Well hello good folks of VGC, I wanted to talk about a subject that has been on my mind ever since the last direct. It is mainly about the announcement of the big Final Fantasy bomb being dropped on the Switch. Now, I want to make it clear, this is NOT gloating about the games coming to a Nintendo platform. This is mainly an exploration of the subject, in which I discuss some of the findings of a certain article and then my own opinion and personal retrospective on the information presented. The article I recently came across is Final Fantasy 7: An oral history written by Matt Leone. While I do not like Polygon at all, I feel that this article is brilliantly done and I urge anyone interested in the history of Final Fantasy 7 and/or Square, to read it. What I mainly want to focus on is the split between Square and Nintendo, and the impact Final Fantasy VII had on this relationship. It is a historical event relevant to this wonderful hobby we all love, and it is good to look back at what happened, and maybe what could have been.
"We knew Nintendo 64 and PlayStation were going to be the next hardware generation, and that we’d be developing our next game for one of them. It was similar to when we moved from the Famicom to the Super Famicom. Our first step wasn’t to choose between the two systems, but to focus on learning the Silicon Graphics workstations we had purchased. They were very expensive machines, and we made a demo on them to show people, “This is how Final Fantasy could look in 3D.”" - Hironobu Sakaguchi
During the first half of the nineties, Nintendo was still on top. The Super Nintendo was doing very well, and was the industry leader. However, it was not a spot easily gained. Nintendo and Sega were going at it, and the 16 bit war was the defining video game competition of the era. No doubt, did Square help Nintendo and their platform with their wonderful games of which Final Fantasy was the most well known, both in Japan and somewhat in the west. Nintendo and Square were very close, so close in fact, that Square was considered a second party to Nintendo. Making games exclusively for their systems.
However, the 3D era came, and many new companies were moving to make new next generation 3D capable gaming machines. One one side, the new Playstation from Sony which was ready to give Nintendo and Sega a run for their money with a massive push to woo developers to risk putting their games on their new system. On other side, Nintendo was in contact with Silicon Graphics to move towards a 64 bit 3D gaming system. However, while Playstation was moving forward rapidly, the N64 was moving very slowly. Due to constant changes to the hardware and bad or "loose" communication between Nintendo and SGI, Square became increasingly frustrated with the hardware limitation of Nintendo's platform. And while frustrations built up, Sony and Square began to talk to each other. The choice for a cartridge based system, while others opted for a CD based system, was the best choice for Nintendo themselves but not for their partners perse. Nintendo opted for that to combat piracy, but it could also have been out of bad experiences with Sony and Philips. Either way, Square (Sakaguchi) had a vision for Final Fantasy 7, and it simply did not work on Nintendo's then unfinished hardware. They tried to make it work, but it could not be done at the time. The cartridge limitations and costs were too much for Square. So the choice was made.
"As Nintendo 64 and PlayStation arrived, that grip began to loosen. Despite Sony having an unproven track record in the game industry, its developer outreach and hardware convinced many third-party teams to hop on board. Square was one of the biggest studios to jump ship, announcing in early 1996 that it had decided to shift its entire lineup to Sony’s hardware, with Final Fantasy 7 as the centerpiece. By the end of the generation, almost all major third-party studios had signed up with Sony, in part due to the economic advantages of manufacturing games on PlayStation’s CDs compared to Nintendo 64’s cartridges."
The split was harsh, but Square wanted their games to fit their vision. Sony gave them that opportunity. No doubt did this frustrate Nintendo, as it added to a growing list of support of their new competitor. However, while this is mainly attributed to the Nintendo's insistence of making a cartridge based system, all was not well with Square and Nintendo before this issue came. As it says:
"While many people speaking for this story point to this often-told story about the differences between CD-ROMs and cartridges as the main reason for Square’s shift to PlayStation, some say hardware horsepower differences and communication between Square and Nintendo also played a key role in the decision. Kawai says he believes Square has focused its public comments on the disc versus cartridge debate over the years out of respect to Nintendo."
Nintendo and Square had definitely split, and not on good terms. While Yamauchi wished them well, in yakuza style fashion, no Square affiliated person came into Nintendo offices for at least 5 years. The doors had shut for a long while.
"I knew it was important [when Square left], and it certainly was a loss. But for me, it wasn’t such a devastating loss. I knew it was very important for [Nintendo in] Japan. I’m not so sure about the U.S. market. But we knew it was a big deal to have lost it on our system, and knowing that it would make Sony a bigger competitor, it just made the work that much more important." - Darren Smith
"What I heard was Nintendo said, “If you’re leaving us, never come back.”" - Hiroshi Kawai
Square became a Sony only developer from the on, and the rest is history. Final Fantasy 7 became a massive hit, and definitely helped the Playstation become the sensation that it was. Square eventually became Square Enix and continued its support by releasing the Final Fantasy mainline games exclusively on Sony's platform. Only when Crystal Chronicles came to the Gamecube, could we see a glimpse of Squares past support for Nintendo.
My personal perspective
While I grew up as a Sega and Amiga gamer, when I got my Super Nintendo in 94, my gaming tastes changed. A game that I remember getting in 95 was Illusion of Time (Also known as Illusion of Gaia). While it was no Square game, it introduced me to the JRPG genre. Through this introduction, I came to know Squares RPGs already out or coming to the SNES. I absolutely loved these games. This love was no doubt connected to the platform that I played them on. I became a Nintendo fan because of it. This naturally made me opt for the next Nintendo system. The system was mind blowing for me when I first saw Mario 64. I was eager to play more 3D games on it, especially role playing games. Only, they never came. Instead, the games came to another platform that I did not own yet. When at school, during the regular console warz on the playgrounds, Final Fantasy 7 was frequently used as a shot against the 64. And while I pretended that it didn't matter, I was very envious. Eventually, I also got a Playstation, and I got to play them of course. I didn't care as much as I used to, but I did see how this was something important and special. The games had a vibe to them, they were mature and appealing, had great visuals and the stories were unlike what we had seen before. I however hoped to see these games still, on a Nintendo platform again. Just because of my desire to "play the games on my favourite companies system". The two belonged together in my mind. However, when my Playstation broke, I got a new Playstation from some friends uncle. It was modded to play burned CDs, and it was region modded.
The system came with a bunch of games, official and pirated copies. One of those games was Xenogears. A game that I absolutely loved, even more so than any other Final Fantasy game.
Later on, as I grew past the older gen, I played more than enough RPGs on the Gamecube to fill that gap. One of those was of course Baten Kaitos, partly made by people behind Xenogears. Eventually I skipped the Wii for a good part of its lifetime. Fast forward to 2011: I suddenly got urge to play a game that sounded familiar, namely Xenoblade Chronicles. This game very much so got me to relive that old rpg feeling I had back in the nineties and I was happy to know that it was from a development company that I knew (at least the games). For me, Xenoblade kind of became Nintendo's Final Fantasy for me, so I didn't really feel that big of a desire to play a FF game on a Nintendo system perse. Same with the Bravely Default games (being similar to the older SNES titles). However, with the recent announcement it made me remember the time back then and reflect. The announcement, coupled with what I read in the article gave me somewhat closure.
Anyway, if you have read my rambling, I want to thank you. To me, this part of history being closed is somewhat historic and significant. How do you feel about Squares switch to Sony and the impact FFVII had?
I want to close with a video, the FFVII intro, soon to be seen on your Switch.