Square Enix has had a tumultuous run in the games industry, to say the least. The massive Japanese developer and publisher is responsible for some of the most finest and groundbreaking video games.
From the seminal Final Fantasy VII, which introduced the Japanese role-playing genre to the masses to the beloved Kingdom Hearts series, which pulled off the impossible and successfully combining Disney and Final Fantasy characters, Square Enix holds a special place in many people’s hearts.
However, no company is without its flaws, and, unfortunately, no other publisher/developer better shows this these days than Square. The Final Fantasy series is no longer the behemoth that it once was, with its number one status replaced by the much better Persona series.
Kingdom Hearts III is still nowhere to be found, and Square has had issues managing its talented Western studios, IO Interactive and Crystal Dynamics. Square has also produced some of the worst games ever made, like the terrible Final Fantasy VII spinoff Dirge of Cerberus and unplayable fighting game Ehrgeiz.
This article, which both celebrates and criticizes one of the world’s biggest video game companies, takes a look at the 10 Best And 5 Worst Square Enix Games Of All Time, Ranked.
15 Best: Parasite Eve II
The first Parasite Eve was released in 1998 for the PlayStation 1. It was a huge departure for Square Enix at the time, as the game sported a more aggressive real-time combat system. It's unlike the Final Fantasy games that Square was churning out those years, which all contained different versions of the old-school turn-based battle system.
While many critics praised Parasite Eve's stunning graphics (at the time), refreshing gameplay, and horror elements, the story was strongly lacking.
One year later, Square took these criticisms to heart and released the much-improved sequel, Parasite Eve II. It removes the Active Time Bar from the first game, which governs the order of actions during a battle, and, instead, gives players even more freedom with how they tackle combat.
Parasite Eve II also contains a better story and writing, along with a harmonious soundtrack from composer Naoshi Mizuta. It is what a every sequel should and can be.
14 Best: Super Mario RPG
Nintendo wanted an exclusive RPG series that it could truly call its own for many years and went to Square Enix for help on how to create such a franchise.
Square more than delivered with Super Mario RPG, which was released for the Nintendo 64 in 1996. This important and seminal RPG outdid games such as the beloved and highly rated Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi games, and is even often heralded as one of the best Nintendo games ever made, period.
Super Mario RPG’s gameplay is reminiscent of Square’s Final Fantasy titles, as it sports turn-based battles sequences. Outside of fighting enemies, the game is an isometric 3D platformer that contains many traditional Mario mechanics, such as punching floating question blocks.
There are also no random battle encounters, which helped make Super Mario RPG feel like it was ahead of its time. Square found a way to combine the world of Mario with its excellent RPG sensibilities.
13 Worst: Dirge of Cerberus: Final Fantasy VII
Following Final Fantasy VII’s immense success (it’s still Square Enix’s most successful and highest selling game in the franchise) it was inevitable that plenty of spinoffs would follow. There has been a standalone film and the excellent Crisis Core game.
However, Square really dropped the ball with Dirge of Cerberus: Final Fantasy VII, which tried so desperately to capitalize on people’s fondness for Vincent Valentine-- one of the coolest characters in the entire series. Unlike in Final Fantasy VII, Vincent comes off as unbearably dull in Dirge of Cerberus.
The game’s story is complete nonsense, lacking any of the heart and well-written characters from Final Fantasy VII. The core mechanics are also a total drag. Dirge of Cerberus is a poorly-made third-person shooter, and its gun play feels very repetitive.
There’s not much to enjoy in this spinoff, which is a real shame given its potential. Square could’ve done so much better and with another game about Vincent Valentine.
12 Best: Vagrant Story
Vagrant Story is unlike any other old-school role-playing games that Square Enix has put out. During the company’s golden era in the 1990s-- where it released one classic Final Fantasy game after another-- Square also produced a number of underrated titles, one of them being Vagrant Story.
This action RPG is played from a third-person perspective and sports combat that’s a cross between real-time and turn-based battles. There are also no random encounters.
Perhaps the best aspect of Vagrant Story is the engaging and deeply moving story. The plot follows a character named Ashley Riot, who’s an elite agent known as a Riskbreaker. After traveling to the city of Leá Monde, Ashley is accused of murdering the duke.
The player is left wondering if Ashley is really the murderer when the game discloses the events leading up to the murdered. It’s a brilliant story and an extremely underrated game.
11 Best: Secret of Mana
The Mana series, like many other Square Enix RPGs, started off as a spin off of the Final Fantasy series called Final Fantasy Mystic Quest. Secret of Mana was released in 1993, and drastically elevated the standard of the franchise. With a stunning art style, great gameplay mechanics, and arguably one of the finest stories in any Japanese role-playing game, Secret of Mana is easily one of the best projects from Square.
Secret of Mana plays almost like a precursor to Vagrant Story, where a ring surrounded the main character whenever the player wanted to enter battle. The game was so good that it became one of the main reasons why Square eventually abandoned Nintendo platforms for Sony’s PlayStation. The company knew it had to capitalize on the shift towards Sony.
Rumor has it that Secret of Mana was originally developed for the Nintendo CD before it was eventually ported over to the Super Nintendo Entertainment System.
10 Worst: The 3rd Birthday
After a lengthy hiatus, the Parasite Eve series finally came back with The 3rd Birthday. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the comeback that Square Enix wanted for one of its more underappreciated franchises.
The third series entry lacks the original two games’ compelling stories and engaging gameplay. While it’s certainly not the very worst game that Square has made over the years, it is definitely one of the most disappointing ones.
The 3rd Birthday’s high difficulty is off-putting rather than satisfyingly challenging, and main character Aya’s movement and speed feels unsuited for the game’s demanding battles. It is a third-person role-playing shooter and plays out as a series of different mission.
While it is one of the better looking titles on the PlayStation Portable, it lacks a bit of soul and generally feels uninspired.
9 Best: Final Fantasy Tactics
Final Fantasy Tactics is unlike many of the mainline games in the franchise, as it employs a drastically different battle system. Instead of a generic battle screen with party members and enemies standing at different sides of the battlefield, combat takes place in a three-dimensional isometric environments. Your characters move on a field that’s composed of square tiles. Each party member’s action and movement ranges are determined by their job class and statistics.
It’s a deep, customizable, and challenging gameplay system that requires dozens of hours of practice to perfect and fully understand. Couple this with Tactics’ intriguing and complex plot, which is more political and mature than anything the series has offered up until that point, and you’ve one of the best Final Fantasy ever made.
Not to mention, Tactics’ Ivalice setting is so rich with lore that it’s been used in several different Final Fantasy titles, including Final Fantasy XII.
8 Best: The World Ends With You
With a striking and original art style and catchy soundtrack, The World Ends With You is easily the most underappreciated title from Square Enix. The game sports a combat system called the Stride Cross Battle System, which has players fight enemies on both of the Nintendo DS’ screens.
It’s a unique and well developed combat system that still holds up today, nearly a decade after The World Ends With You’s release. However, what really makes this handheld title so beloved is its well-written story and relatable protagonists.
While the main plot is a pretty cliché tale of a bunch of good guys trying to save the world, it’s the personal tale of Neku that stands out. He changes from an antisocial teenager to a fully-fledged hero who’s not afraid of interacting with people and making friends. The supporting characters are just as well developed and likeable, such as the ex-Reaper named Daisukenojo Bito who has his very own struggles to overcome.
7 Worst: Unlimited Saga
Unlimited Saga-- the ninth entry in Square Enix’s SaGA series-- is a lazily made role-playing game that’s one of the worst entries in a franchise that consistently delivered quality experiences. The biggest issue with Unlimited Saga is that it is a perfect showcase of what doesn’t work in the RPG genre. Its mechanics are frustratingly obtuse, and it contains a brutal and unfair mission structure that loves punishing players with little to no rewards.
The game’s Reel System is interesting in theory, but Square Enix definitely did not execute on its grand ideas. Players must input commands for each character individually. The actions are then carried out in accordance to each character’s speed statistics. Rather than a refreshing change of pace, the Reel System is just not fun to play, plain and simple.
6 Best: Final Fantasy VII
Final Fantasy VII is, without a single doubt, the most successful game in the franchise. It impacted the games industry upon its release in 1997 with its stunning graphics, addicting Materia System, and fantastic characters.
It also popularized JRPGs and was the first introduction to the genre for many players. There’s plenty of things that work well in Final Fantasy VII, such as its stories about the horrors of pollution and not taking care of your planet, as well as the feeling of isolation, and how that can ultimately lead to a person’s demise if they don’t seek the help they need.
From Cloud and his massive buster sword, to the kind Aerith, Final Fantasy VII also sports arguably the best cast of characters in the series. There’s at least one party member that any fan can relate to, and the game does a fantastic job of giving every single protagonist an excellent story arch.
Though it’s still not the very best Final Fantasy has to offer, it’s certainly had the most impact.
5 Best: Kingdom Hearts II
On paper, Kingdom Hearts had no right to actually work or make sense. A series about a bunch of Disney and Final Fantasy characters interacting with each other, while a goofy-looking hero with oversized shoes and a giant key for a weapon tries to save the world, sounds ridiculous.
It still might sound silly to those who have yet to play the game. However, the truth is that Square Enx somehow managed to make all of these disparate elements work well together. Currently, Kingdom Hearts is Square's most popular and loved franchise behind Final Fantasy.
While the first game is a classic and introduced players to Kingdom Hearts’ fantastical world and lore, Kingdom Hearts II removes a lot the first title’s issues, like the terrible camera. Kingdom Hearts II sports the best and most balanced gameplay in the entire franchise, with more Disney worlds and better level designs.
The story is also a great continuation and expansion of what was being told in Kingdom Hearts and Chain of Memories.
4 Worst: Final Fantasy All the Bravest
Final Fantasy All The Bravest is a prime example of how poorly Square Enix handles the mobile games market. It hasn’t been able to figure out how to produce a decent mobile experience while keeping it free-to-play.
Not to mention, most of Square’s mobile ports are awful as well. All the Bravest promised players the chance to assemble a team featuring some of the most recognizable and beloved characters from the series. It was also supposed to include Final Fantasy’s biggest baddies.
Who wouldn’t want to play a creative and enjoyable Final Fantasy game on the go? What fans got instead is a shallow title featuring some lazily-made gameplay mechanics where all players have to do is simply tap the screen, nothing else.
It also doesn’t help that All the Bravest forces players to spend over $50 to actually get the full experience.
3 Best: Chrono Trigger
In the mid-1990s, Square Enix decided to assemble a dream of lead creatives to work on a brand new IP. Chrono Trigger couldn’t have been made with the current Square, as the company we know today wouldn't have been brave enough to pour resources into a new JRPG that wasn’t Final Fantasy.
Hironobu Sakaguchi (creator of Final Fantasy), Yuji Horii (creator of Dragon Quest) and Akira Toriyama (lead artist on Dragon Ball), all came together to work on-- what many consider to be-- the greatest JRPG ever made.
The captivating, time-spanning story made players confront an evil entity known as Lavo, which was set to destroy the world in the near future if you didn’t put a stop to it. The party, featuring protagonist Chronos and the rest of the fantastic supporting characters, makes for some of the best storytelling from Square.
There’s also Chrono Trigger’s groundbreaking combat system, which, for the first time in the JRPG genre, allowed players to see enemies before fighting them.
2 Worst: Ehrgeiz
Square Enix should never make fighting games; the company just doesn’t have a decent grasp on what works and doesn’t work in the genre, and that’s totally fine. This is why the industry only has a handful of developers, like NetherRealm and Capcom, that continually churn out excellent fighting titles. You need to be dedicated to produce a worthwhile experience that fighting game fans will get behind and support for many years.
Square’s Ehrgeiz is terrible, plain and simple. It lacks the nuances of franchises like Street Fighter, as well as the exciting and recognizable roster of a series like Mortal Kombat. Unlike most 3D fighting games, Ehrgeiz draws heavily from wrestling, allowing for full 360-degree movement. However, this makes the camera unbearably awful at times, and Ehrgeiz is just a complete chore to play.
1 Best: Final Fantasy VI
Square Enix’s best game would’ve always been down between two choices: Chrono Trigger or Final Fantasy VI. Picking one over the other is simply down to preference. While Chrono Trigger is most certainly a classic and one of the important games ever made, Final Fantasy VI is a just a tad bit better.
Final Fantasy VII is the most popular entry in the series, but Final Fantasy VI is what every game in the franchise should aspire to be.
From the hauntingly beautiful opening that features a stunning snowy landscape and those epic mechs to Kefka, one of the best villain in the series, Final Fantasy VI is a timeless masterpiece that might not ever be topped.
The combat is perfect, the story is grandiose while also being poignant and personal, and the game’s many characters are all given their proper time to shine. Simply put, Final Fantasy VI is undoubtedly the best Square Enix has to offer.
What is your favorite or least favorite Square Enix game? Let us know in the comment section!
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