Square Enix Losing Money

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For you or I it might not be that uncommon to enter the end of the year with a lower bank account statement than last year, sure it is something that we try to avoid but it is always kind of hard to not spend a little extra around Christmas.  For Square-Enix, on the other hand, their “little less” for this year is around 134 million USD (or 13.5 billion yen if you want to make it sound like a more unreasonable amount of money).  The reason for the short fall, interestingly, is being firmly placed on anything that wasn’t developed in Japan—you know, the titles that they released that either managed to be released anywhere outside of Japan, are not pointless cash-ins, or aren’t a floundering MMO.

It is interesting that of all of the bestselling games that came out, for months, most of them happened to be in some way connected to Square-Enix.  Tomb Raider was at the top of the charts for more than a month and it still managed to be treated as “underperforming”.  I would normally say something about worrying that Square is going to take the wrong message from this, but they have already stated that they have.  It isn’t that these games didn’t make money for the company, they did, the company projected that they would do more to offset the cost of other, probably terrible and Final Fantasy based, products.  Because aside from cellphone games that reuse sprites from two decade old games and charge you 2 dollars for a new character, I don’t even know what that company makes any more.

Source: JoyStiq

Review: Final Fantasy Theatrhythm

Over the years Final Fantasy has lent its name to an ever increasing plethora of items, spanning both genres and mediums.  It seems that it was probably only a matter of time before a rhyme game came out bearing its name.   Taking inspiration more from Elite Beat Agents and less from Guitar Hero or Vib Ribbon, the general feel of the game is something of a greatest hits feel—taking both the most memorable songs and characters from all of the games mashing them all together.

For me the experience of some of the more classic Final Fantasy has always been one of enjoying the gameplay and story, and less about the music.  Expect for some very notable standouts most of the music is only memorable because it is heard repeatedly over the course of 40 plus hours.   Granted, most of it—for the time it was coming out—was entirely better than contemporary music gracing other games; that does not mean that it stopped me from muting my TV and listening to something else while grinding or dungeon crawling.

It is interesting to play the game and hear the same exact 16-bit music coming out of my 3DS speaker that I heard repeatedly when I was fighting bosses nearly twenty years ago in Final Fantasy 4.  It even adds an odd sense of victory that, while playing a song that seems to be ingrained in my memory of childhood, that I manage to land a perfect chain on the highest difficulty. With that disclaimer in place I should also point out that almost none of the music post Final Fantasy 7 has any special meaning to me.  This means that the game basically has three titles that have music tied to my early life, and then a bunch of odd instrumental music that I am expected to repeatedly play to gain experience.

Besides the music, the way that the game functions is rather interesting.  When the player starts the game they are asked to select a group of four heroes to venture through the game with.  To begin with there are the main character from each of the thirteen titles, with more unlocked the more the game is played.  In the beginning the characters only seem to be different in the skills that they know, as most of the stats are pretty much the same across the board for about the first twenty levels.  The skills vary, but are mainly spells from the games or abilities that the characters knew at one point—Cecil for example learns both cover and dark wave.

The problem is the entire lack of information that the game gives the players.  While playing the game I had a couple of questions about character unlocks and went to Gamefaqs to figure it out.  While there I found out that besides learned skills some of the characters are simply better than others depending on the type of stage that they are in.  The game never really addressed this at any point, and it was pretty much left up to the player to discover that when they were in the battle phase of the game that when it said “Damage” on the enemy character sometimes that was hurting it more than when it said it other times.

As far as I can gather the stats only make a difference in two out of the three types of game modes, the adventure section that has the characters walking across the game field and having them move faster depending on how well the song is being played, and the battle area where notes fly at the characters to be tapped out in time with the beat to do damage to the enemy.  The adventure mode almost feels like reading sheet music as the notes can be dragged up and down, tapped out, or simply held for a time to go with the song.  The battle areas are very similar, but without the movement of notes.  These are both interesting and enjoyable aspects of the game that mix pretty well with each other, too bad that the same can’t be said for the movie section.

There is a game type where large chunks of the story, from the respective Final Fantasy games, are played on the top screen while the player does the normal tap, flick, or hold commands on the bottom.  The problem is that while in the other two modes it felt more like reading a standard scrolling music score, this feels more like Elite Beat Agents where the player is following a circle across the screen and hitting the commands when it lines up.  It isn’t that it is poorly designed, even though some of the movies playing make following it rather difficult as everything that is happening in them is vastly more interesting than the music, it is just that the other modes are so similar that skills from one easily transfer to the other, and this seems to require an entirely different section of the brain to play.

All of my complaints aside this really does end up being a crazy fun to play.  The nice art style that manages to tie twenty-five years of gaming together, the way that the characters utter randomly functional sentences out before a stage begins, and an oddly addictive loot and level up system all work together.  Instead of feeling like something that was forced out into the world before it was fully done cooking like so many recent titles in the Final Fantasy series, this seems to have been a labor of love and dedication that brought this out.  In all honesty I have been looking for a good game to keep in my 3DS that I can either play for extended periods of boredom or brief windows, this game seems to finally be the perfect match for that unscratched itch.

Six Things You Probably Forgot about Final Fantasy

Final Fantasy is one of the most prolific series of anything that I can think of.  In the numbered series alone there are 15 of them (13 and two direct spinoffs) and countless side games, movies, and anime series that rely on the FF in the title to movie copies.  It would only be natural that most people forgot some interesting facts along the way.

6. Mystic Quest was a thing

Final Fantasy Mystic Quest was an attempt to make an entry level Role Playing Game, and instead came out as some kind of middling and forgettable adventure game where the player had to hit a button every now and then—mainly to advance dialog.  If anyone thought that the plot was going to keep people interested they clearly suspected that everyone who played RPG’s was a child who snacked on lead paint.  Nothing ever is really discovered or figured out as much as directly told, no twists or turns that the series has become known for, and the motivation for the character to save the world is as simple as, “because you are the chosen hero”.

5. Triple Triad’s popularity

Triple Triad was a card game that took place inside of Final Fantasy 8.  It involved walking around the entire globe and challenging pretty much anyone that could be spoken to for a game in an attempt to collect additional randomly selected cards from the losers.  Like most people, I happened to forget it was a thing for most of the game and only remembered at the point that anyone I could challenge would destroy me.  The rules were convoluted and could change for almost no reason, different regions contained different rules and the player could spread them to different areas by playing with someone from that region, making the game less entertaining and more about throwing down random cards with little understanding of what might happen.

There was a more playable spin-off in Final Fantasy 9, although the fact that it was more accessible also seemed to make it less popular.  The FF8 rendition of the game was so popular, in fact, that the entire thing was included with FF11’s disc when it was installed to a PC.  It was the same exact game and only cost a dollar to play a month.  Sadly this lasted for years, and just recently ended, because people adored it.  Shortly after the game came out there was also a physical version of the game released in Japan, but no worries, since I was in college and hung out with the nerdiest people I could find for a while I saw real copies of this game in action.  This was also right before I broke off all contact with that group of friend, and now that I think about it, probably the leading cause for doing so.

4. Almost any of the plot(s) of Final Fantasy Tactics

Sure, we all think back about Final Fantasy Tactics and our continued love affair with Strategy games and the complexities of Final Fantasy plots, but beyond the first arch of the game how much does anyone really remember?  The game starts off simply enough, the conflict between nobles and peasants seems to be front and center and interesting, but along the way it turns into something about resurrecting a fallen god and the amount of human sacrifice that is needed to make sure that happens.  The ending itself is showed in mystery as the story telling can’t tell if it really happened.

Most Final Fantasies have some webbing that goes out in different directions with the plot, but most of the time they either end up getting tied back into the main arch or resolved fairly quickly.  Tactics, on the other hand, seems to feel that is totally OK to start strong with a plot about non-nobles being animals and loses its way with the entire “church = bad!” message.  Even when I was reading the Wikipedia entry on this to try and complain about it I managed to get entirely lost in the middle and only really started to understand what was going on towards the “everyone dies” section.

3. Chocobo’s Spin-Off’s

Let’s say that you work for Square and you have an idea for a game, but the company seems to be focusing on Final Fantasy products for that decade, what do you do?  It seems that the simple answer has been to make the main character of that game a chocobo and that project instantly gets green lit.  With just under 20 games out in the “series” (most of them never seeing the light of day outside of Japan) it is almost as prolific as what it spawned off of.

Sure, the titles themselves range from Facebook games to full disc releases so not all of them have probably made the same impact as naming something Final Fantasy.  That said this trend started just after Final Fantasy 7 and is still going strong, with some of the titles in the series (Chocobo’s Dungeon) having several sequels in their own right.  Who knew that that bird you forced to have sex went on little adventures of its own when you were out fighting to save the world?  Tifa would be so proud.

2. The Scary Clown thing in FF9

Also, it is a chef.  If you could close your eyes and think of a possibly mentally handicap Canadian from South Park who dresses like a clown who killed a chef and is wearing parts of that poor guys skin you might come up with something as nightmarish as Qu, but probably not because you aren’t Japanese or H.P. Lovecraft.  The entire reasoning that you have this monster in your party is that it wants to eat all kinds of things from all over the world, meaning people and monsters, and as a bonus (I guess) for your party it can learn their skills.  I am glad that someone thought that it was a great idea to invite a monster who eats things, gains their souls, and call it a friend.  In my mind Qu was always a couple minutes away from deciding the rest of the party might taste good and becoming a secret boss.

Interesting note, Stark’s fear of clowns caused him to never play this game.

1. There was a 3D Fighting game with FF7 Characters

The game was called Ehrgeiz, and is so complicated and insane to spell I had to check Wikipedia three times while typing it just now.  Riding the wave of success that was Final Fantasy 7 as hard as they could Square released this game just a brief year after with Cloud Strife clearly copied and pasted from one cover to the next, a tone that managed to fit this game as it was broken, terrible, and clearly rushed.  When given the choice between someone with a sword the size of a car and a guy who punches well everyone chooses the sword.  Most games between friends devolved into picking one of the Final Fantasy characters and smashing out the same moves repeatedly.

There was a quest mode in the game, a random dungeon rouge-like, which sadly ended up being the meat of the game.  This would have been fine, almost like how Mortal Kombat used to make everything besides the fighting game really plentiful and robust and possibly involving kart racing, if it didn’t force the player to use the same barely functional mechanics that powered the fighting game section. In an era when bad camera angles in small hallways breaking a game forever happened every five seconds the quest mode made the fighting game look like a masterpiece.

Spoony Bard Podcast: Episode 50: Spoony Bard’s True Form

So this week is the 50th episode of the podcast.  It is about a week late, which is entirely my fault as I went on a rather not needed vacation last week.  That said we talk about Final Fantasy IV (II in the US) and how it was probably one of the best plots in a Final Fantasy to this date.  Some people might argue that, but they would be wrong, as a matter of fact this one game gave birth to the podcast and everything that the site pretty much currently is has been spawned from that.  After the discussion we fall back onto newer games, mainly Diablo 3 and Atelier Meruru.  We also manage to fit in some conversation about a new face around Varms and Stark with his anime.