I’ve been a fan of Square Enix (originally, Square Soft) for almost as long as I can remember, literally. I’ve watched the company grow from humble beginnings, I’ve celebrated their greatest triumphs and achievements during what is fair to call the “golden years,” and I also had my heart broken as I watched their leadership lose touch and throw all their brands into jeopardy. It’s been a crazy and emotional ride, but I’m finally starting to feel really good about things again. Personally, I am a big supporter for the current president, Yosuke Matsuda; who I believe turned the company around.
Initially, I was thrilled to hear that Square Enix was holding an E3 press conference. I’ve been watching their Active Time Reports for awhile now, and their little teaser caught my interest with all those mystery titles bleeped out. I have to begin by admitting that this was definitely the poorest conference in terms of presentation. It was like stepping back into a ’90s – podium and all. Furthermore, live-translating Japanese is very difficult, and it showed – painfully. But with that being said, this was still my favourite conference of the week, and that’s because it was filled with so much heart.
The press conference immediately opened with an explosive trailer for Just Cause 3. It was a great way to kick off the proceedings, and was followed with the CEO of Square Enix Americas and Europe, Phil Rogers, taking to the podium to give his formal address to the audience. This was something I respected as Phil openly talked about their change in approach to development and operations, and how they want to ensure they keep listening, learning and improving. The CEO also went on to say how they plan to provide a lot more on-going support for Just Cause 3 as opposed to the second instalment, and stopped briefly to talk about the continued success of the Square Enix Collective program.
From this point, the show was dedicated to showing off new games; with Roland Lasterlin from Avalanche Studios coming out on stage to confirm that Just Cause 3 would be arriving on December 1st this year. They also showed an adrenaline-fueled gameplay walkthrough; GTA-esque, with a narrator explaining all the things you can do in the world. Personally, I enjoy these trailers, even if they’re not the most elegant or cinematic. I follow E3 to learn about upcoming games, and I appreciate when developers choose to be direct rather than trying to dazzle us with smoke and mirrors.
What came next is something that I never could have anticipated, and something that I was absolutely overjoyed about. Yosuke Saito from Division VI took to the podium to announce a sequel for NieR that was being developed in collaboration with Platinum games. The new game will be exclusive to PS4, and is made up of an all-star team to help improve the qualities which were lacking in the original. It’s true the first game was very rough, but it was also very underrated; I couldn’t imagine a better team to take it further. It was also charming to see the new project director come out on-stage dressed as Emil from the first game. It was super goofy, and I loved everything about his address.
The trend seemed to be to jump between Western and Eastern games, so, following, was our second exclusive look at Rise of the Tomb Raider. Crystal Dynamics came out to present a brand new gameplay trailer which showed off a lot more locations (which looked stunning!), and to play a developer diary about the new tech which I thought fit very well with the Square Conference. There may have been a little too much talking from some presenters, but each game didn’t overstay its welcome; with the next presenter moving on to announce a new mobile game called Lara Croft GO. It’s a new turned-based title with a unique art style; the sort of game suited to mobile. I thought it looked okay, I guess.
I try never to get too excited when I see Shinji Hashimoto take the stage. Not because I don’t like the guy, but because I think he’s the biggest unintentional troll in the industry. Most notably, he was the one not so long ago to announce FFVII for PS4; letting crowds go wild, before confirming it was just a port of the PC version. Fortunately, that damage was undone at the PlayStation conference where an actual remake of FFVII was announced; to which we received a repeat of the trailer and that more info will be coming soon. Up next was Kingdom Hearts, and I honestly thought he was about to do it again as the crowd began cheering only to realise he was announcing a mobile game.
Hype aside, Unchained looked fine; though, I’m not sure if it was F2P like Final Fantasy Record Keeper or a complete game. It didn’t really matter now, though. You could hear the crowd getting restless, and, fortunately, Hashimoto-san quickly moved on to actually show Kingdom Hearts III, and it was more glorious than I hoped. I was expecting another short teaser, maybe, but this was a full-blown gameplay trailer and I loved every second of it. There was no release date, but I was glad we saw actual gameplay and not just a concept. It was the most impressive moment of the show, and a positive sign that Square Enix’s Japanese divisions are making progress with larger console games once again.
While brief, we got some additional information about World of Final Fantasy; which was quickly overlooked given the FFVII Remake announcement. Honestly, the game looks interesting; with there being three design pillars: an original style, appropriate for all ages, and easy to pick up/difficult to master gameplay. It could be great, but things quickly shuffled forward with HITMAN taking the stage (which was revealed during the Sony press conference the day before). The game officially debuted with another GTA-style narrated trailer, and it was confirmed the game would an evolving experience with a deep social focus. Whether this will be good or bad for the franchise, it’s hard to tell (there were no mentions of micro-transactions!), but new content will be on-going after the game launches on December 8th, 2015.
Moving on, it was back to Japan again; this time with Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness, which was confirmed to be coming to the West in 2016 as a PS4 exclusive. I really liked this presentation as the developer was very upfront about his goals for 60FPS, and how he wants this to be a more traditional JRPG with modern design innovations. We got to see some gameplay this time, and it looked promising. It was difficult to linger very long, though. Deus Ex: Mankind Divided was the star of the show for the Western side of Square’s development, and everything about the game which was shown and talked about looks phenomenal. Naturally, there was some drawn out talk from the team before showing us our first-ever gameplay, but it’s clear they are very dedicated to this game and that feels reassuring.
To wrap things up, President of Square Enix, Yosuke Matsuda stepped up to the podium to address the audience and bring the conference to a close. I genuinely applaud that Matsuda-san had the respect to speak in English while addressing the company’s worldwide fan-base. Initially, he spoke about a Final Fantasy portal app which will serve as a vault for all FF information, and I was fine with that. The President also went on to announce Square’s on-going dedicated to RPGs with the foundation of a new genre-dedicated Studio: Tokyo RPG Factory. Their debut title in-development is called Project Setsuna; to which we were shown a couple of screenshots, but nothing substantial. The announcement of the studio was still great news though, and exactly the direction I wanted to see from the company.
Square Enix arguably had the most exciting, diverse and heavy-hitting line-up of AAA games this year. For this reason, I was enthralled by every second they had to offer. But, in saying that, for as advanced as their games are, the press conference was nothing short of a relic of the past. It was not very well presented, despite so much incredible content. I personally love goofy moments such developers dressed as game characters and atrocious live-translations, as well as those endearing and heartfelt addresses from senior management. I mean, the conference actually concluded with Matsuda-san bringing everyone on stage to wave and say goodbye; it was absolutely brilliant! For the general public, though, it was likely weird and awkward. Square, get some PR help next year and you could steal the show! Grade: B