As I look back on 2019, one developer/publisher has demanded more of my time than all the others. In some ways, that totally surprised me. I’m talking about Square Enix, a publisher I’ve had an intensely complicated relationship with throughout my gaming life. At one point, I nearly gave up on Square Enix entirely, but today, it’s like the thought never crossed my mind. It seems like Square Enix is poised to have many years full of video games I will be absolutely tearing into.
Final Fantasy wasn’t my first RPG series, but it was the first one that really opened my eyes to what this genre was. Sure, I cut my teeth on Pokemon (and a little gem called Power Quest), but Final Fantasy made me realize what storytelling could be. I’m more than a little jaded now (and way more well-read), but at the time my young mind was blown by these fantasy epics that were more interested in metaphysics and philosophy than orcs and beards. But while I tore into several other games from Square over the years and learned a lot, things got a little ugly after a while.
The PS2 era for Square Enix was not what I needed at the time of my life it happened. As technology got better, Final Fantasy got flashier and more ambitious, but a lot sloppier. At the same time, I was discovering the depth of my interests and doing that whole getting unreasonably snobby things teenagers do. I pretty much kicked Final Fantasy to the curb, and Square Enix was the butt of many of my edgy message board jokes. I pretty much wrote the series off, although I wasn’t so done that I wasn’t willing to revisit the classics. I have a fond memory of playing Final Fantasy V under my desk in my useless government class.
As I got older, I got over the edgy teenager thing and being to rediscover things like… optimism. I also discovered Dragon Quest. While it’s more of the Enix half of the equation, Square Enix has done a lot for the scope and fidelity of the series and has only made those games more impressive with time. And as I began to build my career as a games writer, so too did Square Enix seem to be working on building its contemporary library back up to par with my growing expectations.
Just in the past couple of years, it almost feels like nearly every Square Enix release has been made specifically to cater to my tastes. There have been several amazing Dragon Quest games and spinoffs, plenty of new Final Fantasy games that are throwbacks to the classics, and legitimately good, new ideas. Bravely Default happened and cemented itself as a modern classic, and now it’s 2019 and SaGa is suddenly making a comeback. In between all that have been experimental successes such as NieR: Automata, Left Alive (shut up, it’s good), the emergence of Tokyo RPG Factory, and even some sick Tomb Raider games. I’m not that interested in Marvel’s Avengers and The Quiet Man was kind of embarrassing, but 2020 is looking good.
First of all, there’s the Final Fantasy VII remake. I’m not the biggest fan of the original and its fanbase contributed in part to my teenage angst, but the remake looks incredible. It’s all the excess and arrogance of Tetsuya Nomura, combined with his team’s knack for bizarre action mechanics that make every attempt compelling in some way. The Mana series is back with Trials of Mana, a remake of a Super Famicom entry we never got. PlatinumGames is coming back to collab on Babylon’s Fall, an original follow-up to NieR: Automata. That’s just the 2020 stuff we know about.
I’m not always down with what Square Enix does with its resources and it can be really frustrating to be a Final Fantasy fan, even today. Sometimes, the decisions that company makes seem totally nonsensical, but there’s always something cool around the corner. Especially lately, Square Enix seems to have embraced its roots again, and it going all out to bring back classics, continue IP with quality projects that aren’t overblown, and of course doing the exact opposite with Final Fantasy. But that’s okay too, in its own way. Love it and hate it, Square Enix has been a huge part of my life, and I look forward to seeing what’s to come.