It being the end of one of the most eventful years gaming ever, I thought it timely to use my finely honed "know it all skills" to make some 2008 predictions on the six biggest names in global gaming. Each week a different developer will be analyzed. This week I'm going to take a look at Square/Enix, where they've been, where they are, where they're going, and where I think they should go. Next week will be Konomi, then Capcom, Microsoft, Sony, and finally Nintendo. The whole series should wrap right around the new year.
I know that many consider Ubi-Soft and EA to be bigger names in gaming than Capcom and Konomi, as right now they are making some money and some high profile titles. But from where I stand, neither has proven themselves to be truly relevant in a the +20 year way that Capcom, Konomi, Nintendo, and Square/Enix have. It takes more than making Rayman, some party games, yearly standard sports game upgrades, and a few generic action games to gain my respect.
So that may piss some of you off. If so, sorry. And stop reading now, because it's only going to get worse from here.
Here we go.
Square Enix- The story so far (abbreviated version).
Both Square and Enix have had pretty bizarre, turbulent histories thus far. Square started off like any other company developing for the NES with games like Rad Racer
and 3D Worldrunner,
except no one really liked their games all that much. They almost went bankrupt due to their mediocrity, until Sakaguchi made Final Fantasy
. Enix had a similar rough start on the NES, with little in the way of big sellers outside of Xevious
until Dragon Warrior/Quest
In the late 80's and early 90's, both companies clearly began to focus only on those series. Releases in either series became unofficial holidays in Japan. The "Square/Enix difference" had started to become legend. The level of detail, care, and true respect for games as a story telling device and an art form in general are the things that made Square's and Enix's games stand out, at least in Japan.
Neither company had yet made it in the States. Only the most hardcore Western gamers knew either game series, while the average gamer was busy with Mario, Mega Man, and Sonic. That all changed when the high budget, fully polygonal Final Fantasy VII hit the states, and the Western world finally "got" what turn based RPG's were all about. 2D sprites couldn't convey the drama and spectacle of Final Fantasy in a way that the realism loving Westerners could understand. Polygons changed all that.
Enix on the other hand must have pretty much realized they would never make it in the US, and barely released any games here up until 2003 when the merged with Squaresoft.
So Square and Enix were both built off taking gaming seriously when all around them were mascot driven platformers and generic action adventure games. Then once polygons hit the scene, they were know for meticulous crafting that AND putting huge amounts of money into their games. They have led the way for all developers currently making serious, expensive games.
Also of note is that every time Square has attempted a non-Final Fantasty product it has met with relative failure, with Chrono Trigger
being the one exception. Tobal
, The Bouncer
, all attempts by Squaresoft to break from their Final Fantasy routine, none caught on the way Final Fantasy did. Unlike Konomi, Nintendo and Capcom that have thrived of a new IP every five years or so, Square/Enix have remained reliant on the same IP's for over 20.
Where they're going now (abbreviated version).
So far it looks like Square/Enix is trying to straddle the line between their hardcore past and the casual future. Final Fantasy XIII
looks to be "totally hardcore", sporting the most expensive looking graphics the gaming world has seen to date, as well as a storyline and visual style that only a nerd could love. Meanwhile they're showing renewed love for Nintendo, with a stream of DS and Wii games flowing at a constant pace. These games are predicted to be "B" grade Final Fantasty to many, more appealing to the "casual" crowd or the old schoolers still satisfied with low def, low poly characters. But so far the DS Final Fantasy games have sold well on both shores, and are slowly gaining the same reputation as their home console brothers.
And Square/Enix seems to have finally given up on making many non-Final Fantasy games, with It's a Wonderful World
and some random 360 game their publishing being the only completely Final Fantasy free games in their upcoming US line up. Speaking of the 360, Square/Enix seems to be completely ignoring the console, perhaps due to it's lack luster sales in Japan, perhaps because their ex-producer and Final Fantasy creator Sakaguchi now works for Microsoft via their part ownership of his new studio Mistwalker.
Ever since Sakaguchi left Square/Enix, the company has been pumping out Final Fantasy games like Mtv pumps out reality shows about stupid hot chicks. When Sakaguchi was around, there was one Final Fantasy games every one or two years (with the exception of Final Fantasy Tactics
on the PSX which came out less than a year after Final Fantasy VII
). These days Square makes at least 5 Final Fantasy games a year. Final Fantasy Crisis Core
on the PSP, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles
on the DS and the Wii (and another one on WiiWare), multiple Final Fantasy remakes on the PSP and DS, a Final Fantasy fighting game for the PSP, cell phone games, the list goes on. All this under the the ever looming shadow of Final Fantasy XII
, which will be not one, not two, but three
games when it's finally released more than a year from now. What I think they should do (abbreviated version).
I think that Square/Enix is on the road to ruin if they don't change their ways. Capcom has shown us that even the most popular series can be milked to death. Final Fantasy can't continue to be special to us if we get a new game from the series every three months. And I just don't think it's possible that all these Final fantasy games are going to live up to the Final Fantasy name. And once the Final Fantasy name loses it's rep, the company as a whole is done for.
On the Enix side things look a little brighter, as Dragon Quest IX
on the DS is sure to make millions. The Dragon Quest name is not quite as badly milked as that of Final Fantasy. Square would be smart to take a cue from their Enix partners and slow the hell down on the Final Fantasy milking machine.
I feel like the Square/Enix plan for the portables is nearly flawless. The Final Fantasy IV remake, Dragon Quest IX, the Final Fantasy fighter are all sure to bring in huge money. But will it be enough to counter balance potentially huge losses in the home console division?
They can't count on Final Fantasy XIII
to sell enough to warrant the expense it's taking to develop the game(s). It will sell well, but maybe not as well as Square/Enix needs it to. The PS3 sales are globally weak, and have continued to be since the first month after launch. If porting the Final Fantasy XIII
games to the 360 is not an option, they need to make truly great games for the 360 and the Wii, or else they just aren't going to make enough money to warrant staying in the home console game.
Square has a history of biting off more than it can chew. Remember Final Fantasy The Spirits Within? Final Fantasy XIII maybe Spirits Within part two from the way things are looking.
It is possible that by the time Final Fantasy XIII is released, potentially as late as 2009, that the Final Fantasy name will be milked to the point of unrecognizablity and that the PS3 sales will still be crap.
If so, what then?
Of course things could go the other way entirely. Final Fantasy XIII could sell 3 million copies in it's first day and the PS3 and Square/Enix could walk off into the sunset of total victory. But that's not looking to likely to me right now.
What do you guys think? After all, "An Analyst is YOU!"