Reeling from pandemic production issues — and, perhaps, a gradual shift to more sustainable labor practices — the video game industry is in a product drought. After a barren summer, we are faced with a sparse release schedule through the fall and towards the end of the year, with few of the major titles and platform exclusives that typically grace the season. By all accounts, the end of 2022 is a quiet time for video games.
But nobody told Square Enix.
The venerable Japanese publisher has a piled up release schedule. Between mid-September and mid-December it will release no fewer than nine games, and up to 12 if you count the PC version of Triangle Strategythe Life is strange Arcadia Bay Collection on Switch, and the strange remake of the mobile compendium Final Fantasy 7 Always Crisiswhich is supposed to go into beta testing this year.
There are no massive releases in this line, but there are quite a few remakes and reissues, as well as some minor spin-offs and genre experiments. But you couldn’t call it modest either; there’s ambition and breadth here, as well as overwhelmingly exhausting length – most of these games offer some sort of variation on a JRPG template, and aren’t shy about slow buildups or lengthy runtimes.
Together, the games paint a picture of a publisher abandoning its bid to be a global monolith, following the sale of its studios and Western properties like Deus Ex and Tomb Raider to Embracer Group, and embracing its Japanese identity while riding a wave of popularity of anime and a surge of JRPG content on Switch and Steam. Not too long ago, many of these games would never have made it to the West, let alone see day-and-date global releases.
At a recent event in London, adorned with fake cherry trees and a counter serving Japanese snacks, Square Enix made this lineup available to play, with a couple of exceptions: a deep remaster of Song of the minstrel from Romancing SaGa and a most anticipated remake of a classic tactical RPG, Ogre Tactics: Reborn. Even though JRPGs are exceptionally unsuitable for trying out half-hour demos on a show floor, I tried most of them. This is what I found.
Dio’s Field Chronicle
Perhaps the most interesting genre experiment that Square Enix had to show, Dio’s Field Chronicle takes the traditional tactical RPG format exemplified by tactical ogre and removes the movement grid and turn-based action, leaving a game that plays more like a single player League of Legends or a leaner, more hero-focused real-time strategy game. It’s busy in a good way, but the storytelling is serious and the core of the mission seems to have been done on a shoestring budget. I previewed in more detail last month’s demo.
Dio’s Field Chronicle is available now on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X.
Probably the most immediately enjoyable game in demo form, Valkyrie Elysium is a loose successor to the Valkyrie Profile series, loose because it turns the Norse mythology-inspired thread of a hybrid platformer RPG into an action RPG with a firm emphasis on fluid Bayonetta-style action. The name of the game is to hold the combined strings of your Valkyrie as you summon einherjar, spirits of dead warriors awaiting Ragnarok, to aid you and exploit the elemental weaknesses of enemies. It’s a sparse production full of empty landscapes, but it plays well where it counts.
Valkyrie Elysium It will be released on September 29 on PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5, with a Windows PC version on November 11.
Nier: Automata – The End of YoRHa Edition
Undoubtedly the best game out of this plethora of releases, but also the best known, is this Switch release of Yoko Taro’s cult hit and Platinum from 2017. Having the game on handheld is a joy, and this edition supports much in the fans of the game with exclusive costumes and a complete approach to content.
Nier: Automata – The End of YoRHa Edition will be released in October. 6 on the Nintendo Switch.
Star Ocean: The Divine Force
Less restart than Valkyrie Elysium, the sixth Star Ocean game exists on a continuum with all of its predecessors, and shares the same developer, tri-Ace. It continues the sci-fi RPG series’ steady drift into action territory, with large, open environments to explore and plenty of elevation to boot. There’s a trick, and a pretty neat one: DUMA, a hover droid that aids all four party members by bringing an aerial dimension to both exploration and combat. Surprise “Blindside” attacks and DUMA-powered Vanguard Assaults bring an intriguing emphasis on positioning for combat. The game is engaging enough, too, but don’t look too much at the PS3-era still faces of the characters, or listen too much to the nonsensical dialogue (“That’s just semiomancy!”)
Star Ocean: The Divine Force will be released in October. 27 on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X.
Unlike the subtle mix of styles of something like Dio’s Field Chronicle, harvest it takes the obvious, Frankenstein’s monstrous approach to gender blending: What would happen if we put these two things together? harvest it is a farming life simulator at home and an action RPG abroad, with the two varieties of gameplay linked in obvious but satisfying ways (head to monster-infested fields to farm materials to craft equipment for your farm, etc. ). Visually, it’s surprisingly lush, and narratively, it’s surprisingly dense. In harvest itIn the world of, the natural cycle of the four seasons is interrupted by a moment of death known as Quietus, caused by dust from Seaslight, a huge leafy crystal that dominates the landscape. The artificial beings known as Omen are also involved, in some way. The protagonist is an amnesiac caught in the middle of it all.
harvest it It doesn’t seem like a very sophisticated example of either genre, but it just works: the two flavors go together like salt and caramel. Seems like a good bet to stand out from the current wave of farming sims.
harvest it It will be released on November 4 on Nintendo Switch and Windows PC.
Dragon Quest Treasures
I’m a bit reluctant to pass judgment on a short demo of a light JRPG that obviously struggles to slowly introduce itself to young gamers, but Dragon Quest Treasures doesn’t seem up to par dragon quest 11 (of which it is an ostensible prequel, about the childhood of Erik and Mia) or the very charming Dragon Quest Builders and its sequel. Developed by outsourcing specialist Tose, it comes across as a leaden and charmless attempt to conjure a colorful treasure-hunting adventure for the ages from the fringes of Dragon Quest lore. It suffers from the worst examples of symptoms that, to varying degrees, plagued every game here: lots of expository text, jarring transitions between story and gameplay, and a stuttering lack of drive. Maybe it will get better later?
Dragon Quest Treasures It will be released on December 2, 9 on the Nintendo Switch.
Crisis Core: Final Fantasy 7 Reunion
With its Final Fantasy branding and, judging by its elegant presentation, a relatively generous budget, this is probably Square Enix’s biggest bet of the season. But it is also one of the strangest. Like a remake of a 2007 PlayStation Portable game, a prequel to final fantasy 7 From the perspective of a SOLDIER agent – varnish your humble origins with slick graphics, engaging character models and full voice acting. But structurally, he can’t hide those origins at all. It’s still a tight, scripted action RPG set in highly constrained environments; there’s a fade and jump to a battlefield every time you go into combat, and the pre-rendered video footage is noticeably lo-fi. In those senses, it is very old-fashioned. But in the context of 2007, the combat itself was ahead of its time, at least within the Final Fantasy series, in the way it puts the player in immediate command of so many iconic spells and abilities in a well-ordered, free flow. . action games. It’s the past and future of Final Fantasy in one contradictory package.
Crisis Core: Final Fantasy 7 Reunion It will be released on December 2, 13 on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X.
Such an extraordinary backlog of releases from one publisher could just be a scheduling accident. It could be a publisher reaffirming and redefining its identity after selling its western division. Or it could, under the same circumstances, be proof that Square Enix is expanding its global agenda with what would once have been Japan-exclusive products, now that it has nothing else to offer.
None of this is as important to Square Enix’s future as big 2023 releases like abandoned other final fantasy 16 want But it shows a publisher doing something that many rivals, especially Western ones, are not doing at the moment. Republishing and remastering past hits to keep brands alive isn’t unusual, but making so many small bets, rather than one or two big ones, certainly is. Square Enix is giving internal and external development teams modest budgets for a wide range of different purposes, such as experimentation and creating original new properties (harvest it other diocampo), brand extension (Dragon Quest Treasures), maintenance of long-term mid-range series (star ocean) or revitalization of the inactive (Valkyrie Elysium).
It’s no surprise that the original experiments here are the most engaging games from the start, but the overall picture is one of a publisher that’s keen to keep small but ardent fanbases happy. The lesson from the slow success of Capcom’s Monster Hunter and Sega’s (aka Yakuza) Like a Dragon is that this can pay off in the long run. And in the short term? At least thanks to Square Enix, we have something to play this winter.