Square Enix is a legendary name in the world of video games with its wide, ever-expanding library of titles. From console classics such as Final Fantasy VII, Chrono Trigger and Dragon Quest, to mobile Mana ports and more, the company is clearly no stranger to a diverse range of platforms.
As the pioneers of the HD-2D art style first seen in 2018 Switch title Octopath Traveler, Square Enix seems to have found its niche among Nintendo fans – since releasing an Octopath sequel, a Live A Live remake, and Triangle Strategy all with HD-2D textures on the Switch. An original Octopath Traveler game has even made its way to mobile: Champions of the Continent.
A prequel to the first game, Octopath Traveler: Champions of the Continent first released as a Japan exclusive in 2020 and saw a worldwide release years later in July 2022.
But outside of Japan, we aren’t always so lucky.
Many Square Enix mobile games only ever release in Japan, including numerous Final Fantasy titles from Grandmasters to Explorers-Force. Ultimately, many of the company’s mobile games shut down before the rest of the world gets a taste of them. Bravely Default: Brilliant Lights, for example, reached four million downloads in its first 11 days in Japan, but no Western release followed; instead, servers shut down in February 2023, just over a year after launch. According to Square Enix, this was due to an inability to "provide services that satisfy our customers".
The question has to be asked: Why? Does Square Enix not expect to find an audience outside of Japan, even for titles in franchises successfully released on console? Given 92 percent of gamers are exclusively playing on phones, would a worldwide release not give these titles an extra breath of life?
Conversely, another mobile game building on pre-established IP, Echoes of Mana, DID make it outside of Japan, but less than a year after release it was confirmed to be shutting down too. Octopath Traveler: Champions of the Continent is holding out for now, perhaps to help promote the recently released sequel on Switch.
Abroad and at home
Meanwhile, Square's Western strategy continues to confuse, with the sale of Crystal Dynamics, Eidos and Square Enix Montréal – as well as the Tomb Raider and Deus Ex brands – to Embracer Group in a move to refocus their business. Spending a total $300 million on the deal, Embracer Group acquired approximately 1,100 employees from the former Square Enix studios. If ever there was a defined shift away from Western audiences this is it.
And alongside this there are also the repeated promises to invest heavily in blockchain. Despite fanboy discontentment, Square Enix reinforced in its 2022 financial report that blockchain gaming is now a big focus. In fact, last year the company’s former president and representative director Yosuke Matsuda directly expressed the difficulty in companies growing when they focus predominantly on Japan’s games industry, so "it is critical for our business that we produce hit titles that speak to the global market".
On this basis, Square’s move to create games with more worldwide popularity makes sense, but still leaves one to wonder why so many of their mobile games are made only for Japanese audiences.
This March, Square Enix announced plans to relocate its main offices from Shinjuku to Shibuya, considered among Japan’s most fashionable wards among young people especially. Does this also suggest a greater focus on the Japanese market? An aim to get more into the country’s spotlight? The company saw a significant 22.6 percent decline in operating income in the last fiscal year, after all; aiming to locate itself in a fashionable hotspot seems a sensible response.
We only hope that a changing strategy leads to more titles reaching fans outside Japan.