It's been a little over fourteen years since that fated day, April 1, 2003, when Squaresoft merged with Enix to become SquareEnix. The million dollar question is this: Are they better now than they were nine years ago? It's not something you can accurately pinpoint with static evidence, because it's really a highly subjective question and thus has a highly subjective answer.
I believe there was a conversation on ID a while back that basically made the case that sales do in no way transfer to quality, or how enjoyable a game or product is. I happen to be of this mentality; I do not believe that sales equates to quality. That being said, let's get this started.
Squaresoft, good old Squaresoft. The company that made your dreams come true. Or at least, they did if you have ever touched an RPG on the Playstation (Legend of Dragoon and a few others exempt from this). I personally do believe that Squaresoft made better games than SquareEnix does, but let's look at this somewhat objectively, shall we? Nothing good ever comes from looking at something out of rose-colored (or nostalgia, in this case) glasses.
I use the word "somewhat" because quality is subjective. Now, while we're talking about SS vs SE, a lot of you can probably read a little deeper into this and say Sakaguchi (and to a somewhat lesser extent, Uematsu) vs Matsumoto.
Squaresoft's claim to fame can be summed up in two words: Final Fantasy, which then also equates to two other words: Hironobu Sakaguchi. While Nobuo Uematsu's music came to define the Final Fantasy series as well and attributed to its greatness, let's look at the gameplay perspective first. For me, the series started to go downhill after IX.
The Father of Final Fantasy had a role in the creation of all Final Fantasy games up to IX. His final role as as game producer at Squaresoft, was that of Final Fantasy IX. I'm not going to ramble on and on about his achievements; that's what wikipedia is for. But do you see a trend here? After the last game he produced, the series started to go downhill.
I won't lie; I thought Final Fantasy X was a really good game, however in comparison to its predecessors, I found it a bit lacking.
Then it took a nosedive. Hard.
Final Fantasy XI. It is.. pretty bad. However, I'll cut them a little slack and call it an experiment in MMOs.
I hated Final Fantasy XII. I still do hate it. It is the only Final Fantasy game that I have literally been unable to finish not because of lack of interest, but because it is painful. I am sure that even if you are a fan, you know exactly what I'm talking about.
You know that tower that I think you get locked in or something, and you have to I believe fight your way to the top, or to the exit, or whatever? Yeah. It became so painful that I could not bare to play it anymore. I had been pushing myself to play it before that point since I mean, it's Final Fantasy. Surely at some point it gets better than this, right? Unfortunately not.
Final Fantasy XIII.. I have mixed feelings about this. Motomu Toriyama, the effective successor to Sakaguchi, had a hand in Final Fantasy X, but this was really when I started hearing his name. I loved XIII's story, setting, and to some extent, the gameplay, but -- and I'm sure you know what I'm about to say -- it was waytoo linear. That's not how a Final Fantasy game is supposed to be, and I'll even go as far as to say it almost if not outright violates a part of the spirit of the game. Final Fantasy is about.. well.. just that; a fantasy. Freedom and not being pigeon-holed into always continuing with the story has been a big theme in how the game plays since the original Final Fantasy.
If you haven't figured it out yet, I'm not covering the sequels and spinoff titles, but not because they're just downright bad (which they aren't.) It's because they're not relevant to this article. And with that, I'm going to go in reverse and talk a little bit about the games leading up to and including Final Fantasy IX. However, for the sake of relevance I'm only going to list a few key points, and list the more.. modern ones.
Admittedly, there are a few of the older titles I haven't played through for various reasons. I'm just going to cover VII, VIII, and IX.
Final Fantasy VII. The game that countless gamers used to -- and many of them still to this day -- worship. It is seen as the Holy Grail of RPGs. It set the bar. It was the first 3D Final Fantasy game.
I won't go too much in depth on the story, because honestly, I am in the minority that didn't really like it too much. I did, however, love the gameplay. I remember the first time I saw this game, never having ever heard of the name "Final Fantasy" in my entire life. I believe I was.. well, pretty young. I went over to my friend's house, and I saw a huge six-winged silver dragon on the screen that I would come to know as Bahamut ZERO. I was like "Wow, that's awesome" and watch him play for a bit. Later on I loaded his file and used Omnislash on Ruby WEAPON for 0 damage each hit.
But I digress, when I finally got the game, I was absolutely blown away by the cinematics and gameplay, because at that time it was completely new, and thoroughly awesome. It still is one of my favorite RPGs to this day, but not because of the story. We won't get into that though.
Final Fantasy VIII. I must admit, I'm a real sucker for love stories, so this one holds a special place in my heart. I loved the setting too, it was awesome to me how they blended modern and medieval elements just right. There are FAR too many games nowadays that try to do that and fail oh-so-terribly-hard at it. It's not an easy thing to do, and I think FFVIII did it brilliantly.
The mechanics were innovative to me, but I still think they should've been fleshed out more, and in some cases nerfed. Yes, Duel, I am looking at you.
Final Fantasy IX I can admittedly say I didn't think much of the first time I saw it. After being sucked into FFVII by my friend I'd become hooked on Final Fantasy. However, being the naive and biased child I was, I couldn't accept FFIX's unique art style, so I passed on it.
I picked it up a few years later, and it was glorious. Different mechanics yet again, and ones that to me where new and epic. I still to this day love the equipment ability system that itself is limited by the number of abilities you can equip. It prevents you from grinding like mad to become OP (Vanilla Final Fantasy Tactics, I'm looking at you this time.)
I loved the story, and the gameplay the farther I got. I will also have to come clean and say that I had never actually beaten the game until about a year ago. FFIX also holds a special place in my heart. I love you, Sarah. <3
There is another game that is far more recent with Sakaguchi's name all over it, so one might be able to tie it to this argument. No, it's not The Last Story. I can't comment on that since my Wii is broken. It is Lost Odyssey.
When I first saw videos I was skeptical, but when it received the glowing endorsement from one of my friends (the same guy that got me hooked on FF) and I believe it was Vanish Mantle, I decided to give it a try.
I went in expecting a Final Fantasy clone.
Boy, was I in for a surprise.
It was turn based, as I knew, but it was addicting, and fun. It was the first next-gen console turn-based RPG (I'm talking old school not FFXIII) that I enjoyed. It had innovative mechanics once again like Composite Magic -- combining two spells to devastating effect -- and Elemental Mines that function as an elemental counterattack to physical attacks. I think the story is definitely different, but not bad at all.
Now, let it be known that I do not detest Toriyama for taking the series in a different direction. I mean hell, the Tales series does that in every single release and it works out pretty well.
However, to me Squaresoft just put out better games than SquareEnix does with the title "Final Fantasy" or "RPG."
This brings up an interesting point. I am not alone in the belief that if certain games had been named differently, they would have been better received.
Final Fantasy XII -> Fortress
Final Fantasy XIII -> Lightning Saga
For clarity, I mean to drop the Final Fantasy title off of their name. Stop slapping a label on it for publicity, because all it does is cheapen the brand, not to mention the company. If I hate apple juice and someone hands me a can of apple juice that is labeled as orange juice, I am obviously going to find out that it is, in fact, not orange juice. It's just stupid.
This also to an extent plays into a conversation I had with my buddy the other day. We were talking about basically this same thing about slapping the label "Final Fantasy" on a bad game (CRYSTAL CHRONICLES I AM LOOKING AT YOU ) so it'll sell well.
SquareEnix will never, ever do a Final Fantasy VII remake because they would mess it up, and wouldn't be able to milk it any longer. They actually made the excuse of "it would be too massive" which I could only laugh at. Do they really think we're that stupid? Don't answer that.
Anywho, case in point, it is my belief that Squaresoft released better quality games than SquareEnix does. This is merely my own opinion, and you are more than free to disagree with it. This entire article was actually spawned from a conversation that I had with Vanish Mantle on his Facebook page.
Feel free to weigh in on the comments if you'd like.