Video game demos have fallen out of fashion. In the era of extended betas and early access, pre-release demos are no longer the go-to means for a developer to show off and generate hype for an upcoming title. Demos also now have the stigma of being closer to a finished product than a work in progress; leading a lot of players to believe that whatever problems they have with the demo will also be in the actual game.
However, one company is keeping public demos alive and doing them better than anyone else in the business, the developer behind the beloved Final Fantasy, Kingdom Hearts, and Tomb Raider franchises: Square Enix. With the 2015 Final Fantasy Episode Duscae demo, the demos tied to the Nintendo 3DS Bravely Default games, and the recently-released Octopath Traveler demo on Switch, Square Enix has gotten quality demos down to a science.
Final Fantasy XV: Episode Duscae
Even in the incredibly long history of Final Fantasy XV’s development, Episode Duscae feels like it came out forever ago. Originally made available via a download code connected to a purchase of the Final Fantasy Type 0 HD remaster, which is the primary reason why the PSP port sold as well as it did, the demo quickly overshadowed the actual game. Episode Duscae was unlike most other demos and had more in common with an actual video game than a demonstration of one. The demo received multiple updates and fans of the demo posted numerous walkthroughs and advice pages all over the internet.
Most striking, though, between Episode Duscae and other demos released at the time, is just how different the actual game wound up being. While Final Fantasy XV shares many of Episode Duscae’s tones and mechanics, the combat system is remarkably different. Episode Duscae definitely feels like FFXV, but it’s clear that the final version of the game was created with the consideration of how people reacted to the demo in mind. Rather than just a marketing gimmick, Square Enix used the Episode Duscae demo as a learning opportunity in order to make Final Fantasy XV the amazing game that it is today.
Bravely Default and Bravely Second
A big part of the popularity of Bravely Default and Bravely Second is due to the free-to-play demo of Bravely Default released prior to the full game. This demo firmly demonstrated the innovations BD was making to the at the time stagnating JRPG genre. The demo also triggered a sense of nostalgia in many long time Final Fantasy fans, as the game is very clearly inspired by the earlier games in that franchise.
The Bravely Default demo is perhaps one of the most successful demos in recent memory. It almost single-handedly raised awareness for this gem of a game and rewarded those who played it with extra in-game items. Square Enix made the textbook definition of a good video game demo here and deserves every dollar it makes from the Bravely Default series.
The tentatively named Octopath Traveler is Square Enix’s upcoming installment in the turn-based JRPG genre. During the most recent Nintendo Direct, it was announced that this game’s demo would be available to download that same day and that surveys about the experience would be made available to players in the near future. This demo has already met the high bar set by other Square Enix demos, as it both shows off the unique features of this beautiful game and gives players the opportunity to provide feedback.
Square Enix really seems as though its going to take the responses to the survey to heart, as it gives players a lot of space to go into detail about what they did and did not like about the demo. In this era of secretive development cycles and betas that serve as little more than stress tests for online servers, it really is heartening to see Square Enix using the Octopath Traveler demo as an opportunity to make it a better game.
Square Enix really is keeping video game demos alive with these innovations and good business practices. With their success in doing this, it’s no wonder they played such a large role in returning JRPGs to their former popularity only a few years ago. Releasing quality demos and listening to players’ responses makes the video game industry better as a whole, and other developers could definitely learn a thing or two from Square Enix.