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SquareSoft Isn't Fooling Me

by Macaroni

For the last ten months, I haven't purchased a single RPG, something that hasn't happened since 1993. I was dissapointed in Final Fantasy VII, thought it was commercial pandering to a mass audience, and I felt aliented. Whether or not you agree or disagree with me on that pounded in the dirt argument really isn't the point. The point is that Square is planning to strike again, but this time in a much more treacherous and insulting way. The main angle that's been used when discussing Final Fantasy IX is that it will appeal to all those who favor or have favored a more "Swords and Sorcery" approach to console RPG's.

What's wrong with that? They're pandering again! I'll bet my mother's house that Square did plenty of research before beginning to produce FFVII. They studied trends in the US, culture tendencies, and they knew which audience was buying their games and which one wasn't. As a result, Final Fantasy VII was very demographic-specific; there was something for just about everyone. There were gorgeous supermodel babes with big, ahem, eyes, ie. Tifa. Luminous, angelic, virginesque girl next-door figures ie. Aeris. Ghetto talkin' ganstas like Barret. And tough, masculine men like Cloud (for the most part) and Cid. Everything to catch the eye of the average US gamer that wouldn't normally pay any attention to what was at that point considered a geek's genre.

So what's happened since the release of that game, let's see. RPG's are today what fighting games were in the early nineties with the Final Fantasy series replacing Street Fighter. Games with little substance but produced according to the cookie-cutter that was established by Square a few years back are big sellers and deemed instant classics by an overzealous and far too enthusiastic and biased media. Games with great substance, Star Ocean: Second Story, Xenogears (yes, it is a Square game, but in my defense, most of the guys who made it have since left the company and started their own. It doesn't seem unreasonable to me that they were unhappy with the recent work effort in Japan and Honolulu), and Grandia get little attention and do not sell well. The only game to recieve any kind of noteriety was Xenogears, but only because it was a Square game, and the usual group of light speed conclusion jumpers flamed it for being anti-religion, which it wasn't.

Wondering what this has to do with FFXI? Here's your answer: Just as Square knew that Americans liked the rap culture, had very specific cultural ideas of beauty and masculinity and responded to flashy graphics, they know that the core group of underground gamers who gave them a name in the West ten years ago has felt increasingly dissalusioned and moved on to greener, more substantive pastures. Hence, after two near-identical games with no soul or spirit, they will atempt to recreate a formula which they have likely long forgoten. I suspect the only spirit they know is that of money earning, not art.

That Square even thinks they can get away with this is incredibly insulting. That they almost assuredly will just drives the steak further through my heart. I predict that those who were betrayed three years ago have already found something better and are too smart to get back on their knees and crawl back to Square. The masses will embrace the game as they do with any game that graces the cover of any magazine (and we all know FFIX is a cover story in every magazine in the US, Japan, the UK, and any other major market), but will likely be turned off by the very elements of the game that prohibited them from picking the games up way back before the only Sci-Fi RPG's were Shadow Run and RoboTrek. Or maybe I give them too much credit. Time will tell.

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