Top 10 Games by Square Enix [Best Recommendations]

Until 2003, Square and Enix were separate companies and were equal powerhouses in the Japanese RPG (JRPG) business. Though they are primarily famous for the Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest sagas, they have created so much more and not within the RPG genre. Even when they merged, the company as one manages to continue and expand on the legacies that define them.

From the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s, they were mostly exclusive to Nintendo consoles and then expanded to the original PlayStation and PlayStation 2 consoles during the 128-bit era. Then from the era of PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and Nintendo Wii, they went multi-platform including PC and mobile devices. With their unique history, we are going to explore the best what Square Enix has to offer.

10. Tomb Raider 2013

  • Platform: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
  • Publisher: Square Enix
  • Developer: Crystal Dynamics
  • Release Date: March 5, 2013 (WW)

Though the first game debuted twenty years ago from the presently defunct Eidos, Square has brought this series back from the dead and better than ever. Though the term reboot has a very negative connotation in Hollywood, in the world of video games, people are more open-minded to the concept. This game officially reboots the franchise and takes Lara Croft with a new origin story. Like its original predecessor, the game feels a lot like Indiana Jones in that it is action, adventure, and exploration. Like some open world games, this also features the occasional quick time event for dramatic purposes and utilizes effective stealth elements.

Due to Square Enix being famous as an RPG developer, characteristics of RPGs are incorporated into the game such as experience points. With the experience points, players can upgrade Lara’s ammo capacity. Many of its new features, though borrowed from other games such as its combating system from Uncharted, feels very much in tune with the Tomb Raider legacy. The story also develops Lara as an individual and helps players and media figures see her more as an educated and independent woman as opposed to being a simple sex symbol. Thanks to its balanced combination of fresh and familiar, the game became a big hit and brought new life to the Tomb Raider franchise.


9. Secret of Mana (Seiken Densetsu 2)

  • Platform: Super Nintendo
  • Publisher: Square Enix
  • Developer: Square Enix
  • Release Date: Aug 6, 1993 (JP), Oct 3, 1993 (NA)

Long before Square and Enix got big between the 32 and 128-bit eras, they still had some great titles during the 16-bit years, more specifically the Super Nintendo. In addition to Final Fantasy IV, VI, and Chrono Trigger, they also had Secret of Mana. In fact, it was actually a sequel to a game called Seiken Adventure: Final Fantasy Gaiden (or Final Fantasy Adventure in North America) for the original Gameboy. The original game takes influence from the first Zelda’s gameplay with an overhead view and active battles, and this feature carries over into Secret of Mana. What also makes this game enjoyable is that it allows multi-player (up to 3 players!).

The 3 main characters are Randy, Primm, and Popoi. The player can choose at anytime who they wish to lead the party, and each character has their own abilities. Though Randy is unable to use magic, he is a master at weapons. Primm is for healing and defense, while Popoi is used for offensive magic. It’s combination of its distinct multiplayer combat system, its excellent story, and overall world design made it a critically acclaimed RPG hit that is still celebrated by enthusiasts to the present day.


8. Star Ocean: Till the End of Time (Star Ocean 3)

  • Platform: PlayStation 2
  • Publisher: Square Enix
  • Developer: tri-Ace
  • Release Date: Feb 27, 2003 (JP), Aug 31, 2004 (NA)

Taking place 400 years after the second game, the series continues to explore unchartered territories in deep space. In fact, the game is a tribute to the Star Trek franchise. While the previous games had more fantasy elements, this game progressively takes a Sci-Fi turn to the point that its original staff considers this to be their ultimate vision of Star Ocean. Its gameplay has been unique to the genre ever since the first game.

Though the game uses a standard 3-4 party system. The player can only control the actions of one character though they have the ability to control the AI of the remaining characters. Its use of magic is distinct compared to other RPGs because it is not labeled as magic but as symbology. It is very comparable to how alchemy works in Fullmetal Alchemist by relying on symbols to use such abilities. So if you want something original, this is it.


7. Vagrant Story

  • Platform: PlayStation
  • Publisher: Square Enix
  • Developer: Square Product, Development Division 4
  • Release Date: Feb 10, 2000 (JP), May 15, 2000 (NA)

Scoring a perfect 40 in Japan’s highly respected Famitsu gaming magazine is sometimes considered an impossible feat, but Vagrant Story would become the third game ever to achieve this distinct accolade (with Ocarina of Time and Soul Calibur being the first two). In this game that takes influence from France’s 100-year-war, players assume the role of Ashley Riot, an elite knight who must stop Sydney Losstarot, the leader of a vicious cult.

Compared to most of Square Enix’s staple RPGs, this game is rather simple and straight to the point. There are no shops and you don’t usually interact with NPCs. A lot of the game revolves around strategic thinking and solving puzzles. The game also allows first-person exploring. The game’s combat system is very much like Parasite Eve, which allows players to run around and attack within a reasonable range.

In addition, players are allowed to attacks with brutal combos wherever an exclamation point is indicated. The game also has a risk point element and the more you get, the less effective Ashely becomes, and the enemy can do more damage. So this distinct feature gives a more intense feel to the combat, which adds more for the player to intelligently strategize.


6. Parasite Eve

  • Platform: PlayStation
  • Publisher: Square Enix
  • Developer: Square
  • Release Date: Mar 29, 1998 (JP), Sept 9, 1998 (US)

Parasite Eve is Square Enix’s attempt at Survival Horror, but with elements of RPGs. The unique thing about Parasite Eve is that this game happens to be a sequel to a Japanese novel, which deals with mitochondrial cells and a strange being named Eve. As the plot expands, it actually makes some connections with its intended predecessor. While the original novel was in Japan, this game takes place in Manhattan, New York around the winter holidays. Eve, a mitochondrial monster, takes the body of an opera singer named Melissa Pearce and uses her abilities to manipulate mitochondria and kill people. However, Aya is immune to these powers and is the only one who can stop her.

What makes this game distinct from other RPGs for its time (in addition to having elements of survival horror, a relatively new genre towards the latter half of the 1990s) was that whenever the characters time bar was filling up, the player was free to move Aya around. In previous RPGs, characters would stay stationary until the meter was full. Thankfully, this allows players to dodge enemy attacks. Also, the game features a range dome that allows players to have Aya attack within that distance. Much of Tetsuya Nomura’s anime art style used in Final Fantasy VII is very recognizable to fans of that series as well as the use of FMVs, and this game takes that feature to a new level.

Another cool feature is the tune-op option, which allows players to customize their weapons. Mastering this feature means mastering the game. It managed to produce two sequels but due to rights issues with the novel’s original author, making a franchise has been an obstacle.


5. Dragon Quest 8: Journey of the Cursed King

  • Platform: PlayStation 2, Nintendo DS
  • Publisher: Square Enix
  • Developer: Level-5, Square Enix
  • Release Date: Nov 27, 2004 (JP), Nov 14, 2005 (NA)

Before the merger of Square Enix, Square would be famous for the Final Fantasy series while Enix would have Dragon Quest. Even with the combination of these companies, it is nice to see that these two franchises continue to exist and maintain the identities that made them household names. So if you want something new with a good mix of old, Dragon Quest 8 is your game. Like all of its predecessors and successors, the best thing about this game is the designs by Akira Toriyama. Though the hairstyles are not as wild as you would see in Dragon Ball and Chrono Trigger, his unique art is still very recognizable to fans, and yet has an identity that complements the fantasy world of Dragon Quest. The graphics of this game perfectly suits it.

The gameplay is very much in tune with the previous 7 with its first person view mode while in battle. However, players are now given a third person view whenever a character executes an attack. The layout menu remains the same since it requires no significant updates. In the tone of classic JRPGs, this game is very much to the point. Also coming back from the original games are the cute slime creatures, which you can say are enemy combatants that are used for leveling up early in the game. The good news is, you don’t need to play any of the previous Dragon Quest games to enjoy this one.


4. Kingdom Hearts

  • Platform: PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4
  • Publisher: Square Enix, Disney Interactive Studios
  • Developer: Square
  • Release Date: Mar 28, 2002 (JP), Sept 17, 2002 (NA)

Kingdom Hearts is a distinct franchise that mixes Disney with Final Fantasy. The game focuses on Sora, Donald Duck, and Goofy as they band together and search for Mickey Mouse and Sora’s friends, Kairi and Riku. But along the way, they enter worlds and meet characters from both the worlds of Final Fantasy and Square.

Though the progression and organization of the franchise’s story have been subjected to criticism as of late, the game still has its own unique features. This game is primarily an RPG but further popularized making modern RPGs more action oriented with an active hack and slash system. The game also makes full utilization of its Disney influenced gimmicks. Let's say, for example, our heroes go to Neverland, there they can fly. In Atlantica, they can assume a new form that allows them to breathe underwater. Each member has his or her own roles in the team. Sora is the all-rounder, Donald is the magician, and Goofy is the defender.

Last, we cannot deny its great voice cast in the English version. You have Haley Joel Osment of The Sixth Sense as Sora, and Lance Bass of N’SYNC as Sephiroth. The quest in leveling up to unlock him makes this game worth it.


3. Xenogears

  • Platform: PlayStation
  • Publisher: Square Enix
  • Developer: Square Product, Development Division 3
  • Release Date: Feb 11, 1998 (JP), Oct 20, 1998 (NA)

In one of Square’s biggest cult titles, we have Xenogears, which was conceived as a Final Fantasy game along with being a Chrono Trigger sequel (though Lucca does have a cameo). But due to the dark and touchy concept such as religion, it became its own separate game. Heck, it wasn’t even considered for an international release due to its thematic themes. The game’s story is a unique mix of the Old and New Testaments, Wuxia, Hayao Miyazaki’s fantasy, Jules Verne’s classic Sci-Fi, and modern Sci-Fi. Due to its distinct nature, the game creates so much depth that still holds up to this very day.

While CG FMVs were the rage thanks to Final Fantasy 7 and Parasite Eve, Xenogears expresses its storytelling through animated cut scenes, which is more consistent with the game’s graphics and character designs. It feels as if you are watching an anime. Though the dub has its issues, the animation quality still excellently holds up. The game still controls like your typical RPG with a time battle system but with two different styles, fighting with mechs called gears and fighting without piloting the mechs. These two combat features give a distinct sense of the diversity of gameplay. The typical combat system outside of the suit allows players to use a combo system based on action points and can also use magic.


2. Chrono Trigger

  • Platform: Super Nintendo, PlayStation, Nintendo DS
  • Publisher: Square Enix
  • Developer: Square
  • Release Date: Mar 11, 1995 (JP), Aug 22, 1995 (NA)

At number two is one of Square’s most beloved franchises after Final Fantasy, Chrono Trigger. One big factor that plays into its long-standing popularity are the designs of Akira Toriyama. He incorporates his crazy hairstyles with the main character, Crono, who circumstantially finds himself on a quest across time to save the future. Crono meets new friends across time and their relationship grows stronger. Crono is a silent protagonist since it would be easy for players to express themselves through him and vice-versa. The personal story of each character allows them to develop in their own distinct ways and also helps bring them closure with their demons.

Very rare for RPGs for its time, the game features the utilization of double and even triple team attacks for more damage. Plus, the special effects add more flair to this novelty. In addition, the game features multiple endings and depending on when a player beats it, they are treated to a different ending. For the PlayStation and DS re-releases, it adds animated cut scenes that could be the foundation of an anime adaptation. Last, we cannot deny its intense and addicting soundtrack.


1. Final Fantasy VII

  • Platform: PlayStation
  • Publisher: Square Enix
  • Developer: Square
  • Release Date: Jan 31, 1997 (JP), Sept 7, 1997 (NA)

With all the Final Fantasy’s out there, there are some that fans of the franchise feel that are the best, but FF7 has to be the most universal of them all. Though previous internationally released Final Fantasy games were excellently received by critics, they were still cult hits. FF7 finally gave Final Fantasy the international fame that it was aiming for 10 years at that time. Not only for the Final Fantasy series or for Square Enix but for JRPGs as a whole. Yes, this may be the seventh game, but like Dragon Quest, there is no necessary pre-requisite to play any of the previous Final Fantasy games since they are not officially tied to one another.

The world is of course fictional but touches realistic problems such as urbanization, environmentalism, and corporate greed. The game also offers a great diversity of dark and gritty cities, beautiful nature, and Asian influenced culture in Wutai. FF7 shares excellent themes of friendship, love, loss, redemption, and self-worth. Along with its engaging story, its aggressive ad campaign highly emphasized its then groundbreaking FMV scenes for emphasized drama and while in battle, players have the chance to go all out with the over the top summons for maximum damage. The excellent balance between sci-fi and fantasy brought new players to the franchise and still holds up to this day.

Upon publication of this list, though we still have a long way to go, the PS4 remake is something to look forward to and can hopefully demonstrate that this game can still stand the test of time.


Final Thoughts

Last, we would like to make some honorable mentions to other great titles such as Front Mission, Dissidia, Tobal No 2, Brave Fencer Musashi, and Ehrgeiz. Though they are not as big as the RPG franchises, their attempts in fighting games have been met with positive reception in both the fighting game community and by gaming critics. Thanks to the JRPGs of Square Enix, international players have opportunities to experience a unique style of storytelling with rich characters.

Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy will continue to exist as long as the company exists. As for their other hit games such as Chrono Trigger and Xenogears, though they are relatively one and done (but with loose sequels), they are never forgotten and still highly regarded by the RPG community to this very day. So please feel free to check out these games if you haven’t, and please share some of your favorites both old and new in the comments.

Justin

Writer

Author: Justin "ParaParaJMo" Moriarty

Hello, I am originally from the states and have lived in Japan since 2009. Though I watched Robotech and Voltron as a child, I officially became an anime fan in 1994 through Dragon Ball Z during a trip to the Philippines. In addition to anime, I also love tokusatsu, video games, music, and martial arts. よろしくお願いします

Previous Articles

Top 5 Anime by Justin "ParaParaJMo" Moriarty


Recommended Post

Top 10 Games by Spike Chunsoft [Best Recommendations]