Squaresoft – Final Fantasy: A legend born from ruin

Apr 30, 2013

Squaresoft, at the beginning of their publishing career was a known and respected voice amongst Japan’s seemingly endless supply of studios but not one that had found a break with a hit title that rocked the foundations of the gaming world, until Final Fantasy. From a definition like that alone it’d be hard for any publisher, save Nintendo to accomplish an industry changing feat given those odds, but alas, Square had its moment of clarity and gaming glory followed.

After numerous benchmarks not being hit and sales  being lower than expected, Square was ready to close the doors on the studio for good. As a last ditch effort, the company decided to give it one last try and they called that ray of hope, Final Fantasy. Personally I find the naming conventions odd, especially given their financial hardships but I don’t think soon-to-be-fans recognized the ‘Final’ in Final Fantasy as being the last hope for a withering studio. Nonetheless, the company’s hope rested on the skillful shoulders of Hironobu Sakaguchi, a name hardcore fans will be familiar with and a veteran at Square. Looking back on this in hindsight though, Final Fantasy seems like the only name you could have given a franchise like this and it seems futile to think of a behemoth like Final Fantasy to have arrived through sheer will to survive and not divine providence.

During the making of Final Fantasy,  I’m sure all the stops were made to ensure this was the best piece of software Squaresoft had ever made and anything and everything was being done to let fans know, ‘hey, we aren’t done yet’. It was at this time we are introduced with Yoshitaka Amano, a man we know as the artistic mastermind behind nearly all conceptual art in the Final Fantasy universe. Recently I saw original sketches of his work and you can find countless books on the internet or around town with his unique and tell tale style. If I could have an original painting of his work I think I could rest easy knowing some of my personal gaming idols are always with me.

Sure enough Final Fantasy was a success and people in Japan really latched on to it as a solid RPG experience. Of course the big boy at the time is no chump either, Dragon Quest is still a beloved franchise today but has very much taken a back seat to Square’s spin on the genre.  When comparing games like this, at their time in history, it really came down to personal preferences on the fine tuning such as music or character/story development and that is something that has always been top notch in Squaresoft titles. Nobuo Uematsu, a titan-esque composer, has written countless orchestral scores and is seen as a world renowned genius of all things music. Having his work envelope the world of Final Fantasy, really brought to life the spirit we all are familiar with today, invoking some very personal and passionate emotions in millions of fans.

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In my opinion this is when gaming as a whole saw a more drastic change towards technology and the drama that can be captured both over the speakers and what happens between characters in and out of cut scenes. The latter is what I attribute a large amount of their success to. No matter what Final Fantasy played on ‘X’ system, it was the cutscene and artistic renditions of beautifully crafted worlds that drew me and so many others into the settings of Final Fantasy, over other games. As I grew up,  I came to realize no one did it better than Squaresoft.

With the release of Final Fantasy 3 in Japan, Squaresoft had made waves and beginning with what was an attempt at survival, ended up shocking the gaming world in Japan as Final Fantasy became a cultural staple. It was in 1990 when the US received it’s first dose of what would become the countries #1 RPG. Of course when I was little, I never got to play Final Fantasy during it’s original release, it wasn’t till years later that I played it. In fact, Final Fantasy 3 was the first one I played but second to hit the US shelves. Nintendo was a huge part in the success of Final Fantasy early on and this game to date, blew away all competition in the RPG market in multiple countries. It remains to this day, my favorite Final Fantasy title. However it is also because of this new technology trend that led to the leap frogging of released titles. Why make an old game for a new audience when we can make a new game for both? I think it’d be hard for any of us, given what we know now about game design and distribution to not do what Squaresoft did.

From 1988 to 2000, Squaresoft enjoyed what I call, the Golden Age of Final Fantasy. Just about everything they laid their hands on turned to gold and millions of fans world wide couldn’t wait any longer for the next edition of Final Fantasy. Shortly after this is when I believe Squaresoft made a terrible blunder and for seemingly unknown reasons. Developers crossed every ‘t’, dotted every ‘I’ and didn’t miss a beat up until the release of Spirits Within, a movie which shared the title with a magical franchise but the essence and soul of Final Fantasy was just not present and as a result the multi-million dollar project turned into one of the biggest blows to the company ranking right up there with the disaster recently happening Final Fantasy XIV: A Legend Released Too Early.

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After recent heartbreak and serious reflection from company officials, fans and critics the world over, I think we can all agree that Final Fantasy isn’t what it used to be in the eyes of us all as a whole but that doesn’t mean it’s game over. Squaresoft, now SquareEnix after their merger has remade Final Fantasy XIV and is set to be released very soon. Developers have also released Seekers of Adoulin which is another expansion for Final Fantasy XI, the highest gross profit game in Final Fantasy history. And work bringing another title to next generation consoles isn’t far away either. As long as we keep our hope alive in them, we will have another chapter of Final Fantasy, not just another RPG but a beacon of hope born from an industry changing entity no one will ever forget!

 

Speculation: Final Fantasy XIII & XIII-2: After some careful consideration it is my opinion that Square Enix released a direct sequel because of the reactions in Japan to the new character designs. Yes there have been obvious upgrades in between games but the jump from 12 to 13 boasted a huge change, not just an upgrade. It was a marriage of fantasy and modern ideas that paved the way to a spark of genius, igniting a flame, beginning from a long line of ‘torch passing’ from previous games.

The idea of creating a brand has been paramount to the success of the franchise and in this discussion, I also feel that they attempted to create a sub-culture within story telling, illustrating the ‘changing of the guard’ as Cocoon fell to ruin and is supported quite literally by Gran Pulse (a raw, unexplored and dangerous new world) This shows me that game design has changed dramatically and is adapting to a new form within their ranks. It is this relationship and the severe changes in music, art and character design that leads me to suspect Final Fantasy titles in the future may have a more logical and literal connection to 13 & 13-2 and each other, than previous iterations.

If this is partially accurate we can expect more content, produced at a faster pace and concepts like Massively Multiplayer, Episodic Gameplay, Subscription based DLC and Vanity Rewards; potential aspects of successive releases.

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