Mon, 5 February 2018
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was the year of plenty, and it was the year of few. It was the year of Millions of Copies sold, and it was the year of Millions of Dollars in losses. It was 2001, and it was the year Square Co. began to die.
I couldn’t find when it was reported to happen, but at some point in the late 90s someone thought that the Final Fantasy brand was strong enough to warrant the creation of an expensive feature film. Instead of doing live-action, which worked for the hit Mortal Kombat films, Square decided that their Final Fantasy movie would utilize their life-like cutscenes they were known for. Not only would it be animated, but it would be an animated film more serious in tone than other animated features at the time, something targeted at teenage audiences. You would think they would learn a lesson from the Titan AE bomb, but no, they went ahead and spent 140 Million + dollars on creating the technology needed for the uncanny valley CGI tech they were pioneering.
To be fair, this is one of the few times where Final Fantasy was doing a FIRST of anything. FF has been a series that historically has improved on other creative ideas, like the gameplay elements from Dragon Quest, and the story elements from Star Wars, and put it’s own unique spin on it. Spirits Within, however, really was the first movie of its kind, taking the world of computer animation from the realm of Toy Story and stretching it to its breaking point, paving the way for future realistic-CGI films like Beowulf, Polar Express, and the relatively recent Jim Carrey starring Christmas Carol.
Let’s take a minute though, and think about $140 Million dollars going to this new project based on a video game. Titanic (the most expensive film of all time up to that point) cost $180, was written and Directed by the creator of the massively successful Terminator 2 and True Lies, starred named actors, and like the other blockbusters of the 90’s, was a pioneer in special effects technology. Spirits Within had a creative staff known for making video games, not movies, and although the voice talent certainly included some big-named stars, it’s not like you get to see any of their faces. I applaud them for taking the risk, unfortunately for all of us, they bet the future of the company on it.
You know what happens when the movie is released in July of 2001, but the crazy thing is that July of 2001 was also when Square Co. had it’s second-biggest gaming hit ever. July of 2001 was the month that Final Fantasy X came out in Japan.
Final Fantasy X was going to be Final Fantasy’s first foray onto the Playstation 2, as well as its first with voice-acting. With a budget of 32 Million Dollars, the game would sell over 8 million copies at the time, and would be a massive critical hit as well. In terms of sales (and I would say legacy), FF10 ranks just below FF7 in popularity. It was a beautiful game, and brought the series into the modern era of gaming, leaving its roots behind and steered the series into what it is today. But even FF10’s massive success wasn’t enough to make up for Square’s Spirits Within losses.
Hindsight is 20/20, but Square didn’t even have much of a line-up outside of those 2 products. The only other original Square-developed titles that year were All-Star Pro-Wrestling 2, and the Game Boy SAGA game called “Final Fantasy Legend” here in the states.
Guys, 2001 was when Square took a nosedive it would never recover for, which to me is a shame since FF10 was so damn successful. Spirits Within turned out to be the Heaven’s Gate of CGI animated features, despite getting some good reviews from critics.
Here’s an ironic quote for yuh: In an interview in October 2001, when asked "Are you ever worried that Square will become too heavily dependent on the Final Fantasy name?" Hironobu Sakaguchi (the man behind Spirits Within, not so much behind FF10) responded that "Avoiding that has actually been one of Square's goals for a long time. It is our aim to try and develop a few more major franchises for the company; that has always been on our minds."
The honest answer should’ve been: “Yes, that is a concern, but we did it anyway”.
Enix was nowhere near in as bad of shape as Square in 2001, although it also had some financial difficulties with the delay of “Dragon Warrior Monsters 2” and the flop that was the game “Endonesia”. Enix, unlike square, had spread around it’s investments in other publishing avenues, and Square had only 1 product that it was selling. Both companies were in talks for a merger, but at this point in late 2001, Enix decided it didn’t want to take on the sinking Square Co. ship just yet.
In November 2001, Square Co went into survival mode. The company would restructure and Square CEO Hisashi Suzuki was to be replaced by COO, Yoichi Wada. On top of that, Square went to Sony, who bought out 19% of the company to stabilize the creators of one of their flagship series.
This was by no means the end, Square was still kicking and would have some success in its remaining year and a half. Unfortunately, the repercussions of the failure of the Final Fantasy movie would continue to affect them until their untimely end…
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