted by TepidShark (1059 posts) -

@slightconfuse: @Hailinel: I do mention the Eidos stuff in the blog and it seems to me that that is what is keeping them afloat. Even though they are putting that stuff out, I still feel that Square Enix thinks from a Japanese mindset, and as far as they are concerned they see Japanese stuff is their bread and butter which used to be the case, but not really anymore. It just seems like a whole different company is putting the former Eidos stuff out, then the company that is putting out the Japanese stuff. Yes, they are the same company but it still doesn't feel that way.

#8 Edited by HumanityPlague (251 posts) -

I saw the recent Joystiq article about how FF needs even more releases (

here

) which is...frankly crazy. Trying to equate Final Fantasy with Modern Warfare is the most bonkers thing you could really think of. Those games (annualized franchises) work primarily because they're based on a solid framework, and every year they improve (or at least try/give the illusion of trying) on the framework. I'm speaking in generalities here, but you get my drift. There's NO common frameworks in Final Fantasy at all. Or, if there are, they're spread over like 4 different platforms (Consoles, Cell phones, Portable devices, and cell phones again...because Square is dumb). Here's three reasons why: 1. With their current FF 13 clusterfucktastic idea of making 2-4 games alongside it, you have to start with a good game, to begin with. FF 13 isn't great (just going by reviews, but still). So, starting your spin-off series on a shaky platform, isn't a good start. 2. Because FF 14 already came out, no one cared, and they're trying to save face. And finally 3. Does anyone have any real belief that quicker (in development) FF games would be better? It would just make quicker, mediocre games, which hey, they seem pretty intent on doing all on their own. I guess if they just want to lose money, go ahead.

Three things to help Square get on the right track:

1. Kingdom Hearts 3 on 360/PS3. No more of this stupid portable/cell-phone shit. A real KH3, fully voiced, great looking, fun battle system. NO CARDS. NO AMNESIA. NO PREQUEL BULLSHIT. Continue the story.

2. Vagrant Story 2/Parasite Eve 3 on 360/PS3 (see no. 1 for reasons why)

3. Give Final Fantasy a break. Hell, Giant Bomb awarded you guys the "Take a break award" in 2010. Take that to heart. Take a few years off, come up with some new, interesting, fun ideas, and put them in a game. Also, the dude who gives every bad guy in Final Fantasy, the most improbable, batshit, hair-style? Cut off his hands. He's done.

On the flip side, (and this is only funny to me), I kind of want them just to continue to drive the FF name deeper into the ground. When they announce Final Fantasy 15, then FF 16, and so on, I kind of look at it with quiet irony. It's hard to be "final" when you're working on the 15th (in just the big-boy franchise), of anything.

#9 Posted by Hailinel (24272 posts) -

@TepidShark said:

@slightconfuse: @Hailinel: I do mention the Eidos stuff in the blog and it seems to me that that is what is keeping them afloat. Even though they are putting that stuff out, I still feel that Square Enix thinks from a Japanese mindset, and as far as they are concerned they see Japanese stuff is their bread and butter which used to be the case, but not really anymore. It just seems like a whole different company is putting the former Eidos stuff out, then the company that is putting out the Japanese stuff. Yes, they are the same company but it still doesn't feel that way.

They're still the same company, though. To judge Square Enix based purely on a fraction of their current output is misleading.

#10 Edited by TepidShark (1059 posts) -

@Hailinel: Granted I am not an economist, but it seems to me that the Japanese stuff like FF 13 is taking longer to develop therefore the budgets on those are ballooning out of control. So if you are looking at the company from a whole, the Japanese stuff could eventually cause issues financially if the Japanese budgets continue to get further out of hand. So since it is part of the same pot if the whole company were to go down, the ex-Eidos stuff would go with it. It is all connected.

#11 Posted by Hailinel (24272 posts) -

@TepidShark said:

@Hailinel: Granted I am not an economist, but it seems to me that the Japanese stuff like FF 13 is taking longer to develop therefore the budgets are much bigger then the western stuff. So if you are looking at the company from a whole, the Japanese stuff could eventually cause issues financially. So since it is part of the same pot if the whole company were to go down, the ex-Eidos stuff would go with it.

Final Fantasy XIII actually sold incredibly well for the company and it's budget therefore wasn't an issue. Just because it took longer than normal to develop doesn't mean that there was any loss associated with it.

#12 Posted by MikkaQ (10278 posts) -

I can see them getting more into publishing and less into developing. I could easily see them picking up more western developers to increase their market penetration here.

#13 Posted by WMoyer83 (633 posts) -

I'm totally on board with you in regards to the HD remakes. SquareEnix could definitely inject some revenue back into the company.

#14 Posted by Hailinel (24272 posts) -

@HumanityPlague: There already is a Parasite Eve 3. Square Enix can't call it that for legal reasons, though.

#15 Posted by Dagbiker (6957 posts) -

They can always do a reboot of startopia. Square Enix is one of the strongest company's out there, first the merger with Enix in 2003 i remember hating that and, at the time thinking that square was going down the toilet. then, in recent years taking over Edios, who was not doing to well. If need be they would sell some of the IP's they arnt using, or dont want to build themselves first. but as of now sqenix is doing just fine.

#16 Posted by GTCknight (691 posts) -

After having played Deus Ex: Human Revolution (which I really enjoyed) I feel that I would like them to stop making games and only publish them. Unless of course they vow to stop making Final Fantasy for a very long time.

Think of it this way, if you like Final Fantasy then Square Enix not making one almost every year would let them try out some actually new (and hopefully good) ideas. Also, even though I know the origin of the name I still wish they would just end the franchise. However, that's my anti-Final Fantasy self talking.

#17 Posted by Hypertreb (104 posts) -

I thought that Square Enix would jump at the chance to make a collection game. It's sad a company like that, with so many great past titles, not re-releasing them for the next generation. It used to be Final Fantasy was the one big RPG for everyone, and RPG fans would be all over every game in the series, but they have seems to move on to, lets face it, more advanced RPG's, whether there from Bethesda or Nippon Ichi.

I hate to repeat this, and I know it's been said so many times, but there's reason for that. Square needs to remake Final Fantasy 7. It will save them financially.

#18 Posted by Dagbiker (6957 posts) -
#19 Posted by Faint (833 posts) -
It's painful for me to see what has happened to this company. I've wanted to be a games designer since I was 10 years old. I'm 20 this week, I've just completed my first year of Games Design at University, and am still pursuing that boyhood dream. However, part of that dream used to also include working for Square. As of right now, I'd like nothing to do with them.
 
The problems that stick out to me like a sore thumb: 
 
Final Fantasy XIII critically was a flop. The sales overall weren't too bad, but I bought 13, and won't be buying the sequel. ie. their numbers will drop off on the next game, because the last wasn't very good. This is worrying as FFX was a critical and commercial success, and sales still dropped off significantly with FFX-2. X-2 was also panned for the direction it took the story of the world of Spira. Keeping in mind I already thought the world in FFXIII was tripe, I don't even want to see what XIII-2 will be like. At best we're hoping for a half decent game, but I just don't see it (this is from someone who has been a lifelong fan of the series who has played every one except the subscription-based online entries, let alone trying to bring in new fans to purchase their products). Not only did the 'next-gen' Final Fantasy fail in terms of providing adequate, engaging game mechanics, but it barely even FELT like a Final Fantasy game. What elements Square think represent the FF product name, are not what I the consumer think are the strengths of the series.
 
There is no Next-Gen Kingdom Hearts. KH1 and 2 were big successes for Square Enix, and amongst the stand out titles of the PS2 era. Since then all we've seen is spin off after spin off after spin off, well past the point of what the general consumer will tolerate. I was really into the story of the series, now I don't even care to youtube a playthrough of the portable entries to see where everything is going. KH3 on PS3 (perhaps also 360?) needed to be in the works for years now.
 
Final Fantasy Versus XIII is still not out. Most consumers were more intrigued by the look of Versus XIII than Final Fantasy XIII. The game has been in production so long now, it would be hard to see how the company would make money on it. It also begs the question as to whether the idea they have for the game is even adequate that it would take this long to put it together, from a company that has been falling at every hurdle in recent memory. 
 
Square Enix games are no longer considered major game releases by the consumer. When Final Fantasy X came out for PS2, or even VII on the PS1, they were major releases on the console. Who actually thinks Final Fantasy XIII-2 is an important release on consoles? Honestly.
 
On this particular point, I'm just stating entirely my personal opinion, but I was disappointed that there was no Dragon Quest major release on at least PS3 and maybe 360 as well (as is the trend this gen). I understand that DQIX on DS did well for the company, in contrast to most of their other releases, but I was a big fan of DQ8 and wanted a next gen console follow up.
 
Does the consumer really want an FF7 remake now? If they're smart, no. Why? because who honestly believes they would do a good job of it at this point in time, after games like Final Fantasy XIII?
 
@HumanityPlague: I'm not sure if you know, but the reason the series is called Final Fantasy is because the first in the series was intended to be the company's final game. Sure the title is ironic now, but it is a constant shout back to success from almost going under.
#20 Posted by Addfwyn (1917 posts) -

Maybe it's because I am looking at it from the perspective of a Japanese consumer, but SE remains one of my favourite companies, and I still anticipate their releases more than most any other company. FFXIII was different, certainly, but so is every FF really, it's one of the hallmarks of the series. It's one of the reasons so many people have different favourite Final Fantasies, because they all focus on different things and have often radically different combat systems. Despite that, I actually enjoyed the streamlined nature of FFXIII, it took out a lot of things I don't like with RPGs and focused on the more linear guided story experience. For me, that's a great thing, but for somebody who prefers more open-ended non-linear games I can see why they'd want something else. Not to mention the phenomenal combat in XIII, though I understand not everyone is looking for the combat/gameplay in their RPGs, some are more interested in JUST story. I know quite a few people here greatly enjoyed XIII, and a lot of people are anticipating XIII-2 (Myself included, though the sequel probably won't match XIII's stellar numbers). Not quite sure why this trend of calling it a critical flop came from, it was reviewed exceptionally well from what I remember, and sold insanely well. I remember it being the best RPG ever in some polls, though I'm not quite sure I'd rate it that high. I know places that didn't review it well of course, but I know a lot more that heaped praise on it. Even the worst review I remember reading had nothing but praise for the combat. Even in the case of the worst reviews, they seemed to just be approaching it as the wrong genre, which is totally understandable given the lack of RPGs out these days.

The biggest problem I've seen is that RPGs seem to be trended towards portables, due to how much better portable systems have sold over consoles. As a result, you're not really seeing big console RPGs anymore like you did with the PS2, you see most of those on the PSP (or sometimes the DS). It's a pretty big disappointment to me, as even though I love my portable systems, I miss the days of big console release RPGs too.

So I guess I'd like to see less re-releases and remakes, and more original console content. Volume of releases seems down, with the industry and economy being tough all around. The decreased volume of releases outside of portables certainly makes it seem like there's a lot less out there than there could be.

#21 Posted by HumanityPlague (251 posts) -
@Hailinel: The Third Birthday doesn't count for anything...ever...in the history of time & space.
#22 Posted by Loopah (133 posts) -

Great post! As a huge SE fan myself I can see where a lot of your points are coming from and agree with a lot of them. I am very worried for SE in an almost selfish way. I do not think SE is going anywhere anytime soon. They still make great games in my opinion. Yes, maybe the road has been rocky for the past few years but how can you beat what they did during the PS1 generation? That is a lot to live up to!

My main concern, is that SE will get to the point where they will just stop bringing their RPGs out of Japan. As a very big fan of JRPGs myself, I am starting to get a little scared that the recent rise of the western market and the downfall of traditional JP games in America will lead to Japan doing two things. One, some JP developers will start to bridge the gap and make games with more western qualities and tendencies. And two, other JP developers will stick to the JP traditional game design roots (which I still absolutely love), but will keep those games in Japan only.

As a gamer, that generally enjoys a good Japanese developed game over a good American developed game, this has me worried a little bit. I don't want there to be a day where I can't play a Final Fantasy or any other JRPG because I can't read Japanese or don't want to import the game. I believe with the way the western market is picking up and the Japanese market is becoming more segregated, this could be a major issue in the coming generation. We'll see...

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