A nice Harvest Moon or Turkeygiving to everyone. Two days before countless numbers of the poor animals have ended up on plates and later in stomachs across the country, a very special hors d'oeuvre made its way across the Pacific. Tuesday morning, Square and Enix announced plans to effectively merge into one company named Square Enix next year. This merger should easily win the (RPG-related) news of the year award. Such stories are always a gift from above for game-site editors like me. If it weren't for such stories, how could we possibly fill our pages with endless rants featuring tons of fact and figures? Seriously though, I will try my uttermost to spare you with my beloved facts and figures at least for the duration of this editorial (or rather the first two paragraphs, since I already would consider this an achievement).
So, what can we except from the merger? Dragon Fantasy I- 1.5 or Final Quest Gaiden - The Return of Hard-Boiled Sephiroth? The answer is for better or worse, no, at least not anytime soon. Enix should be busy developing the recently announced Dragon Quest VIII (not even the most traditional of all Japanese RPG series seems to be able to escape the cel and toon shading trend gone I.V.D or "Inescapable Visual Destiny") for at least another year, and Square currently still has a lot of projects in development, many of which won't be released by the end of the current fiscal year (Final Fantasy XII and the mysterious light-hearted online RPG just to mention two titles that will only be released during the fiscal year 2003/2004). On the positive side, this means little trouble for either die-hard Enix fans and Square fanboys, who won't have to adjust to games developed by new development teams made up of Square and Enix staffers. On a sad note, we probably won't be seeing Square and Enix team up and develop The Silent Fear, a mix of Square's cancelled horror project Silent Chaos and Enix's graphical adventure The Fear, a game starring fearsome mutated slimes, chocobos and evil moogles trying to morph you into a gummy block. Of course, we couldn't go with just some sexy Japanese schoolgirls as their prey here. Instead, add FFVIII's Selphie, FFIX's Eiko, Star Ocean 3's Souffle and FFIX's Quina (damn, the latter isn't exactly a great example, since he, she, it or whatever would have eaten the moogles before they could have transformed him, her, or it into a gummy block) all wearing school unifroms to raise the ecchi schoolgirl factor, and you would get Square Enix Witch Project - XXL Edition, even without Final Fantasy VIII's Ultemicia being onboard.
Talking about development, with the news of the merger breaking, the question arose whether Square Enix would change its platform strategy to develop games for say, the NeoGeo Pocket (oh, OK, that was too extreme an example, let's simply say for less successful or popular platforms). The answer came on November 29th in form of a clear "nope", as Keiji Honda mentioned that out of the 25 games currently in development at Enix, 80% would end up on the PS2, 10% on the GBA and 10% on the PC. Square officials didn't get so specific, with Youichi Wada just repeating the same old credo Square has always stuck to: "We will continue to support the platform with the biggest number of users on it." Read: PlayStation 2. Throw in some (Final Fantasy) remakes on the GBA (you don't negotiate for almost a year with a tough guy wearing pink glasses named Mr Y. from Kyoto just to release a remake of Seiken Densetsu on the world's one and only handheld cash-cow) and Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicle and there you go. Not much of a change really, and I might add, luckily.
The competition isn't so lucky, since the other Japanese 3rd party publishers, most of which only have one or two RPG series in their portfolio, will be facing a competitor with an insane number of high-profile RPG series: Final Fantasy, SaGa, Seiken Densetsu, Chrono, Parasite Eve, Front Mission, Final Fantasy Tactics, Ogre Battle, Dragon Quest, Star Ocean, Torneko, Grandia and Lunar (the last two may be properties of GameArts, but Enix owns a 15% stake in the company). All those of you who already sense the creation of a Microsoft-style monopoly can relax, the ones like Konami (Suikoden), Capcom (Breath of Fire), Namco (Xenosaga, Seven/Venus and Braves, Tales) and Sega (Phantasy Star Online, Eternal Arcadia) aren't exactly small companies either. And as long as Square's sports and racing games continue to sell as many copies in Japan as Torneko 2 or Dragon Quest VII did in the US, there is no need to worry.
So what's the bottom line? While the news was definitely big and is extremely interesting for folks like me, who love economic stats and figures, game-wise there won't be any changes for the time being. Especially not on this side of the Pacific, where games like Final Fantasy X-2, Star Ocean: Till The End of Time, Unlimited SaGa, and Final Fantasy Tactics Advance won't arrive before next summer anyways. Last but not least, (and may be a bit frightening for competition and hardware manufacturers alike) starting April 1st, 2003 we will have a company in this industry that single-handedly can make or break a console (in Japan). As long as Square Enix continues to develop great games (and finally announce Chrono Break for the PS2, damn :P) most gamers probably won't mind that.
- Chris Winkler