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Why Square Enix Never Writes Complete Stories

Square Enix is a company that has long prided itself on its pedigree of storytelling. Over its many decades of game production, Square Enix has created some of the best and most memorable characters in video game history. They’ve also made some incredibly bizarre fever-dream plotlines that no other company would ever consider. If you’ve played their JRPGs, you’ve seen Time Compression, Time Devourers, Nobodies, fal’cie, cycles of souls, the will of Gaia, and much more. Square Enix has literally done it all.

Along the way, all this wonderful weirdness stopped being for the sake of weirdness; it became a marketing strategy. These games were always more or less incomprehensible. Confused fans were left lost and pondered the holy mysteries of titles like Xenogears for decades. Now, however, that vagueness has a purpose: leaving the door open for sequels.

Games that should be clear-cut are made blurry and confusing to leave the fanbase guessing what is coming next. Unless the game is Dragon Quest and thus it traffics in adorable simplicity, the story is typically incomplete. What comes next is a sequel that usually creates more questions than it answers. Square Enix has become the J.J. Abrams of the video game industry, employing the “mystery box” as a gimmick in its narratives.

Final Fantasy XV’s Plot “Holes”

Ravus from Square Enix game Final Fantasy XV
Ravus

One of the biggest problems players have had with Final Fantasy XV is how difficult it is to become invested in the story. This is because large chunks of the game’s narrative were cut out to shove into the movie, Kingsglaive and the anime OVA, Brotherhood. The beginning of the game assumes you’ve heard of and watched both of these things, leaving it very uninviting for somebody new.

Worse, later chapters seem to have story content cut out for DLC and characters suffer important injuries, but we never see how. Just how much of the story has been left out to nickel-and-dime fans is unknown, but this is not the first time Square Enix has pulled something like this. Final Fantasy XIII-2 actually left out its final ending to DLC.

Recently, Final Fantasy XV’s director, Hajime Tabata, announced that he was unhappy with the status of the game’s story. In an upcoming patch, the team will add scenes that will better explain the status of certain characters. In particular, the director mentioned villain Ravus, whose storyline is treated very badly in the final product. These added scenes will be free.

This is an admission of something that has been happening for years at Square Enix: the stories they’re writing are less and less complete. Tabata himself ran Final Fantasy Type-0, a game that is also missing many scenes and is not getting a patch or DLC. I think he just can’t help himself.

The Rise of Sequalization

Final Fantasy X-2 JPop singer

Prior to their merger, Squaresoft and Enix rarely made true sequels to their games. Other than the occasional call-back here or there, the many sequels to Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest were unrelated. Dragon Quest VII was an entirely complete story that in no way set up anything in Dragon Quest VIII. The rare exceptions were games like Parasite Eve, which received a direct sequel a year later. But even sequels were often so different as to be unrecognizable. Chrono Cross was such a departure from Chrono Trigger that you would have to play to the last disc to realize how the stories are connected at all.

This all began to change in the early 2000s. Final Fantasy X-2 was released right after Final Fantasy X. X-2 was more of a spin-off, featuring only a few characters from the original. But it set the precedent that each new game could become its own franchise. New Final Fantasy titles were not just games; they grew into multimedia events.

Final Fantasy XII in 2006 was quickly followed by a few related spin-offs for handheld platforms. This line was called the Ivalice Alliance. Around the same time, Advent Children inspired its own series of Final Fantasy VII titles in the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII. Final Fantasy XIII was the infamous first game of Fabula Nova Crystallis. That particular sub-series had no luck, as we know. The ten year wait for Final Fantasy XV is evidence of that.

Kingdom Hearts and the Mystery Ending

Kingdom Hearts was one of the first examples of a game that used the characteristics of a Square Enix story to set up sequels. This Disney/JRPG collaboration ended on a clear sequel hook. Part of the cast were trapped in the Realm of Darkness. The player’s party of Sora, Donald, and Goofy had also not returned home. In the game’s prologue, a mysterious voice told the player that they would “Open the Door to Light”. At no point during the game had that ever occurred. Clearly, something bigger was planned. But what really changed everything was what happened after the credits.

Players got their first hint of director Tetsuya Nomura‘s ambition in the secret ending to the game. It showed two figures in black leather coats fighting Heartless in a dark city. What any of this meant was completely unknown, as nothing like this had appeared in the game the players had just beaten. The Final Mix version (Japan only) added a whole bonus boss whose identity was unknown. It also added more footage to that secret ending, but only deepened the mystery further.

Kingdom Hearts became one of the biggest game series of the 2000s, giving Square Enix its first taste of how mystery could energize a fanbase. Players rabidly speculated on what every detail of the bonus movies meant. Square Enix would take these lessons to heart.

Never-Ending Mystery

Everything about the secret ending to Kingdom Hearts was eventually explained in Kingdom Hearts II in 2005. However, that game ended with its own equally inexplicable ending. This time a trio of armored warriors appeared in a graveyard of Keyblades. It was a promise for more sequels, which Square Enix happily delivered. The Kingdom Hearts series has continued on this path, constantly teasing fans with another layer, but never getting to the conclusion.

Kingdom Hearts III will answer some of the remaining questions from the latest spin-offs, but will probably not conclude everything. A final conclusion just seems impossible for this series. Undoubtedly, Kingdom Hearts III will conclude with the door opening to a new and exciting mystery. You’ll have no idea just what the game is teasing, but it will look cool.

However, after 15-plus years of being dragged along in an increasingly complicated Kingdom Hearts universe, it is unknown just how fans will react. To explain the intricate cosmology of this series would take hours. Kingdom Hearts now nears a level of messy lore matched by few other series. Is this sustainable forever?

A Trilogy Built on Vagueness

Lightning game character
Lightning fights bravely to find ways to shove in more sequels.

One series that was not sustainable was Final Fantasy XIII. This was a series with an incredibly deep lore and a lot of fascinating ideas. Unfortunately, the actual stories involved small casts with bad world building. There just was not much substance beyond the mystery. Where Kingdom Hearts could always return to the emotional core of the Sora, Riku, and Kairi relationship, that did not exist for Final Fantasy XIII. Sequels just seemed to appear out of thin air. One game would be about evil robot gods, the next about time travel, then the Rapture. Just… um… wha?

Final Fantasy XIII finishes with events that seem to happen for little reason. Turns out it was a literal deus ex machina, as the sequel explains the good ending was the doing of a goddess named Etro. This character was only hinted at in datalog material that the player may or may not have read. Etro’s meddling creates the events of Final Fantasy XIII-2, which ends on a very random dark note. That ending is the set up for the third game, Lightning Returns. And that game’s ending isn’t exactly grounded either.

After Lightning Returns it seemed like Square Enix finally gave in and put the series out to pasture. This is the inevitable ending for a series built on keeping the audience guessing: unsatisfying answers.

Cliffhangers Answered or Not

Genesis game character reading a book

Lots of Square Enix JRPGs leave open a cliffhanger of some kind or another to their stories. Bravely Default left the hero Tiz in a bit of pickle, which was then picked up by Bravely Second. The HD remake of Final Fantasy Type-0 is currently promising something in its secret ending. However, in typically Square Enix fashion, the ending is so out of left field, your guess is as good as mine as to what is happening.

However, before you count your Final Fantasy Type-1 before it hatches, not all cliffhangers are answered. Take the case of the poor Compilation of Final Fantasy VII. When we last checked in with that series, it ended with the utterly awful PS2 action game, Dirge of Cerberus. That game had a bonus scene featuring two villains teaming up. A decade later and nothing has ever come of it. Honestly, Dirge of Cerberus is better off forgotten. The Final Fantasy VII remake probably erases that game from canon anyway.

Conclusion

Chrono Cross Van Gogh-style painting

There is nothing wrong with Square Enix’s story writing style. There is a wild audacity to the kinds of narratives Square Enix will pull that is really admirable. What other company would dare make Xenogears‘ second disc a clip show? Final Fantasy XIII-2 made the claim that “if you change the future, you change the past”, which makes no sense on any level. People’s brains just don’t work the way that Square Enix’s does. And I wouldn’t change that for the world.

But this obsession with sequalizing is becoming harmful to the magic of the mystery. Once upon a time you had to spend years replaying Chrono Cross over and over even to get the vaguest idea as to what the heck is going on with that ending. If that game came out in 2016, you’d see a sequel in a year, and that ruins the allure.

It doesn’t matter what the mystery is if it only exists to justify a sequel. The writers can always make up some nonsense to answer your question. It’s too shallow; it’s too manipulative.

So how much do I really care about those missing Final Fantasy XV scenes? Not a lot. I can’t be artificially dragged to the edge of my seat forever.

‘Final Fantasy XV’ Review – Fantasy Becomes Reality


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