Alternate History

Square (Ohga Shrugs)

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Headquarters Tokyo, Japan
Industry Video Game Developer

Square Co., Ltd. is a Japanese video game company founded in September 1983 by Masashi Miyamoto. The company sometimes used Squaresoft as a brand name to refer to their games, and the name is occasionally used to refer to the company itself.


The Early Years

Square originally worked on games for Japanese home computers. They then entered the console business to port several PC games to the Famicom Disk System, a Japan-only Famicom add-on that gave the Famicom the ability to play disc-based games. Square's first games on the platform were failures and put the company in a bad economical situation. Then they developed a role-playing video game titled Final Fantasy, inspired by Enix's success with the genre with the title Dragon Quest. Final Fantasy was to be the swansong for the Company, but instead turned out to be a major hit. With 400,000 copies sold, Final Fantasy spawned many sequels over the years and became Square's main franchise. Square soon became a common favorite among RPG fans in Japan.

After Ohga Shrugs and Golden Age

190321-square logo 222 super

Square logo During the SNES and Nintendo 64 Era (1990-2001) will become the Epithet of RPG both in Japan and Worldwide

With the news of the possibility of a CD-ROM attachment for the SNES, Square was very interested with them following the news pretty closely. Even though they had a lot of experience working with cartridges, CD-ROMs were the subject of much investigation thanks to the impact of the PC-Engine Super CD and its signature game, an RPG called Tengai Makyō, also known as "Devil's World Far From Heaven" or as Far East of Eden. The game showed the potential of CD-ROM media for the RPG, and began an interest in disc-based media at Square.

With the news of the collaboration ending because of Nintendo and Sony disagreements, Square was at a crossroads. The company had already invested in a game for the attachment, Seiken Densetsu 2, known in English as Secret of Mana. The game was ultimately released on a regular SNES cartridge, with much of the content cut out.

Even after that, Square followed their close relationship with Nintendo, releasing their games exclusively into the SNES, including new entry of the popular Final Fantasy Franchise, or the Japan-only SaGa Franchise, and expanding their portfolio with game like the Tactical Role-Play-Game Front Mission and the Secret of Mana-inspired American-only Secret of Evermore. It was towards the end of the era, however, that Square would release two games for the SNES that would give them worldwide acclaim and put them in high regard among video game fans.

The first one was Chrono Trigger, whose development team included three designers that Square dubbed the "Dream Team": Hironobu Sakaguchi, the creator of Square's </span>Final Fantasy series; Yuji Horii, a freelance designer and creator of Enix's popular Dragon Quest series; and Akira Toriyama, a freelance manga artist famed for his work with Dragon Quest and Dragon Ball. The game's story follows a group of adventurers who travel through time to prevent a global catastrophe, and was praised for its several additions to the RPG genre, including a more open storyline and world, varied party members, teamwork via double or triple techs, multiple endings based on player actions, and the New Game plus, a feature that allows a player to replay a game with all their equipment and experience intact. The game was a big hit in Japan, with more that two million copies sold, and became a cult classic and fan favorite in the Americas.

The Second major hit of the latter SNES era required Square to use one of the world's more famous intellectual properties: Mario. This was only possible due to Square's close relationship with Nintendo. The product was yet another RPG called Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars. It was the first role-playing video game in the Mario series. The game contained token similarities to other Square role-playing video games, such as the Final Fantasy series, but had a story and action-based game play derived from the Super Mario Bros. series. The game play is like an isometric platformer, in which traditional Mario elements such as punching floating question blocks from below are prominent. Enemies are visible in the field, and a battle ensues only if Mario comes into contact with one. This allows the player to evade unnecessary battles. The combat was based on a traditional turn based battle system, with the addition of action commands that amplify a move's effects. The action command consists of timed button presses during an attack, special move, defense, or item usage. The game was a major hit, with more that two million copies sold worldwide, mostly in Japan, despite releasing in the twilight of the SNES's life.

The Fifth Generation and the 3-D Leap

Square was always forcing the Limit of Cartridge for their RPG thanks to the Mastery of Knowledge of working in Nintendo machines, when rumors of the new Nintendo Console, Codenamed Project Reality will be mostly a 3-D games machine, Square started to work. Impressed by the Silicon Graphics workstations capacities after the release of Donkey Kong Country, Square started to invest in similar but a little more advanced machines. With those machines
FfVI-tech demo

Final Fantasy N64 tech demo, was pretty impressive at the time

they made a quick but very detailed tech demo of Final Fantasy VI (III in the west) characters for the upcoming Nintendo 64 in the very first E3 in 1995. </span></p>

When the Nintendo 64 was revealed to use cartridges instead CD's because Nintendo didn’t manage to obtain a cheap supplier of CD parts (having a conflict with Sony and Philips because broken contracts and other companies asking very high license fees for Nintendo standards)  and because the high loading time which uses the CD for 3-D games plus keeping piracy at bay for the most difficult way to make cartridges, the decision found Square Management again at another crossroad, to keep working with Nintendo with the long relationship and commercial success or going with SEGA for the CD Media possibilities. When the Saturn Specs were revealed to be difficult to work thanks to its complex architecture and the difficult to use their already obtained workstation for real-time 3-D, they decided to keep with Nintendo but ask Nintendo for help with the cartridge storage capacity. </span></p>

After several negotiations with Nintendo, a deal was made, they will help with the storage of cartridges to them and not asking for the licenses fees (Square will only pay for the cartridge price, a privilege of only second party) alongside the condition that the games made by Square were Nintendo only, that made de facto Square a Nintendo second party, but Square accepted the contract that having to work for either SEGA or PC (which were popular in west but dying in Japan) since zero. </span></p>

With the new rules of the game, they start to make the transition of their most cherished franchise, Final Fantasy, to 3-D, after several years of working, using several hardware and software tricks to use all the space available of cartridge (which was evolving during time even if more capacity demanded more costs), and keeping the game full of content and side quest but taking away unnecessary content or elements (which would become the fuel for several fan theories in the newly born Internet webpage and forums), after more that three years of hard work that ripened its fruits, they released a game which would put the name Square among video game pop culture and other history-changing games for the company. The Game was Final Fantasy VII </span></p>

Final Fantasy VII follows protagonist Cloud Strife, who initially works as a member of the rebel organization AVALANCHE to stop the world-controlling </span>mega corporation Shinra, which is draining the life of the planet for use as an energy source. As the story progresses, Cloud and his allies become involved in a larger world-threatening conflict, facing off against Sephiroth, a former worker of Shinra and the game's main antagonist. The game makes advance use of 3-D models and combination of real-time and partly pre-rendered 3-D backgrounds which gave cutting-edge visual at the time launch, with the battle happening in 3-D ‘islands’ area, such as a building's interior or an open grassland, in which the player commands the characters in battles against CPU-controlled enemies, during battle sequences, the game uses the series' traditional Active Time Battle (ATB) system first featured in Final 'Fantasy IV. The game featured a skill system built around the use of Materia—magical orbs that are placed in special slots on weapons and armor, allowing players to customize their party's ability to use magic, summons and special abilities.  Summon spells feature in the game, equipable as Materia, with elaborately animated attacks. A modified form of Final Fantasy VIs "Desperation Attacks" appears in Final Fantasy VII as the "Limit Break.</p>


Final Fantasy VII Battle Screen, Showing the game several features

The game, which was almost a gamble like the original Final Fantasy thanks to the high cost of their cartridges, become a critical and commercial success which even outperformed Enix’s Dragon Quest, Selling almost seven million copies worldwide, claimed to be the game which made popular the RPG in the west after being only for niche audiences and being the best selling Nintendo 64 games not made by Nintendo First or Second Party, even if humorous Square referred to itself as Nintendo 2.5 Party.</span></p>

After the success of Final Fantasy VII, Square quickly started to work into the next entries of their main franchise, plus making more games of their other popular franchise, like a new SaGa game that thanks to the collaboration with Nintendo did get exported with rave reviews, another Mana series game, a new Chrono derivative game, which was received with some mixed reviews for the new story directions and another of Front Mission. After Final Fantasy VII development, several old members of Square left the company to pursue new interests, one that was Tetsuya Takahashi  who would find fame later with the Xeno franchise and Motomu Toriyama who would join to SEGA Rpg Studio Camelot Software planning. Square Taking Advantage of this contact with Nintendo release new IP, like Brave Fencer Mushahi and the Resident Evil-Esque Parasite Eve, and Square Noticing that his contract with Nintendo included for game cartridge of the Game Boy, accept to publish under their seal several licensed game for the game boy plus releasing ports of their old NES Final Fantasy games for the game boy Color,  and make a compilation of their SNES-era Final Fantasy  for the Nintendo 64, including the localized version of Final Fantasy V, which received heavy criticism for his very bad translation.

Thanks to the success of Square games and their technical capacities, some discussion about entering into the CG Movies was discussed after watching Toy Story and the rise of 3-D animation  but even if the technical capacities were there, Square little experience with full-made CG scenes, mostly because in the Nintendo 64 was more easily to make In-game engine and real-time cut scenes as long doesn’t consume much memory. At the end the idea was dropped but was accepted expand the reach of Square Intellectual properties, with merchandising and tie-ens which were outside video games, some negotiation with Square RPG rival Enix for manga adaptations of  Square’s IP were made plus several anime studios for anime ones.

Sixth Generation and the Impact of Optic Media

In 1999, news came that Nintendo would finally embrace Optical Discs thanks to collaboration with Matsushita, known worldwide as Panasonic, and that those would be bigger than standard CD and SEGA CD-ROM. Though smaller that the conventional DVD, which was licensed by companies by Sony, Philips and other enterprises , they would be optimized for video games, with short load times plus more space for cut scenes and voice acting. The news were welcomed, and after several discussions where going multi-platform was discussed, Square decided to stay with Nintendo at least for one more generation, largely because Square had more brand recognition and sales from Games on Nintendo consoles. Plus, Nintendo contracts had pretty big benefits for Square now that the cost of the media were low, and even after several discussions with Nintendo, the contract was kept and partially extended. Again, Square would only have to pay for the cost of the Nintendo Optical Disc and use as much as needed, but here the storage capacities would be fixed since the beginning, and the exclusivity clause was retained for games during the generation.

FFVIII tech demo screenshot 2

Square was more than ready for the Dolphin, showing a real time rendering video of a former in-game engine scene

With the rules of the generation set, Square helped a lot to hype project Dolphin, which later become the GameCube. They showed several tech demos, including one of the famous dance scene in Final Fantasy VIII, made using real-time rendering animation showing the Dolphin's advanced video and rendering capacities.

FFX lake

Final Fantasy X had stunning visuals, possible thanks to GameCube's expanded media capacity.

While hyping the platform, Square worked hard to make a new entry of their main Franchise, Final Fantasy X, as a launch title, taking advantage of the Mini-DVD based media and capacity. They worked hard improving not only the in-game models but also making stunning cut scenes. With close collaboration of their overseas branches to ensure the speedy translation of the game, Final Fantasy X was available for Nintendo GameCube launch, both in Japan and the Americas. It spanned three discs, and was the first of several notable GameCube games to require multiple discs. Later games would be mostly require two, thanks to the DivX middle ware, develop for Other Third Party Factor 5.

Square was already working on the next Final Fantasy, but first, they released Kingdom Hearts. Kingdom Hearts began development in February 2000, and was a collaboration between Square and Disney. In contrast to the Final Fantasy series, the game was to emphasize game play over story, although the game's story would remain important. The game would be a massive crossover project, incorporating scores of Disney characters alongside classic Final Fantasy characters like Cloud and Tidus.

Kingdom Hearts was ultimately across two discs, filled to the brim with worlds and cutscenes. The game was a major success, and sold over four million copies over the GameCube's life.

Meanwhile, Final Fantasy XI was underway, by the team that previously worked on Chrono Cross. The final product, released in March 2003, was obviously inspired by the Chrono series. Unlike most contemporary Final Fantasy games, the title featured a customizable party, akin to that found in the early odd-numbered installments in the series. The game also included new mechanics borrowed from the Chrono series, such as an emphasis on combination attacks between characters, time travel elements, and an art style somewhat akin to Akira Toriyama's work.

Final Fantasy XI was well received, but was subject to more criticism than other Square games of the era. Many newcomers to the series were confused by the more classic style of having a customizable party, as well as an emphasis on game play over story. Still, the game ended up being one of the best sellers on the GameCube.

During much part of the generation they star to make more entry of their games, some games were released for the Gameboy advance, taking advantage of the similar architecture of the SNES, with Updated Ports of the SNES era Final Fantasy, from IV to VI, plus a few new IP like Magical Starsign, licensed properties and spin off of others franchise, like the Final Fantasy Tactics, Kingdom Hearts or the old Quest Acquire Tactics Ogre/Ogre Battle Franchise. </span></p>

A Little before the end of the generation, they published another entry of their Final Fantasy Franchise, keeping the tradition of three games per generational System, the game numbered as XII, much like his predecessor introduced a lot of change for the franchise. Much like Final Fantasy XI was inspired by the old work in Chrono Trigger; Final Fantasy XII was pretty introduced into the concepts of his head writer and co-director, Yasumi Matsuno, of Final Fantasy Tactics, Vagrant Story and Ogre Franchise Fame.

The Story of </span>Final Fantasy XII is set within the land of Ivalice during an age when "magic was commonplace" and "airships plied the skies, crowding out the heavens". At this time, magicite, a magic-rich mineral, is commonly used in magic spells and in powering airships — a popular form of transportation in Ivalice. Ivalice is divided into three continents Ordalia, Valendia and Kerwon.</p>

The game play was pretty radical, making the entry closer to PC based Western RPG than the more traditional Japanese RPG conventions, with a very big open world which invited to exploration, the random encounter was eliminated using a system called "Active Dimension Battle" (ADB). A battle begins when the party comes within range of an aggressive enemy, if the party attacks an enemy, or if a story event initiates a confrontation.</span> When a character or enemy begins to perform an action, target lines connect characters to other party members or enemies; different colors represent the type of action. The player may swap to and issue commands to any of the three characters in the battle party at will. However, a system, called Gambits was introduced where you leave all except one character of their own and coordinate advance attack using both actions and AI actions, being a new way to use special skills (like summons). The level-up system, even if standard, was more dependent of the equipment and which set to use, allowed via a ‘License’ system which was a new version of the ‘jobs’ system of older entries .</p>

With the more changes to the franchise, the fanbase and critics were pretty divided; much loved the innovation and how integrates other mythos into the franchise, some were pretty puzzled for the new way and were vocals with their criticism, like the very luck dependent Loot system or the somewhat abstract story, even if that, the game sell pretty well, making a great entry for the franchise. </span></p>

Seventh Generation and the broad audience of Multi-platform 

Rumors of the Possibility of Multi-platform release for future Square game were heard for years, to collaboration with SEGA or released of game for PC, those rumors were left quiet for the company meanwhile studying the situation, with the new generation will introduced the capacity of Render graphics into High Definition Resolution (720p in commercial television), the cost of increase the quality of assets will rise, alongside the game system become pretty similar each other, unlike the most action and sports game oriented SEGA platform or the most Platformer and RPG oriented Nintendo platform, thus the value of make port for each other were pretty slim but the sales potential was there and would help with the rising game budgets, similar to PC, when the jump of graphics powers and the standardization of components and developments tools thanks to Microsoft DirectX and Unified Shaders which were to be adopted for consoles.

The new Leaderships of the companies help the situation, while SEGA goes that the exclusives of Nintendo, like Square & Enix RPGs, Capcom’s Resident Evil and et al, were the main reason they were unable to overtake Nintendo when the market share was pretty one-to-one during the most of generation and was more pro-active to hunt for exclusives, Nintendo new leadership was pretty open to work more directly with third parties for exclusives or new games but less than giving privileges (like Square or Enix contracts or Capcom money for Resident Evil & Capcom Five), and the expansion of the PC community in the west during the sixth generation thanks to PC exclusives like Grand Theft Auto and Halo, the die was cast.

During E3 2006, in the SEGA presentation of games for the upcoming Pluto, a game was show, the Akira Tokiyama Designed and Dragon Quest inspired RPG, Blue Dragon, which was revealed to be a SEGA and Square Collaboration, with Final Fantasy renowned Hironobu Sakaguchi, being a co-director and head writer and composed by Nobuo Uematsu, again of Final Fantasy Fame. That wasn’t the only Square surprise for the event.

During own Square Conference of the E3, the main revelation was made, after showing a short trailer, Square announced their new project, Fabula Nova Crystallis</span>: Final Fantasy XII, which was mentioned as a multigame, platform wide franchise, which would include the new entry of the popular final fantasy franchise as the main flagship title into a multi-platform release for both upcoming Revolution and Pluto plus the chance of a PC release later, alongside of  Platform Exclusive entries, like  Final Fantasy Agito XII for Pluto, Final Fantasy Versus XIII for Revolution and Final Fantasy Haeresis XIII for the Gameboy Nitro. In a minor note they announced remakes of their N64 era based Final Fantasy games for the Nitro, some taking advantage of Nitro bigger storage capacities plus new development tools, to bring back old scrapped features.</p>


Square is split into a number of smaller Development Divisions. Each of these divisions tend to emphasize a certain type of game, even within a larger series. For example, Division 3 tends to make Final Fantasy games with a greater emphasis on gameplay, whereas Division 1 emphasizes story. Note, however, that divisions could be working on multiple projects at a time, and are thus mostly defined by their producers.

  1. The main Final Fantasy team, and Square's best known developers. Responsible for the development of Final Fantasy 7, 8, 10, X-2, and the 13 series, as well as the earlier Kingdom Hearts games.
  2. A team that is responsible for smaller Square franchises, including Mana and SaGa, as well as some Final Fantasy spinoffs.
  3. This team is best known for their work on Final Fantasy 11' and 14, which emphasize gameplay more than their peers.
  4. This division is responsible for Strategy RPG's including the Final Fantasy Tactics subseries.
  5. Recently, this division has been in charge of the Kingdom Hearts franchise, including its installments on the Game Boy Nitro and 3-DS and the upcoming HD collection of the original GameCube games.
  6. Although responsible for the Front Mission franchise, this division's status is unknown.
  7. Creates smaller original RPG's and spinoffs of Final Fantasy.
  8. In charge of the Mana franchise.

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