Square Enix's NFT game sounds like a nightmare nobody's prepared for

(Image credit: Square Enix/LGG)

Square Enix has lifted the veil on its first NFT game, and from its calls to participate in blockchain-driven informational warfare to its promise to put three players in charge of its own future, Symbiogenesis is revealing itself to be a predictably bizarre nightmare.

Let me first give you Square Enix's own pitch for the game. "Symbiogenesis is a project that brings 'gaming utility' to '10,000 pieces of NFT collectible art.' The genre is 'narrative unlocking NFT entertainment,' in which players solve mysteries and complete Missions and Quests based on the stories that are released daily and the story information possessed by the characters." The initial story will run over the course of six chapters starting in May, and at the end, the devs will select three players to determine the next step of the story (more on that part in a minute.)

That comes from a "project evaluation report" published by developer LCA Game Guild, a Japanese Web3 company that's building Symbiogenesis alongside Square Enix. If you want to try to understand what this game is - and I emphasize try because understanding this thing is no small task - I'd recommend you follow that link and let the words wash over you. Here's an example page.


(Image credit: Square Enix/LGG)

Simple, right? As far as I can understand it, people who own one or more of the 10,000 character NFTs will have access to that character's unique story, which will then provide hints as to how to complete the game's quests and missions. What form do those objectives take? No idea! All of the details here makes it sound more like an ARG than a traditional game - in any case, it's all about collecting, processing, and using information to solve these quests.

One page of the report suggests that the devs expect "information warfare" to break out, with self-designated factions of players fighting to gather the info needed to reach the game's top ranks. As the devs explain, "Symbiogenesis is not just a game of gathering information to attack Quest [sic], but is 'information warfare' itself, in which communities are formed according to their objectives, aiming for rewards by monopolizing information or sharing information with other communities to advance the storyline."

The kicker, of course, is that all this information is governed by access to NFTs, so - assuming people actually want to buy in - there's real money on the line in these data-trading schemes. There are systems in place to give profit-minded players benefits for continuing to participate rather than selling the instant they've got something rare, but technically you don't even have to have an NFT to take place in the whole thing.

Hilariously, that means the devs are insisting this "is not a 'Pay to Win' situation where you can win just by buying a Character NFT." No, you can't win just by buying an NFT - you'd just have to talk hundreds, or perhaps thousands, of other people into buying NFTs, or become friends with those who already have them, in order to get the information you need to complete the quests.

The end of all this is what the devs are calling a "World Mission," where three players who completed all the game's missions and collected certain quest items will be selected to "decide the future of the story." The devs pitch that "the value of being selected as one of these three for a project undertaken by one of Japan's leading game companies is immeasurable. Naturally, the difficulty level is extremely high. In addition to being good at games, you need to have a complex set of skills such as 'reasoning,' 'information gathering,' and 'team building.'"

Do you remember Curiosity: What's Inside the Cube? That's the mobile game designed by Peter Molyneux which was built to let its winning player become the god of an upcoming game and earn life-changing riches. This whole World Mission initiative reminds me a lot of that. Anyway, you can read about the horrifying failures of Curiosity in an excellent Eurogamer exposé published in 2019.

I haven't even gotten to the part where all those NFT characters that are supposed to be in demand are made up of some absolutely atrocious anime art. Sure, the characters look fine at a distance, but zoom in. They mostly share the same plain, un-detailed face, and the accessories that are supposed to distinguish them don't even fit right. Look at this image - every single one of those characters is wearing a hat that's just sitting like clip art too small for their head.

All this stuff was published a week or more ago, and the fact that it's only now started to get even an ounce of social media buzz maybe doesn't imply the strongest path to success for the game. But hey, maybe I'm wrong. Square Enix is still hyping its blockchain games, and we all know that this publisher has never made a bad bet.

At least Square Enix has Final Fantasy 16 coming up and some of the best RPGs ever made in its back catalog.

Dustin Bailey
Staff Writer

Dustin Bailey joined the GamesRadar team as a Staff Writer in May 2022, and is currently based in Missouri. He's been covering games (with occasional dalliances in the worlds of anime and pro wrestling) since 2015, first as a freelancer, then as a news writer at PCGamesN for nearly five years. His love for games was sparked somewhere between Metal Gear Solid 2 and Knights of the Old Republic, and these days you can usually find him splitting his entertainment time between retro gaming, the latest big action-adventure title, or a long haul in American Truck Simulator.