The Rise of SquareSoft (Part 4) – No Going Back

After defining and revolutionising RPGs on the original PlayStation, Square went head first into the next generation by beginning work on the tenth instalment in the Final Fantasy series developed exclusively for the PlayStation 2. With much more powerful hardware, Final Fantasy X saw the introduction of voice acting, more realistic facial animations, fully 3D environments (replacing the pre-rendered ones used in Final Fantasy VII, VIII and IX) and had three different composers producing the soundtrack including Nobuo Uematsu. Final Fantasy X was a huge success and was seen as a giant leap forward for the series, while still keeping the features fans enjoyed, such as an engrossing narrative, memorable characters, mini-games, turn-based battles and a gigantic world to explore.

Final Fantasy X Tidus Wallpaper

During the early 2000s online gaming was growing in popularity and Square announced the next numbered Final Fantasy game would be a completely online experience. Final Fantasy XI allowed players to created their own online avatars and take on quests to develop their character and progress through the main storyline. Final Fantasy XI became the most profitable entry in series and is still in operation 10 years after it’s release with new developments expanding the game.

Final Fantasy XI Battle

After the critical success in Japan of Vagrant Story and Hironobu Sakaguchi’s pleasure with Yasumi Matsuno’s work as a game director, Sakaguchi decided that he would entrust Matsuno with the next mainline Final Fantasy game. Co-directed by Matsuno and Hiroyuki Ito, Final Fantasy XII was a massive change in direction for an offline Final Fantasy game. It featured a seamless battle system with no random battles, free camera control, was based in the world of Ivalice from Final Fantasy Tactics and put heavy emphasis on a political storyline. Due to creating the new battle system completely from scratch, Final Fantasy XII had a very long development cycle of around 6 years and during the time Matsuno fell ill leading to his resignation from Square. Final Fantasy XII was completed after he left and was still meet with huge success.

Final Fantasy XII Boss

Square had partnered with Nintendo many years earlier to create Super Mario RPG, but the world was shocked when they announced they were developing a new RPG with Disney known as Kingdom Hearts. Character designer Tetsuya Nomura made his debut as game director as Kingdom Hearts was released as an action-RPG featuring worlds and characters from Disney animated films such as Aladdin and The Little Mermaid, mixed with original and Final Fantasy characters ranging from Cloud Strife to Squall Leonheart. What seemed like an odd combination produced one of the best RPGs released on the PlayStation 2 and expanded into its own long running series.

Kingdom Hearts Sora Donald Goofy

With Square still dominating the RPG scene, Sakaguchi believed it was time to broaden the company’s horizons as he created Square Pictures and directed his first feature length movie. Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within was the first photorealistic computer animated feature film using the most advanced technology available at the time. Despite some positive reviews, the film didn’t earn enough money to even cover its expensive development and cost the company millions of dollars, Square Pictures was closed down and SquareSoft was in financial strife. Sakaguchi stepped down as vice president of Square and shortly left the company all together when Square merged with their once rival Enix in 2003, creating Square Enix.

Final Fantasy The Spirits Within

During the years either side of the merger with Enix, many talented employees left Square such as  directors and game designers: Hironobu Sakaguchi, Yasumi Matsuno and Tetsuya Takahashi, script writers: Masato Kato and Kazushige Nojima, as well as composers: Nobuo Uematsu, Yasunori Mitsuda and Yoko Shimomura. Many other employees joined smaller development companies too. Square Enix still continues to create Final Fantasy games and others in old Square franchises, but the golden age of SquareSoft seems to have long past. Still, we can always look back at some of the greatest video games ever made and remember the unforgettable journeys they gave us…

Final Fantasy Hironobu Sakaguchi

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6 Comments

Filed under Editorial, Final Fantasy Series, Kingdom Hearts Series, Music, Vagrant Story

6 responses to “The Rise of SquareSoft (Part 4) – No Going Back

  1. It’s funny, I recently was replaying “Final Fantasy X”. Then, I decided to take a break and get a PS3. Once I’m done with my new PS3 games, I’ll go back and finish it. I’m enjoying it more this time than the first time I played. (And Auron’s on my team finally. Woo!) Also a huge “Kingdom Hearts” fan. I still like some of Square Enix’s new games. I loved “FFXIII”, even though I heard others didn’t. But, I don’t think “Kingdom Hearts” is as good as it used to be.

    I saw “The Spirits Within”. It was okay. Is it related to any of the games, though, or is it its own thing?

    • I though Final Fantasy X was fantastic and I loved the original Kingdom Hearts. I agree the new installments are starting to lose the great atmosphere of the first and they really need to just release KH III. The Spirits Within had a loose connection to Final Fantasy such as the similarity between the Gaia Theory and the Lifestream found in Final Fantasy VII, but other than that not much. Would have been interesting if they had made it relate to Final Fantasy more and if that would have made it more successful? Thanks for the comment!

  2. I don’t own any console from this generation so I can’t really say nothing about recent SE games. The only thing that makes me feel kinda sad is the way they seem to develop new games already thinking on “the next chapter” todays. Some years ago it would be ridiculous to think of something like “FF XIII-1, FF XIII-2 and FF XIII-3” made in sequence. I never thought of FF this way…

    I don’t like MMOs and felt bad when they announced FFXI. Its hard to be a fan who played every game of the main series and then it becomes something you always hated. Why they didn’t just created a spin-off series like “FF Online” is a question that haunts me to this day, with FFXIV and all.

    Sometimes I think those details bother me more than they should. I really don’t hate SE for trying new things. I would love if I could play Fabula Nova Crystalis and find a good reason for all these “sequences”, or start to like MMO games (even if they mean a totally different experience from the rest of the series). To be honest I don’t know what to feel, if I’m being reasonable or it’s just my nostalgic moments turning me into a stupid oldschool fanboy.

    Anyway, just putting out some worries like I aways do when I see an meaning post like this. Sorry and congratulations!

    • No need to be sorry, that was a great comment!
      I certainly don’t see the same genius going into Square Enix games today, but I can put that down to fact that the same people are not there anymore. They had such a talented group of developers at that time, led by Sakaguchi, who seemed to have a creative spark and knew how to get the best out of everyone. Unfortunate all great things come to an end…

      I think of Final Fantasy the same way you do, each installment brings a new world, new characters, new gameplay. I never needed a sequel and that’s where my biggest problem with Square Enix lies. The ambiguity of FInal Fantasy VIIs ending was perfect, it left us to ponder whether holy saved humanity or decided they were a danger to the planet. I was left anticipating not what was next, but what wonderful adventure the next Final Fanatsy would take me on.

      I have never played a MMO and probably never will, I think you are right in having a stand alone FF Online series would have been a better idea and leave the numbered series offline.

      Thanks and keep up the great comments!
      P.S. what is your favourite FF and other SquareSoft game?

      • Haha! Such a hard question, my friend!

        Despite being a fan of traditional RPGs (with dragons, mages and so) since SNES era, I really love “sci-fi” and “steampunk” themes. This means my favorite FF would probably be VII, with VI or maybe VIII in close second. But It’s really hard to rank them, ya know? ;D

        Chrono games, another example of incredible stories brought by sci-fi inspirations, are for me the best videogame series of all time. Both Trigger and Cross were “perfect 10” in every aspect up to their eras. And the music, my f*cking god, makes me cry with nostalgia like very few things in my life!

        Secret of Mana also have a special place in my heart, the first RPG I played in my life!

        Well, that’s it. Long story short: Hard to choose a “favourite” but FF VII and Chrono Cross are for me the best examples of state-of-art RPGs that blend together the depth of a book and the entertainment of a videogame perfectly. Such wonderful experiences!

        I guess you’re with me by the blog design, right? Or you love the classic-themed FFs like IV or IX? Haha, all of them are awesome games! 😀

        • Yeah it looks like we are totally on the same page. Final Fantasy VII and Chrono Cross are two of my favourite games ever, even though I played them more than 10 years apart from each other.

          I really like the point you made about them being a great example of blending books and entertainment together, I agree 100%.

          Final Fantasy IX is also a favourite, but more because of the way it was designed (during the PlayStation era), but yeah they are all awesome games! Thanks

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