Something isn’t quite right at Square Enix. Looking past the obvious alarming decisions like selling off most of its western studios and a handful of popular franchises, there is a bigger problem. The latest blunder comes in the form of Symbiogenesis, a mysterious project that has let down fans with the reveal it is not in fact the long-awaited Parasite Eve revival, but rather another unwanted NFT endeavor. All of this leads to one question: What is Square Enix doing?
Symbiogenesis first came into the public eye in late October when it was discovered Square Enix trademarked the title on October 13 in Japan. Immediately online speculation theorized that the project had something to do with the long-dormant Parasite Eve franchise.
The word itself refers to the theory that symbiotic relationships between two organisms can lead to evolutionary innovation. Specifically, the theory often involves mitochondria, a key plot element in Parasite Eve. Not three days before the announcement, I myself had written about the franchise’s untapped potential, and why Square Enix should return to it at a time when classic survival horror is experiencing a renaissance.
With bated breath and an optimistic heart, I and numerous others waited for more details about Symbiogenesis. Our collective hopes would be shattered on November 3 when an official Twitter account for the title revealed Symbiogenesis is an “NFT Collectible Art Project” coming in Spring 2023.
An official press release further details what to expect:
“SYMBIOGENESIS is brand-new entertainment content set in a self-contained world where a wide cast of characters symbiosis, all of which can be collected as digital art; an interactive story and a dedicated community. The art can be used for social media profile pictures (PFP) and as a character in a story that takes place in an alternate world where the player can ’untangle’ a mystery by completing missions that revolve around questions of the monopolization and distribution of resources. With each strategic move players make, more of the story unfolds.”
In reality, this explanation amounts to not much, typical of dubious NFT and blockchain projects. It is entirely unclear how this game(?) will play and what the cost will be to potential participants.
Lost in the crowd
Even as head-scratching as Symbiogenesis is, it does track with Square Enix’s recent business decisions. Six months ago, Square Enix announced the sale of three major western studios to the Swedish-based Embracer Group. For a measly 300 million (compared to astronomical price tags of other acquisitions) Embracer managed to gain ownership of not only Crystal Dynamics, Eidos Montreal, and (the now defunct) Square Enix Montreal but also the rights to franchises like Tomb Raider and Deus Ex.
Square Enix’s official reason for selling off these studios was to allow the company to move forward with, “investments in fields including blockchain...”
This pursuit of blockchain, crypto, and NFTs have been the desire of Square Enix for the better part of a year now, something that the company’s fanbase has bemoaned very vocally. A particularly absurd set of Final Fantasy VII NFTs was quickly derided for its failure to understand the anti-corporation, eco-friendly message of the game.
At the same time, Square Enix is still making games. In fact, 2022 has been a booming year for the company. Every month seems to have a new Square Enix title that holds promise and satisfies one group or another of gamers. Babylon’s Fall, Triangle Strategy, Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin, The DioField Chronicle, Valkyrie Elysium, and Harvestella are just some of the many games from the company in 2022. You would be forgiven if you forgot about or didn’t even recognize half of these games. Because although Square is giving the space for these titles to be made and released, they are not giving them breathing room or the attention they need to succeed.
Perhaps the most damning example of how Square Enix has failed to support its games is Babylon’s Fall. Released in late February, the live-service game was reviewed so poorly and had such a low player count that the company announced it would shut down service on February 27, 2023, and then GameStop begin giving away the game for free or straight up trashing their copies.
Most of Square’s titles aren't as bad as Babylon’s Fall. Games like Star Ocean: The Divine Force and Triangle Strategy are rather good actually. But the jam-packed release schedule of Square Enix means that no game is able to receive its time in the sun before being pushed to the side for the next thing.
This mismanagement of games often comes in tandem with over-ambitious sales expectations that inevitably go unmet, leading to disappointment from Square. This exact situation is what led the company to sell its western studios, who the company constantly accused of under-delivering.
The latest annual report from Square included a statement that “achieving major growth in the game industry is difficult now for companies that compete primarily in the Japanese market, given its graying demographics. As such, it is critical for our business that we produce hit titles that speak to the global market, which offers greater scale in terms of both customers and sales volumes.”
Coming from a company that half a year ago sold its largest western studios and some of its most popular IP.
In the same annual report, the company also doubles down on its plans to continue investing in blockchain. The games industry is a slow-moving thing, it takes years to develop projects and release them to the public. Square Enix’s recent decision to focus on blockchain and crypto feels fully rooted in a 2019 mentality when people first began nebulously promising that it was the future of the industry. But the people who love Square Enix and its iconic franchises have been extremely vocal about how unwanted any of these endeavors are.
Many have theorized that the decision to sell its western studios and trim down was done in order to make the company look more appealing for acquisition by Sony. The two companies already have an exclusivity deal with Final Fantasy XVI and the FF7 Remake series. But as time goes on it seems that this isn’t the case. Rather Square Enix has made its bed with blockchain projects and must lie in it, hoping that it will pay off.
But the more projects like Symbiogenesis are announced, the more the fan base of Square becomes tired of this constant cycle of disappointment. Leaving the company at a crossroads and set to continue going down an undesired path.