Square Enix currently holds the rights to impressive intellectual properties like Tomb Raider, Deus Ex, and Hitman. It's a stable full of Eidos franchises that would make any publisher proud. But even though Square Enix is undoubtedly happy with its acquisition of Eidos and its subsequent success, the company has become painfully aware — even ashamed — of the poor showing from its Japanese studios this generation.
Take, for example, a tweet from Koji Taguchi, a senior executive officer at Square Enix Holdings, posted during last year's E3: “Because we merged with Eidos and had games like Tomb Raider, Deus Ex and Hitman, as a company we were able to keep face. But the decline in Japanese titles was almost humiliating. This has been a week where I worried daily about how we can fix this.”
Taguchi’s concerns are undoubtedly doubled by the fact that English-speaking audiences generally don’t associate Eidos’ projects with Square Enix; Square Enix is usually synonymous with the Final Fantasy series, which enjoyed a very “meh” appearance at E3 2011 courtesy of the soon-to-arrive Final Fantasy 13-2. Square Enix knows it needs to breathe life back into its name and its most popular brands, but the publishing giant seems to be at a loss about how to do it.
Square Enix might try a couple things: One of the biggest complaints about the Japanese role-playing genre is its lack of innovation. Detractors snort over androgynous heroes with china doll-like skin and exotically colored hair. Final Fantasy 13 shouldered these specific complaints and more, so Square Enix hasn’t really one-upped itself with Final Fantasy 13-2, which, as its name suggests, appears to be more of the same.
Square Enix could have set off a small explosion by unveiling an HD version of Final Fantasy 7, but the possibility of such a remake still seems uncertain. Even without the power of Final Fantasy 7, the company still has the potential to impress people with the genre it knows best.
Despite all the complaints about the tropes that surround JRPGs, things weren’t always this way. The now-ancient Final Fantasy 4 featured adult heroes who dressed in sensible clothes and quested to restore a gigantic, tumultuous world. I'm not necessarily calling for a remake of Final Fantasy 4 (though I wouldn’t object to it), nor am I asking for JRPGs to be more open-ended like their Western counterparts. It would just be nice if Square Enix would make a return, however temporary, to heroes above the age of 20 and heroines who aren't complete ditzes.
As a developer, Squaresoft's heyday was in the 1990s, way before it merged with Enix (to become Square Enix). Back then, the company seemed more eager to experiment. Instead of an endless parade of remakes and overpriced smartphone ports, Square Enix bounced all over the RPG spectrum: It succeeded in creating compelling action-adventure RPGs (the Mana series, which was at its strongest on the SNES); turn-based strategy RPGs (Final Fantasy Tactics and the Japanese-only Bahamut Lagoon); and, of course, some of its best traditional RPG offerings of all time (Final Fantasy 4, 5, and 6).
Each of these games felt rare and special because once the experience was over, pondering the story was more interesting than clamoring for a sequel. Final Fantasy 6-2 would be unthinkable. Maybe some fans would appreciate it, but it would also would water down a story that featured plenty of closure.
In other words, Square Enix can do two things in an effort to recapture its former glory: It can go on doing what it's doing — releasing more remakes and rehashes — or it can remember why its name commanded so much respect in the ’90s. Ideally, the company will work on games that utilize the best historical aspects of its storytelling capabilities, its character designs, and its gameplay. Remakes are great for a quick nostalgia fix, but a company with the size and reputation (and bottom line) of Square Enix can’t subsist on them forever.
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