Square Enix has entered a new golden age of game development
Some people have already joked that the February 9, 2022 Nintendo Direct was actually a Square Enix Direct. That’s because Square Enix revealed Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Editionthe very first official English version of live alive, Front Mission 1st: Remake and Front Mission 2: Remakeand a new demo for Triangle Strategyin addition to recalling that Kingdom Hearts Integrum Masterpiece is now here. That’s a monstrous amount of content for one company at a time different the company’s event, but it only even covers the “retro” portion of Square’s catalog. There’s just as much “modern” content to come, especially on PlayStation. All in all, it feels like Square Enix has entered a new golden age, where it has fully embraced the retro and modern ends of its catalog of games.
Bridging Retro and Modern Catalogs with Square Enix
Right now, longtime game developers and publishers have the odd task of looking both forward and backward. Game developers should always look to the future, trying to innovate and deliver new experiences, lest their games become outdated and irrelevant. But over the past decade, with the growing importance of digital media, game developers are also expected to respect their past. Fans expect companies to treat their classic IPs with respect and also make their back catalogs available on modern platforms.
Square Enix has always made little efforts here and there to do things with its back catalog, with varying degrees of success — Final Fantasy IV: The After Years on Wii, The 3rd Birthday and Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions on Sony PSP, the many dragon quest Nintendo DS/3DS ports, the moderate bit Mana Secret redo, the hideous Final Fantasy mobile ports that preceded the Pixel Remaster series – the list goes on. However, something most of these projects had in common was that they looked like “something more” in the Square Enix catalog as opposed to “the following thing.” There’s a reason most of the games I just described weren’t console releases, for example.
In recent years however, that has changed. Of course, the most extreme example is Final Fantasy VII Remake, which is both a remake of a beloved classic and also the biggest modern blockbuster in the Square Enix library. There is also Final Fantasy XIV Online, the most popular MMO on the market that regularly draws inspiration from the franchise’s history while creating famous new stories. But to me, games that demonstrate how Square Enix has fully embraced its past and future are the Mana Trials redo and octopath traveler.
the Mana Trials the remake was not need exist, but it does. And it’s not need be a dramatic upgrade from what was done with the Mana Secret do it again, but it is. Square Enix chose to devote real budget, design sensibility, and public relations to redesigning this game, and the result is a definitely modern game that has sold over one million units. (And for good measure, the original game is also playable in Mana Gathering.)
Conversely, octopath traveler is a brand new franchise, but it feels retro. It takes rich, PlayStation 1-like pixel art and a Final Fantasy VI-ish color palette and enhances it with HD-2D lightning and exclusive Square visual effects. The gameplay, meanwhile, takes some DNA from Saga and A brave omission, while innovating a bit with character-specific adventure actions, like challenging NPCs to a duel. It has sold over 2.5 million units since its launch – and Triangle Strategy looks set to replicate that success.
From a public relations perspective, Square Enix has dealt Mana Trials and octopath traveler as if they were on at least vaguely similar footing with huge games like Final Fantasy VII Remake and Dragon Quest XI. It has since become the new standard for these retro-modern hybrids. The best proof of this is the HD-2D remaster of live alivewhich is published by Nintendo, receiving a physical release (with a board game in Japan), and being priced at $49.99, which means Square Enix is considering this a massive project at the level of octopath traveler.
Square-Enix did not have to roll out the red carpet for a game it’s barely touched in the nearly three decades since its release in Japan. But he is. And HD-2D remake of Dragon Quest III receives the same treatment, although for more obvious reasons. (Japan loves Dragon Quest 3.)
And while Square Enix doesn’t have the resources to commit to large-scale redesigns of all of its games, Romance SaGa 2, 3and Frontier have all received commendable remasters in recent years, as has legend of mana. There’s even the weird and amazing remake of the outliers Renaissance actress. Square could have just dumped clunky, untouched versions of all these games on mobile and PC and called it a day, like it basically did with the hideous original. Final Fantasy harbors. But Square Enix has learned that there’s both more goodwill and more profit in treating its revered franchises with the same respect their fans already give them. Look no further than Final Fantasy Pixel Remaster series.
Square Enix has reached a point where its retro catalog is no longer something “extra” or just a way to exploit gamers’ nostalgia for profit. Rather, retro gaming has become its own lucrative and viable mainstay of game development, as respectable as its modern gaming endeavors.
And yes, Square Enix has plenty of modern blockbusters in the works. For starters, a lot more Final Fantasy VII Remake is on the way. Secondly, Final Fantasy XVI come. Series purists may be put off by its looks the devil may cry-like gameplay, but it might have the best story the franchise has seen in decades with Final Fantasy XIVNaoki Yoshida directs it. So there is Dragon Quest XII: Flames of Destiny, which we know little about, but it’s pretty much guaranteed to be awesome. And the Final Fantasy XV the team is finishing Speakwhich may not appeal to me personally but will likely appeal to many FFXV Fans. Meanwhile, Koei Tecmo and PlatinumGames are developing Stranger from Heaven: Final Fantasy Origin and The fall of Babylon respectively.
Square Enix is firing on all cylinders in all directions, and that’s without even getting into more niche content like Dungeon Encounters Where Voice of the Cards or its western content like life is strange, grave robberand Riders. It caters to its entire fanbase, regardless of when someone became a fan of the company and its offerings. All in all, it’s the best Square Enix (or Square or Enix) there has ever been.
Granted, I still have a few issues, like how the game’s narratives sometimes miss, but those are things that can be fixed. The bottom line is that Square Enix has made its way to a really healthy place, and hopefully this new golden age will last for times to come.