Saga Frontier Remastered Announced
Square Enix appear to be doing their level best to get the entirety of Akitoshi Kawazu’s Saga series up and running on the Nintendo Switch. The GameBoy trilogy has not even released as of writing, and yet Square Enix has this week announced that Saga Frontier will be getting a HD port for the Switch, PS4, PC, iOS, and Android, launching worldwide some time during the Summer of 2021. Happily it would appear that Square Enix have finally embraced machine learning resolution upscaling for their prerendered backgrounds. Sadly, this comes too late to be used in any of the current generation rereleases of their Final Fantasy games.
The game’s image remains unchanged, but the graphics quality has been enhanced. Characters, backgrounds, and monsters have all been made in high-resolution, and menus have been revamped to be more user-friendly. Quality-of-life features like 2x speed have also been added.
That certainly sounds like machine learning upscaling to this writer. The debut trailer also very much gives off this impression – though it is not quite definitive confirmation.
It is not just presentation and quality of life features that have been refreshed for this HD port though, as Square Enix are adding brand new content for returning players. Fuse has been added to the game’s roster of playable main characters, and he can only be accessed once the player has played through the paths of the seven original main characters. Square Enix are not doing a halfassed job with this either, as they are bringing onboard novelist Benny Matsuyama to co-write the new scenario in collaboration with Akitoshi Kawazu. Kenji Ito will also be returning to compose new musical tracks for the Fuse route. One would not be surprised to find that Ito is also returning to remaster his original score, though that has not been confirmed as of yet.
The Fuse scenario is not the only added content for this release of Saga Frontier. Apparently there were several planned story events during Asellus’ route that were not implemented for the game’s initial release, so the team are now taking the opportunity to remedy this.
All in all the list of upgrades to this game sound quite overwhelming. If only there was still someone at Square Enix who cared as much for Final Fantasy as Akitoshi Kawazu cares for Saga. While it is often a fool’s errand to predict the capricious whims of Akademician, do not be surprised to find that Saga Frontier is the TDT pick for the 2021 Summer playthrough.
Neo: The World Ends with You Announced
On last week’s podcast the panel briefly discussed a Square Enix teaser page that was somehow related to The Word Ends with You. It turns out that this was no mere mundane announcement of a port, but rather it was for Neo: The World Ends with You, a full sequel for the 2008 DS title, which is planned for release in mid-2021 for the Nintendo Switch and PS4.
When The World Ends with You released it was greeted with an overwhelmingly positive reception, which makes it a bit surprising that it has not received a sequel until now. The World Ends with You was a fine game, but it also released at the outset of what was to become Japan’s gaming dark age. It was not released so far in that people had completely abandoned their standards, but it was released at a time when there was not a great deal of competition. One cannot help but feel that the game’s reception and legacy has benefited a great deal from this.
There are a good many people that will be excited to hear that Takeharu Ishimoto is returning to compose the game’s soundtrack. The soundtrack he composed for the original The World Ends with You was extremely well-received, and garnered many a rave review. Ishimoto is a fine composer, and several of the standout tracks that he composed for Crisis Core bordered on the sublime. That being said, one truly cannot understand the plaudits he received for The World Ends with You. The soundtrack he composed sounded like discount Persona, and not even good discount Persona. Composers have attempted to ape the sound of Persona and done a passably good job at it, but Ishimoto is not one of those composers. Then again opinions are subjective.
One thing that is not subjective is the fact that the change of platform is certain to necessitate a change in gameplay. The World Ends with You was an action RPG, but it avoided the button mashing monotony of most other action RPGs by embracing the DS’ touch screen capabilities by having the player draw specific shapes on the touch screen in order to trigger specific attacks. Indeed, this was perhaps one of the strongest qualities that The World Ends with You had to recommend it. By contrast Neo: The World Ends with You looks to be a stock standard button masher. Instead of drawing specific shapes in order to trigger specific attack pins, it looks like the player instead will cycle through attack pins with either the dpad or the shoulder buttons, just like in several Kingdom Hearts games. In fairness, this is pretty much all they could do with the game, but it does not leave much to recommend it.
So what is there to recommend Neo: The World Ends with You? The Story? The premise of Neo: The World Ends with You is a reheat of the first game, where a group of teens awake with countdown timers and are forced by a cryptic organisation to compete in something called the reaper’s game. When The World Ends with You released in 2008 this did not feel particularly fresh, but it was fine. Since then every second anime has made use of that premise, so to say that it is overplayed would be an understatement. Again, Neo: The World Ends with You kind of had to be this way because it is a sequel, but there is not really much going for it. Nothing to recommend to readers to look out for.
A sequel to The World Ends with You is coming out, and that is great news for The World Ends with You fans. For anyone who is gagging for the same story again, but with Kingdom Hearts gameplay, this is sure to hit the spot. For anyone else though, this is looking a little stale. One cannot help but feel like this is a sequel out of time. If the sequel had been greenlit for the 3DS then it could have made use of the same touch screen gameplay, and the scenario would not be quite as played out as it currently is. That said, Square Enix fans have been known to happily eat shit before, so why should now be any different? Neo: The World Ends with You will probably be a smashing success for them!
Square Enix Relocates Headquarters to Tower of Babel!
Organisations maintain office space for a reason. Office space suitable to accommodate hundreds of people is expensive. The demands of spending two hours in transit every day to get to the office is onerous. Companies do not demand this of their employees for shits and giggles. There is not a company out there that would not prefer its employees to have an additional two hours of sleep per day, and reap the productivity benefits that entails. There is not a company out there that wishes to keep their employees from potentially missing important milestones when starting a young family. Companies do not do this for nothing.
Young families cause distractions. The very fact that an employee is working from home, a place associated with rest and recreation, can make it harder to focus, and most importantly a worker is isolated from their coworkers when working from home. The ability to search out a colleague and tap them on the shoulder is absolutely invaluable in an organisation, and the larger and more complex that organisation is, the more important this becomes. When everyone is working from home suddenly the only way to get in touch is to reach out through formal channels of communication, which will lead to situations where an employee has to debate whether it is worth disturbing a coworker. This goes double in the case of Japan, where society is generally more considerate, and social hierarchy is quite rigid. Moreover, in general working from home basically means that workers will benefit less from the knowledge and experience of their peers, and they cannot pick up on contextual cues within their workplace to ensure that they are all pulling in the same direction.
Many Japanese game developers have implemented work from home policies in the wake of Covid-19, for obvious reasons. This has caused delays and inefficencies, but there is nothing else to be done right now, so that is fine. Square Enix has decided to make working from home a permanent feature of their organisation even after the threat of Covid-19 has been lifted. Employees will either work three days at the office and two days from home; or three days from home and two days at the office, effectively fragmenting the workforce. Why maintain a large external development workforce, when the company can just outsource projects as needed?
Do readers recall the troubled development of Final Fantasy VII Remake? That game was supposed to have been developed primarily by Cyberconnect2. They had already developed a substantial portion of the game when it was determined by Square Enix that the work was not of a high enough standard. Cyberconnect2 subsequently had their contract terminated, and the project was rebooted from scratch. The point here is that things were able to go pretty far astray before anything was done about it due to the fact that there was suboptimal mechanisms for oversight and communication. Now Square Enix is on the verge of repeating the same senseless mistake!
Now in order for a project leader to get a sense of how a sub-unit is progressing with a development task they will have to request a demonstration and shedule a time to meet with them, when in the past they could have just had a look-in within the office, and maybe a chit-chat in the cafeteria over lunch. Square Enix are fostering an environment of severe workplace communication disfunction, and their games will likely suffer for it. Square Enix games are notorious for shipping incomplete, and the more troubled development is, the more half baked their games tend to be. Xenogears was shaping up to be a masterpiece until development took too long, and the game was alowed to ship half finished, much like the Tower of Babel referenced therein.
The Tower of Babel is quite an apt example from which to draw a lesson in this instance. The story goes that once long ago humanity spoke a single language, and set about working together on a great tower, with the purpose of reaching God. Seeing what the humans were attempting to do, God cursed them to speak different languages; and once they were no longer able to communicate there was no longer any way for them to effectively collaborate on the tower – and so the Tower of Babel remained incomplete. The moral of this story, other than the obvious one about human vanity, is that all of humanity’s greatest endeavours are accomplished through collaboration, but such collaboration becomes impossible without communication. This is a lesson that Square Enix would do well to ponder, because right now they are sewing the seeds of development chaos. Poor communication will lead to inefficiency, innefficiency will lead to crunch, and crunch will be less efficient due to poor communication. Work at home employees will not be feeling so well rested then.