For those that don’t remember, Square Enix used to be two companies: Square and Enix. The two had collaborated in the past on projects like Chrono Trigger. But it wasn’t until Square nearly went bankrupt after blowing millions on creepy digital puppets for the Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within movie did the Japanese role-playing game giants merge. The publishers behind Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest were now under one roof. What could possibly go wrong?
How about spending years, decades even, developing single video games. Transitioning to the scale of HD games was particularly hard for a company that dealt in genres known for being sprawling, 100-hour epics. Previous console generations could see as many as three core Final Fantasy entries. But Final Fantasy XIII for PS3/360 took so long it ended up getting remixed into its own two sequels to recoup losses while Dragon Quest hummed along on the much more mellow, mega-popular Nintendo DS.
Recently Square Enix has been shocked to discover that audiences respond well to their more modest RPGs and spin-offs like the Bravely Default series, I Am Setsuna, and Dragon Quest Builders/Heroes. However, those alone can’t sustain the company while Tetsuya Nomura wastes years of everyone’s lives endlessly strapping zippers and belts onto Kingdom Hearts III and the Final Fantasy VII remake. After ten years in development, only conspicuous noodle product placement and the pure appeal of Prompto pushed Final Fantasy XV over the finish line in 2016.
That’s why one of the smartest moves Square Enix made was purchasing Eidos in 2009. While the Japanese mothership toiled away in RPG development hell, the Western branch could actually create sell video games in familiar franchises real people could buy in real stores. All of sudden, Lara Croft and Agent 47 and Gex were part of the same family as Cloud Strife and those blue slimes.
Initially, Square’s handling of those properties had also been pretty solid, better than how they were treated before. The new Tomb Raider games are arguably the best in the series. They managed to resurrect the hugely influential Deus Ex series into something not only good but great. After a confusing episodic roll-out, last year’s Hitman was a true Game of the Year contender and an open-world stealth game on par with the white whale that is Metal Gear. Square Enix saved the excellent Hong Kong action crime game Sleeping Dogs from Activision’s disinterest. Even the Square Enix mobile games based on Eidos properties have all been surprisingly fantastic.
So then why do these series now suddenly feel like they are all on life support? Today Square Enix announced that it is severing ties with Hitman developer IO Interactive after previously promising a second season of the acclaimed series. They will attempt a sale but the future of the series is very much uncertain if no one else wants to buy that beautiful baldy and his murder adventures.
But that’s not the only Eidos-adjacent turmoil. After last year’s Mankind Divided, additional Deus Ex games also now seem as unlikely as me accepting the phrase “Mechanical Apartheid.” The ambitious Sleeping Dogs sequel got cancelled and the developer United Front Games now longer exists. A third entry in the Tomb Raider reboot has already been leaked, but following constant talks of poor sales, will the end of the trilogy also mean the end of Lara Croft?
What is happening? Have sales just been that poor? What kind of effect is the new CEO having? As Square’s RPGs begin showing signs of life again, is that drawing attention away from the West? Or is it the new Marvel partnership that’s taking precedence? Did Just Cause die so Dragon Quest XI and an Avengers game can live? I hope not.
Square Enix today is a company built on fusions, but unfortunately for gamers, it now seems split. If things don’t turn around, we may need to reenact the bonkers DLC of great, recent Square Enix game Nier: Automata and take down the board members with our nihilistic robot powers.