How Square Enix Remembered It's A Japanese Developer

By Adam Ma on April 27, 2014, 4:58PM EDT
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If there's one great thing about Square Enix it's their willingness to try new things. It may not always work in their favor, but experimentation is a key part of maintaining an innovative development team. Without trying new mechanics or features there's no way for any genre to progress, and as a developer a lack of progression means having that ominous finger pointed. Selling out. Releasing a cash grab. Lazy. And on the off chance that a developer is actually trying to create something different and new? More often than not they're met with an entirely different kind of reception.

No team of people working on a project for the better part of a few years wants to try and defend their creation, but that's where Square Enix has sat time and again these past few years. An unsteady MMO launch, heavy criticism regarding the direction Final Fantasy has been taking, and questionable sales figures have made the company becoming a punching bag for criticism as of late; something their search for a secure western audience certainly hasn't helped.

Gamers, as we all know, can really be the worst kind of critic. They want something new, but familiar, with the core elements of a franchise intact without being a direct port of an older game and also maybe with just a little bit of fan service. But not too much fan service, because that's just pandering. We're picky, vocal and difficult to please so it's really no wonder Square Enix has been all over the map in their experimentation; trying to find that magical formula which will unite their global audience. Thankfully they found it, though as with most things in life it's taken a little bit of time, a mild amount of failure, and some soul searching where they somehow least expected.

Having a Japanese developer known for its gaming history as being deeply entrenched in JRPGs make a formal announcement that it will be shifting its focus primarily on JRPGs sounds a little ridiculous, but Square Enix's president, Yosuke Matsuda, has done exactly that. This is all in thanks to Bravely Default, the 3DS game that had apparently low expectations but has done well enough globally to make the developer reconsider their position within the market.

It sounds like a pretty obvious choice but if there's one thing we should remember from Square Enix's circle story is that this company hasn't come so far alone. Fans have largely directed the choices made by calling out what they want only to vote differently with their dollar. That Final Fantasy XIII's reception was incredibly mixed from fans, but received generally decent scores from critics followed by reasonable sales (comparative to other Final Fantasy titles) only adds to the confusion. If you feel any relief at all it should be because Square Enix can finally buckle in and go back to their original formula, something they know quite well and can work on building up from instead of trying to reinvent a genre by blurring the lines between action and RPG.

The differences between Eastern and Western design philosophy are pretty vast, but in the entertainment sector variety is the spice of life. They may still have a long way to go but seeing Square Enix finally embrace their differences as a strengths rather than a barrier between cultures shows how far Japan's developers may have come in sorting out the identity crisis they've had over the past few years.

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