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Why we need more Bravely Defaults and fewer Hitman: Absolutions

The last couple years have been a major transition period for Japanese gaming, particularly Square Enix. The Tokyo-based company saw the disappointing launches of new Hitman, Final Fantasy, and Tomb Raider games, bumpy transitions to smartphone gaming, and the death and rebirth of its massive MMO. After a huge corporate reshuffling in 2013, the company has come up with a shocking new strategy: focus on its strengths and stop chasing after “global appeal.” It’s a lesson most longtime fans wish the Final Fantasy company had learned almost a decade ago--but there’s still lots of time to make things right.

In a Japanese business interview translated by Siliconera, Square Enix president Yosuke Matsuda mentioned how the Hitman: Absolution team “implemented a vast amount of ‘elements for the mass’ instead of for the core fans, as a way to try getting as many new players possible... However, what makes the Hitman series good is its appeal to core gamers… which ended up making it struggle in sales.” I’m not sure why this was news to Matsuda, because the 360/PS3 generation is filled with instances of Square Enix repeating the exact same mistake over and over again.

Remember games like MindJack, Infinite Undiscovery, or The Last Remnant? It’s tough, because they were so forgettable. None were out-and-out terrible, but they all focused on pleasing the mythical beast known as the mainstream gamer by sacrificing good design. One of the silliest examples of this wrongheadedness is Front Mission Evolved, a largely ignored 2010 title that remade the hardcore strategy series as a painfully average third-person shooter. Front Mission was never that big in the US, but such a middling change failed to discover a new audience, while simultaneously alienating the established fanbase.

So why was Hitman: Absolution the game that finally convinced Square Enix, and not the dozen other games that preceded it? Perhaps it’s because Hitman was internally developed in the West, and the Japanese higher-ups are starting to listen to the former Eidos teams more. The Tomb Raider reboot, originally seen as underperforming by Square, has gone on to become profitable, demonstrating that the Tokyo bosses misjudged the game’s popularity. Or perhaps it all goes back to the games Square Enix develops for its Japanese audience.

As Matsuda puts it, “...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.” (It’s nice to see Japan and the west rejected those games equally.) Matsuda continued, "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.” Again, making something too mainstream hurt the title overall, while a game aimed at a specific group ended up having greater appeal than they expected. Y'know, just like what happened with every Square release of the 1990s.

In the interview, Bravely Default’s success in the US/EU regions seems like a genuine surprise to Mr. Matsuda. The retro-flavored RPG wasn’t even published by Square Enix, leaving it to Nintendo to deal with localization and marketing--and it went on to sell 200,000 copies in North America alone. Those kinds of sales for a new Call of Duty or Assassin’s Creed would be considered a failure--but for a smaller genre on a handheld, 200K sales is an outstanding first month. And it goes against the “global appeal” way of thinking that's been hurting Square Enix for so long.

The last few years have seen Square attempting to update its JRPGs to gain more Western fans, all while saving the more traditional titles for the Japanese base. Games like Final Fantasy Type-0 and no less than five major Dragon Quest releases have yet to be localized, and Bravely Default likely would’ve met with the same fate if not for Nintendo publishing it. This reluctance with exporting JRPGs is befuddling to me--because these types of games are what made the Square brand internationally famous in the first place.

As an outsider that loves these types of games, it’s frustrating that it took Square Enix so long to see the mistake in developing compromised games for a nonexistent audience. But if the success of Bravely Default teaches the company to get back to basics--relying on its strengths instead of handcuffing itself with assumptions about what the mainstream wants--then I say better late than never. Now, the real question is: When will I get Dragon Quest VII for 3DS?!

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32 comments

  • nintendo365 - April 6, 2014 4:54 p.m.

    I've been saying for years that Square Enix hasn't made a good game since FF12, it was such a breath of fresh air and the active battle system somehow reminded me of my favorite RPG, Chrono Trigger. I was so enticed by that game, I was amped to get FF13 day one! ...and was disappointed with that game in minutes. Then they shoveled another, and now a third. Wanna know the proof of how shit the FF13 series' gameplay is? How come each new FF13 title has a "Brand new Revamped Combat System"? A little solidity would be nice. But the 13s had some strong suits, the graphics were sick, the story was cliche as fuck- but good, and the SOUNDTRACK. Goddamn, dem soundtracks were good. But not enough to carry the half assed, boring combat systems. Hell 13-2 was so bad, I haven't even tried the demo for Lightning returns. As for Hitman and Tomb Raider, I think that Absolution was and awkward game. Kind of strange and definitely dated gameplay (Obviously I'm comparing this game to the Assassins Creeds and Splinter Cell Conviction and Blacklist- and that may be unfair, but it doesn't excuse the fact that they're all better games), and a straight up simple story with some levels feeling like they should have just been cutscenes (FUCKING BAR AND GUNSTORE MISSIONS SHOULDN'T BE WHOLE MISSIONS) and characters that are just odd, not interesting or inspired character design, just odd. It's debatable, but all in all Absolution was a mediocrely good game. Now Tomb Raider, was the game that put Square back on my good side. That game was fucking sick. All in all a great story, not as much fantasy as previous ones, but just enough to make it, not only a Tomb Raider game- but the BEST Tomb Raider. And the gameplay was dope as hell, my only gripe was with melee combat being almost exactly the same as in Absolution, simple QuickTime events- but in a shooter I guess I should STFU about melee combat. The multiplayer felt tacked on and unbalanced (Think Max Payne 3, playable in short doses) but it was there and it could be fun, if you didn't have to deal with max level tryhards who get the most OP weapons because they play obsessively. But I digress, strong Singleplayer, weak Multiplayer. As for Bravely Default, my only regret with that game is the fact that I bought it used. They deserve every penny of the $40 asking price for that absolute gem. I absolutely love Bravely Default, I got tired of repeat playthroughs of Chrono and I was getting pretty fed up with playing Call of Duty BO2 , I have completely DEMOLISHED Borderlands 2 (out of 6 classes, I have 3 at Level50, 1 at 61 and 2 at 72 with max OP levels on the Gunzerker) and Pokemon Y didn't last me as long as I expected. Ive been searching for a new game to devote my time to and by the gods of gaming, Bravely Default is the savior of my sanity. The Brave and Default systems seem soooo simple, but it adds soooo much strategy to a genre that requires enough already. My issues with that game are with Agnes' voice actor being such an annoyingly whispery asshole (Unacceptable!) and that Jobs level up so slowly at 9-14. Another thing is that the story is a bit, just a touch cliche- but what JRPG isn't? at least Tiz hasn't saved the party through "The Power of Friendship" yet. A lot of people say the game is too Grindy, and it is, but I'm used to it and came prepared for it- to put it in perspective I'm on Chapter 2, with all 4 party members at level 39 with all their main job levels at levels 9-10 with 21 hours. The only reason I'm still on chapter 2 is because I'm attempting to exploit the Merchants Big Pharma skill for Pg and Ive been focusing on completing Norende (Finished less than a week after getting the game) as early as possible. But if Square wants to ride on Bravely's success, all I ask is that the next one be on consoles and support PvP play.
  • OmegaZed - April 2, 2014 6:49 p.m.

    Both Hitman: Absolution and Tomb Raider sold over 2 million copies and Square Enix considers this "disappointing?" Instead of chasing Call of Duty numbers, how about they realize what all gamers want is just good games and not hashed out sequels. As for the Hitman stuff, people complained about Instinct Mode and all the things it added for the new audience. We do realize all those things can be turned off in game right? Square Enix is a joke and Bravely Default is only a good first half of a game that takes the best of old school Final Fantasy games and gave it a face lift.
  • andrew-webster - April 1, 2014 9:03 p.m.

    Ive been playing eternal sonata lately and its sad how when a game in a genre as storied as the jrpg genre tries to be actually original it seems like it ends up being a total flop yet then everyone complains about the lack of originality in the genre. Developers are afraid to greenlight genuinely original games like eternal sonata because so few people usually end up buying them
  • rxb - April 2, 2014 8:51 a.m.

    I really loved Eternal Sonata and learn about Chopin too.
  • Clovin64 - April 1, 2014 10:50 a.m.

    More Bravely Default is a good thing. More unapologeticly old-skool JRPG's on the 3DS or home consoles would be a very good thing. I'd still like the inevitable Final Fantasy 16 to be a "back to basics" old-skool JRPG on the current-gen systems, much like how FFIX was a love letter to the old SNES games. FF15 has every chance of being a good game, but it currently looks a bit dark n' broody/hack n' slash for me right now.
  • db1331 - April 1, 2014 7:37 a.m.

    I'm really tired of developers going for global appeal. Almost every game these days is made with people who aren't gamers in mind. I'm currently playing Arkham Origins, and had to play through the same damn tutorial AGAIN, about how to approach armed goons without being detected, and take them out through walls, etc. This is the third damn Batman game I've played. I just wish someone would put out a new entry in a successful franchise and design it with the people who have played all of their games in mind. I had the same issue with Skyward Sword. I've beaten over a dozen of your games. I don't need you to pause the game and tell me that I can use a bomb to blowup that wall with the huge crack in it.
  • Vonter - April 2, 2014 1:43 a.m.

    Sometimes I wish manuals were still the standard to learn the basics on how to play, since tutorials rarely are optional.
  • nintendo365 - April 6, 2014 5:01 p.m.

    I feel what you're saying, but there's no workaround for tutorials. What if they added some new ish to the game, and you, skipping the tutorials didn't know it? It's like wanting to eat a 40 oz steak, but not wanting to have to chew. Once you get the flavor of the game, it becomes much easier to swallow. And also, not everyone has played the last billion Zelda games, they should, but it's not a sure fire thing, they just have to cover bases.
  • christoffer-karlof - April 1, 2014 2:38 a.m.

    I would argue that one of the problems was created by the constant bickering from game journalists, about a lack of "originality" in jrpg reviews for the past decade (As compared to the often jokingly high scores some very unorigina FPS:s recieve. The lower review scores, due to "lack of orginialty" , of course affected sales. This forced japanese developers to implement more mass appealing and, harmful to the game experience, simplifications and "modern elements"
  • christoffer-karlof - April 1, 2014 2:35 a.m.

    I would argue that one of the problems was created by the constant bickering from game journalists, about a lack of "originality" in jrpg reviews for the past decade (As compared to the often jokingly high scores some very unorigina FPS:s recieve. The lower review scores, due to "lack of orginialty" , of course affected sales. This forced japanese developers to impliment more mass appe
  • GamesRadarCollanderCooper - April 1, 2014 2:21 a.m.

    What a stupid idea. Bravely Default was a fluke of a hit and everybody knows. Squeenix is just going to make more FFXIII sequels instead of what fans really want: an FFVII sequel, or at the very least an HD remake.
  • Trollkitten - April 1, 2014 6:51 a.m.

    "Everybody" knows? Well, gee whiz, I sure didn't. In fact, I haven't heard anybody but yourself say that, so obviously your opinion isn't an universally known postulate. Oh, wait, isn't it April Fool's Day? Sorry, my mistake. (I presume. ;D )
  • GamesRadarCollanderCooper - April 1, 2014 5:44 p.m.

    Anyone who isn't a fucking retard could use deductive reasoning (or a 5-second Google search) and come to the conclusion that those type of games don't sell... but you knew that.
  • Trollkitten - April 4, 2014 7:55 a.m.

    So, either I'm capable of proving you right for you instead of you proving yourself right by doing said research yourself to objectively prove me wrong and not reducing yourself to giving proof surrogates, or I'm a disabled person who sleeps around? You're not helping your case. And I never disagreed with your actual position, I'm just saying that not everybody CARES enough to track those numbers, on account that not everybody is interested in the business side of selling JRPGs. It was more of a case of mad literalism than anything else, and I hopefully wouldn't have done it on any day other than April Fool's Day...
  • SirManguydude - April 2, 2014 12:42 a.m.

    Two things, first Bravely Default isn't a fluke hit, considering it a sequel to the well received Final Fantasy: Warriors of Light for the DS, and already has a sequel on the way in Japan(it has been out in Japan for quite awhile now). Also Square Enix has stated more than once that they will not make a remake of FFVII til they feel that they have surpassed it, which in my opinion they had with IX, and of course the great FFVI.
  • GamesRadarCollanderCooper - April 2, 2014 2:27 a.m.

    I meant fluke in regards to JRPGs in general. Aside from Bravely Default and Ni No Kuni, I can't really think of any other JRPGs in recent memory that have been huge sellers. I'm sure most of them are profitable because they keep making more, but the vast majority of them are never on the best seller chart for more than a week, and that's why Squeenix is stupid to employ this strategy. This is the same company that was crying last year because Tomb Raider wasn't profitable after "only" selling 4 million copies. Imagine how they'd react if their games started selling Etrian Odyssey or NIS game numbers.
  • ObliqueZombie - March 31, 2014 9:36 p.m.

    Hear hear. Henry, my Japanese game loving friend of mine! Together we shall be weird fanboys and talk about and discuss all things JRPG!
  • PlainLikeVanilla - March 31, 2014 8:41 p.m.

    I thought Hitman Absolution was good...
  • GamesRadarCollanderCooper - April 1, 2014 2:21 a.m.

    It was. I would play that over Lightning Returns any day.
  • wiitard07 - April 1, 2014 8:45 a.m.

    It was. But it wasn't just like other Hitman games so people boycotted/Bitched about it.

Showing 1-20 of 32 comments

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