While Square Enix's largest cold-shoulder is often reserved for the Dragon Quest franchise these days, its history of neglecting to localize its own excellent titles dates way back into the days of the NES, back when it was the separate entities of Square and Enix.
Plenty of reasons exist beyond simply not wanting to do it, of course. RPGs were far more expensive back then than they are today. Chrono Trigger sold for $90 on release, the cost to cover a translation! Square's relationship with Nintendo turned sour as it became more powerful, and Enix failed to find a market in the States and closed shop before releasing several of its best games of the mid 90s.
Back then, we didn't have this information dump called "the Internet," and we relied mostly on our own retailers to see what games were being made. We had no way of seeing what was going on across the world's largest ocean. When the Internet went up, the steel wall blocking out generations of video games came tumbling down, and Square Enix fans were able to find a treasure trove of excellent titles it simply neglected to publish in North America.
We naively believed that knowledge of these games' existence would help bring them over here in some kind of legal capacity, but we were wrong. Square Enix naturally gave Final Fantasy V the chance it never had, but lesser known titles were left to linger.
Thankfully, again modern day Dragon Quest aside, Square Enix has been quite forgiving of the fanbase, turning a blind eye to fan translation projects, making these games playable in North America for the first time… without having to pay a dime to do so.
Here are six excellent Square, Enix, or Square Enix games that have never officially been released in North America.
Live A Live
This was the first I played once fan-translations started to take off. Live A Live takes place throughout different eras of history, from the Old West and modern day pro-wrestling to caveman days, feudal Japan, and a robotic future. Rather than one linear storyline, it unfolds over eight chapters before each of its heroes band together in the climax.
Its battle system plays out on a grid, and each scenario lasts only up to an hour or two at most. Some are intricate, especially the ninja scenario which has different rewards for killing everybody or killing nobody, and others are simple, like the cowboy scenario which is just setting up traps to whittle away the enemies in a single final boss fight.
Wonderful little game. Deserves more love.
Seiken Densetsu III
The official sequel to Secret of Mana. We never got this one since Square thought North Americans really wanted the Western developed Secret of Evermore instead. Sweet game, but not the real thing.
Unlike Secret of Mana's three set characters, this one allows the choice of seven different characters into a party of three, and it tasks the players with finding a balance to their abilities and how to evolve them. Pro-tip, use a FAQ for this game.
Luckily, it's a beautiful game with one of the best soundtracks on the Super Nintendo. All those weird design choices vanish when your eyes melt on whatever TV screen this appears on. Fan patches also allow for online multiplayer!
Perhaps the reason most North Americans don't appreciate the SaGa series is because we missed out on its Super Nintendo era games, and Square Enix didn't release the latest batch either. Hey, just like Dragon Quest!
From the exhaustive mind of designer Akitoshi Kawazu, these games will challenge everything you've ever known about simple JRPG game design. Open world exploration, no incremental level growth, huge casts of characters, opaque side quests. Fans hold the first two in the highest regard as the purest incarnation of Kawazu's vision.
Romancing SaGa III is a bit of an offbeat trailblazer with its bad-boy storytelling like Final Fantasy VI.
Treasures of the Rudras
Another game from Kawazu.The suits at Square must have thought that North Americans suffered from a severe allergy to his ideas! Treasures of the Rudras tells the story of humans who are about to complete a 4,000 year cycle of life and extinction. Three separate parties must work together to solve how to save all life on their planet with 16 days to spare.
This game remained untouchable for fan translators for many years because of its spell naming system. Players could create complex incantations using Japanese to make unique spells, and these got stronger throughout the game. Translation guru Aeon Genesis, though, claims he not only cracked the system, he also improved on it with English!
Never played it in Japanese, but the English version is fantastic. Another beautiful title with great graphics and soundtrack.
Originally, this game was titled Final Fantasy Tactics before Square changed it through development. This one was an early attempt to move in on the Shining Force and Fire Emblem SRPG genre, but with the storytelling prowess of Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi. Yes, please!
It's not that unique, but it's just a really well made game. Its main difference using squadrons of characters rather than individual units like in those other games. Each squadron also has a dragon backing them up, making them unstoppable with trash mobs.
Again, it's the story, world, characters, music, and graphics which set it apart from the obvious competition.
All of these games have been Square's doing so far, but Enix was no stranger to localization heartbreak either. Dragon Quest V and VI anyone? What makes Terranigma especially troublesome is that it already exists in English! Enix released this one in Europe, and it's just sitting there waiting for the digital treatment on Virtual Console.
Terranigma is the closing game in the legendary "the Quintet Quintology," a fan-dubbed series of loosely connected games dealing with the relationship of God and his subjects. Players control a boy named Ark as he sets out on a Zelda-esque quest to rebuild our actual destroyed world, packed with real world religions, historical figures and events, and even actual places. Cruise through that gallery and just look at the world map.
Ultimately, Ark must suffer the consequences of playing God as well. Deep stuff, great game.
And just a side point. Yes, all of these are Super Nintendo games! That was when Square and Enix hit their creative peaks before Square got experimental on the PlayStation and Enix sunk its budget into Dragon Quest VII for the better part of a decade.
The two RPG powerhouses brought over plenty of masterpieces, so it's hard to really complain, but no Square Enix fan is complete without diving into this lost era of its history.