News: Square Enix To Return to Making JRPGs?

Back to the future!
Back to the future!

Square Enix Claims to Be Returning to a Focus On Serious JRPG Development

What a frustrating company. Over the course of the seventh generation Square Enix lost its soul, and it has only been obvious to every individual possessed of a working brain that they have been barking up entirely the wrong tree with their efforts to create games with a global appeal. Throughout the fourth, fifth, and sixth generations Square Enix established themselves as a global household name – not because they made a consciously focus-tested global product, but rather because they made a uniquely Japanese product which held global appeal. Just imagine if Hiyo Miyazaki had decided that he needed to strip his films of Japanese culture and references in order to appeal to a global market, one imagines that his efforts would be met with middling results, much like Square Enix’s results throughout the seventh generation! It was as though one day out of the blue Square Enix just decided to junk an approach that had been working very well for them right up to that point. Instead of their making the games that gamers demonstrably bought up in large quantities from them, they instead decided to make a product with “global appeal” – which is a problem when the entirety of their knowledge of the outside world can best be summed up with a crude clip-art slide depicting cats, money, and large men with cigars.

Now if they are to be believed [and that is a big ‘if’], Square Enix are set to return to making serious ‘heavy’ JRPGs. The reason one harbours some doubts in this respect is because Square Enix seems to change corporate direction on a quarterly basis and is certainly not beyond a little PR BS-ing in their relations with the media, thus the proof will be in the eating. At any rate, if this change of heart results in more titles like Bravely Default then so much the better. Speaking to Nikkei Trendy, Square Enix’s new president, Yosuke Matsuda, revealed the company’s proposed turn-around:

Not just limited to games for smartphone or console, but we do have some global titles lined up. However, regardless of whether they’re for smartphone or console, there’s a difficult element to developing global titles, so we’ll be making them without focusing too much on the ‘global’ aspect.

For example, in the past, when we developed console games with a worldwide premise, we lost our focus, and not only did they end up being games that weren’t for the Japanese, but they ended up being incomplete titles that weren’t even fit for a global audience.

On the other hand, there are games like the JRPG we made for the Japanese audience with the proper elements, Bravely Default, which ended up selling well all around the world.

Due to having split [the development mindset] according to regions around the world, we weren’t able to see this clearly up until now, but fans of JRPGs are really spread around the world, through the means of various networks, the latest information that is announced in Japan is instantaneously being spread across fans throughout the world. Whether it’s North America, Europe, or South America. There really isn’t much of a gap [in the relay of information].

Could Square Enix really be about to junk this business strategy?
Could Square Enix really be about to junk this business strategy?

During the interview Matsuda also identified this mass market approach as being to blame for the poor sales of Hitman: Absolution, and signalled that their Eidos properties would be making a return to a focus on the core gamer:

The development team for Hitman: Absolution really struggled in this regard. They implemented a vast amount of ‘elements for the mass’ instead of for the core fans, as a way to try getting as many new players possible. It was a strategy to gain mass appeal. However, what makes the Hitman series good is its appeal to core gamers, and many fans felt the lack of focus in that regard, which ended up making it struggle in sales.

So, as for the AAA titles we’re currently developing for series, we basically want to go back to their roots and focus on the core audience, while working hard on content that can have fans say things like ‘this is the Hitman, we know’. I believe that is the best way for our development studios to display their strengths.

It is certainly true that Hitman: Absolution had a very poor critical reception because of the degree to which it dumbed down Hitman formula, yet the claim that the game sold poorly because of this is a very odd comment to make, mostly due to the fact that it is not at all true. Matsuda has been holding aloft Bravely Default‘s strong sales of 810,000 copies sold as evidence that the company should return to focusing on JRPGs, yet looks at Hitman: Absolution‘s 3.62 million copies sold as evidence that the game under-sold. If the game did not sell enough copies to justify its existence then that is a problem of budgeting, not a problem of sales performance. A Hitman title was never going to perform much better than Absolution did. The modest success of Bravely Default can seem more meaningful by contrast because the game did not cost the world to make. This is a lesson that Square Enix should have learned from the success of Miley Cyrus’ Hannah Montana series on the DS and Wii. Hannah Montana [2.65m], Hannah Montana: Music Jam [1.55m], and Hannah Montana: Spotlight World Tour [1.38m] certainly did not sell as many copies as Hitman: Absolution, yet profits stood to be much higher on account of the fact that not very much money was likely spent on developing the games themselves.

If Square Enix remain true to their word then one will be most delighted, however they must be prepared to put in the hard yards in order to reclaim their stake in the JRPG genre. The JRPG industry was originally a niche genre until Squaresoft themselves almost single-handedly transformed it into a mass market proposition. That is no longer true, and even very high quality JRPGs will these days struggle to reach a million units sold, so it will not simply be a case of Square Enix pouring tens of millions of dollars into a project, slapping their name on the case, and selling several million units [as was the case for Xenogears and Chrono Cross. The key here will be for them to greenlight lots of smaller high quality JRPGs like Bravely Default that only have to sell five hundred thousand copies in order to turn a tidy profit, while they work their way back up to the big stuff – that way they will have money coming in between their major releases in the Final Fantasy series.

Coming to a PS4 near you!
Coming to a PS4 near you!

Activision To Switch to PS4 As Lead COD Platform

Phil Spencer takes the reins as head of Xbox [and its other assorted multi-media endeavours] this week, directly under the watch of his division boss, Stephen Elop. The appointment would seem to come at a bad time for the company if the rumours are to be believed, as it appears that Activision are gearing up to make the announcement that the PS4 is now the lead platform for all things Call of Duty. With the Call of Duty franchise always being so closely tied to the Xbox brand for the past seven years, the magnitude of this announcement really cannot be overstated. It would be very easy for Lusireaders to dismiss this prospect due to a lack of direct relevance, but the Call of Duty IP is a massive force in entertainment, and such an announcement will bolster the PS4 userbase by a significant amount. This rumour comes by way of industry insider, Famous Mortimer [Pete Dodd], so, as always, take it with a grain of salt until it can be confirmed by Miley Cyrus:

I’m not ready to jump on the XB1 is doomed train yet. Titanfall, or really any game, can turn the fortunes, but as of now – yes, good start but valid concerns. The PS4 is above and beyond all projections and publishers are re-calibrating to this. I heard that Activision is going to make a public announcement about COD changing to the PS4 as lead platform. I have no idea if this means DLC (I assume MS locked that down for multiple years) but COD was a XBOX 360 game that happened to be on the ps3 last gen. That will be a hugely symbolic move… and don’t discount what that means to the masses.

Also, don’t sleep on inFamous. It will be very, very, close to Titanfall XB1 this month. Sony is also doing far more digital sales than MS so far (which is a weird switch from the middle of last gen).

Activision picking the PS4 as lead development console certainly would not be a surprising turn of events, given that almost every studio has already adopted it as their default tradeshow demonstration platform, owing to its superior processing capabilities. Hearteningly, we have even begun to see PS4 versions of games receiving exclusive features which are presumably not possible to impliment on Microsoft’s platform, such as Metal Gear Solid V‘s realtime weather and lighting model on the PS4 which contrasts favourably to the static skybox utilised for the Xbone version of the game.

Meanwhile, some developers are acting a little cagier regarding their game’s technical performance, with Ubisoft’s Colin Graham providing some less than convincing assurances that both console versions of Watch Dogs look about the same:

Gamepur: “Ubisoft are showing ps4 footages of Watch Dogs, what about xbox one? will we ever see watch dogs running on xbox one?

Colin Graham: “I don’t know. It really doesn’t look different though. The two versions are identical in almost every way.”

Gamepurr: “is it identical in technical aspect as well like resolution, fps and other factors?

Colin Graham: “on the technical side i cannot say, i just don’t know. Sorry. To me they look the same.”

Colin Graham: “i really don’t know, sorry.”

It looks like that is 720p confirmed! In all fairness to Colin Graham though, it is entirely possible that the resolution of the Xbone version of Watch Dogs has not been pinned down yet, seeing as the Xbone clearly is not the lead platform.

Resolution was certainly not this game's only point of differentiation.
Resolution was certainly not this game’s only point of differentiation.

Misrepresented Interview Gives Brief Flicker of Hope to Xboners

It must be an odd existence being an Xboner. What many older Lusireaders may find difficult to appreciate is that many gamers have grown up on Xbox, and have never known a time when their console of choice has been less powerful than its Playstation counterpart. Sure, the argument can be made that the PS3 was technically a more powerful console than the Xbox 360, but in order for this advantage to manifest a game would have to be developed exclusively for the PS3’s unique Cell architecture, otherwise it was just a console with a comparatively weak GPU. One can only imagine that it is this state of affairs that has lead many to invent fantastical notions about mystical Xbone secret sauce components that will be able to level the playing field with the PS4. It is the existence of these sorts of people that made Oddworld creator Lorne Lanning’s comments to Xbox Achievements this week somewhat unhelpful.

So I would say, months ago, there was a wider gap. Part of it was the development systems,” [he explained, before going on to say that it was common to hear devs complaining that getting assets onto Xbox One took “twice as long” as PS4.]

We’re hearing and seeing that that curve is getting closer. I think at the end of the day when people maximize both systems, they’re each powerful enough[…] They’re in that class of when you watch the basketball, you’re going to be like, ‘Is that TV? Or is that a game?’

I think they’ve been improving the toolset really fast, improving the development environment and shaving that curve down… I think they’re getting comparable.

You know, if you want to run at 1080p, Battlefield, I’m not exactly sure how that’s going to tax the system at that higher end, but I’m sure in couple of years it won’t be a problem. We’re early.

I have to say, the PlayStation 4 has been pretty amazing and that’s where we’ve been spending a lot of our time, but I don’t see a huge gap like there used to be. There used to be a significant gap.

For us, we aren’t taxing it that heavy, like I say it’s not Battlefield, for us, we don’t really see that we’ll have performance problems on either and we’ll be able to get what we want, with very dynamic looking lighting, particle effects, etc.

That is great, only according to one of Lanning’s collaborators, Just Add Water CEO Stuart Gilray, Lanning has been taken out of context in order to make it sound like the technical performance of both machines has begun to narrow, when actually what Lanning was getting at was that between the improvements made to Xbone development software and the reality of escalating game budgets, he believes that going forward we will see the differences in multiplatform releases narrow some:

Actually that is NOT what he said. I spoke to Lorne afterwards and what he meant when speaking to that guy was that budgets, schedules and perceivable differences would narrow, NOT that the Xbox One performance is improving to align with PS4, that is just physically impossible. The PS4 has MORE COMPUTE units, and faster memory and a whole bunch of things, that would make that physically impossible to happen.

Put like that Lanning’s views seem eminently more sensible. Part of the reason for the shaky start to the Xbone’s software library [above and beyond hardware differences] has been the Xbone’s poor development software which presented developers with delays as they waited to see any changes implemented in the game code. This seems to have been remedied. If Microsoft could just find a way to help developers to fit a 1080p framebuffer inside the Xbone’s 32mb of fast eSRAM, then the perceptible differences between multiplatform releases could potentially narrow to the point of insignificance despite the PS4’s superior performance. Of course one is inclined to disagree that this will happen quite to the degree that Lanning appears to, as one has tended to note that if a console manufacturer provides an easy to use resource then it will almost inevitably be used, especially if it belongs to the more popular platform. Nonetheless, eliminating the 1080p divide would go a significant way to leveling the eighth generation playing field – though whether that is even possible for more demanding games is anyone’s guess.

Meanwhile, Miley Cyrus, in her wisdom, has decided to remain aloof from this sordid matter.

4 comments

  1. Good Summarizing and commentary on the news. I hereby promote you to Silicon Regular. It’s quite an honor, you should be proud.

  2. Thank You DiceAdmiral, I will try to live to the expectations that rank gives by not touching a FPS, which will be easy since I don’t know what that is .

  3. We should try to focus more on the smaller companies who actually develop good JRPGs like Bravely Default, and whoever is making Drag-On Dragoon 3 (which I know little about, but I bet you is pretty Japanese oriented), and hope Square Enix has the good sense to foster them. S-E themselves aren’t in a position to properly develop a classic JRPG until the JRT gets down to a level we haven’t seen in at least a decade.

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