March 25, 2011
Japan Week day 5: Tecmo/SquareEnix
Next to the last day in my dedication to Japanese developers and we are going to take a look at two companies with two different styles. Tecmo is known for the DOA series, Ninja Gaiden, and the Tecmo Bowl series. SquareEnix on the other hand has had a running track record of great RPG’s that includes ChronoTrigger, Final Fantasy, and the Dragon Quest series.
Tecmo created two series of games for the NES that hardly ever left my console, the Ninja Gaiden trilogy and Tecmo bowl. Tecmo Bowl is still a classic and Bo Jackson was the ultimate cheat. Ninja Gaiden was a difficult game but yet something I really enjoyed. (See people I was about 8 when I played these and they are still considered tough games, I encourage challenging your kids no matter the age.) Hiedo Yoshizawa was the producer for the trilogy on the NES. Ninja Gaiden was first NES game to include cut scenes and had well over 20 minutes worth of them. In 2004 it was given a reboot by Team Ninja, a subsidiary of Tecmo. The game was originally released on the Xbox and given an updated look and content for the PlayStation 3 entitled Sigma. The head of Team Ninja during this time was Tomonobu Itagaki. Besides the Ninja Gaiden reboot and its sequel, Itagaki also created the Dead or Alive fighting series. DOA was a fighting game in same court as Virtua Fighter, it left out super moves and blood and gore for martial arts and a counter system. DOA would be released in the arcades, on the PlayStation and Saturn. DOA 2 would be released on the Dreamcast and PlayStation 2. The series would then make an Xbox run with DOA 3 being a launch title and DOA 4 would again launch with a Microsoft system, the 360. After working on Ninja Gaiden 2 for the Xbox 360 Itagaki would leave Tecmo and file a suit against his former employer for unpaid royalties. Last year it was revealed that Itagaki has started his own development studio, Valhalla Game Studios, and is currently working on Devil’s Third. Itagaki has always been known as the “Rock Star” of the game development world. Always sporting sunglasses and long hair, and on occasion leather, he is always someone always worth watching out for.
SquareEnix has a great deal of great developers new and old, but none as important as Hironobu Sakaguchi, the father of Final Fantasy. Sakaguchi worked on a few games for Square Soft (which was SquareEnix before the merger) before tiring of games he was designing. Final Fantasy would become a cultural phenomenon and no RPG to date has had such an impact (I am open for debate but you know I’m right). The title Final Fantasy is derived from the fact that it was to be Sakaguchi’s last game of his career. After a long run of games on the NES and SNES, Square left Nintendo to make games for growing PlayStation market, due to the CD-Rom technology inside Sony’s machine. His next game would be what some consider one of the best games of all time, Final Fantasy VII. Final Fantasy VII had become a hit in Japan and in the US, and Sakaguchi was on the top of the nerd pile. Final Fantasy VII was the top selling game of 1997; its characters, music, and sweeping cinematic cut scenes would become a cultural phenomenon. Every gamer knows of Cloud Strife, Sephiroth, Aeris, and the heartfelt scene where Sephiroth kills Aeris; these have become staples of gaming culture. The last Final Fantasy Sakaguchi would produce would be Final Fantasy IX, which some feel, was better than VII. In 2004 Sakaguchi would leave SquareEnix and form his own studio Mistwalker. Sakaguchi and Mistwalker would go on to create two RPG’s for the Xbox 360, Blue Dragon and Lost Odyssey, as well as The Last Story for the Wii.
Any of Sakaguchi’s games would not be complete without the wonderful compositions by Nobuo Uematsu. Uematsu was at Square for the same duration as Sakaguchi, in 2004 he became a free lance composer, though he did still work with Sakaguchi on Blue Dragon, Lost Odyssey, and The Last Story. Uematsu has done performances, featuring the music he has made for video games, all over the globe. His music is one of the main features at the Video Games Live concerts held all over the US.
These two companies have given great gaming joy to the masses around the globe. Temco for creating a football game that has lived on in dorm rooms across America for decades, a great (and underrated) fighting series, and a great series of my childhood (may controllers were lost during the play through of this trilogy). SquareEnix brought RPG’s to pop culture status, have woven great journeys with breathtaking musical scores, and have tried to bring games even closer to cinema (i.e. Final Fantasy: The Spirits With In and Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, both of which I have in every format possible). Final Fantasy XIII is still sitting half finished, something I have desperately wanted to finish, but have not had the time. Sakaguchi has made the only RPG’s that I can really get into outside of Bioware’s. For all the great designers and developers I have hit this week, I hope we get to see lot more of these creative minds in the future.
As this week comes to a close it is sad. I have enjoyed writing these articles and doing the much needed research to get my facts straight. I wish I had the time and energy to write these types of article all the time. I may start this as a weekly writing and see how it evolves from there. Thank you all for your comments, they have been greatly appreciated. I will see you guys tomorrow for one last article on Nintendo, and the 4 most important people (in my humble opinion) to come from that company. Again thank you all for reading.
Here’s a bit of Uematsu’s work from Final Fantasy VII (One Winged Angel)