Squaresoft gave us a good run. It wasn't always perfect, not by a long shot--Final Fantasy 5 and Xenogears can certainly evidence that--but there was a stretch of time during the days of the Super Nintendo where Squaresoft was almost unquestionably the best RPG company out there, and it had some good offerings for the Playstation 1 era, and even a few early on for the Playstation 2 time of gaming. I daresay most RPG players grew up on Final Fantasy games, Chrono Trigger, Secret of Mana, Super Mario RPG, and other Squaresoft classics. And if you look into emulation, you can discover that there were a lot of really neat, creative titles that Square made during its golden years that never reached these shores, but have been translated by fans, games like Bahamut Lagoon and Live A Live. Squaresoft more often than not made its focus quality, and it worked. But all that has changed.
Enix, of course, always sucked.*
I don't know how much of the fall of Squaresoft can be blamed on their merger with Enix. A lot of people think that was the one and only factor in it. I'm not entirely sure about that, though. From what I understood, the 2 companies were supposedly not going to meddle too strongly in one another's affairs. And Final Fantasy 8, made way before the merger, certainly showed that Squaresoft was not above shameless pandering taking the place of competent craftsmanship. And then Final Fantasy 10-2, also made right before the merger, showed us that not only was Square not above the video game equivalent of prostitution, they were fully willing to revel in it. Giving shallow, stupid fans pretty things to distract them was apparently worth any level of lazy developing, horrible writing, and destruction of their own characters, as long as it made money. So it's not like Squaresoft didn't have it in them to be terrible.
But whether or not the merger can be blamed in entirety, or even at all, for the progression of the company past April of 2003, the fact is that SquareEnix has been worsening with increasing speed since then as a company.
It's not that it hasn't had good titles since then--I quite liked Kingdom Hearts 2 and Chain of Memories, Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume was really quite good, and FF Crystal Chronicles 1 wasn't bad. And hey, they actually IMPROVED a few of the series that Enix had--Star Ocean 3 was a decent RPG, as was Dragon Quest 8, which is an amazing achievement for a game in either series. But the quality of the products they make has just generally been decreasing. Final Fantasy 12, for example, was amazing only in that it could manage to have such a confused mess of a plot yet still be very boring and utterly meaningless.
That's not really the reason I'm so furious with the company, though. I don't hold a grudge against a company for substandard games alone; hell, if I did, I would probably be too actively hunting down Media.Vision employees with a shotgun for 80% of the Wild Arms series to write this rant. But it's the WAYS that so many of SquareEnix's new products are bad that gets me irate. I'll forgive incompetence a dozen times before I forgive greed, exploitation, sloth, and apathy.
The first problem is that they are actively destroying their own creations. I mean, look at Valkyrie Profile 2. VP1 is by all accounts a legend of Role Playing Games, up there with Planescape: Torment and Suikoden 2 for how rare and famous it is amongst hardcore RPG enthusiasts. So what do they do for VP2? Not only do they change the focus of the game entirely from the gods to the far less interesting and worthwhile mortals of its Norse Mythology-based world, and make it into a far less interesting tale of world-saving than of (literal and figurative) soul-saving, but they actually remake the time line of the series in the end of VP2 and make it so that VP1 never happened. One of the most famous and well-loved works that the company owns, and one of the only good things to ever come out of Enix, and what does SquareEnix do with it? It pours a gallon of white-out on its ass and presses ham against this treasure. SquareEnix doesn't understand what made VP1 great, and in its fumbling stupidity as it tries to cash in on that greatness, it retroactively destroys it.
As much as I hate having a company take the blunt Cudgel of Incompetence to a previous creation of worth just to make a quick buck, I just as strongly loathe the pandering. As great as Final Fantasy 7 was, and as much good as it may have done for the RPG market overall, there are times when I wish that game had never existed, because in it, Squaresoft discovered 2 things: Sephiroth and The Turks. Sephiroth is a shallow character and a miserable failure as a worthwhile villain, but that doesn't matter, because he's pretty, brooding, showy, teen-heartthrobby, and have-stupidly-long-swordy enough that every fanboy and fangirl on the planet moistens their clothing in several locations at the mere mention of his name. And it doesn't matter how incompetent, lame, cowardly, stupid, and largely superfluous The Turks were in FF7--they looked cool, acted like they didn't care in that cool way, had cool music, and looked just as pretty and showy and teen-heartthrobby as Sephiroth, only in a way that was mildly masculine. And they have nearly the same following as Sephiroth.
So basically, Squaresoft and by extension SquareEnix learned from FF7 that it doesn't matter how little depth or creative ability there is behind a character or group of characters--if you make him/her appeal both visually, and on the most shallow level possible emotionally, to the unthinking masses who never look beyond surface level, you'll have a VERY profitable product there. And it's really starting to show in their products. I liked Kingdom Hearts 2 very much, but if there's one part of it I hate, it's everything having to do with Organization XIII, the spiritual successors to both Sephiroth and The Turks. Half of them are useless to the plot, none of them have any character depth whatsoever, they take violent control of half of the game despite the Disney villains and even the Heartless being far more interesting...basically, every single thing Organization XIII touches is made worse, cheapened and degraded by being associated with and having to cater to these empty husks. Nomura couldn't have made a more accurate term for them than the one he chose--Nobodies. It still is a good game, but it could have been so much better if less--MUCH less--of its time was devoted to pandering this worthless group of pretty-boys. But of course, character integrity is outweighed by marketability, so the next Kingdom Hearts games are focused on Organization XIII and other similar original characters, with the superior Final Fantasy characters and the FAR superior Disney characters, who were supposed to be the foundation of the series, playing second-fiddle. But hey, money above art, right?
Of course, one sees both pandering AND destruction of previous work in the horde of Final Fantasy 7 spin-offs SquareEnix has been pumping out. If averagely bad titles like Final Fantasy Tactics Advance 2 are turds, then the FF7 franchise is SquareEnix having the squirts. FF7: Advent Children kicked off the irritation with a flashy film that focused on all the male characters that were marketably pretty (Cloud, Sephiroth, Vincent, and the Turks) acting in equally marketable ways (brooding, being sinister and dead, also brooding, and goofing around in that boy-band teen-idol kind of way, respectively), and rather than significantly include the less profitably popular characters who were nonetheless important to the original game's events, SquareEnix brought in 3 MORE pretty boys to serve as the slightly-more-effective-than-Sephiroth-but-still-horribly-lame villains of the movie. Hell, the characters who have been dead for years get more screen time than half of the game's original cast put together. Naturally, this meant that the company was too busy animating bangs, cocky grins, and awkward leather apparel to bother including a plot, or point, to this movie.
"Movie." Right. This product has more in common with pornography than it does with cinema.
In the rare moments that one's brain can function while being force-fed feminine men, ridiculous action scenes involving swords and motorcycles in substitution of an adequately explained and logical story, and Tifa's leather-encased boobs (SquareEnix didn't ENTIRELY forget that there are brainless FF7 fanboys out there who are heterosexual to be pandered to), one might notice that SquareEnix has more or less forgotten who the hell Cloud is. See, Cloud in FF7? He wasn't ALWAYS brooding. He could crack jokes at times, he could keep an upbeat attitude often enough, and he became reasonably friendly with his comrades over the course of the game. Sure, he had plenty of introspection going on in the game, and yeah, a lot of the time he was pretty focused, intense, and unhappy. But that wasn't ALL he ever was, and a fair amount of his character development in the game involves him lightening up a bit and becoming a good leader to his team. In FF7AC, however, Cloud just broods from start to finish. Gone is half his personality, along with the progress he'd made in the game toward accepting Aeris's death and finding reason to keep going with his life. He never cheers up, never really pulls himself together, and he just goes off on his own and ignores anyone else in his life--very different from what the game established him as. Square HAD an eternally brooding asswipe and a perpetually self-doubting dumbass already--their names were Squall Leonhart and Fei Fong Wong. NOT Cloud Strife. They took a genuinely complex and deep character and ruined him.
And Cloud is just the most visible FF7 example; they've really screwed up quite a few things from the original game--Sephiroth's semi-death scene in FF7: Last Order, for example. It puts a very different view on the affair than the game did, with Sephiroth's plunge into the reactor core being of his own doing, rather than Cloud's feat of willpower and strength. In Final Fantasy 7, that scene was, honestly, more ore less amazing to me, seeing Cloud perform a feat of miraculous strength when all hope is lost and defeat Sephiroth by his own evil act. It was seriously awesome. So of course, when they decide to show it again in the anime Last Order, they completely change the purpose of the scene, making Cloud's amazing will and justice a side note to the (ridiculous) idea that Sephiroth is badass and can't be taken down. Then there's the fact that SquareEnix relatively recently stated officially that Sephiroth's got the most powerful will of anyone in the FF7 world...flying completely against what the game originally shows us, which is an obsessive minion of a greater villain (Jenova) who went insane because he read a book that implied that his parentage wasn't perfect. And on and on--the more SquareEnix expands their FF7 setting and characters, the more they destroy their own original canon, canon which was far more satisfying than what they replace it with now.
But getting back to FF7AC, they of course made a lot of money off the whole deal, so more FF7 spin-offs of a similar vein followed, poorly-written games focused on the Turks, Vincent, and Zack. Each one's presentation is cheap and meant to be as appealing on the surface level as possible, while taking no time to provide anything with intellectual substance. And of course, each one's further "exploration" into the setting of FF7 just makes the whole planet and its history more silly and nonsensical.
I hate it when people insult my intelligence by assuming I'll buy whatever looks good rather than whatever actually IS good. And I hate it when people clumsily change something that's already good for the worse for selfish, stupid reasons. So you can see why I haven't been a big fan of SquareEnix for a while.
Compounding my distaste for the way this company conducts itself and creates its products is the issue of Rereleases and Remakes. Now, a lot of people are going to disagree with me on this one, but I really do hate these things, at least when SquareEnix is doing them. I admit, if you go far enough into the founding theory of them, I don't necessarily hate the idea...sometimes acquiring an old game is difficult (although getting easier all the time), and a company releasing it a second time on a newer, more accessible system can be a good thing. I mean, I'd certainly never have experienced the excellent Skies of Arcadia or the incomparable Grandia 2 if not for their rereleases.
My problem, however, is that these rereleases are almost always priced the same as a new game. That's not fair to the consumer, and it's dirty business by the company doing the rerelease. The fact of the matter is, even if you do a substantial remake of a game, you are almost always having to do less work on all fronts than you do for making a new game altogether. You take, say, Final Fantasy 6's remake on the Gameboy Advance. The game's plot and characters are already completely set up. The music's already there. The gameplay elements are already programmed. All that SquareEnix had to do was make it work on a DS, touch up the visual aspects and translation, add in a few extra Espers, items, and spells, and put in 2 bonus dungeons. That's it. That, and the cost of actually getting it to stores. Compared to making a new game from scratch, that isn't a lot of time and effort, and thus money, to spend. It's barely ANYTHING. Yet they were selling the damn thing for a price that you'd pay for a regular new game. Hell, it's STILL over $50 if you look for a new copy on Amazon.com.
Know how much a copy of the new remake of Final Fantasy 4 on the DS is? Around 30 bucks. Same with the DS remake of FF1, and the Chrono Trigger DS remake was closer to 40. Now, $30 - $40 is in the range of prices that you pay for a NEW DS game...like, NEW new, developed from scratch, has not been released to the world ever before now. They're charging FULL PRICE for a game that takes HALF the effort to (re)produce. LESS than half! Even if they're redoing the graphics entirely and adding some voices like they did for the recent remake of Final Fantasy 4,** there's still significantly less time and work to put into a remake title. So why isn't the PRICE also significantly less, hm?
Oh, I'll certainly grant you that I like Final Fantasy 4 enough that I'd say it's WORTH spending 35 bucks on, absolutely. But I want to emphasize that this fact is irrelevant. A game's worth is not the determining factor in its price--the cost of developing, producing, packaging, shipping, and marketing it, basically all the stuff actually related to making it, is what should and typically does set a game's price. I didn't pay $500 for a copy of Wild Arms 3, nor did any Gamestop employee or representative of SquareEnix hand me $20 compensation and a formal written apology when I acquired a copy of Grandia 3, so the quality of a game is clearly not meant to be what sets its price.
Regardless of how good or bad the remakes are, the point here is that it's unethical for SquareEnix to charge you the same amount of money for a game they've rereleased with minor changes. They're unfairly inflating the price of a product that they've made much more cheaply than their other similarly-priced products, and hiding behind the fact that most people won't question or mind it because they're used to paying that much for a game. Several consumers know this and don't even care. Well, whether or not anyone minds paying several times more than they should by comparison to similar products and pricing standards, it's still dishonest and immoral, and it pisses me off.
The final huge reason for why I'm swearing off SquareEnix is the Chrono Trigger DS Remake debacle. I did a rant on this a little while ago, and I encourage you to go read that one for the extended explanation, but the short story is, SquareEnix released yet another remake for $40, which is not only the price you could pay for a brand new DS game, but on the HIGH side of standard DS prices. This by itself is exploitative and wrong, as I've mentioned above, but SquareEnix added a special bonus to their consumer-rape this time. Despite the CT remake selling as well in its initial year of release as many, many other RPGs that have been deemed successful (including several made by SquareEnix), the company officially stated that they refused to make a sequel that fans were asking for because of the fact that their full-priced 13-year-old game only sold 800,000 copies. Only. They insisted that they didn't care what people said was wanted, only what their skewed perception of sales charts said. I won't go into further rage-accompanied detail...suffice to say, I've rarely seen a company be so disgustingly open and honest about the fact that they don't give a shit about anything but money, and have no sense of morality, proportion, or shame.
Everything I've said, I feel, more than adequately defends my decision not to support SquareEnix any longer, and my encouragement for anyone and everyone else to boycott them as well. Yet I have to admit, I've come to this decision only recently, with the Chrono Trigger fiasco not being the clincher. I do feel, though, that it SHOULD have been the clincher, that I SHOULD have made this decision then, because SquareEnix's revolting choices as a game developer up to and including that moment more than warranted shunning them. But for me, the last straw was recently, when I found out about the existence of Lufia: Curse of the Sinistrals.
I'd planned at the start of this rant to go into detail here about how much I hate Lufia: Curse of the Sinistrals. But then I started to really watch a Youtube Let's Play of the game, and I realized that there is no way in hell that I can possibly do this game flaming, painful justice without making an entire separate rant for it--which I certainly will do. But until I do, I'll just have to do a quick sum-up. Basically, Lufia: Curse of the Sinistrals is SquareEnix taking a true classic of the SNES era, Lufia 2, and...I don't know if you can even CALL it "remaking" the game. Lufia: Curse of the Sinistrals is so heinously inferior to and transformed from its original state that SquareEnix calling it a "remake" is basically an outright lie. SquareEnix has remade Lufia 2 the same way your digestive tract remakes a slice of meat-lover's pizza--the end result does, I guess, share something with the beginning product in some tiny way, so you COULD call it a remake, but if you're sensible, you don't. You just call it shit.
That's really all the game is after SquareEnix is done with it. They change the plot's events, they change the villains, they change the characters, they change the characters' relations to each other, they change the ending, they change the look...they change everything even remotely important about an RPG with this remake, along with plenty of stuff that isn't important. And unfortunately, the changes are universally for the worse--it's painfully clear that the creative team making the changes is not nearly as talented (nor, for that matter, invested) as Lufia 2's original team was, and the end result is the complete loss of the creativity, emotion, intelligence, and subtle beauty of the original game. It's like the perfect combination of everything I said SquareEnix does that's bad in this rant so far:
It's them taking something that's already good and ruining it through incompetence, since the resulting story and characters are inferior to the original.
It's them taking something that's already good and cheapening it by pandering to their audience, changing the way characters look and interact to be more generic and shallowly appealing.
It's a remake. Although I guess this one only sort of counts, since, as I said, this thing's been completely hacked apart.
It's them caring absolutely nothing about the feelings of long-time gaming audiences compared to the allure of a cheap buck, as they completely change something great that people enjoyed into an unrecognizable, halfhearted, sloppy mess.
Lufia 2 was elegant and a high-quality RPG. Lufia: Curse of the Sinistrals is a shabby mess that kind of embodies everything wrong with SquareEnix today. Really, there's not much more to say on the matter.
So yeah. There you go. The way I see it, SquareEnix has proven through its games, selling strategies, and even official statements that it just plain holds no respect for its customers and has no qualms about taking advantage of them in any way conceivable for a quick, cheap buck. And the company has proven through these same acts and products that it has little to no pride in its creations or sense of artistic integrity, only a relentless greed. I recognize the vital need for a company to turn a profit, but I refuse to accept that company doing so at the sacrifice of ethics, intellectual dignity, and/or respect for its audience. And so, I am no longer going to support SquareEnix by purchasing any product they profit from. Whether or not any of you want to join me on this is your choice, of course--I'd appreciate the company, but I'm content to stand alone, too. But either way, I'm not going to take it any more.
* Okay, fine, the Soulblazer Trilogy and Valkyrie Profile 1 were good, in varying degrees. But they're single shiny coins in the murky, muck-mired bog ditch of Dragon Quest games, Star Ocean 1 and 2, 7th Saga, Robotrek...the list of mind-numbing time-wasters just goes on and on.
** Features that, of course, were entirely unnecessary to begin with.