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The Rise of SquareSoft (Part 3) – It’s Hip to Be Square

Following their success on the Super Nintendo, Square had originally planned to continue to develop for Nintendo systems. They even created a tech demo rendering some of the Final Fantasy VI characters in 3D for which many thought would be a preview of what Final Fantasy might look like on the Nintendo 64. These plans would soon change though, when a partnership between Nintendo and Sony fell through which ended with Nintendo staying with cartridges for its new system and Sony deciding to enter the video game market with its CD enabled PlayStation. With Sakaguchi and his team looking to push themselves with the expanded storage space offered by the CD format, Square controversially announced they would develop Final Fantasy VII for the Sony PlayStation.

PlayStation Logo

Yoshinori Kitase was concerned that the franchise would be left behind unless it embraced 3D graphics like other new games at the time and so Square made many advances with the new technology and Final Fantasy VII was the first in the series to feature a 3D world map, 2D pre-rendered backgrounds and character models rendered with polygons. Most famously though was the introduction of higher quality Full Motion Videos (FMV’s) that became a staple of the series.

Final Fantasy VII Cloud Midgar

Square didn’t just focus on graphics though, as the fantastic story of Final Fantasy VII was a joint effort written by Kazushige Nojima, Kitase and Masato Kato, based off an original draft by Sakaguchi. Previous Final Fantasy series artist Yoshitaka Amano was limited during the production due to other commitments and so Tetsuya Nomura, who previously had worked on Final Fantasy V and VI as a monster designer, was promoted to lead character designer. Even composer Nobuo Uematsu utilised the PlayStation’s internal sound chip to create songs with digitized voice tracks.

Final Fantasy VII Aeris Death

Final Fantasy VII was one of the most expensive games of its time and Sony advertised it heavily, especially in North America. It was also the first mainline title in the series to be released in Europe. The game was met with critical and commercial success upon its release and went on to sell 10 million copies worldwide. Final Fantasy VII is often regarded as one of the greatest games ever made and is recognised as the catalyst for popularising RPGs outside of Japan.

Final Fantasy VIII Squall

Final Fantasy VIII followed soon after VII and expanded on its foundations, presenting a more modern and futuristic world, as well as realistic and highly detailed characters again designed by Nomura. With Square’s experience with 3D graphics growing, Final Fantasy VIIIs presentation was much more consistent and it allowed the designers to make more experimental game play mechanics, such as the junction system and the addictive card mini game Triple Triad.

Final Fantasy IX Zidane Moogle

Final Fantasy IX was the last main installment to be developed for the PlayStation and returned the series briefly to its medieval, fantasy roots. Hiroyuki Ito returned as director while the character designs were handled by Hideo Minaba and were made more cartoonish to reflect the older games in the series, it also included black mages, crystals and lots of moogles . Sakaguchi has stated that Final Fantasy IX is his favourite in the series and that it most closely resembles what he initially visioned Final Fantasy to be. The soundtrack is also said to be Uematsu’s favourite composition.

Chrono Cross Kid Artwork

Square seemed to be on roll with the PlayStation and as their popularity grew overseas more of their other games found success as well. Masato Kato was handed directorial duties on Chrono Cross and with returning composer Yasunori Mitsuda they created a bright and wonderful game that dealt with parallel dimensions and featured a cast of 45 different characters to recruit. The action RPG Legend of Mana released with some of the most beautiful art work ever seen in a video game and highlighted the talent of up and coming composer Yoko Shimomura who would go on to score the two Parasite Eve games and many other big name franchises in the years to come. Showing the enormous depth of talent at Square, Tetsuya Takahashi, who had smaller roles on games like Final Fantasy VI directed the amazing Xenogears. It featured one of the most intricate and fascinating stories ever conceived and utilised a battle system that incorporated game play mechanics like combos found in a fighting game. It seemed like Square could do nothing wrong.

Xenogears Combos

Sakaguchi was also a big fan of a small development studio known as Quest who made the Ogre Battle games and he convinced the director Yasumi Matsuno and his team to join Square. Their partnership created more mature and complex games such as the classic strategy RPG, Final Fantasy Tactics and the dark and cinematic Vagrant Story.

Vagrant Story Title

With a whole new legion of fans from around the world, SquareSoft re-released some of their classic games to a new audience and PlayStation ports of Final Fantasy I and II, Final Fantasy IV and Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy V and VI were given new life and their quality was appreciated all over again. Square was now a household name and Final Fantasy was one of the biggest video game series ever, could anything stop their seemingly endless supply of talent and creativity…?

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Filed under Chrono Series, Editorial, Final Fantasy Series, Mana Series, Music, Parasite Eve Series, Vagrant Story, Xenogears

Review: Why You Should Play Vagrant Story

Vagrant Story is an Action RPG released on the PlayStation that resembled the pacing and design of an adventure movie.

Vagrant Story mixes gameplay and cut-scenes together seamlessly and creates a very cinematic experience. All of this is done in real time and you are constantly engaged in the adventure. You will be hooked in by the great sense of atmosphere and suspense that the setting of Leá Monde creates and you will stay for the reward of the intricate gameplay mechanics and intriguing narrative.

The story focuses on the protagonist Ashley Riot, who is accused of a murder and portrays the events leading up to incident. The game follows Ashley’s attempt to investigate a link between a cult leader and the senior Parliament member who is later suspected to be murdered. The story has many twists and turns as each little piece of the plot is revealed to the player and the interactions between the characters are sharp and well written. It is hard not to be constantly anticipating what’s next as you play through the game.

Progress through Vagrant Story consists of traversing dungeons by jumping, interacting with the environment, solving puzzles and fighting battles. While being completely in control of movement and engaging the enemies in combat at will, when attacking the game pauses the action and the player can choose a body part to aim their attack with differing outcomes. With fast reflexes, the player can also chain attacks together by initiating another move just as the first one lands. Ashley also gains access to special techniques and magic spells as the game progresses leading to the ability to encounter enemies with a variety of strategies.

The most in-depth part of gameplay is the weapon crafting system. At workshops you can build and deconstruct weapons ranging from crossbows, maces and double handed swords. Each weapon will be more effective against different enemies and as such you will have to be constantly upgrading and creating the best equipment. These systems in Vagrant Story are dense, but ultimately a rewarding experience as you just can’t go charging into battle without the proper preparation.

The atmosphere of a majority the game’s setting is dark and isolated. Silence is just as important here as the music and Vagrant Story’s soundtrack conveys this well. None of the music will jump out and grab you but you will feel like you are exploring a ruined city with mysteries around every corner.

Vagrant Story is a complex RPG with a mysterious world to explore. If you are looking for something unique and enjoy customisable battle systems, then you should play Vagrant Story.

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Filed under Reviews, Vagrant Story