-Inscribed on a tombstone in Final Fantasy VI

Founded in 1986, Square has risen to be one of the most renowned, criticized, controversial and successful video game companies in the world, bringing in over $345 million annually. Although they have dabbled into the creation of fighting, adventure and even racing games, their fame and fortune comes from RPGs (role playing games), particularly the Final Fantasy series. Often simultaneously berated and heralded for their focus on plot and graphics over game play, Square enjoys more time in the gaming community's eye than arguably any other third party developer.

Square's History

The Nintendo Years: A Lowly Beginning

Square began as a small time game developer in Japan. Their first few games for the NES were mildly successful in both the US and Japan. 3-D World Runner, a fast paced platform shooter and Rad Racer, an arcade style racing game were two notable games in their early history. Both games featured an identical marketing gimmick. By pressing the select button, the screen flashes weird colors that give a 3-D affect if you're wearing a pair of 3-D glasses that came with the game. This goofy feature added little to the games and likewise died out quickly, never to be attempted again.

Square was not doing too well financially as they released several clunker games that never left Japan. While pondering what to do about their situation, Dragon Warrior (Dragon Quest in Japan) was breaking sales records and quickly becoming an instant classic. This game, essentially the first RPG on a home console, was made by another famous third party developer in the gaming industry, Enix.

Those in power at Square saw an opportunity in genre of console RPG and took a risk by creating the original Final Fantasy. It was a risk because if the game fared badly, Square would have likely gone out of business. However, as they had hoped, Final Fantasy was a big hit in Japan. After a few years, it was ported to the US, heavily promoted in Nintendo Power Magazine, and became a multinational hit.

Over the next nine years until 1996, Square sailed along fairly smoothly while developing games for Nintendo. During this time a strange dichotomy spawned of different names in English and Japanese for the same games. A whole series of Game Boy games aptly named Final Fantasy Legend for marketing reasons were released in the US, but in Japan they were part of the Makaitoushi SaGa series. Another Game Boy game under the name Final Fantasy Adventure was actually the first part of the Seiken Densetsu series, which is famous for its contribution to the action-RPG genre. Two more Final Fantasies were released for Famicom, but didn't get translated to English.

The Super Nintendo Years: Rise to Power

After initially wavering over the cliff of finical collapse and surviving, Square's success began to increase exponentially. The jump from Nintendo to Super Nintendo symbolized their jump from a company struggling for survival to a solid third party developer.

Many of the games were now hitting both sides of the Pacific. Square tried to extended their fan base beyond RPG players with Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest, which was intended to be a beginner's RPG. Many people found it be to horrendous, while others argue its flaws are over exaggerated. Another problem was the "dumbing down" of Final Fantasy IV. The game was made drastically easier and some of the text was significantly changed (resulting in one of the most famous wacky translation quotes: "you spoony bard!").

From 1993-1996, three successive RPGs by Square for Super Nintendo were among the most popular video games ever released. The triumvirate of Secret of Mana (Seiken Densetsu 2), Final Fantasy VI and Chrono Trigger has sometimes been proclaimed the high point of console RPGs. Each successive title had a snowballing effect that made the next one seem that much more revolutionary. An original SNES copy of Chrono Trigger, often considered by many to be the epitome of a fun, well balanced, high quality RPG, goes for nearly $100 online. This era of incredible success helped Square's pockets and popularity grow drastically.

...Then the big controversies began. There are so many arguments about Square, it would take ages to catalogue the raging rhetoric fans, critics and passerbys spew. I'm just giving a brief overview of them here.

Two major RPGs, Final Fantasy V and Seiken Densetsu 3 were both "officially" never translated to English. (Neill Corlett, quasi famous hax0r, as well as a group consisting of Lina 'Chan, Nuku-nuku and SoM2Freak graciously assisted in translation of SD3 for the emulation community while a now defunct group consisting of Shadow, SOM2Freak, harmony7 and Barubary translated FFV.) Instead, American gamers got Secret of Evermore, often considered a low quality freakish bastard offspring of Secret of Mana. Speculation on why FFV and SD3 never got translated to is still discussed today. While Secret of Evermore was created as a sort of weird consolation prize for Americans, Square was not very pleased with Nintendo. They worked together one last time and created Super Mario RPG.

It should also be noted that Europe got that shaft from Square on almost all these games. Only recently has Europe been getting ports of their games on a consistent basis.

It was about this time that Super Nintendo was winding down and the cartridge based Nintendo 64 was nearing its release. No one saw what was coming next. Square defected.

The Final Fantasy VII Revolution

In the blink of an eye, ten years of a comfortable partnership turned into one of the nastiest and bitter moments in video game history. Square opted to finish its so called "masterpiece", Final Fantasy VII, on Sony's Playstation rather than the Nintendo 64.

For better or worse, the release of Final Fantasy VII (FF VII) was a revolution in gaming. It's affects on the video game industry are still visible today. Square's decision to release this game for Playstation instead of Nintendo 64 was a major set back for Nintendo. Playstation promptly proceeded to fly off shelves due to this killer app, while Nintendo 64 suffered its five year existence without a smash hit RPG (with the exception of Zelda).

Another major change was the audience of RPGs. FF VII widened it from a dedicated cult to a commercial torrent. Due to the heavy advertising, crazy hype and critically acclaimed graphics, gamers previously only interested in other genres like action or sports games picked up this game, making it the first "mainstream" RPG.

The actual content and presentation of games was influenced as well. FF VII pushed the envelope of what appropriate content was with a generous helping of profanity on top of edgy sexual concepts like cross dressing and prostitution (at least for console games... Keep in mind that Leisure Suit Larry predated this on PC by more than a decade). Graphical enhanced cut scenes became increasingly popular as they spread from Final Fantasy to other hit titles like Resident Evil 2 and Metal Gear Solid.

Pseudo-Medieval European settings so common in the days of Nintendo RPGs were abandoned with FF VII and have since been increasingly rare. A wide array of non traditional RPG settings has arisen since then such as Final Fantasy VIII's space opera/cyber punk combo, Skies of Arcadia's airship filled steam punk world or Shadow Heart's gothic, moody early 20th century Eurasia. In fact, many of the console RPG concepts taken from paper and pencil RPGs such as explicit statistics and high fantasy creatures have dwindled in the wave of FF VII's paradigm shift.

Nearly all of the criticism Square faces results from this game and the changes it brought to RPGs and the gaming industry. Many gamers hated FF VII, many loved it. It's a complex topic with fanboys on all sides crying for the blood of any opposing view. I'm hard pressed to think of a more controversial video game issue than what FF VII embodies: the hard core fans of old school game play versus the casual gamers of the flashy, commercialized Playstation age.

Strangely enough, I enjoy both the old school stuff and the new flashy stuff. Unfortunately, this usually alienates me from both sides rather than finding a happy bridge between them. We gamers are such volatile people. Anyway...

The Sony Years: More Games, More Money, More Controversy

Disillusioned former fans of Square became a constant devil's advocate for the company. Nearly every game they've released since FF VII has simultaneously heralded as an instant classic epic masterpiece and bitterly condemned as a low quality money making scheme. In fact, the rest of Square's history is almost an embodiment of the all the changes and controversy of FF VII, only spread over six years.

Square released a flood of games for Playstation and these titles stand out as particularly representative of this era: Final Fantasies VIII, IX and Tactics, Xenogears, Parasite Eve and Vagrant Story. There were also a few non-RPGs released like the innovative fighting game, Bushido Blade, but they received far less attention from consumers and promotion from Square.

There is, of course, the movie as well. Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, a movie not quite based off the video game series of the same name, was released in July 2001. It will go down in cinema history as one of the first completely computer animated films with amazingly realistic characters. On the flip side, the plot was a melodramatic and banal exercise in bad science fiction. Square was hoping for a money raking hit, but it was a flop at the box office in the US and only moderately well received in Japan. Essentially, this movie put them in finical hot water for the first time since the original Final Fantasy.

A curious and notable title from Square was Kingdom Hearts. It was collaboration between them and, strangely enough, Disney. A solid game consisting of a compromise between Disney characters and worlds with Final Fantasy-esque themes, characters and elements, this action-RPG marked a quite a bizarre, money driven partnership. Also notable is the multi-media approach this game used for its release. Utada Hikaru, a bilingual Japanese pop star singer, made the song Simple and Clean specifically for the game which was also released as a single in both Japan and the US in each countries. I expect many more video games to blitz consumers on multiple media fronts like this in the very near future.

After several years of hard feelings, Square and Nintendo finally came to terms. With the huge success of Nintendo's Game Boy Advance, Square began making a few games such as the much anticipated Final Fantasy Tactics Advance and the complete remake of Seiken Densetsu, The Sword of Mana. Evidently, both companies felt their antagonism was hurting their own pocketbooks, so they swallowed their pride and cautiously reunited.

From the poor results due to the movie, Square's monetary situation has been under considerable scrutiny by sympathetic fans between 2001 and 2003. The company seemed to be slowly regaining its bravado after the movie's failure when it was announced that would be merging with another RPG giant, Enix.

The End: Square Enix

Just recently, the company has merged with Enix, the creators of the Dragon Warrior/Quest series and has become Square-Enix. Fans and critics both ponder how this will affect the quality of the games from both of the big name third developers. Many optimists cite Chrono Trigger as the result of the two companies working together, but who can say for sure what the future holds? Anyway, this part of the history of Square is over. Whatever happens in the future will happen under the name Square-Enix.

Who is Square?

Here is a quick over view of some of the prominent figures of the video game industry associated with Square. There are almost too many to detail here, so I just listed a handful.

Tetsuya Nomura- One of Square's character designers. He helped create the casts for Final Fantasy VII, VIII and X as well as a handful of others.

Yasumi Matsuno- A producer for Square that created the cult classics Final Fantasy Tactics and Vagrant Story. As of this write up, he's working on Final Fantasy XII.

Yoshitaka Amano- Character and concept artist for many of the Final Fantasies. Almost all of his original works for characters in the game have blonde hair. I'm not knowledgeable about art at all, but I really like his work.

Nobuo Uematsu- Renowned video game music composer. He's worked on music for Final Fantasy I-XI ranging from mostly Western classical to the drop D alt rock grunge anthem Otherworld and a health mix of Latin and funk beats for riding around on Chocobos.

Hironobu Sakaguchi- Producer for all the Final Fantasies as well as the director and screen writer for The Spirits Within movie.

The Games

  • All-Star Professional Wrestling II
  • Apple Town Monogatari
  • Bahamut Lagoon
  • Bouncer, The
  • Brave Fencer Musashiden
  • Breath of Fire
  • BS Chrono Trigger Character Library (see BS and Satellaview for more info on the BS titles)
  • BS Chrono Trigger Jetbike Special
  • BS Chrono Trigger Music Library
  • Bushido Blade
  • Bushido Blade 2
  • Chocobo Collection
  • Chocobo Racing
  • Chocobo Stallion
  • Chocobo no Fushigi Dungeon
  • Chocobo no Fushigi Dungeon 2
  • Chrono Cross
  • Chrono Trigger
  • Cleopatra no Mahou
  • Cyber Org
  • Deep Dungeon
  • DewPrism
  • Dice de Chocobo
  • Digical League
  • Driving Emotion Type-S
  • DynamiTracer
  • Ehrgeiz
  • Einhander
  • Emmyrea
  • Final Fantasy
  • Final Fantasy II
  • Final Fantasy III
  • Final Fantasy IV
  • Final Fantasy V
  • Final Fantasy VI
  • Final Fantasy VII
  • Final Fantasy VIII
  • Final Fantasy IX
  • Final Fantasy X
  • Final Fantasy X-2
  • Final Fantasy XI
  • Final Fantasy Anthology (Final Fantasy V and VI)
  • Final Fantasy Chronicles (Final Fantasy IV and Chrono Trigger)
  • Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest
  • Final Fantasy Origins (remakes of Final Fantasy and Fantasy Fantasy II)
  • Final Fantasy Tactics
  • Final Fantasy Tactics Advance
  • Freeway Star
  • Front Mission
  • Front Mission 2
  • Front Mission 3
  • Front Mission Alternative
  • Front Mission Gun Hazard
  • Advance Chocobo Land
  • Makai Toushi SaGa
  • Gekikuukan Pro Yakyuu: At the End of the Century 1999
  • Hai-Shin 2
  • Hanjuku Eiyuu
  • Hanjuku Eiyuu Tai 3D
  • Hao-Kun no Fushigi na Tibi
  • IS: Internal Section
  • J.J.
  • Jikai Shounen Mettomag
  • Karin no Ken
  • King's Knight
  • Kingdom Hearts
  • Live A Live
  • Makai Toushi SaGa/Final Fantasy Legend
  • Memories Off 2nd
  • Moon Ball Magic
  • NES Deep Dungeon III
  • Nichibeikan Pro Baseball: Final League
  • Parasite Eve
  • Parasite Eve II
  • PlayStation Another Mind
  • PlayStation2 All-Star Professional Wrestling
  • Power Stakes
  • Power Stakes 2
  • Power Stakes Grade 1
  • Pro-Logic Mahjong Pai-Shin
  • Racing Lagoon
  • Radical Dreamers
  • Romancing SaGa
  • Romancing SaGa 2
  • Romancing SaGa 3
  • Rudra No Hihou
  • SaGa 2: Hihou Densetsu/Final Fantasy Legend II
  • SaGa 3: Jikuu no Hasha/Final Fantasy Legend III
  • SaGa Frontier
  • SaGa Frontier 2
  • Secret of Evermore
  • Seiken Densetsu/Final Fantasy Adventure/The Sword of Mana
  • Seiken Densetsu 2/Secret of Mana
  • Seiken Densetsu 3
  • Seiken Densetsu: Legend of Mana
  • Soukaigi
  • Square no Tom Sawyer
  • Suishou no Ryuu
  • Super Live Stadium
  • Super Nintendo Alcahest
  • System Akara Senki Raijin
  • Thexder
  • Tobal 2
  • Tobal No. 1
  • Tobidase Daisakusen
  • Treasure Conflix
  • Treasure Hunter G
  • Unlimited SaGa
  • Vagrant Story
  • Wild Card
  • WonderSwan Color Blue Wing Blitz
  • WonderSwan Hataraku Chocobo
  • World Fantasista
  • Xenogears
  • Yuushi no Monshou

    Please /msg me with errors or additions!

    All this factual info is nice, but we're all wondering the same thing. WTF is it: Square or Squaresoft?

    Many of the games (Final Fantasy Adventure for example) refer to their developer as "Squaresoft", not Square... Well, I'm not sure I completely understand the difference between the two names, but here's what I know. Squaresoft was a wholly owned subsidy of Square. They were formerly the US branch of Square that was in charge of translation and distribution of the games in the states. However, with the merger of Enix, Squaresoft has been renamed to Square Enix USA and thus this issue is now completely irrelevant. Therefore, I would recommend referring the corporate entity that makes these games as simply "Square". Or actually "Square-Enix". Wait, maybe just "Enix". In short, I have no idea. Thank you and good night.

    Sources: Playing a good portion of their North American games