By ZombiePie 19 Comments
WARNING! There are moderate spoilers for Final Fantasy VII Remake in this Blog! You have been warned!
As this blog's title might suggest, I think the next two years for Square-Enix will prove exciting. After Final Fantasy VII Remake sold like hotcakes, the studio is riding a newfound high regarding its internal development. This success was complemented by the reveal of Final Fantasy XVI and the thrilling news of Naoki Yoshida helming a non-MMORPG entry in the franchise. However, that doesn't mean things are all "rosy" in the land of Square-Enix. Marvel's Avengers has been a slow-moving train wreck with recurring issues concerning content updates, and. Add all this together, and Square-Enix finds itself in an odd position. Their aspirations to convert the critical acclaim of Final Fantasy VII Remake into mainstream success and acceptance in the industry is all but known. Yet, when Square shoots for the stars, we know it can sometimes lead to disaster.
However, there are two things I want to get out of the way in this preamble before we jump into my "predictions." First, I don't think Square-Enix is working on a remaster of Crisis Core. I think Final Fantasy VII Remake's ending firmly establishes a new continuity where Square-Enix can work with the game's cast and world carte blanche. If they were to throw in a game that reminds people of the "old" continuity, it would immediately muddy the waters. Second, Square-Enix is busy micro-managing multiple projects that each require a considerable amount of time and patience. That is why you will notice I am not predicting any announcements about full-fledged new console game projects. The studio already has Final Fantasy XVI and the second episode of VII Remake on its plate. Likewise, their MMO branch is busy working on additional story content for Final Fantasy XI AND XIV. So, unless you want tri-Ace to helm a major Final Fantasy project, and you shouldn't, you are going to have to wait.
With all of that in mind, it is worth mentioning that the internet scuttlebutt is Square-Enix has a couple of big announcements planned for February and possibly March. With this blog, I will muse over what I think those announcements might be while maintaining some semblance of pragmatism. Speaking of which, I wish to issue a bit of a disclaimer. This blog is being written from a fan's perspective. I have no formal or professional sources to ensure anything I am predicting will actually happen. Likewise, for a handful of my predictions, I am shooting for the stars and am hoping for things that cannot possibly or reasonably occur. Again, this is all in the name of good fun, and I welcome you to join me in this exercise. All I ask is that you remember that nothing I am saying should be taken too seriously. Similarly, should anything I conjecture come true, I should receive zero credit.
Prediction #1: The First Soldier Is A VR Game & Ever Crisis Is A Mobile Game
When various circles reported on a batch of trademarks from Square-Enix a while back, I went into them with tempered expectations and found my expectations relatively met. All of the trademarks are generalized game and multimedia patents registering themselves for anything ranging from commemorative magnets and pins to jewel box CD-ROMs. As someone who has been following Square-Enix's developmental projects for a while, the only thing exceptional about these patents is they include "virtual reality game software" on top of the expected electronic applied machinery patents. Admittedly, Square started doing this way back with Final Fantasy XV, and they made good on that patent with a VR technical demo to promote the game to the public. That is why I predict that "First Soldier" will be some sword-based slashing VR game where you play as either Sephiroth or Zack and follow either's adventures leading up to the "Nibelheim Incident." Nothing too flashy or anything we haven't seen before, but as I mentioned earlier, Square-Enix isn't exactly in a position to make a proper remake of Crisis Core or invest the time and effort into an especially compelling prequel to VII Remake.
That said, I can say with some certainty that at least one of these projects will be a mobile game. Mobile development is the one division of Square-Enix that continues to grow every year, and it is an underreported behemoth when it comes to making the studio money. With a name like "Ever Crisis," I think Square is throwing a bone to the very vocal thousands of fans who followed and continue to call for a remake of Before Crisis. However, I do not think for a minute that Ever Crisis is going to be a shot-for-shot remake of Before Crisis. Instead, I think what is more likely to happen is that Tetsuya Nomura will get out his Final Fantasy VII coloring book and work on a project starring his favorite group of characters, The Turks. In this game, you're going to follow a random assortment of Turks that allow Nomura to inject a lethal dose of zippers and leather belts into the VII Remake's continuity. In fact, I think that's the point with these newly registered trademarks: Square-Enix wants to add more media to the new continuity they have created with VII Remake rather than remaster old projects that are more in service of the original game's continuity.
Prediction #2: The Most Square-Enix Shows Of Final Fantasy VII Remake Part 2 Is One Teaser Trailer With No Gameplay
With Final Fantasy VII Remake taking many by surprise and Square-Enix collecting a good number of GOTY commendations, a lot of people have projected ambitious goals for the studio regarding the next "episode." I think it is wholly unrealistic to expect the developer to churn out significant revelations about Part Two less than a year after the first episode's release. Admittedly, I don't think Square-Enix will show nothing this year because they cannot afford Remake's troubled development cycle a second time. However, I do believe it isn't sensible to believe they will establish the scope and sequence of a massive AAA game they are actively developing as we speak. Shit, they STILL haven't addressed the big "elephant in the room" when it comes to Part 2's next steps. That burning question being if the second episode will either: a) follow the events of the original OR b) completely disregard the structure of the original and blaze its own path. With this crucial question still in play, I think the most Square will show is a CG trailer reconveying the events of the "Nibelheim Incident," with the last visual of the teaser being THAT SHOT of Sephiroth.
I cannot emphasize enough, this "inflection point" that Square-Enix has boxed themselves into is nothing to scoff at in a blase manner. If you are asking me, it is my theory the last two chapters of Remake send a clear message that the next episode(s) will be very different, and anything is possible. I do not even think there's a guarantee Part Two will even feature the Golden Saucer or North Corel. One of the original Final Fantasy VII's selling points was its massive world. Final Fantasy VII Remake would not benefit from such an open world and instead begs for guided level design so it can dole out scripted character-based set pieces. Likewise, as someone who genuinely prefers playing Final Fantasy VII Remake in real-time, there are a ton of gameplay and mechanical trappings from the original that Square-Enix needs to throw in the trash. I swear, if we see any gameplay of episode two this or next year, and there's a world map, I will think they have thoroughly fucked up. But, I don't know if Kitase and Nomura have it within them to challenge their audience and NOT create a shot-by-shot retelling. And this is just the tip of the iceberg; I think there are SEVERAL existential discussions to be had before they show a single teaser trailer. As a result, I don't think we will see much of Episode Two for years.
Otherwise, do people think Square-Enix will decide whether the next episode will have an overworld versus some real-time world exploration system in less than a year? How is that in any way a reasonable expectation? Square-Enix can barely wrap their mind around consistent character designs or outfits, let alone fundamental gameplay decisions they will need to make now that Cloud and company are out of Midgar! I have said it before, but recreating Midgar is the "easy part" of Final Fantasy VII Remake. Dealing with the Golden Saucer, Junon Parade, Temple of the Ancients, or Northern Crater, should they decide to feature such levels, will be ten times harder, and I think Square-Enix knows that. Logically speaking, the second episode should take place at Calm, likely starting with a flashback to Cloud's first telling of the events at Nibelheim. In this scenario, it would make sense for Part 2 to stop at Junon Harbor with the planet's summoning of the Weapons. People saying episode two will get to the Northern Crater are CRAZY PEOPLE who expect way too much of Square-Enix and don't understand how game development works. Again, that is all contingent Episode 2 follows in the footsteps of the original game, which I don't think is a sure bet.
Prediction #3: Final Fantasy XVI Gets A Weird Playable Demo Similar To Final Fantasy XV
Alright, hear me out for this prediction before you laugh at my face. Yes, it feels like Square-Enix announced Final Fantasy XVI yesterday, and the game is bound to be barely past the alpha stages of development at this point. However, if Final Fantasy XV is any metric for the non-MMO Final Fantasy games' future, I think a sliver of Final Fantasy XVI is bound to reach the public either this or next year. Remember, years before the official console release of Final Fantasy XV, Square-Enix released a playable "technical demo" which allowed players to toggle weather effects and pop-off summons in visually stunning backdrops with little connection to the actual story. At the time, Square-Enix's experiment paid off with people being enamored by XV's visuals and flashy real-time combat systems, and you'd be hard-pressed to think they're not bound to do the same with Final Fantasy XVI. Fuck, I wouldn't put it past Square-Enix to have Final Fantasy XVI enter "Early Access" next year and stay there for half a decade before "officially" launching.
Plus, we have to consider the big-name Square-Enix is putting behind Final Fantasy XVI to get long-time fans back on-board with numbered entries of the series: Naoki Yoshida. Yoshi-P's whole schtick is making the development process of everything he works on as transparent as possible to fans. It would be incredibly foolish if Square-Enix, to maintain the "mystery" of Final Fantasy's developmental process, prevented Naoki Yoshida from being the Yoshi-P that has engendered himself to millions of people. The "fireside chats" that assuaged concerned Final Fantasy XIV fans during their game's darkest days? Yeah, do that shit for Final Fantasy XVI! Besides, Square almost has to do this, given that the Final Fantasy XIV team that is joining Naoki Yoshida has proven they work best when they receive player input in real-time. Yoshi-P has shown time and time again that he is more of a reactionary developer than a proactive one. Yes, he deserves credit for revolutionizing the MMORPG landscape, but that came on the heels of massive community input and feedback. So, let the guy and his team make a bunch of high-concept sandboxes and let them level with their fans to see which ideas stick.
Prediction #4: PC And Xbox Series X/S Versions Of Final Fantasy VII Remake Get Announced
Of my predictions, this is the one I am confident is going to happen. There is no logical reason for Square-Enix to let the timed exclusivity of Final Fantasy VII Remake lapse in April 2021 and NOT immediately announce new console and PC releases. It makes no sense unless Square-Enix GETS PAID to renew that exclusivity contract in perpetuity, and I do not think that's happening. The game was one of the biggest releases of 2020, and that price tag is bound to be high enough Sony will not payout, or Square-Enix is not motivated to take their money. Unless they , letting the game remain a console exclusive makes no goddamn sense. Sure, Sony might hedge their bets and buy the next-gen console exclusivity rights, but I highly doubt they'd also buy out the rights to block the game from releasing on PC. Nonetheless, the game was such a massive success I think they are bound to cast a large net and announce Xbox and PC versions this year. Though, I highly doubt the game will ever grace a Nintendo platform. Even the most diehard PlayStation fans can deny Square-Enix needs the money from added console sales to offset their other losses from 2020, which, mark my words, we will discuss shortly.
This is around the time when some people cite console sales numbers or suggest Square-Enix is still holding on to some notion of the 90's era system wars. To that, I point to my physical copy of the Nintendo Switch combo pack for Final Fantasy VII & VIII. If Square-Enix gave a FUCK about their "allegiance" to Sony, why the fuck can I play OG Final Fantasy VII on virtually everything, including my mother's LG smart refrigerator? . Furthermore,. It means Square-Enix can shore up more funds to add in bigger and better stuff for the next game, and it ensures the franchise remains in the zeitgeist even when it is not launching new titles. If holding on to some notion of yesteryear's console wars is what keeps you alive, shit, more power to you. Nevertheless, I am genuinely excited to talk about Final Fantasy VII Remake with more friends and family members if it becomes more easily accessible.
Prediction: #5: Theatrhythm Final Fantasy Switch Port & All Of The DS Ports Of Classic Final Fantasy Games Are Coming To Various Online Shops
Earlier, I suggested I had severe doubts about Square-Enix announcing a Switch port of Final Fantasy VII Remake, but that does not mean I think Switch owners will be left in the lurch. That said, I don't think the company has anything too surprising for Switch owners, and their recent activity on the platform is a tell-tale sign. As some of you may recall, the last time we had a proper E3, Square-Enix spent 80% of their press conference announcing remakes and remasters of their past games for the Switch (i.e., SaGa Frontier & Crystal Chronicles). However, if you search "Final Fantasy" on the online Switch marketplace, you'll notice things are a bit barren. In 2021 I expect the "enhanced remasters" of III, IV, V, and VI to hit the digital Switch store. The remasters of III and IV are no-brainers as those enhanced remakes launched on the DS, and there's a precedent for former DS titles appearing on the Switch store. The V and VI releases are bound to be the awful iOS/Android ports, even though it would be better for Square-Enix to release the original SNES versions. Mark my words, if any of these games come to the Switch, NONE OF THEM will be the original NES or SNES versions because Square-Enix hates releasing the versions of games people want to play.
I'm also going to include Theatrhythm Final Fantasy on a wing and a prayer. Theatrhythm Final Fantasy is one of the few rhythm games I enjoy outside of Rock Band and Guitar Hero, and nowadays, it is becoming increasingly harder to play. With the state of EVERY Nintendo-based online marketplace at risk of evaporating and the iOS version of the game shutting down, . As suggested, there is a trend of DS and 3DS titles coming out on the Switch, but in the case of Theatrhythm Final Fantasy, I think Square-Enix should pull out all the stops in a total remaster that takes advantage of the Switch's hardware. The touch-based rhythm mechanics are an almost perfect fit for the console, and there's plenty of DLC potential if that tickles Square-Enix's fancy. Slight tangent, but if you live near a Round 1 entertainment complex, you should consider seeing if your location has the Theatrhythm arcade game after the pandemic. I can safely say it is one of the best arcade games I have played in at least twenty years, and there are exciting mechanics in it worth exploring. For example, I hope the multiplayer modes and online leaderboards from that version translate into a possible Switch port, as adding them would increase the game's longevity exponentially.
Prediction #6: Square Remains Committed to Marvel's Avengers Regardless Of It Being A Money Sink
We transition from the fun and exciting predictions to the giant skeleton in Square-Enix's closet, Marvel's Avengers. Without a doubt, the game had a rocky launch and still has not yet "turned things around" when it comes to its dwindling online community. To say Marvel's Avengers was a "disaster" is both unfair to the game and an understatement of Square's folly. Back in November of 2020, Square-Enix revealed to its shareholders Marvel's Avengers had not "recouped its cost," which came as no surprise to those following the game. Nonetheless, that same year-to-date business brief asserted that Square-Enix was not giving up on the game, and they maintained next-generation console ports could turn things around. Whether or not you believe Square's authenticity or even that their claim is possible, we know for a fact Crystal Dynamics has not stopped development on the game, and new updates are right around the corner. So, for whatever reason, Square-Enix is letting Crystal Dynamics have another solid stab at reviving the game and its community.
My guess, and this is only my very humble and smug guess, is the game goes free to play at some point this or next year. The "base game" will go "free," and all additional content gets packaged in DLC or microtransactions. Furthermore, there's something to be said about Marvel's Avengers getting on GamePass or PS+ to build up its player base. The logical thing to do in my mind is put the game on GamePass or PS+ for about six months and get some front and center advertising on said platforms. Then, after more people check out the game, pull it, but complement this with the announcement of a F2P version. And before anyone freaks out at me; I'm more or less talking about a free to play model similar to most non-World of Warcraft MMORPGs. Make a good chunk of the game "free," but have late-game content and more obscure characters and costumes locked behind a paywall. Yes, this is exactly what Square did with Final Fantasy XIV. The fact Square-Enix has pulled this off before is why I am not entirely ready to discount Marvel's Avengers pulling off a comeback.
Prediction #7: Massive Layoffs At Square Enix Europe; Crystal Dynamics Is Shuttered
Square-Enix's management of Square Enix Europe, formerly Eidos Interactive, continues to be one of the weirdest recurring storylines in the video game industry. When Square first purchased Eidos way back in 2009, it was seen as a "power move" and their attempt to compete against North American and European publishers in the industry. Since then, while the titles published by Edios have been mainly good, Square-Enix's self-inflicted wounds have plagued their repeated attempts at competing against the likes of Activision or EA. The revived Tomb Raider games don't get the proper credit I think they deserve in striking a balance between the old school ideals of the series's past with new era sensibilities. Nonetheless, Square-Enix's inability to properly promote any of the prequel games and instead relying on word of mouth doomed all three game's chances of meeting their ridiculous sales targets. The same sentiment applies to the revived Deus Ex games, and let's not forget their meddlesome insistence that Hitman (2016) needed to be episodic. Speaking of which, .
Under the backdrop of Vicarious Visions losing their independence or Gearbox selling out to a larger holding company, I cannot fathom a world where some restructuring does not occur at Square-Enix Europe. It will not surprise me if this year Eidos' former development teams hard pivot to become high-poly render farms for cinematics on future Kingdom Hearts games. It is important to note, the North American divisions of Square-Enix experienced a massive restructuring effort way back in 2014. Nonetheless, what all of this means is that a ton of legacy IPs are wallowing away with no signs of that changing. The fact Square-Enix Europe doesn't have any Deus Ex project in active development while the cyberpunk theme is at an all-time high is a massive wasted opportunity. And with open-world and massively multiplayer online sandbox games more popular than ever, I have to ask, where the fuck is the next Just Cause game? The Thief, Tomb Raider, and Legacy of Kain IPs are just sitting there waiting for something to happen to them. Yet, none of these games have seen any movement in years, and that suggests a level of disfunction I think even Square-Enix HQ can see. But with that, I think we will "call it" for this blog.