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Meet the New Square Enix

By Heath | February 6, 2011 at 7:01 am

Square Enix has found itself doing a lot of apologizing lately, sometimes with words and sometimes with actions. Within just these last few months, the company has had two rather large, messy situations which required some immediate reaction.

MMOPRG Final Fantasy XIV had a whole lot of hype behind it, but left thousands upon thousands of players angry, frustrated, baffled, and disappointed. It’s been taken to the woodshed in player comments and professional reviews. Square Enix’s first reaction was to give out 30 extra free days of play time to all subscribers. The company then had to do this again…and again…indefinitely.

But the Square Enix Damage Control Squad wasn’t done there. Its people have gone on record and officially apologized to Final Fantasy XIV players, along with completely restructuring the staff.

Now, suck as the game might, that’s a whole lotta reactin’.

My photoshop is horrible but I had so much fun making it. Everything is more fun when you add John Madden impressions.

Offline, Final Fantasy XIII had quite the polarizing reception. While it earned some praise — most of it coming very early or before commerical release — it was widely slammed for its heavy linearity and confusing story. Kids caught up in their console warz blamed the Xbox 360 for this, but that’s debatable at best and highly improbable in reality. Given how experimental the Final Fantasy series tends to be, it’s more likely the game would have been exactly the same, regardless of its 360 release. And really, Final Fantasy X had similar linearity for its first half, but there was no Xbox “holding it back.” But I digress.

Point is, we’re suddenly seeing a Square Enix that is shifting off releasing new entries into its big-name series, and instead playing a sort of watch, wait, react game. “KH: Birth by Sleep sold great and was well received? Great, fire up more prequels!”

“A lot of people hated Final Fantasy XIII? Time out on those other projects, let’s make another one to show ’em we can do it right!”

“Nobody likes Final Fantasy XIV? Let them play for free, turn the staff over, and take a whole lotta things to the drawing board.”

Now, is this good or bad? In some ways, it could be a very good thing (especially in the case of FFXIV). A company with its ear to the ground and listening to its fanbase sounds pretty great. Wouldn’t we all like our voices to be heard in some way? It could affect future games in a positive way, which should appeal to any Square Enix fan. The problems that existed in FFXIII can now be fixed. Many said it would be better with more exploration, more customization, more direct control in battle, more lively towns, and other things. Likewise in XIV, its shortcomings can be addressed, its menus can be modified, its quests can be more streamlined, an auction house can be created, and the game can in many other ways just plain become more fun. Sounds good to me. Sound good to you?

It might, but this could easily also turn out poorly. Reactions based on feedback are nice, but purely reactionary development seems like it might not produce the highest quality games. In my experience, the most enjoyable, most innovative, most memorable games tend to be ones made from a developer having a vision and following it. Think ICO, Chrono Trigger, Braid, Ultima, The Witcher, Shadow Hearts, The Elder Scrolls, Mario, Katamari, Mass Effect, and while we’re here, most of the first half of the Final Fantasy series. Those games were not crafted based on complaints about other games, each was the product of a dev team following its heart.

What are we seeing new from Square Enix right now? What are we seeing that can actually not somehow be traced back to feedback, market research, and focus groups? People keep buying Kingdom Hearts spinoffs and reviewers keep giving them high scores, so from a business perspective, SE has no urgent need to continue the main storyline. People complained about FFXIII, so now a sequel is in the works, wrapped up like flowers and candy with an apology note. Meanwhile, we can consider ourselves lucky if we see Versus XIII hit shelves in 2012. That might sound crazy now, but “No Versus XIII before 2012″ also would have sounded crazy back in 2008, wouldn’t it?

So what’s better: a company that tries to pick up the pieces and react to poorly received games by making new versions of, or sequels to those games; or a company that leaves the past as the past and moves forward, learning from the mistakes but not feeling it must try to rewrite history?

I’d love to do do a letters column on the subject. I’ll post, and probably answer, the best responses you can send me via email, Twitter, and Facebook.

Topics: Editorials