Patrick Hope: It’s hip to be Square
Originally, this was going to be a column about the power of happy endings in games. It was going to be at least partially inspired by how silly and contrived the last episode of “How I Met Your Mother” was solely to give us something like a happy ending.
But something bigger happened, something that changed this column.
The Undertaker lost at Wrestlemania.
You see, prior to April 6, when he lost to Brock Lesnar, the Undertaker was 21-0 at Wrestlemania. Yes, I realize wrestling is fake, but the Streak was still nothing short of astonishing. It spanned the terms of four U.S. presidents, saw some of the greatest matches of all time and, in recent years, was a de facto main event. It was an unprecedented run of greatness and we will never see anything like it again.
You’re probably wondering how this ties in with video games. Well, just like losses in wrestling are inevitable, bad games are inevitable. No matter how good a developer is, they’ll eventually put out something that will end a run of good titles, break their streak, as it were.
Nintendo, Konami, Capcom, Bethesda, Bioware, Rockstar, the list goes on. Running up a multi-year streak of great releases is just impossible, right?
Not exactly. Gaming has, or had, its own Undertaker. It had Square. Not Square Enix. Just Square.
Somehow, this column has been going on for the better part of a year and I’ve completely avoided Square, which is honestly kind of amazing. This is the company that, starting in the early ‘90s and all the way to 2003, was the prime producer of role-playing games for American audiences and, in an incredible run, produced some of the best games ever.
The Square streak brought us “Final Fantasy IV” through “Final Fantasy X,” “Chrono Trigger,” “Super Mario RPG,” “Secret of Mana” and “Xenogears.” It effectively and singlehandedly popularized strategy role-playing games with “Final Fantasy Tactics,” and even saw some forays — more successful than others — into other genres, like shoot ‘em ups with “Einhander,” fighting games with “Bushido Blade” and survival horror with “Parasite Eve.”
Square’s defection from Nintendo to Sony ended up being a key component in the PlayStation vs. Nintendo 64 war. It even brought us the crossover to end all crossovers with Disney and Final Fantasy in “Kingdom Hearts.”
This doesn’t even include some of the more obscure, but still great, RPG properties that Square put out, like the “Saga” games, or some that never made it to America, like “Bahamut Lagoon” and “Treasure of the Rudras.”
To put it simply, Square was unstoppable.
To really put it into perspective, Square games during this era were so good that RPGs were actually mainstream. Compared to today, when RPGs often seem to get pigeonholed as either being filled with moeblob (a derisive term for entirely unremarkable, generically cute characters drawn in an anime style) casts, micromanagement that makes you throw up your hands, or sometimes both in frightening combinations, the Square streak gave us games that effortlessly catered to every demographic.
Those games had it all. Massive swords, giant robots, opera, “Power Rangers” knockoffs, bird racing and frogs slashing mountains in half — they were all there.
There were epic political struggles of love and betrayal, quests for identity, Mickey Mouse saving the universe and pasts that refused to change. And seasoned gamers can likely identify what game each of those elements references. They were memorable and everyone was a part of the magic.
But, just like the Undertaker’s streak, all good things must come to an end.
Square put out some clunkers, like “The Bouncer” and “Unlimited Saga,” merged with their former archrival Enix, and then kind of cratered. Sure, there are some good Square Enix games out there like “Deus Ex: Human Revolution” and the 2013 “Tomb Raider,” but there are a lot more people who see garbage mobile games and Lightning Returns and say things like, “Man, I miss ‘Chrono Trigger.’”
Word on the street is that the Undertaker decided that the streak should end because he didn’t think he could perform at a high level anymore and wanted to go out before his match quality really declined.
Well, as a business, Square really couldn’t do that, so they’ve kept making games and their stock in the gaming world continues to go down. And now those memories of the great times seem farther and farther away with each release.
Maybe it’s time we let go and let Square rest in peace.