The lights are on
When I talk about the glory days of Japanese RPGs, or how companies “just don’t make them like they used to,” what I’m really saying is that I miss Square. During the original PlayStation era, the company was the unquestioned master of role-playing, building a following of loyal devotees by releasing a string of amazing and successful games. Regardless of what you think about the company today, Square was absolutely on fire at the turn of the millennium.
Of course, I still enjoy Square Enix titles today…but I certainly have my reservations. Before the merger with Enix and the high-profile flop of the movie Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (which I dutifully saw on opening night), Square could do no wrong. Between 1997 and 2001, the company produced a downright improbable number of my favorite games. I’m not just talking about Final Fantasy, either, though that is certainly a major part of it.
Final Fantasy VII released in 1997, followed by VIII in 1999, IX in 2000, and X in 2001. That’s four mainline, numbered Final Fantasy games in five years. That isn’t all; they were good. The idea of consistent, quality Final Fantasies may seem like a dream today, but that was the reality for RPG fans for several years. Three of those four games make my personal top five for the entire series. I played each one of them multiple times, adding up to well over 400 hours logged in that series alone.
My love of Final Fantasy inspired me to branch out and check out other RPGs, and I actively looked for Square’s logo. I had never been loyal to a particular publisher or developer before, but Square just kept steering me in the right direction. First, I checked out Xenogears. I loved it, so I tried Vagrant Story, which was another hit. I bought Chrono Cross sight unseen; the idea of buying a game without reading any impressions or playing a demo seems ridiculous to me today, but in the year 2000, my trust in the Square name was absolute. I didn’t need to do any research, because I knew it would be awesome. And I was right.
Square’s internal studios weren’t just churning out RPGs, either. Einhänder appealed to my fondness for old-school, side-scrolling shooters. I loved both of the Bushido Blade titles for their craziness combined with uncompromising brutality. Parasite Eve gave me a taste of survival horror – a genre that was a huge blind spot for me since I had never played Resident Evil. I kept betting on Square and winning, which inspired a kind of trust that no company has earned from me since.
I don’t know what exactly went wrong once the Square Enix merger happened. Maybe it was Final Fantasy XI. Maybe it was Kingdom Hearts. Whatever the case, I’m not interested in dwelling on it. No good thing lasts forever. I’m just happy that I was a gamer with the particular tastes that lined up exactly with what Square was producing in the late 1990s and early 2000s, because it led to the some of the best and most memorable years of my gaming career.
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While they do still make good games, they're certainly not pumping out any FF IX or Chrono Cross level stuff anymore.
Yeah they used to be one of my favorites at the turn of the gen , they've been ... Disappointing in the rpg genre as of the last few many yrs tho , but square really was great ...
Ah, my beautiful Square...
Oh, how I miss the old Square. Don't forget they also came out with FF Tactics in 1998. What a fantastic year that was.
Yes to all of this. I loved Square (xenogears was a favorite of mine). I am grateful to have been gaming during their glory days.
I agree with pretty much everything that I just read. Well said Mr. Juba! I know X is my favorite game of all time, and the only game I'll ever re-preorder without a release date, and VIII is right up there too. Between this and your love of Radiata Stories, I know I can always trust your professional opinion to line up with mine now.
Thanks to these assholes lot of good games never saw the light of day in Europe because "they would not sell" or "people are not interested in jrpg's"
Yeah, Square back in the day was incredible. I never played Xenogears or FF 8 or 9, but all the other games mentioned here were wonderful experiences (especially Vagrant Story, which I beat a good dozen times).
I think the only JRPG I've played since FFX was Eternal Sonata, which I enjoyed but didn't even finish. When Square was at the top of their game, there's no question that I'd be enjoyed all the way to the end.
I hope things will get better for Square Enix; That era for Sqaure was beyond the level of epic and I personally numerous games. ^_^
You never played Chrono Trigger, their greatest work?
Man, Square used to be so good. I still play FF6, CT, and CC on a regular basis. Played the CC intro just for fun, and now I'll be playing the game again within the week. What happened to this company? So Sad....
Unfortunately, I wasn't old enough at the time to start playing video games and second my parents have always bought Nintendo consoles so I didn't get to experience those RPGs....though technically Zelda does count as an RPG, though it's mixed with other genres also. Either way, I think it was after X-2 that things went bad as afterwards they had trouble creating new ideas, beyond new characters, and innovating with their titles in Final Fantasy. That's just my opinion but I still wish I could've lived then to tell it like Joe did..sounds like Square Enix will never return to that era of prosperity..unless next gen says otherwise.
I miss these days too. Back when Square-Enix was just "Square", they seemed to do everything right.
Admittedly this era was when Square was at its hottest, but I don't think we can discount them now, or after 2001. Final Fantasy XII was a fantastic game and Final Fantasy XIII and XIII-2 were both excellent as well. Plus with the Kingdom Hearts series and the upcoming HD remaster of FInal Fantasy X/X-2 and Kingdom Hearts 1.5, I think Square is back at the top and with a very strong line-up of games in the near future I think Square is doing fine and am excited for their future.
Square Enix is bouncing back. While XIII wasn't a classic, it wasn't terrible. Neither was XIII-2, although it was convoluted storywise. They've been smart to hone in on the handheld and mobile markets which are the most successful fields currently and recently released ARR, which is leagues better than when it first debuted. I think the next generation is a great chance for them to move forward and reclaim their stake.
I liked the KH series, I don't know why Joe seems to say they contributed to the problems Square went through.