Look at the games released by Square Enix over the past couple years and you'll see a lot of familiar titles. We have the 8-bit and 16-bit titles ported to mobile platforms, the Final Fantasy XIII saga and the various DS remakes landing on Steam. This is then supplemented by the Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 and 2.5 Remixes and, of course, the Final Fantasy X/X-2 remasters. It seems the company is content to quite literally ride the tide of past successes and farm them for quick paydays. Look closer and you'll find a few new gems like last year's Lightning Returns and Theatrhythm: Curtain Call - and one brand new entity released in Japan at the end of last year, Final Fantasy Explorers.
Explorers is an action-adventure RPG for the Nintendo 3DS, more similar to Kingdom Hearts or Monster Hunter in gameplay. Its design harkens back to the series' origins, using a classic look for familiar classes and a cutesy, super-deformed aesthetic (like the DS versions of Final Fantasy III and IV). Unlike recent Square Enix offerings, it brings fresh innovations to match the healthy helping of nostalgia. It's a brave step forward with the series' history firmly in hand, not simply a cash grab milking established elements.
And yet, there are no announced plans to take Explorers outside of Japan. It's like we've fallen into a wormhole and travelled back in time to the early days of the franchise, when Squaresoft hesitated to bring several entries in the series to Western audiences.
With that being said, here are five reasons why Square Enix should rethink this and bring Final Fantasy Explorers to Western audiences:
1. Bravely Default
A rare fresh IP for Square, Bravely Default was a big success on the 3DS last winter - within its first three weeks in North America, it had sold 200, 000 units. Around the same time the year prior, Nintendo's own Fire Emblem: Awakening had a similarly large opening, the series' biggest success outside Japan.
And here's the kicker: Bravely Default was originally conceived as a Final Fantasy spin-off title. The series' name was removed early but at its heart, it's still a Final Fantasy game - players choose from the familiar classes, the story draws on elements from the original games (elemental crystals housed in shrines, miasmas, a party of four chosen warriors...), and even item names are recycled. In many ways it's more Final Fantasy than recent main series titles.
The stage is perfectly set for Explorers to make a tremendous splash in North America over the next few months. Take the unlikely successes of seemingly niche RPGs at this time of year, add the pedigree of the Final Fantasy name, and then factor in the massive hype surrounding Nintendo's new New 3DS handheld - and you have a potential perfect storm for game sales.
2. Square Enix needs a big success
Bravely Default's success shows that Western audiences are still hungry for inspired new games - the type of game Square Enix has not been releasing lately. The series has been coasting on a rocky road for too long. Final Fantasy XII and XIII divided critics and audiences alike, and both of the XIII successors continued that trend; XIV had an embarrassing start before A Realm Reborn overhaul pulled its fat from the fire; and the streak of ports is damning evidence of series' stagnation. Final Fantasy XV and Type-0 HD could bring redemption but time will tell.
After producing some of the most well-received RPGs of all time, Square's recent financial troubles and underperformance have led them to adjust sales projections, restructure their business, and shuffle some executives. Though their fiscal situation stabilized somewhat last year, Square cannot rest on its laurels; it needs a big success, a blockbuster to restore their coffers and their reputation. Final Fantasy Explorers may not be the game to provide this hit, but it could help to continue Square Enix's push on the 3DS and expand the franchise in a positive way.
3. Explorers is a love-letter to fans
Like Bravely Default, it's irrefutably obvious at a glance that Explorers is inspired by the Job System that runs through most of the Final Fantasy franchise. Players choose from a lineup of classic classes (White/Black Mage, Dragoon, Paladin, Onion Knight, Ranger, et al). Their summons are the most recognizable eidolons of each element (Ifrit, Shiva, Ramuh, Bahamut, Alexander, etc) and they use them against many classic enemies (like couerls). It's even possible to transform into classic characters using the Trance system - fan-favourites like Cloud, Lightning, Squall, and Cecil.
In a way, Explorers employs a "series' greatest hits" approach much like the Dissidia and Theatrhythm games originating from the 25th Anniversary. The most nostalgic and familiar elements are all here, meshed with a brand new gameplay style that harkens to Monster Hunter and the online installments. It's a celebration of the things that made the series such a juggernaut in the first place that also tries new things. It's the best of both worlds for long-time fans - familiar, favourite flavours in a new shape.
4. Square Enix should know better
It's mind-boggling that Square Enix has been so hesitant to confirm localizations outside of Japan. Haven't they heard that those who don't listen to the lessons of history are bound to repeat its mistakes?
Back in the Nintendo and Super Nintendo eras, Square chose not to port II, III, and V for North American audiences. In a rather condescending move, they decided it wasn't worth the gamble of translating them because it was believed that non-Japanese audiences may not be able to understand or appreciate their game engines or stories. (These weren't the only factors affecting this decision, but they were the final nails in the coffin.) This led to the infamous discrepancy in the series' numbering that still makes me twitch involuntarily.
But since the Game Boy Advance era, those three games have seen a handful of rereleases and ports. What Square once deemed beyond North American audiences has now been shoved down fans' throats a half dozen times apiece.
The same hesitation was not shown in releasing Dissidia or Theatrhythm outside of Japan, despite their more unconventional styles - one a unique spin on fighting games, the other tardy to the rhythm games phenomenon - and they sold remarkably well for their platforms. Monster Hunter, a big influence on Explorers' gameplay, has been gaining steam outside of Japan as well. The writing has been on the wall for twenty years - can Square Enix read it, or will we be left high and dry on this one?
5. Seriously, why not?!
What possible reason remains for Square Enix to continue dragging their feet on localizing Explorers? They need this victory in the West to restore the reputation of their company and their key franchise. Fans have been dying for a game like this. Nintendo's recent successes are a perfect wave for Square Enix to surf into. There's really no reason to deny Western audiences this title. Unless the company has become allergic to money, somehow; it sold over 160,000 units in its first week in Japan alone and it's not difficult to conceive such numbers for a release in the West.
Of course, lead times on big Nintendo game releases have gotten smaller as of late. Both versions of the new Smash Bros were officially dated only a month and a half before their release, and the Majora's Mask port was announced for a February 13th release date on January 13th. Given that Square Enix has trademarks in place for North American and European releases, it's possible that they're simply working away at localizations and keeping us in the dark for now, only to spring a release date at short notice.
Let's hope that's the case. We fans are eager to play Explorers and Square Enix needs something to turn them around - to let this opportunity pass would be a huge disappointment for all involved.
Hoogathy is a guest writer for our site. If you'd like to check out his personal blog, you can do so by going to https://hoogathy.wordpress.com/.