Before reading Episode 2, why not watch Episode 1?
I grew up with Nintendo, as many people my age did. Video games were still pretty new to the market, but were growing increasingly popular. It’s hard to imagine a time with arcades in every town, cabinets in every bowling alley, but so it was during that period of gaming history. Nintendo was set to fill the home space void left by Atari.
As a kid, I played many, many games. First on the Nintendo Entertainment System(NES,) then the Sega Genesis. I can remember renting Super Tecmo Bowl from my local rental store over and over again so I could finish off my seasons. Why didn’t my parents just buy the game for me?!
Final Fantasy wasn’t released in the west until the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, and I was a Genesis kid, so I had little knowledge of the series, and truthfully, many other SNES games and franchises. Luckily, the SNES was so prevalent in the homes of my friends that I do have some good memories with the console. I would often head to my buddies houses for games of Street Fighter 2 or Super Punch Out! or Super Mario World, or countless others. And one game in particular always stood out to me from the SNES, and I never even picked up the controller to play it.
A friend of mine, Brick, was obsessed with Final Fantasy IV, or II as it was known in North America, and this is where that interest originates. I would sit in his room and watch him play the game, meticulously leveling up all of his characters to level 99, and seeming to love every second of it. He would play for hours and grind, then hours more, and grind. Watching someone level grind a jrpg when you are 10 years old doesn’t seem like that much fun in retrospect, but I was happy to watch, and something was clicking.
Soon I would join him in my own jrpg fix, with my still favorite game, Phantasy Star 2 for the Sega Genesis. My love of jrpgs hasn’t swayed since that time, but being a mostly Nintendo gamer through the years, I have never played a Final Fantasy game, not even through emulation or all the different platforms where it is now available. It is just one of those series I have avoided, for no good reason I can come up with. But despite that, for whatever reason, I can still go back to that bedroom, sitting cross legged on the floor and watching Brick playing Final Fantasy IV. I think I knew a special game when I saw it, even back then, 25 years ago.
The falling out between Square and Nintendo with the home console releases of The Sony Playstation and the Nintendo 64 is well documented. Nintendo misplayed the situation, and Square moved on to what they deemed more beneficial hardware for their business. Nintendo, though they aren’t likely to admit it, was left reeling.
Squaresofts honey hole during the SNES years were jrpgs, led by Dragon Quest, the Chrono series, and of course Final Fantasy. Square also developed Super Mario RPG, so their relationship with Nintendo was strong. The developer was in a powerful position, relatively speaking, and had built a large audience with releases of Final Fantasy IV through VI on the console. What might the gaming landscape look like if VII had been released on the N64? I don’t think Nintendo ever considered the possibility that it wouldn’t happen, until it did.
When Nintendo was set to launch the N64, they had new competition. Not only were they going up against their console war opponent Sega, Sony Computer Entertainment had announced their intentions to join the video game market with new hardware of their own. Ultimately, Nintendo’s direction of using cartridges for the N64 proved to be the wrong decision, as many Japanese developers left Nintendo for Sony and their new CD-ROM format. Most prominent of these developers was Squaresoft, and others followed suit. It was probably difficult to quantify at the time, but history shows us that a rift grew that day between Square and Nintendo that has sent ripples through the industry for years.
As I said, it wasn’t just Square that Nintendo potentially missed business with. Konami supported the PlayStation with Castlevania and Metal Gear Solid. Capcom, with Mega Man and Resident Evil. Namco’s best offerings, amongst them, Tekken and Klonoa, skipped the N64. Others, like Tomb Raider, not yet a Square IP, also avoided the cartridge format, which cost more to put a game on, cutting into profits. There were 1300 PlayStation games released in North America. For comparisons sake, the Nintendo 64 had just under 300.
The relationship with some of these other Japanese companies was not strained in quite the same way, or for as long, but Nintendo was still missing out on popular game franchises and new and interesting ways to play. Perhaps most telling is the fact that the PlayStation shipped over 100 million units, while the Nintendo 64 only shipped about 1/3 of that total. It might sound hyperbolic, but Sonys success in the market can be traced to Squares support of the console. That’s a significant difference in hardware and software sales when comparing the N64 and PlayStation, and It can be argued that Nintendo is still recovering from that blow to some degree.
Squares decision not to use Nintendo as a home console platform for their games lasted for years. But, as does happen with the passage of time, that relationship began to mend around the release of the Gameboy Advance. Re-releases of Final Fantasy I and II and IV on the Gameboy Advance in the early 2000s, as well as some other titles, showed growth in the relationship, and Squares willingness to drop the grudge, but, still no home console support.
With the release of the Nintendo DS, and Squaresofts merge with publisher Eidos, the relationship between Nintendo and Square Enix soon began to show significant signs of improvement. Square Enix was a big proponent of the Nintendo DS, throwing title after title at the system. And, Nintendo even allowed Square Enix to work on a Mario Sports title: Mario Hoops 3 on 3, and later Mario Sports Mix on the Wii. But where were the home console games?
In total, Square Enix released about 50 games on the DS if we also include games only released in Japan. 8 of which were Final Fantasy re-releases or spinoffs of the franchise. During that same time period, they released 19 games for home console, including games only released in Japan, all of which were on the Wii. They did not release a single game for the N64 or the Nintendo GameCube. Six of the games released on Wii were Final Fantasy games, only 1 of which was a main entry to the series, a relaunch of IV on the Wiiware platform.
For 10 years the main series stuck to PlayStation consoles. Final Fantasy VII through XII were exclusive to the PS consoles, and it wasn’t until the release of Final Fantasy XIII that a main entry did appear on any other platform, but not Nintendo.
Meanwhile, Nintendo took a long route to recover from the blow that Square helped induce. While their business never appeared to be in serious jeopardy, there were mistakes and missteps that made the path to relevancy harder than maybe it would have been otherwise. The N64 and GameCube were not successes, at least by Nintendo’s lofty standards, but business was bouyed substantially by the Wiis and DSs success. Nintendo has now found their footing with the Nintendo Switch, and Square Enix has taken notice.
While all this was happening, and with such a strong IP library, you might expect Square Enix to be bountiful and quite healthy, in terms of their business. But at least to some degree, you’d be wrong. The company has had a history of missteps that has given fans cause for concern and hesitancy for investors.
Game delays became the norm for the company, and fans began to expect them, if not condone them. Final Fantasy X-2 had quite a few delays leading up, and the final release date wasn’t revealed until one week before the game released. Kingdom Hearts 2 was delayed multiple times. Tomb Raider sold over two million copies and was deemed a failure due to high development costs. Final Fantasy XV had large chunks of DLC canceled, and a remake of perhaps the most popular FF game, VII, was announced nearing on 4 years ago, with no footage shown, and no real update since. Square Enix has gone through some significant internal structure changes in the last year in order to limit some of these problems, and here’s hoping they can regain some trust they have lost.
But really, This isn’t abnormal in the video game landscape. There is mismanagement, poor marketing strategies, bad public relations in every company, just like any other business. This problem isn’t exclusive to one company in Japan, let’s make that perfectly clear. But, perhaps now out of necessity, Square Enix is in a position where they are looking to expand their IP and reach new audiences. Since 2013 many of their games have been cross platform, and they have a large mobile gaming presence as well with original content. Nintendo home consoles are really that last tier where there is money to be made for Square Enix, and now, after a wait that seems like forever, Nintendo Switch players have begun to reap those rewards.
In April, just next month, Square Enix will finish its initiative of releasing main entry Final Fantasy games onto Nintendo platforms. And depending on how the games sell, they may not be done yet. By the end of April, this will be their list of all releases on the Nintendo Switch.
- I am Setsuna
- Lost Sphear
- Octopath Traveler
- Dragon Quest Builders/2
- The World Ends With You: Final Remix
- Final Fantasy XV Pocket Edition
- Final Fantasy IX
- Final Fantasy VII
- World of Final Fantasy Maxima
- Chocobos Mystery Dungeon
- Final Fantasy XII
- Final Fantasy X/X-2
- …and a handful of smaller titles.
Square Enix has dabbled in putting Final Fantasy games on Nintendo platforms before, but never to this degree, and never on a home console. To think, soon Switch players will be able to play many of these PlayStation exclusives for the first time on a Nintendo platform. It warms my heart. And selfishly, I am beyond excited, because now I have no excuse not to play the games. I’ll be starting with VII once it is released.
I love the story of Square and Nintendo, because thankfully, there isn’t really a loser in this battle. What I find most interesting is that despite the hardships for both companies, they continued to plug along and make excellent video games, and that’s important. Since their falling out over the N64, it’s been a long, winding, often arduous road to this point for both companies. And though we can’t revise history to suit any specific narrative, there are lessons to be taken from this long journey. Back in 1996, money and pride changed the video game landscape in incalculable ways. Power shifted and swayed, it took unexpected turns. I’m sure both companies might do things differently, if they were given that chance.
But here we are, relationships seemingly mended, and the people that really matter, us as fans, are finally beneficiaries. I’ll soon be playing Final Fantasy on my Nintendo Switch, and I am legitimately excited. That’s a pretty sweet deal, and no change in history can replace a feeling of a new game on your favorite platform.
And, as you might expect, I am still holding out hope for Final Fantasy IV also being released on the Switch. It was the first jrpg I ever watched, but still haven’t played. And despite never playing the game, I know that some part of that game, no matter how small, helped cultivate my love of jrpgs. I would love to pay that forward some day, preferably on the Nintendo Switch.
Revising History from so long ago gets way too complicated, it just isn’t possible. But it’s fun to think how things might have changed had Square stuck with Nintendo and avoided the PlayStation. What would be different today? Would the PlayStation had had the same success? What about the PS2? Would there even be a PS2? Would grass be green?! Would anything be the same?!!!! Oh no…I’m down a rabbit hole. Send help.