How Square Enix Took the West by Storm

Square Enix is a company which has released multiple blockbuster games in recent years. It showed up in 2003, a result of the merger between RPG heavyweights Square Co. and Enix – to gamers, this was like hearing that ACDC and Iron Maiden were creating a supergroup – unbelievable, but incredible if true.  Square had built a name for itself with the Final Fantasy series, and Enix, Dragon Quest, so it came as no surprise when the new company focused heavily on RPGs. Since around 2010, though, Square Enix has changed gears. While they continued to make the type of game they were best known for, they also began publishing titles with a far broader audience. Notable amongst these games were Tomb Raider, Just Cause 2, and Call of Duty 4 – all action-oriented titles which sold incredibly well, not only in Square Enix’s home territory of Japan but overseas too.

A New Era For Square Enix

For the first time in decades, there was a company with the experience to create high-quality role-playing games, and the financial power to allow them to take risks. Square Enix meant that even if they messed something up, it did not matter too much since the money made from more mainstream releases would recoup some of their costs. Take Final Fantasy XIII, for example. It released in 2009 and was unanimously panned by critics as being too linear, and far removed from what the series once was. Most companies would have chalked this one up as a loss, but not Square Enix. Instead, they released two sequels, addressing the fan’s criticisms and ultimately salvaging the franchise’s dignity. The next main iteration of the series, Final Fantasy XV needed to sell five million copies to break even – there was a lot of tension from executives at this time because low sales may have meant the end of a 30-year-old series. XV sold more than this number on its first day of release, in no small part due to the work the company had put in on the XIII sequels.

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The Square Enix booth promoting Final Fantasy XV at the Tokyo Games Show, 2016. By KniBaron [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Square Enix would not have achieved if Square Enix were not popular elsewhere in the world. Western fans had been won over by many of the games they published, but also by the company’s back catalog. All the way back in 2002, Square Enix had done something unique: they had introduced a whole generation to RPGs by releasing Kingdom Hearts. This game combined the characters of the Final Fantasy series with the worlds and familiar faces from Disney titles. The game was a runaway success, spawning eight games, and cementing Square Enix’s position as king of the console RPG hill.

Looking To The Past

Square Enix plays to strengths. They know that nostalgia is a driving factor for many of their sales, and have capitalized on this by releasing some spin-off games and even a movie, based on one of Square’s most beloved titles, Final Fantasy VII. Square Enix allowed Western fans of Square Enix’s other claims to become familiar with the characters (lovingly crafted by Tetsuya Nomura) from VII before they eventually announced the development of the long-awaited high definition remake of it in 2015.

sqaure-enix-tokyo-game-show-2016 How Square Enix Took the West by Storm
Fans dressed as various Final Fantasy characters at Otakuthon, 2014. By Pikawil from Laval, Canada (Otakuthon 2014: Final Fantasy) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Forty years ago, gaming was a nerdy hobby, and role-playing games were especially stigmatized, even getting accused of promoting un-Christian values by some people. Twenty years after that, RPGs were a niche product. Specific titles were very hard to find in the West, and once you did, there was almost nobody to discuss them with. Today, it is scarce to see a gamer who has not played a Final Fantasy title, or who has not at least heard of the series, and people even cosplay as their favorite characters at conventions.

Many people are responsible for this change in attitudes, but there is one company among them which stands tall. Without Square Enix, who knows what the RPG landscape would look like today – one thing is for sure, and there’d be a lot less Western players.

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