Square Enix's Disrespect to Front Mission with Left Alive Isn't A Surprise
You know a game is bad when the publisher bans streaming of it in its native Japan, and the North American version has a single review on Amazon a day after release.
Such is the case with, Left Alive, one of a handful of games I've been actively looking forward to this year. In leading up to its release, I've had the hope that Square Enix would give the Front Mission series some much-needed respect despite continually trying to force the series into the action genre.
You see, Front Mission is traditionally known as a strategy RPG series, but Square Enix changed up the formula and attempted to reboot it as an action series in 2010 with Front Mission Evolved. That went about as well as expected considering Evolved just tossed everything that made the series memorable aside to go for those action game bucks.
Of course, it would be fair to say that Front Mission is an obscure series in the West. We saw Front Mission 3 on the PlayStation, Front Mission 4 on the PlayStation 2, and Evolved on the PlayStation 3 in North America. Now we've gotten Left Alive, a game set in the Front Mission universe, but not really Front Mission.
Fans of the series on both sides of the ocean know Front Mission won't be left alive after this, as if it was even kicking after Evolved came out.
So what's so bad about this thing? I really can't tell you from personal experience; the dearth of review codes around the game was an alarming indicator of its quality, even before I took a gander at Amazon.co.jp on the game's release day in Japan.
The review from the player above has a few choice statements. For example: Left Alive doesn't have the action of Metal Gear or Armored Core, the cover system is unintuitive, the character animations look like a low-budget PS2 game, it takes forever for the game to let you pilot a Wanzer. The reviewer makes one statement that's hard to ignore:
"I would recommend it for people who like staring at the backs of huge robots, but not for those who want an action game, third person shooter, Metal Gear, or Armored Core."
Maybe I should have said something earlier, maybe I should have written an article highlighting some of the reviews from Japan as a warning to other Front Mission fans.
If forum and Reddit posts are any indication, many already thought it was going to be terrible based off of its limited trailers. In reality, it's not like saying anything would have magically made the game into something else...
As it stands, it's hard to even find reviews for Left Alive in English outside of Steam, and those are not good. It seems player complaints are the same no matter where you are, as many of the qualms Steam players have basically line up with the qualms Japanese players have: The controls are hard to work with, the story isn't engaging, the characters move and look like they're in a PS2 game, the cover system is poor, and the game is not well optimized.
These all seem like valid, concrete reasons not to like Left Alive. The verdict is simply that it's a "kusoge", a shit game, in its current state.
I guess my question in all of this is "Why? Why do this? Why greenlight the development of a game and commit so few resources toward it? Why slap an RPG series in an action game costume and toss it in the gutter to die?"
These are questions I honestly have no answers to and can only speculate on. Maybe the Xbox 360/PlayStation 3 generation simply demanded generic action games too much for Front Mission to live a respectable life on the next generation. But that's no excuse to bring it back in even worse shape under a totally different name.
Bringing artist Yoji Shinkawa of Metal Gear fame on to the project was a dirty trick to sell the game based on first glance. Toss some Shinkawa art on the cover and show off some mecha, you've got yourself a buyer base just to start.
With Hideo Kojima out at Konami and the Metal Gear series so disrespected with Metal Gear Survive, Left Alive was presented as a title that could fill that void to some degree.
There is certainly room in the industry for games styled after Metal Gear Solid, but this bait and switch is some sort of fresh Hell. Draw in a fanbase still seething from its loss of director, then release a new semi-entry to a classic series in a state that wouldn't have been acceptable a decade ago, and this is where we are.
I guess if you're Square Enix, that seems perfectly acceptable. If you're the consumer, though, you're out of luck.
I've been a fan of Square Enix since the companies were two separate publishers, Squaresoft and Enix.
The two rivals coming together to form Square Enix was a big deal. When the merger happened, some of my friends were worried that the lack of real competition would make the two companies complacent. I sort of laughed it off at the time, but that prediction from so long ago has gnawed at the back of my mind these past few years.
Were they right? Did Square Enix grow complacent?
All you really need to do to draw your own conclusion is to open up the Square Enix, Squaresoft, and Enix Wikipedia pages and look at the games the company has released each console generation. You can gauge the percentage of games that have been published from the PlayStation 2 to today that are actually stellar, memorable titles.
To give more background, I'm a huge Final Fantasy fan and a moderate Dragon Quest fan, but I'm willing to admit much of my preference for Square Enix is based on works both publishers released over 20 years ago.
Most recent offerings I could take or leave, which is not because I'm getting older or because my sentiments have changed, but because many of the titles that come out of Square Enix really aren't all that good.
To really drive this home, let's take a look at North American Square Enix console releases from 2016 to today that are not remakes or ports:
- Rise of the Tomb Raider
- Dragon Quest Builders
- Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessnesss
- Deus Ex: Mankind Divided
- Final Fantasy 15
- The Turing Test
- Nier: Automata
- I Am Setsuna
- Spelunker Party!
- Dragon Quest Heroes 2
- Dragon Quest 11
- Life Is Strange: Before the Storm
- Lost Sphear
- World of Final Fantasy
- Monster of the Deep: Final Fantasy 15
- Dissidia Final Fantasy NT
- Monster Energy Supercross
- The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit
- Octopath Traveler
- Final Fantasy 15: Pocket Edition
- Shadow of the Tomb Raider
- Life Is Strange 2
- The Quiet Man
- Just Cause 4
- Kingdom Hearts 3
- Left Alive
Of course, Square Enix has released a lot more than this between 2016 and now. But a lot more of what?
Ports, remakes, and mobile games.
Sorry, sorry; let's back up. Not just mobile games — gacha games. My bad.
Is it really, though?
Among the above releases but not listed are several ports and remakes of classic RPGs from the golden years. Some, like Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age, are incredibly well-done and improve the original in just about every way. Others, like the Secret of Mana remake, or all those awful Final Fantasy IX ports, are not so lucky.
How about Kingdom Hearts and its million repackages? Let's not even get started there.
For comparison, here are the "brand-new" Squaresoft releases we saw in North America between 1998 and 2000:
- Bushido Blade 2
- Parasite Eve
- Final Fantasy 7
- Brave Fencer Musashi
- Chocobo's Dungeon 2
- Final Fantasy 8
- Chocobo Racing
- SaGa Frontier
- SaGa Frontier 2
- Front Mission 3
- Legend of Mana
- Threads of Fate
- Chrono Cross
- Parasite Eve 2
- Final Fantasy 9
- Final Fantasy Tactics
- Vagrant Story
Enix wasn't very well known in North America, so the release list during the same timeframe is much shorter, but still full of quality:
- Star Ocean: The Second Story
- Bust A Groove
- Bust A Groove 2
- Torneko: The Last Hope
- Valkyrie Profile
I don't have to do any direct comparisons between any of these lineups, because you probably are familiar with those games from 1998 to 2000 even if you didn't play them back then.
You've heard about or remember them because they were not only memorable and well-crafted but because they were and are iconic. Many are bonafide video game classics, games that have transcended generational differences and stood the test of time in one regard or many.
You can't say that about the majority of the 2016-2019 release window, even if we don't have the privilege of hindsight. Some will certainly live on. Titles such as NieR: Automata, the Tomb Raider entries, Dragon Quest XI, and Kingdom Hearts III will very likely be remembered.
So by no means am I saying that all of the games released in the time frame are bad; I am saying the community at large likely won't remember half of them in even five years.
And if you knew the number of gacha games Square Enix actually put out over the past decade, you'd probably be upset attention wasn't paid elsewhere.
Square Enix's current F2P mobile offerings on Qoo-App. Majority gacha.
One is prone to publisher/developer worship when entrenched in gaming culture, especially when that publisher or developer keeps putting out fantastic games one after the other.
Squaresoft and Enix were once companies you could put in that list, you can see it above.
There were some duds (Ehrgeiz), of course, but they were few and far between. You could count on both companies to release not just good games, but great games on a consistent basis.
I don't want to blame the consumer for a game like Left Alive, because Square Enix knew what they were doing when they promoted the game like they did, and they knew what was happening while it was being developed.
I honestly don't want to blame anyone for Left Alive and what Front Mission has become; in some ways, it's too painful to accept it for what it is.
Today, development costs have grown, marketing rises above quality, and that friend's worries I shrugged off in 2003 have been proven prophecy. It very much seems that Square Enix has, in fact, become complacent.