As the final touches to what has been an exhausting E3 of ups and downs comes to pass, there are still many reasons and opportunities for us gamers to get excited for the future. Whether you are excited for Halo 6 or The Last of Us 2, I think we can all agree that whatever your console of choice, E3 had you covered. It was difficult to contain our giddiness at the prospect of all these new games. We can also hopefully agree that with all the low points of the show, Square Enix’s rather rushed conference probably tops the list.
We won’t go too much into the specifics of the conference, as it’s already been covered here on Cultured Vultures, but many who viewed the conference were met with disappointment. As a gamer who still holds a torch to these Japanese titans of gaming, it was almost tragic to see such an underwhelming show, with trailers flashing before my eyes quicker than that tunnel scene in Charlie & The Chocolate Factory.
All they had to do was simple; hype up a few upcoming games, give us a bit of a background into each one, show off an impressive scene of the Final Fantasy 7 remake that wasn’t the train scene and top it all off with an exclusive and better look at the gameplay of Kingdom Hearts 3 – their ace in the hole for the foreseeable future.
In theory, it should have been like what Bethesda did with Fallout 76, where they dedicated almost half hour of their conference to a hotly anticipated and soon to be released title, and gave everyone a reason to be excited for its November release. Hell, even Ubisoft, despite their Just Dance shenanigans and lack of Splinter Cell, kept to a simple formula of show and tell and it worked like a charm.
With Square Enix, we got something like that – we got a bit of gameplay Shadow of the Tomb Raider, which admittedly looks fantastic, and another Just Cause game that made a few of us ask “why is there another Just Cause game?” At least the weather features look interesting. Still, there was nothing on the FF7 remake which may have irked a few of the die hards, but the real problem was their botching of Kingdom Hearts 3.
While Square Enix didn’t necessarily need to show off a 30 minute gameplay video, they still needed to give its audience a reason to keep watching the conference. If you’re going to throw out a release date for an eagerly awaited installment of one of your flagship franchises early, you need to back that up with some heavy duty goods. Not everyone could be at E3 to play the demo that was showcased, after all.
By time the Kingdom Hearts 3 trailer came around, I was almost shocked into bitter disappointment that what we got was pretty much the same trailer that Square Enix showed the day before for Microsoft’s conference. The difference? It came with 2 new yet very short scenes and the introduction to Ratatouille. The sheer amount of probable, and therefore problematic apathy Square’s marketing seemed to have for the franchise and its fans was staggering.
I would have written this off as bit of a rookie error on Square Enix’s part. Their history at press conferences such as E3 has always been a bit iffy at best, seemingly owning a marketing team of oblivious bumpkins who don’t know a lot about the very medium that puts food on their table. That was until Sony’s conference where we were introduced to a brand new trailer, this time involving Pirates of the Caribbean and some Assassins Creed IV: Black Flag style ship battles.
So for those who are keeping track, that was 3 trailers; one for Microsoft, one for Square Enix themselves and then one for Sony that not only were 7 hours apart, but arguably should have been used during Square’s briefing. What’s the point in them having a conference when all they were showing were vague new IPs while pimping out their crown jewel to nearly every major console manufacturer in the business? All they needed was to include the Nintendo Switch in the mix and their entire press conference would be rendered utterly useless.
With one fell swoop of their Keyblade, Square Enix did something I never thought they could do with my favourite video game franchise – they burned me out and it appears that I may not be the only one. Square Enix really wants you to own Kingdom Hearts 3 and they’re going to shove it down your throat until you do.
With all the news coverage across this 3 day period, and introduction of new features but with little explanation as to how they work, you have to ask how much longer can Square Enix flog the dying Prince Charming horse? Also, why such heavy handed tactics?
E3 is only just the beginning in a long line of upcoming gaming conventions taking place this summer and I’m willing to bet my Gummi Ship that these three trailers and perhaps a fourth will be on heavy rotation during that time, especially with the Tokyo Game Show this September. Ultimately, there will be nothing to really write home about, but enough to keep the obsessives such as myself at bay and everyone else bashing out several hundred articles until the eventual January 2019 release.
It’s a common tactic for Square Enix. They’ve done this with Final Fantasy 13 with its battle system, dropping little trickles here and there before overloading gamers with one bit of info after another around the 6 month mark before the games release. Final Fantasy 15 did the same to the point there was nothing to talk about except for the often satirised cooking and camping system and I am willing to bet another gummi ship that when its release is on the horizon, the Final Fantasy 7 remake is going to get that same treatment.
Some gamers reading may point out a few things to me. They may point out that plenty of games have this treatment and yes, I do agree. The aforementioned Fallout 76 had a brief glimpse during Microsoft’s E3 briefing. Although it was just a trailer, it was enough to get gamers to tune into Bethesda’s conference eager to learn more, and learn more they certainly did. To put it simply, it was marketing done right, giving viewers enough information to whet the appetite, but also holding enough back to keep things vague until the big reveal.
But what about the heavy handed tactics? It’s all very well and good to make up for over a decade of radio silence, and a lot of us got excited when the game was first announced two years ago. That excitement grew last year when they unveiled a few of the worlds that have now become common knowledge, but this year, Enix has gone overboard.
Some could also say that this was a clever move: three trailers on three seperate conferences to really drive the point home that one of gaming’s most beloved franchises is finding a home on the gaming console of your choice – provided you didn’t buy the Switch. Unfortunately by doing that, they’ve spread themselves thin and ended up repeating themselves, which has done more harm than good.
A better way to go about this would have been just admitting that half an hour is simply too short to compete with their contemporaries, cut their losses and split the show in half. They could have given their more action focused video games, such as Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Just Cause 4 and one Kingdom Hearts 3 trailer to Microsoft.
Then they could have given Sony the RPG focused games such as Dragons Quest IX, Babylon’s Fall, along with the second Kingdom Hearts 3 trailer. Not only would this have driven home their point but would have also earned Square Enix praise for a brilliant one-two punch on the collective backs of the console market.
What started as a new installment with genuine hype has started to push and test the patience of even the most dedicated of fans. However, despite all of this, is it right to say that Square’s marketing team is being lazy or even apathetic towards its fans? While it can be quite overwhelming to think that way and there is evidence that points to this, the problem could be a little more simpler than we think.
I personally think the problem lies that they simply just don’t know what they’re doing and it’s coming across as arrogant. While I may have likened them to oblivious bumpkins just now, I would like to say that criticism does come from tough love; a company which holds many a nostalgic memory, whom I admire and respect deeply, just can’t seem to get it right when promoting a video games and the trend is too big to now ignore.
It always seems Square Enix needs to overcompensate, like a doting single parent. They need to overcompensate with their elaborate and lavish plots; Kingdom Hearts may be a forever loved franchise for combining Disney and Final Fantasy, but even fans struggle to simplify the overall narrative if they want to get friends or casual gamers playing.
Hell, I’ve played both main titles and its spin off several times over and I still can’t simply explain Organization XIII without needing a blackboard. One of the biggest positives of Final Fantasy 15 was that the narrative was simple enough to understand. It’s just four mates on a road trip.
It would appear that just when Square Enix take one step forward and bring back some much needed simplicity, there is always something there to over complicate and fuck it all up for them – lest we forget the Deus Ex fiasco where a simple pre-order was bombarded with justified fan outrage that the developer had to pull the pre-orders entirely.
While the future of Square Enix’s games are still bright and promising and Kingdom Hearts 3 will no doubt sell by the bucket load come its 28th January release, and yes you can include me on that list, Square Enix needs to hold back the reins a little; remember that sometimes less can indeed be more. Going back to the same well over and over could end up being problematic.