Hallelujah! President of Square Enix Yosuke Matsuda has made my day, and all because of the success of Bravely Default in America. Now that "the little game that could" cracked the top ten during its opening month in America with 200,000 units sold, Matsuda is reconsidering the appeal of the JRPG genre all over the world and is aiming to push back towards the genre which made the company a household name.
Over the last several years, Square Enix has attempted to position itself as a world player in the AAA market with the likes of Activision, EA and Ubisoft in its sights. It acquired some popular franchises like Hitman series, Deus Ex and Tomb Raider, and it went about budgeting them and promoting them like it had the next Call of Duty on its hands. In the end, the results were disastrous for Square Enix as all of these games underperformed and sent them into a financial tailspin.
Speaking with the Japanese business magazine Nikkei, translated by Silconera, Matsuda breaks the company's image of arrogance and admits that the move was made because Square Enix "lost focus."
"Not just limited to games for smartphone or console, but we do have some global titles lined up," Matsuda says in response to global smartphone games. "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."
A rare admittance of fault for Square Enix. I never thought I'd live to see the day. Matsuda follows up on his comments to praise Bravely Default, the surprise Nintendo 3DS hit, "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."
It just goes to show that when you focus on what you are good at, your fans and the rest of the world will respond positively. Selling out does not fit anyone's image. Bravely Default has shown Square Enix the light, and Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn has pulled it from the grave. Two games very much in line with the classic Square Enix we know and love, the one I thought had all but vanished from this Earth forever, might be the games which give it another chance to appeal to its fans.
Matsuda explains that thanks to the interconnectivity between different areas of the world now, the JRPG still has the chance to thrive because of a vocal niche market
"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].
With that in mind, and all of the collective fans, there's a sense of mass, which loses the image of a niche market. For the new games we'll be developing from this point on, while this may sound a bit extreme, we've been talking about making them as heavy JRPGs. I believe that way, we can better focus on our target, which will also bring better results."
I'm taking that last little "heavy JRPG" bit with about as big of a grain of salt as I can. Even though this sentiment sounds nice in an interview, Square Enix needs to start showing the goods to win itself back into good favor with its fans from the older days. I wasn't even aware the company could make decent JRPGs anymore after the polarizing Final Fantasy XIII trilogy, but Bravely Default and Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn are the perfect place to regather and refocus on the strengths of the company.
Hopefully Final Fantasy XV and Kingdom Hearts III can deliver the goods, Dragon Quest VII can be localized for the Nintendo 3DS, and we can finally get this ball rolling again.
Wouldn't it just feel like Christmas in April if Square Enix somehow recaptured that creative spirit of the 1990s and just ran with it? Who knows? Maybe between all the great Japanese games it could possibly make, there will still be room for Tomb Raider and Hitman. Matsuda says that this lack of focus on the fans is what hindered Hitman: Absolution so much.
"If you focus too much on the global aspect, you might lose sight of who you're actually making the game for. For example, if you look back at 2013, we've had some home console games made for a global audience that struggled.
The development team for Hitman: Absolution really struggled in this regard. They implemented a vast amount of 'elements for the masses' 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."
Who is this man, and where has he been for the last half a decade? Take notes, Capcom!