Opinion: Square Enix Sets The Stage To Usher In The Next JRPG Golden Age

Opinion: Square Enix Sets The Stage To Usher In The Next JRPG Golden Age

At a Square Enix  shareholders briefing in 2012,  Yoichi Wada, then-CEO, stated that a Final Fantasy VII Remake could not be considered until there was a title in development with capability to exceed the quality of the original title. After all, Final Fantasy VII has long been considered by many as the pinnacle of Japanese RPGs.

As I think about potential show stopping moments for E3 2016, I’m reminded at how this statement made the Final Fantasy VII Remake announcement so shocking to me.

With no major ‘new digit’ Final Fantasy release since Wada’s original statement, it seems unlikely that there’s been a title that maintains the relative quality of Final Fantasy VII. What gives? Has Square Enix officially given up hope and bit the bullet to create a cash grab?

Maybe. And if we asked the internet, many people would be screaming “Yes!” But a more likely answer is that they’re placing all of their chips on a game that has been under careful development for the greater part of a decade: Final Fantasy XV.

The setup

Since Square and Enix merged in 2003, Square Enix has maintained a relatively safe business model as the result of a rapidly changing video game market, and Wada’s 2012 comments are an extension of this.

Gone were the days of pushing the industry toward revolution. Square Enix could play things safe and coast on the waves of change. By stating there had never been a quality Final Fantasy title since 1997, Wada was indirectly admitting that the brand had grown stale.

Square had independently created titles of great value since, such as Final Fantasy X, and Square Enix continued this trend with titles such as Final Fantasy XIV. But nothing has competed with the legacy of Final Fantasy VII. When I speak to others about games that brought them into gaming, titles that come up are Warcraft 3, GoldenEye 64, Final Fantasy VII and Super Mario Bros. 3.

Even for non-gamers, Final Fantasy VII has cultural meaning through Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children. To continue relying on a nearly 20-year-old game isn’t solving complacency, but instead it’s adding to it. A Final Fantasy VII remake is close to many people’s hearts within and outside of Square Enix, but the franchise as a whole is more important than a single game.

And this isn’t a secret, many individuals have written about how stale the brand has become. Just yesterday, Final Fantasy XV director Hajime Tabata was quoted by Venture Beat saying Final Fantasy XV looks to bring growth to a franchise that hasn’t experienced a drastic change for a full generation. This sentiment was echoed by The Verge earlier this year, where Andrew Webster writes that Tabata is playing all of the cards to make Final Fantasy great again.

“Though [Final Fantasy XV] has been in the works for a decade and doesn’t launch until September, it has garnered a level of attention that harkens back to the franchise’s glory days,” Webster writes.

And he’s not wrong. Square Enix is driving the hype train by throwing its entire weight behind marketing the game through a wide range of mediums – from a mobile companion game to a feature length film to even an anime.

When Wada first made his comments, Final Fantasy XV was still titled Final Fantasy Versus XIII. Shortly after, development started to become more transparent and Tabata and company started to set the stage to bring Square Enix JRPGs back to the top.

Reclaiming the throne

In recent months the marketing campaign has started to focus more on storyline. A common theme in trailers for Final Fantasy XV, such as the one seen below, is the tagline: Reclaim Your Throne.

The timing of this campaign is impeccable, as it signifies something greater than the story of the game. Last month, it was reported that members of Tabata’s development team are inflicted by the so-called “Final Fantasy Disease,” which is the idea that everybody has their own impression of what Final Fantasy needs to be.

There is no question that this has led to Square Enix’s complacency in the past, but the sentiment is shared from outside the company, as well. The franchise has always been one of gaming’s greatest, and I even consider it to be the king of JRPGs.

“Reclaim Your Throne” resonates with me strongly because not only is it symbolic to the characters in the game itself, but it has a meaning great. If Square Enix is going to become an industry changing leader again – which is entirely possible with the lineup that I expect to see at this year’s E3 – then it’s going to need to be bold.

Like Final Fantasy XV’s central character, Noctis, Square Enix needs to reclaim its throne.