By ZombiePie 12 Comments
A Disclaimer From The Author
First, I want to start this blog with a public disclaimer. If you are looking for an objective perspective about Square-Enix's presence at E3 2019, you should look elsewhere. While my love for Square-Enix is a recent development, objectivity on my part is not possible. Thus, if you are looking for reasoned coverage of the major presentations, might I recommend Gamer_152's E3 blog series. Second, I do not plan to cover any other E3 press conferences. This concession is not a condemnation of the content of the previous and subsequent E3 press conferences. Instead, it is a hallmark of my inability to work through my recurring issues with procrastination.
To make my biases more visible, I thought Square-Enix had a solid E3 conference. They showcased an extensive family of games which played to their core fanbase with a few attempts at mainstream credibility. Until the presser's questionable end, I would even go so far as to suggest it was one of the better "paced" conferences. While Microsoft and Bethesda both showcased more impactful games, I think Square-Enix did a better job of avoiding "dead time." That is not to suggest Square-Enix's performance was perfect. For one thing, I do not believe I have ever seen a publisher miss so horribly on its conference showstopper. Nevertheless, let's jump into my review of the major announcements from their conference!
The Final Fantasy VII Remake Represents The Best And Worst Of Square
Before I give the Final Fantasy VII Remake a fair share of criticism, I have to concede it had a more than decent showing at E3. Midgar continues to look spectacular, and I have no grievances with the new character models. As someone who wasn't a fan of the Advent Children character models, I support the Remake's artistic "revisions." My positive sentimentality also applies to what I have seen of the Remake's gameplay. I'm glad Square-Enix isn't merely copying and pasting the combat system from Final Fantasy XV as I initially feared. Instead, the combat embraces the flashy visual style of Final Fantasy XV while honoring the hallmarks of the original game in its UI and pace of play.
Nonetheless, I have some general reservations about the state of the Final Fantasy VII Remake. First, Square is not commenting on a stable release schedule for future episodes. Additionally, there's no clear picture of how the episodic format will impact the overall game. Regarding the first matter, I fear Square-Enix is giving fans the runaround about the Remake's "true" state of completion. The vast majority of what Square has shown has involved Midgar, and the early gameplay mechanics you have at your disposal there. As such, we have yet to see characters summon deities, or play around with the Materia system. Additionally, due to the first episode's focus on Midgar, we have yet to see any representation of the game's overworld or optional side quests. What Square has shown are tightly edited cinematics with the Final Fantasy VII characters we all know and love, fighting foes behind familiar backdrops. Unfortunately, to me, that feels like a glorified dog and pony show.
This issue inevitably leads me to my second point of contention. Square only showcasing Midgar might be a deliberate choice because it presents the most straightforward and least controversial portion of the game to remake. Side quests are few and far between at Midgar, and while the level's scope initially appears enormous, it is one of the game's more linear environments. This fact presents a significant hazard for the Remake's subsequent episodes for several reasons. First, upon the game's second act, it strings you through a series of interstitial levels that lack any real staying power. While many fans are apt to point out the Golden Saucer or North Corel, they are equally inclined to forget about Bone Village, Kalm, or Mideel. While Midgar is rightfully what most people remember about Final Fantasy VII, it represents at most a quarter of your overall playtime.
Finally, I have to question the long-term viability of the episodic format. Square has been perpetually cagey when asked about how saves will communicate between each episode, and this reluctance is incredibly concerning. Most people forget, but the minute you leave Midgar, Final Fantasy VII becomes a proto-open world RPG. When the game gives you access to its overworld, you can explore your surroundings at your own pace. The question here is whether or not Square will provide players with this freedom or instead graft a more linear format to the Remake. Likewise, how Square-Enix handles the side quests in Final Fantasy VII will be interesting. For example, when will players be able to collect the optional summons or party members? Or, when am I going to have to deal with Yuffie stealing my shit?
Final Fantasy XIV Continues To Be A Great Game I Never Plan To Play
The story of Final Fantasy XIV is that of gaming's most magnificent comeback. After the original version launched to a lukewarm response, Square-Enix embarked upon a massive effort to rebuild the game from the ground up. To everyone's surprise, they succeeded. The game we now know as Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn bears little resemblance to the disaster it once may have been. As someone who has never touched Final Fantasy XIV, the game's rise to respectability has been enlightening to watch. I don't deny having a desire to play the game, but it's something I do not plan on doing any time soon.
Square-Enix's E3 presentation of Final Fantasy XIV played out as I predicted. Square briefly ran through its patch notes as if they represented new and groundbreaking content. With the busywork behind them, they transitioned to a story-based trailer that spewed a mountain of proper nouns. Look, I'm not trying to shit on anyone's parade, but that is what Square-Enix did, and as an outsider looking in, it was a lot to take in. Much like Jeff during Giant Bomb's reaction stream, when the characters spewed heaps of long-winded terminology, I couldn't help but laugh. This grievance leads me to one of the critical barriers that continue to prevent me from jumping into Final Fantasy XIV: its inaccessibility.
I have talked to countless people who LOVE Final Fantasy XIV since starting my Final Fantasy blog series. Three recurring themes have always propped up in these conversations. One, the Final Fantasy XIV community is incredibly close-knit despite its enormous size. Two, support for the game has been mostly excellent in its many years of operation. And finally, the game requires at least thirty hours before its much-ballyhooed story and characters kick into high gear. That last point is an honest-to-goodness "deal breaker." During a typical workday, I barely have enough time to cook and clean, let alone dutifully budget hours into an MMORPG. Again, if you watched the trailer for Final Fantasy XIV with bated breath, more power to you. Even so, I couldn't help but wonder how many hours it would take for me to reach that exact cinematic in the game.
Final Fantasy VIII Remastered Is The "Right" Type Of Remaster
We now come to the reveal that was by far my "Game of the Show," the Final Fantasy VIII Remaster. I love everything about this announcement, and I don't care what anyone else thinks. If the reports of Square-Enix losing the source code of Final Fantasy VIII are correct, it's a miracle this remaster is even happening. Regardless, one of the most neglected numbered entries in the Final Fantasy franchise is finally getting its due. I'm not lying about that last sentence; Final Fantasy VIII is by far the least loved of the PlayStation One Final Fantasy games. Final Fantasy VII and IX have been ported to several modern platforms already. Even the pre-Final Fantasy IV games get more love than VIII as they have seen remasters on the Nintendo DS!
Seemingly, there appears to be a backlash surrounding the remaster of Final Fantasy VIII. Some have pointed out Final Fantasy VIII's "messy" and unbalanced gameplay as a liability. For many others, the drawing and junction systems are unintuitive and endlessly frustrating. Furthermore, as many of the critics claim, if the remaster only applies a new coat of paint, Final Fantasy VIII remains at best a proverbial "diamond in the rough." In all honesty, I don't have a witty retort to counter these grievances. Final Fantasy VIII is a busted ass video game plagued by poor execution. To illustrate, it wasn't until my second playthrough I finally grappled the game's Limit Break and item refining systems. Like many, the game's drawing and level-scaling mechanics baffled me during my first playthrough. It's a fucking nightmare of a game, and yet, I am glad Square-Enix isn't fixing a damn thing!
I'm not going to try to convince you the junction system is secretly the best attribute system in a Final Fantasy game, short of the Sphere Grid. What I do want you to consider is the historical significance of leaving the game's mechanics and gameplay intact. Flat out, there's nothing like Final Fantasy VIII in the history of video games, and I mean that both figuratively and literally. Countless video games have "borrowed" the idea of the ATB meter or Sphere Grid. By comparison, no one has ever attempted to emulate Final Fantasy VIII's junction system. No one. And you know what? Final Fantasy VIII's busted ass mechanics need to seen to be believed.
As a case study, let's return to the Final Fantasy VII Remake. In the end, I don't blame Square for grafting a new gameplay system to Final Fantasy VII. My reason is "vanilla" Final Fantasy VII exists virtually everywhere. The Materia System isn't a groundbreaking mechanic that upends your notions of a role-playing game. Its tabula rasa approach is a tried-and-true format we are all too familiar with at this point. Final Fantasy VIII's mechanics are the complete opposite of that. To get any significant progress in Final Fantasy VIII, you have to unlearn everything you know about role-playing games, and that makes it so much more memorable. Concepts like the item refining mechanic make virtually everything you collect useful in combat. Do these mechanics "break" the game within its opening hour? Yes, but that's part of what makes it such a liberating and novel video game!
Also, beggars can't be choosers when it comes to Final Fantasy VIII. Sure, there is a highly questionable PC port that made its way to Steam not so long ago. Nonetheless, since then, the only thing Final Fantasy VIII fans have gotten is a mobile app allowing them to play Triple Triad. I, and many other Final Fantasy VIII fans, will take what we can get, and we do not need fancy bells or whistles. What we want is a game that allows us to relive our memories of Final Fantasy VIII on modern platforms. Final Fantasy VIII is near and dear to my heart because it was my first Final Fantasy game. Furthermore, while it is not perfect by any stretch of the word, its imperfections make it unique. To further highlight my feelings, I'm going to pull a quote from my last blog about Final Fantasy VIII:
No game swings, misses, and keeps on swinging like Final Fantasy VIII. As a package, Final Fantasy VIII is an unmitigated failure. Its gameplay is hilariously broken, its story is a trash fire, and it is a slog to play. However, there is no game like Final Fantasy VIII. It is so earnest about what it attempts and fails to accomplish. I cannot help but look at the game with a sense of broken nostalgia. I realize it's not a great game, but I love it. You would have to be crazy to want to play Final Fantasy VIII, and that is exactly why you should.
Other Miscellaneous Games That Caught My Attention
Before we address the real "elephant in the room," let's run through Square-Enix's other E3 game announcements. Games that generally warrant a highlight reel by Sony or Microsoft, all had a decent amount of time to show their gameplay and story hooks. Admittedly, some games had better presentations than others. For example, Life Is Strange 2's trailer was downright painful to watch as shouting Twitch streamers summarized the game's recent events. Nevertheless, I felt there was something for everyone who gives a shit about Square-Enix as a developer and publisher.
For one thing, never in a million years would I have guessed Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles would reappear at E3. It is a game with decent ideas that were, at least in my mind, afflicted with a problematic format. I don't know about you, but finding four people with GBA to GameCube link cables was a rough experience! No matter, I hope the game sees a new audience that realizes it was more fun than most would presume. Who knows, if the re-release does well enough maybe the cowards at Square will bring My Life as a King to the Nintendo Switch!
I share a similar sentiment about the reveal trailer for The Last Remnant. I'm glad the game is getting a remaster, but I wish Square-Enix hadn't pulled the original game from Steam. All that does is force people to buy the remaster at full cost with a cheaper alternative wholly removed from the market. Additionally, Square-Enix spent too much of the middle portion of their conference showcasing known quantities. I had an anemic response to the time spent on Octopath Traveler and Dragon Quest. Both demos laid out new releases of well-established and fan-favorite games but lacked impactful surprises.
We also have the SaGa games which caught some long-time Square-Enix fans off guard. Romancing SaGa 3 and SaGa: Scarlet Grace are coming to the West for the first time. Indeed, I think it's great these games are finally getting official western releases. What I wish was also a part of this announcement was a more significant commitment to the entirety of the SaGa franchise. What many people forget about is the SaGa series started with Final Fantasy Legend on the original GameBoy. Since then, the series has branched off into three different paths (i.e., Final Fantasy Legend, Romancing SaGa, and SaGa Frontier), with the majority of fans rightfully ignoring Unlimited Saga. I don't want to suggest I hate these two games for coming to the West, but I cannot help but view them as the "tip of the iceberg."
The Avengers Game Hurt My Feelings
Good Lord, where do I even begin? As I mentioned in the introduction, never before have I seen a major publisher miss so hard on their E3 "showstopper" quite like Square-Enix this year. After starting with gameplay footage from the Final Fantasy VII Remake, Square-Enix, in all their wisdom, ended their presser with their Avengers video game adaptation, and it was an unmitigated disaster. Before we jump into why I think Marvel's Avengers is a warning of what's to come, I want to make a few things clear. First, I have no issues with the game not using the likenesses of the Marvel cinematic universe. If the comic books can exist side-by-side with the movies, then this video game can as well.
Likewise, I appreciated taking the time to show the voice acting team behind the characters. I think voice-acting is underappreciated in the video game industry and more exposure to voice actors is always a good thing. Similarly, I found it to be a simple way to communicate how the game would be its own thing separate from the more popular Marvel movies. Where my enthusiasm starts to trail off is how little of the actual game was shown. Crystal Dynamics and Eidos Montréal later clarified the game is an action-adventure experience but left other aspects of the game entirely unknown. Crystal Dynamics complimented the confusing affair by lecturing about "sacrifice," "self-acceptance," and "making hard choices" without a clue as to what any of that means.
To an outsider looking in, your initial reaction might be to brush this poor showing aside. Before the Avengers, Square presented a bevy of game announcements that got plenty of people's blood pumping. However, as someone who has been following the business trajectory of Square-Enix for the past three years, Marvel's Avengers represents something more significant. It is yet another example of how out of touch the studio is with the modern gaming landscape. Here they have one of the hottest IPs in all media, and they couldn't be fucked to communicate what genre this game is going to be. They instead regurgitated three or four times how "honored" they are to be working alongside Marvel.
I have said it before, and I'll say it again, modern Square-Enix is a poorly run company. Seriously, it is a miracle they are still in business. On top of that, all of Square-Enix's worst habits were splayed out for all to see. Instead of making a case of how an Avenger's game set outside the cinematic universe provides a storytelling opportunity, Square had voice actors drone about their characters. Worse, "hubris" continually plagued the last twenty minutes of Square's E3 presser. Mark my words, if you think Square has learned from their mishandling of Hitman (2016) and the Tomb Raider reboots, then you have another thing coming. I have my money on Square releasing this game with no advertising, outside of word-of-mouth, as they did with Hitman!
However, here's what scares me most of all. Last year, Square-Enix revealed they made almost a billion dollars on Final Fantasy XIV and their mobile games. With this E3 conference, they made it abundantly clear they spent that money on retooling the Final Fantasy VII Remake and buying the Avengers IP. What's even scarier is Square's mobile division has seen declining revenue since the second quarter of 2018. That means both of these games are being developed using an unsustainable business model. Thus, Square's "wiggle room," should either game underperform, is shockingly tight.
There's been a recurring joke among Final Fantasy fans about the Final Fantasy VII Remake that's been going around Twitter. As the joke goes, after the Remake sells twenty million copies, Square will cancel future episodes due to "an unbearable cashflow" problem. At this point, that is a possible scenario that could play out in real life. I hate to end this blog on a bummer, but I cannot in good conscience sign off on Square-Enix's 2019 E3 press conference without looking at the "big picture." While E3 usually sets out to establish unbridled optimism for the future of gaming, that's not the case with Square-Enix. They did a sufficient enough job playing to their base, but their attempts at mainstream credibility could spell their downfall. But for now, the Final Fantasy pain train does seem to be stopping anytime soon. Until next time, PEACE!