2022 is a great year to be an RPG fan, particularly of Japanese games. The holiday season is usually crowded with new game releases, but this year Square Enix appears to be releasing games like it’s Christmas all year round. With so many out already, and so many more to come, are SE’s profligate ways good or bad for RPG lovers?
Back in March 2022, Square Enix had a string of big releases all throughout the month: Babylon’s Fall, a live-service action game; Triangle Strategy, a strategy RPG game; Chocobo GP, a racing game spin-off of the Final Fantasy series; and Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy, an action RPG game in collaboration with Koei Tecmo.
Square Enix has always had a habit of releasing handfuls of games in a rush, mixing big names from reliable IPs with more experimental, hit-and-miss ideas. However this year, Square Enix has not only released more of these mid-tier games but also some of a higher quality. Games like The Voice of Cards: The Beasts of Burden, The DioField Chronicle, and Valkyrie Elysium have gotten a generally positive reception so far. Upcoming titles like Harvestella (November 4) with its fun blend of farming sim and action-RPG elements, as well as the monster catching and treasure hunting game Dragon Quest Treasures (December 11) have also received positive receptions toward their demos.
It was quite disorienting to see Square Enix releasing a new game week after week. What sort of strategy was this? But then I remembered that its fiscal year ends in March, meaning that it was time for the company to measure its revenue and earnings year-over-year. Releasing a ton of stuff all at once may be an unusual way of tackling the issue, but it definitely ensures that sales go up one way or another. Arguably, though, it wasn’t necessarily a move that paid off for Square Enix.
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Releasing Babylon’s Fall so close to Elden Ring—the de facto Game of the Year winner—probably didn’t help avoid its eventual road to having its servers close down, and seeing stores like GameStop dump the title out. And Chocobo Racing GP disappointed when it was learned it was filled with microtransactions and had grindy season passes. The backlash was so bad that Square Enix even had to come out and apologize.
Despite the hiccups, Square Enix’s output steadied into a much saner pace in the few months after March. We saw games like Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Edition, a remaster of the classic JRPG; The Centennial Case: A Shijima Story, a full motion video game; and Live a Live, a remake of a SNES classic game, all of which added a far more interesting variety of genres to Square Enix’s release schedule.
With all those games, you’d think that Square Enix blew its load for the year already, especially after the announcement that its big action game, Forspoken, was delayed again to 2023. But as it turns out, Square Enix is readying the water hose with even more releases, starting this fall.
2022 has been one of Square Enix’s most experimental years. Alongside the surprising move to ditch most of its Western IPs and studios onto the Embracer Group, losing flagship games like Tomb Raider and Deus Ex, the company has released a bunch of games that branch out into different sub-genres compared to previous years’ more rigid focus on standard third-person JRPGs. While not every game has been a critical or financial success, it’s still enthusing to see the publisher striving to be creative.
For example, the Voice of Cards series, developed by studio Alim, is one of the more unique that Square Enix has published in recent memory. The first game, The Voice of Cards: The Isle Dragon Roars, was released in October 2021, with Square Enix releasing two additional follow-up titles this year: The Forsaken Maiden and The Beasts of Burden.
What makes the games in the series stand out is the tabletop aesthetic. As opposed to running around in 3D environments like most modern JRPGs, Voice of Cards has its characters navigating the world by flipping nearby cards. Battles are presented via cards as well, and they’re laid out in a tabletop fashion, similar to a Yu-Gi-Oh card game or Inscryption. The game’s art was drawn by Kimihiko Fujisaka, the artist behind the dormant Drakengard series, so the cards are aesthetically pleasing to look at too.
Everything from the characters to the in-game dialogue is represented as a card. It’s certainly a departure stylistically, but it’s also a breath of fresh air. The Isle Dragon Roars received positive reception, so it’s nice to see Square Enix continue to publish more games in the series—it’s great to see creative endeavors like these flourish.
The aforementioned Shijima Story is an even more experimental game because of its FMV format. These types of games play out more as interactive movies using real actors, similar to that of the recently released Immortality. FMV is a niche genre compared to others like RPGs, platformers, or first-person-shooters, and Shijima Story told an incredible narrative about a detective solving a string of murder cases spanning over 100 years, and tracing them to the modern day.
Square Enix has also been more creative with its strategy games. The DioField Chronicle has real-time strategy gameplay similar to that of League of Legends or Halo Wars. It’s also a new franchise, but I strongly suspect we’ll be seeing more. Having played it, the entire game just screams sequel bait. Members of the main cast fracture and go their separate ways throughout the story, and it all concludes with a cliffhanger ending. However, it does lay a solid foundation upon which to build thanks to the interpersonal conflicts between the main characters, as a result of their clashing political ideals, as well as the fun real-time strategy battle system.
Thank goodness for games like The DioField Chronicle and Triangle Strategy, because one aspect of Square Enix’s experimentation that I’m concerned about is how some of its legacy franchises are being changed from turn-based games to action RPGs. This is most notable with the Final Fantasy franchise. Final Fantasy VII Remake transitioned the turn-based classic into an action RPG, and Final Fantasy XVI will be one too. I understand the urge to modernize, but turn-based games can be fun as well! While Final Fantasy VII Remake managed to pull the transition off successfully, I’m hoping that this trend doesn’t go too far within Square Enix’s catalog. The upcoming Front Mission remake games, the first of which is slated to release in November, is keeping its grid-based strategy RPG combat, so I’m happy to at least see that. The Tactics Ogre remaster also coming in November is doing the same.
The most recent culprit of this trend is Valkyrie Elysium. The Valkyrie Profile series has always been a turn-based one and seeing Elysium as an action-RPG is a bit of a letdown. However, as I’m playing the full game right now, I’m having fun with it. It plays like a relaxing version of Devil May Cry. As someone who constantly scores C ratings in Devil May Cry’s style rankings, Elysium’s combat feels much more comfortable to me. Even so, Valkyrie Profile’s legacy of turn-based combat still oozes a certain charm that I miss, because its slower pace matched the franchise’s melancholy tone.
So to emphasize the scale of the releases that have just arrived and are still to come from Square Enix this year, in order of release we have: Voice of Cards: The Beast of Burden (September 13), Various Daylife (September 16), The DioField Chronicle (September 22), Valkyrie Elysium (September 29), Star Ocean: The Divine Force (October 27), Front Mission (November), Harvestella (November 4), Tactics Ogre: Reborn (November 11), Dragon Quest Treasures (December 9), and Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII Reunion (December 13). Phew.
Comparatively, Square Enix seems to be returning to its usual slate of big RPG releases in 2023. Forspoken, Final Fantasy XVI, and Final Fantasy VII Rebirth are the most notable ones. I really do hope that Square Enix continues to publish more creative and experimental games alongside its own flagship franchises. The publisher most likely has unannounced titles that fit this bill—after all, we didn’t know what the company would release in the latter half of 2022 after that big blowout in March. It was only after the summer games showcases that we got a clearer picture of what Square Enix had planned for the rest of the year.
Assuming none of these titles get delayed, this is one hell of a gauntlet of RPG games. Closing out the year with Crisis Core is quite the statement, too, because the original PSP game from 2007 was so beloved for its amazing story and characters. Fans have been waiting for this game for years to be released on other platforms, and it’s a good way to hold over the Final Fantasy audience before Final Fantasy VII Rebirth and Final Fantasy XVI release.
If you enjoy strategy games like Fire Emblem, then Triangle Strategy, Tactics Ogre: Reborn, Front Mission, and The DioField Chronicle are for you. The first three employ grid-based movement during tactical battles, which will be familiar to anyone who enjoys Nintendo’s anime tactics game. Triangle Strategy and Tactics Ogre also have fantasy settings like Fire Emblem, while Front Mission is more sci-fi and focuses on mechs.
If action-oriented games are more of your speed, Stranger of Paradise, Valkyrie Elysium, Star Ocean: The Divine Force, Harvestella, Dragon Quest Treasures, and Crisis Core fit the bill. It’s a treat that we’re getting two big Final Fantasy games this year. Stranger of Paradise plays like a fantastic middle ground between Nioh and Ninja Gaiden, and also has the best protagonist ever in Jack Garland. Final Fantasy VII Remake was a fantastic RPG with exhilarating combat so we’ve good reason to hope that Crisis Core Reunion will deliver as well.
There aren’t very many JRPGs with sci-fi settings, so Star Ocean: The Divine Force is for someone who’s itching for a Mass Effect-like experience, and Harvestella has farming mechanics that will make it a hit with the Stardew Valley crowd.
As you can tell, I’m very excited about Square Enix’s upcoming lineup of games coming out within the next year, and RPG fans are going to be eating well. Whether releasing quite so many games in one year will do harm to each individual game’s sales remains to be seen, but for fans of the genre, we’re spoilt for choice.
(But Square Enix, can you also ditch the stupid NFT stuff too while you’re at it?)