Recently Square Enix made a statement explaining how the company had lost its focus. With the recent success of Bravely Default, they are renewing their dedication to games their fans want to play. To directly quote Yosuke Matsuda: “we basically want to go back to their roots and focus on the core audience.” As far as ‘facepalm’ announcements go, this one can be proudly accompanied by a resounding ‘duh.’ Yet despite the lateness of this realization, JRPG fans can also rejoice at the acknowledgement that the masters of Final Fantasy are giving to their favorite genre.
Fans of these games know: the AAA treatment is a blessing and a curse. While spectacular JRPG’s aren’t always developed with the budget given to, say, Call of Duty, the result when they are isn’t a guaranteed success. Just look at the mixed reaction to Final Fantasy XIII. And so, when your biggest recent successes are new IP’s that utilize twists on the gameplay features of old (see: Bravely Default) and “HD remakes” of old games (see: Final Fantasy X HD), possibly you’d start wondering too if maybe there’s a trend here.
Square Enix is in an enviable position. Apart from their published titles they develop Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, and Kingdom Hearts games along with a host of others, some spinoffs and a few originals. Major JRPG household names. And when games like Final Fantasy XIII consume the press’ attention it’s easy to forget about those originals.
Take the The World Ends With You. This is a game that was actually, overall, rated more favorably than Bravely Default. While it had the advantage of being a vastly different experience, the excellent narrative, musical, and character elements are present in both games. The World Ends With You was a chance; an original idea that utilized a new blend of concepts for its combat system, featuring rhythm-based combat, and an excellent soundtrack. It was even developed for the 3DS, a platform with a market nowhere near the level of the three home consoles.
It was a smashing success, receiving near-perfect reviews and critical acclaim. So why is Square Enix only now deciding that they may have strayed from the right path?
There’s probably no simple answer for this. Despite the publicity generated by this recent press conference, everyone – Square Enix included – knew they had been mucking up big-time. The remake of Final Fantasy XIV was enough of a sign, and there were plenty others.
It’s been a long time since the glory days of Final Fantasy VII. Since those three black discs conquered the hearts of gamers all over the world, Square Enix has been hard-pressed to dish out the next game-changer. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as FFVII did shock so many by introducing new concepts and reworking old ones in a once-familiar genre. Not every game is going to do that to the medium, nor should it be expected to.
On the other hand, maybe this is a sign that Square Enix is going to start taking more of those risks. It’s probably too late into the development of Final Fantasy XV to make any major changes – maybe none are needed, and we’re looking at another sleeper hit reminiscent of the Last Story – but the times are definitely looking up.
JRPG’s like the Ar Tonelico series and Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky are examples that the genre doesn’t exactly need the AAA treatment. As Square Enix said, a focus on the fans should come first in the development of a game for them to enjoy. Bravely Default wasn’t exactly given a stellar budget, but the talent behind it was given the chance to create something incredible and they took it. How Square Enix will put this fan focus into execution is anyone’s best guess. They’ll certainly have enough cash to play with when Kingdom Hearts III graces the consoles with its presence.
Let’s hope they keep the fans in mind when they spend it.