There are a lot of JRPGs coming out before the end of the year. Between Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII Reunion, Harvestella, The DioField Chronicle, and several others, JRPG fans will have an embarrassment of riches by the end of December.
A combination of factors in the gaming industry has led 2022 to be a pretty quiet year for major releases. Sony only has two marquee titles this year: Horizon: Forbidden West, which hit back in February, and God of War: Ragnarok, which will be released in November. Nintendo has had a handful more titles, like the excellent Xenoblade Chronicles 3 and the upcoming Pokemon Scarlet and Violet, but other big-name titles are mostly seeing their release dates slip into 2023 and beyond.
Then there’s Square Enix, comfortably pumping out no fewer than twelve titles before the end of the year if you count re-releases and mobile titles. That’s a lot of content for RPG fans to sift through, and it could speak to a fundamental shift in Square’s business model going forward. So, what’s going on with all these Square Enix games?
Square Pivots to Embrace JRPG Niche
In the extremely recent past, Square Enix was trying to become a global brand with a footprint all over the gaming industry. It owned studios like Eidos Montreal and Crystal Dynamics, massive Western development studios responsible for AAA games like Deus Ex and Tomb Raider. However, the company was notorious for claiming its Western studios were underperforming even when the games sold millions of copies.
Recently, Square sold these studios to the monolithic Embracer Group, a massive European conglomerate that has been scooping up video game developers and tabletop game manufacturers alike. Now, unburdened by the expectations of Western fans and flush with capital, Square is clearly focusing on a very different business model.
Square Enix is primarily known for its role as the developer and publisher of two of the biggest RPG franchises in the world. Final Fantasy, the megaton franchise that is about to get its sixteenth mainline entry next year, is the crown jewel of the Square side of the publisher. Dragon Quest, an unassuming but beloved franchise distinct for its storybook-style art, is the main focus of the Enix half of the company.
A Storied Legacy
When Square and Enix merged back in April of 2003, it felt like a sea change for the RPG industry. Suddenly, two of the biggest third-party Japanese developers were united under one roof, able to pool their development resources and create sprawling RPGs with much larger budgets than in years past. The first handful of games released under this paradigm were evidence of how much bigger they could go with a higher operating budget.
Final Fantasy XII was the biggest entry in the franchise upon its release in 2006. The same was true of Dragon Quest VIII, the first PlayStation 2 entry in the long-running series. Each series has continued to grow and flourish under the partnership, and the studio continues to bring out new IPs that trade in the same classic RPG style as these juggernauts.
For instance, in 2012 Square created Bravely Default for the Nintendo 3DS, which embraced some iconic Final Fantasy gameplay elements like job swapping, turn-based combat, and sprawling overworlds while also introducing some unique twists on the formula. Likewise, the company continues to branch out with new series like Octopath Traveler, Triangle Strategy, and the upcoming Various Daylife.
Back to Basics
With its recent split from Eidos Montreal and Crystal Dynamics, Square Enix signaled that it’s looking to move away from its previous broad approach and will now double down on its RPGs–a comfort zone that fans are happy to see the company returning to. After all, Final Fantasy VII Remake and Bravely Default II are among the best RPGs to grace any platform in recent years, and Square’s got plenty more where that came from.
The company’s heaviest hitters are still slated for 2023. Final Fantasy XVI, which promises to return to a more fantasy-driven approach than its divisive predecessor, is coming later next year. Likewise, the follow-up to Final Fantasy VII Remake, titled Final Fantasy VII Rebirth, will hit the PlayStation 5 next winter. In the meantime, though, Square wants to make sure RPG fans have plenty of games to play.
Foremost among the slew of titles the company is releasing in the next three months is Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII Reunion, a remaster of the PlayStation Portable title of the same name. Crisis Core is a prequel to the events of the main game that focuses on a novice super-soldier named Zack Fair, and fans of FF7 Remake will be eager to see how that story connects to the original title.
Crisis Core is one of several games set in the same continuity as the 1997 game Final Fantasy VII. If you’re not familiar with that game, the short version is that it was a massive breakout hit in both Japan and the West and solidified the Final Fantasy series as one of the marquee franchises for the PlayStation. Square has continued to support that entry’s setting with several spin-offs, a sequel film, and the recent Remake series that has completely reimagined the original game.
Crisis Core originally hit the PlayStation Portable in 1997, a decade after the original FF7, and introduced a then-revolutionary real-time combat system and fully-explorable 3D environments to the series. These environments are noticeably limited and narrow, due to the PSP’s somewhat underpowered hardware, but the game received high praise from critics and sold quite well for a portable spin-off of a decade-old RPG.
With Remake introducing a new generation of fans to the doomed world of FF7, Square took the time to apply some polish to the fifteen-year-old PSP game and bring it up to Remake’s visual standards. Fans will notice that the menus, item descriptions, and even the character models have been updated to stay uniform with their FF7 Remake counterparts. Notably, this isn’t a full remake, though: the Reunion version of Crisis Core is mainly a visual overhaul of the original. It doesn’t sport completely reimagined combat scenarios or brand-new content like Remake did. The prequel will hit PlayStation systems, Xbox, and the Nintendo Switch on December 13.
Harvestella is the latest in a ridiculously long line of RPG games with a heavy emphasis on farming simulation. Games like Stardew Valley, Harvest Moon, and Square’s own upcoming Various Daylife all spend a significant amount of the player’s time in-game dealing with digital farms. Unlike some entries in the farm-sim genre, Harvestella doesn’t seem to try too hard to seamlessly blend the harvesting with the monster-slaying.
Instead, this upcoming RPG is just a turn-based dungeon-crawler welded onto Stardew Valley. This is a simple, but effective, approach, resulting in a game that has elements from two of the most time-consuming and addictive video game genres. In a nutshell, if you like Final Fantasy and Harvest Moon, this game lets you play both of them at the same time. Is it elegant? No. Does it rock? You know it does.
The game’s graphics are surprisingly detailed and immersive for a genre typically known for its stylized aesthetics. The game’s plot tries to pull its various gameplay mechanics together by explaining that the seasons have been interrupted by something called the Quietus, but it’s all a thin excuse to chop up monsters and plant carrots. The game will hit the Nintendo Switch and PCs on November 4.
The DioField Chronicle
One of Square’s most visually-appealing recent titles is The DioField Chronicle, an isometric tactical RPG that eschews the grid-based combat system used by titles like Tactics Ogre or Fire Emblem. In lieu of turn-based action on a grid, the game plays like a single-player MOBA, allowing the player to control a quartet of heroic characters in the midst of chaotic battles involving dozens of enemies. This real-time approach is a far cry from the more ponderous gameplay of some other series in this genre.
Players who are more fond of the traditional turn-based brand of strategic RPGs can turn to games like this year’s Triangle Strategy or the upcoming Tactics Ogre remaster to get their fix. The DioField Chronicle instead takes a bet on a somewhat untested genre, a single-player, hero-driven real-time strategy approach that rewards quick thinking and tactical acumen. For some players, this will be a welcome departure–for others, it might seem like fixing something that isn’t broken.
The DioField Chronicle might have the same underlying math that makes games like Fire Emblem such a joy for tactical players, but the real-time combat results in a very unique moment-to-moment feel for the gameplay. If you’re interested in trying your hand at this new breed of tactical RPG, you can check out The DioField Chronicle now: it was released on the Switch, PS4 and PS5, Xbox, and PC on September 22.