As I watched Square Enix’s press conference at the 2015 Electronic Entertainment Expo, I can honestly say that almost nothing they had to show off interested me. In fact, nothing they had to show at Sony’s press conference really interested me, either. Sure, I did name the Final Fantasy VII remake as my #1 moment from Sony’s event, but that was more for the significance it has to others. To me, personally? Not a lot there.
The one thing that did grab my attention at the show was Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, and even then, that’s sort of there on a technicality by way of acquisitions on Square Enix’s part. Sort of similar to how Professor Layton reads less like a “Nintendo” character, and more a LEVEL-5 character whose every game just so happens to have been published by Nintendo. Sure, we’ll say it counts, but there’s a small asterisk beside it.
One could be forgiven for thinking that I’m not a Square Enix fan. All throughout their press conference, I kept jokingly referring to all sorts of games I wanted to see them announce next that I knew would likely never happen.
Except I wasn’t really joking.
Square and Enix individually have each had a long legacy of some really cool, great games. By coming together, it becomes a really long list of great titles and franchises… that mostly go ignored.
Here then is my list of the best games (read: ones I like) to come from Square Enix… or rather, the ones specifically identifiable to Square and Enix. If we throw in Eidos, Taito, and everyone else they’ve bought up, we’ll be here forever. So just the “core” (but not Core) stuff.
If you know me at all, then you know this game is on the list, so let’s get it out of the way first.
Before creating Final Fantasy, this game was designed by Hironobu Sakaguchi (with music by Nobuo Uematsu, which you can hear in the video above) as Square’s answer to SEGA’s successful Out Run driving game. Released in 1987 for the Nintendo Entertainment System, it may not have been the mega-hit the company sought after, but still sold about half a million copies nonetheless.
The game places players behind the wheel of either a Ferrari 328 or an F1 racing machine and has them driving down some impressive (for the time/tech) 3D highways, taking on twists and turns while avoiding other cars and roadside obstacles. A particularly infamous feature is the “3D” mode that could be activated at any time with a press of the Select button; while the shoddy plastic 3D glasses included with the game did little to enhance the visuals, the Famicom 3D System actually did an admirable job creating a 3D effect not unlike what is seen on the Nintendo 3DS for the Japanese version, Highway Star.
In North America, the title was published by Nintendo of America itself, complete with packaging styled after the company’s other releases at the time. It would go on to great renown as one of the three games which comprise the Nintendo World Championships special game cartridge alongside Super Mario Bros. and Tetris, as well as featuring in the Universal film The Wizard. There, it was the game played in the infamous scene featuring the antagonist Lucas demonstrating Mattel’s Power Glove controller.
Rad Racer II was released exclusively in North America for the NES in 1990, minus the involvement of Sakaguchi, and did not gain the renown of its predecessor. Rad Racer has yet to receive a release for Nintendo’s Virtual Console service, while Square Enix’s Akitoshi Kawazu told 1UP that a Nintendo 3DS remake is probably not happening, albeit for odd reasons. Perhaps with any luck, SEGA’s recent release of 3D Out Run for the platform will make them reconsider.
That aside, I keep hoping that maybe Square Enix will revisit the title in a more contemporary fashion, either as a straight-up update or with a twist, such as driving through scenes taken from their other games (though maybe Final Fantasy XV will scratch that itch for them?). Otherwise, or even regardless, I’m inclined to keep tweeting at Sakaguchi and Uematsu for their new company, Mistwalker, to create a spiritual sequel.
Wow, I went a little nuts with this one, didn’t I? I’ll try to keep it a little more concise going forward.
One of my favorite fighting games came from Square in 1997 for the Sony PlayStation. In Bushido Blade, you not only chose from one of several playable characters, but you could also choose the weapon which you would wield in combat. Options included a variety of different swords, each with their own unique stances and way of handling, as well as a naginata (bladed pole) and a sledgehammer.
Whether playing against the computer or another player, the matches were very unique and methodical, standing apart from many other fighting games during its time or even today. In addition to a first-person mode, there were elements of psychology and strategy as you could use the environment to your advantage in a variety of ways, including breaking out of head-to-head combat into a full run to lure your opponent into other areas. You could even cheat to win, albeit dishonorably, by reaching down to quickly throw some dirt into your opponent’s eyes. All told, it was rather amazing.
Perhaps the most amazing part, however, was the winning criteria. Whereas many a fighting game will call upon you to deplete your opponent’s health bar, a single strike is all it takes to bring the conflict to an end in Bushido Blade. With a lunging strike, a match could potentially be over as quickly as it began. Even Akuma takes about a minute to get things done.
A year later, Bushido Blade 2 was released, and while it was improved in some respects, it was regarded as a step back in others. Both titles were released in 2009 as “Legendary Hits,” so good for them. Unfortunately for us, however, there is no such re-release, not even on the PlayStation Store. As such, I’d love to see an update or remake that keeps the heart and soul of the original for newer platforms.
Now, if we want to talk about unconventional picks, let’s talk about Ehrgeiz.
Truth be told, I’m not even sure what to say about this one (“Then why’d you pick it as one of the best?” Quiet, you.). It’s a 3D fighting game with lots of zany characters (as demonstrated in the video below), and while it might not have been anything technically spectacular, it was just a lot of fun in its own right. It’s more like a regular fighting game than Bushido Blade, but one might say it has a few shades of Super Smash Bros. thrown in as well, despite being released a year before that game.
Lending further to the comparison is that in addition to the original characters featured, the PlayStation release essentially turned this into a Final Fantasy VII fighting game. While I’ve never played that game, I did think it was kind of cool to have the lot of Cloud, Tifa, Sephiroth, Yuffie, Vincent, and Zack along for the ride — if only because swinging those big swords around in a fighting game was kind of neat.
Unfortunately, like many other games on this list, Square Enix has shown great reluctance to do anything with the title over the years. Sure, they’ll find another way to draw a dime off of Final Fantasy IV, but God forbid they share some of these other titles with the world again. Ehrgeiz did get a PlayStation Network release, but only in Japan. Seeing that pop up here would be nice, but even nicer would be to see a revival. Maybe they could include more characters from other series?
When Nintendo was priming its launch of the Super Nintendo Entertainment System in North America, one of the more heavily featured games of the time was Enix’s ActRaiser. If you follow the whole “launch window” thing for a console, then this was one of those games that fit within it, launching the same month as the new platform and showcasing a number of its features.
The story of the game places you in the role of God, or “The Master” in the western release, who has fallen into a slumber after being on the losing end of a battle with Satan/Tanzra (because Nintendo of America and their policies at the time). Time has passed as you recover, with evil covering the world and tainting the people who live throughout. Upon recovery, your job is to set to work making the planet livable for the people again: increasing the population from two people, creating roads, controlling the weather — all the work that comes with being a benevolent deity and trying to restore faith in you.
The real fun comes when you need to claim some new territory. Through some divine power, sword-wielding statues scattered throughout the land are brought to life and go about kicking the crap out of evil in some cool side-scrolling platforming stages. While these are the faster and more action-packed portions of the game, they’re only a part of the whole experience.
Nonetheless, Nintendo included the game in their arcade Nintendo Super System units, with the god-sim stuff excised completely in favor of the platforming — basically a coin-op version of the game’s Professional! mode. A sequel was made based around this concept, perhaps misjudging the appeal of the original by focusing only on “100% Pure Action and Excitement!”
Unlike most games on this list, ActRaiser actually did see a Virtual Console release — in fact, despite seeing it in magazines upon release and wanting to play it, that was the first time I ever got to experience it. The sequel, however, was not so lucky and the franchise overall has remained otherwise dormant. That said, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a King lead programmer Fumiaki Shiraishi did tell Gamasutra in 2008 that he’d be interested in making a new sequel to the game, but seven years on and nothing so far has come of that.
This one might be cheating a bit. Prior to 2011, only one installment of Enix’s long-running Itadaki Street video board game series has been released outside of Japan, and that was Fortune Street for the Wii. Much like Itadaki Street DS, this one caught my eye because in addition to featuring characters from Dragon Quest, a variety of Mario characters are featured as well.
The game itself is basically more akin to Monopoly than Mario Party, despite including a few mini-games that don’t come up terribly often. That said, I much prefer this to Monopoly due to the variety of boards with unique shapes which lend themselves to different strategies. You buy up other properties and charge players who land on them, and you can also raise prices by building them up and getting consecutive spaces in a row, but you can also do things such as lower their value or make the businesses on each space shut down for a period of time, allowing for “free” movement across them. Plus, instead of passing Go, you must collect four card suits from across the entire board and cash in at the bank in order to gain a bonus and increase your levels.
Overall, it’s a lot of fun, and set up to go faster than a regular Monopoly game. My only gripe is that it doesn’t take full advantage of the format; with businesses like restaurants, clothing, and toy stores all over the board and dialogue from the characters, it would be fun if the characters actually interacted with the businesses a little more. Waluigi complaining about the prices at the ice cream shop is one thing, but it would be a bit funnier if he were holding an ice cream shop while doing so. That said, having more of a sense of scale of some sort of town about the game board might be cool, too.
It’s a tiny grievance, though; the game is still a blast to play, and given how recent it is, I can’t even take issue with it not being re-released. That said, there has been one release for iOS and Android since, in 2012, and it was only released in Japan and Europe. Baby steps, I suppose, but even though it doesn’t feature licensed character from Nintendo or other Square Enix properties, I’d still love to give it a try.
Illusion of Gaia
Well, what do you know? An actual role playing game on this list. And this is where I realized just what kind of mistake I made in trying to put a video with every entry. “Well, I have one for Rad Racer, and I don’t want to make it look like I’m showing favoritism… beyond the greater number of words I gave that one in particular. I know, let’s just do videos for all!”
Yeah, that idea was a bit of a mistake, as it’s nigh-impossible to find a single short video that does Illusion of Gaia any sort of justice. So have the intro instead.
The action is a bit in the vein of The Legend of Zelda, though a bit different as well. One of the game’s better known features is that during combat areas, the hero Will must enter Gaia’s Dark Spaces to transform into either Freedan the Dark Knight (no relation to Batman) and the liquidy-fire form of Shadow and use their powers and strength to help solve the mystery of the Dark Comet which threatens Earth’s evolution. It’s also a bit linear, with very little backtracking, and presents some surprising and touching character moments throughout.
Second in a trilogy that consists of Soul Blazer (which was also released in North America) and Terranigma (which was not; Japan and Europe only, and needs a Virtual Console release so badly for that reason), Illusion of Gaia‘s almost Zelda-like attributes might have been the catalyst for Nintendo to publish the Super NES title everywhere outside of Japan in 1994/95, even giving it a Zelda-esque logo. In North America, Nintendo even released a special bundle with a t-shirt (featuring the logo and images of Freedan and Shadow) that I still have somewhere, even though it doesn’t come anywhere close to fitting now.
Nintendo Power magazine gave it considerable coverage as well, which is what brought the game to my attention in the first place. Plus, the Super Power Supplies catalog that came with some issues featured some other little nick-nacks and merchandise for the game, too.
Now here’s a song that should be familiar to you by this point, and I’m sure you know the words: Illusion of Gaia, nor Soul Blazer or Terranigma, have been re-released on Virtual Console or anywhere else. Shocking, isn’t it?
Some other games/series that I figure are worth mentioning, though I should say that for one reason or another, I’ve never really played them at length — or, in one particular case, sits as something of an exception to pretty much all the rules.
Dragon Warrior: My wife adores this series, and if I were to ever somehow get into turn-based role playing games that don’t star Mario, this series has my eye. I appreciate the character designs by Akira Toriyama and the overall feel of the world(s). That said, I’m quite interested in trying out Dragon Quest Heroes when it comes out later this year.
Side-note: It’s a shame Dragon Quest X never came over here, and being that this is the only series that Square Enix re-releases as much as Final Fantasy, I wish they’d just translate Dragon Quest VII so my wife can play it and they can get on with reusing the script in perpetuity.
Secret of Mana: This one is sort of Zelda-ish in some ways, and has a unique charm. I’ve actually tagged along briefly with a friend as a second player back in the day, and if I ever have the time, it’s a game I wouldn’t mind seeing more of. Of course, it’s but one game in the entire Seiken Densetsu/Mana series, which has been a little spotty at times in terms of western releases.
Side-note: The western-exclusive Secret of Evermore always looked kind of neat.
Chrono Trigger: See Dragon Quest.
Kingdom Hearts: I should probably actually play this someday. I don’t think there’s any particular reason why I haven’t, just that things never quite lined up right for it. That, and until they actually announced Kingdom Hearts III, the impression I got was that the series had more or less spent a decade spinning its wheels despite the desire of its fans for a sequel. That kind of series was nothing I wanted a part of, but now that it’s back? I might be interested.
Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars: Okay, this kind of feels like a cheat, since it’s pretty much a half-Nintendo game. Drives me nuts that Square Enix owns all the content they contributed, though, effectively making the game all but worthless in any sort of a bigger Mario picture (i.e. Geno being in anything more than a one-off cameo). Still, its success did give rise to the greatness of the Paper Mario (while it lasted) and Mario & Luigi series, the latter of which was made by several of the same staff from Super Mario RPG, including composer Yoko Shimomura and director Yoshihiko Maekawa.
Final Fantasy: I guess I have to give this series some props. It’s not as though I actively dislike it so much as I’m less interested in it, and I do dislike that Square Enix seems to back it at the expense of almost everything else.
The first nine or so games, give or take, have their charms, as do some of the spin-offs. The music is good, there are some neat character designs, some nice character models/sprites, some cool weapon designs. Oh, and I loved “8-Bit Theater.” If Square Enix ever had the gumption to make a release of the original Final Fantasy based on that, I might have no choice but to play it.
That said, maybe Final Fantasy is something I might try someday if I can actually get into the genre as a whole, rather than as an occasional diversion of sorts.
And hey, I did beat Culex. That counts as beating a Final Fantasy boss… right? (I don’t care, I’m taking it anyway.)
So, there we have it. Square Enix has a wealth of cool intellectual property that they’re pretty much just sitting on, and this is but a small sampling of it (feel free to tell me what I missed in the comments). Maybe someday they’ll actually wake up and do something with some of it, even if it’s just re-releases.