Square Enix Won the Steam Deck Competition by Surprise

Square Enix Won the Steam Deck Competition by Surprise

For a long time, I’ve been requesting that Square Enix port Final Fantasy Tactics to the PC. While this has yet to occur, in 2022 Square rediscovered the tactical RPG and bestowed onto PC players an abundance of treasures that I had no way of anticipating at the beginning of the year. Now more than ever before, Square is putting out smaller role-playing games instead of massive blockbusters. Indeed, the timing was perfect.

Most of 2022’s Square Enix releases were clearly intended for the Steam Deck:

  • Often modest system requirements from new games: DioField Chronicle, Harvestella, Triangle Strategy
  • It’ll-run-on-a-toaster performance from remasters: Chrono Cross, Tactics Ogre, Crisis Core
  • Meaty tactics game perfect for pick-up-and-play on a device with a sleep button: Tactics Ogre, Triangle Strategy, DioField Chronicle
  • Life sims built for playing on a cozy couch while watching TV: Harvestella, Various Daylife

This year, independent developers have shown a lot of love for the Steam Deck by promoting the fact that their games are Deck Verified, capitalizing on the excitement surrounding Valve’s handheld PC. However, Square Enix was the first large publisher I noticed engaging in the same practice. This summer, Square Enix promoted Final Fantasy 7 Remake Intergrade with a trailer that prominently featured the Steam Deck’s compatibility and even displayed a screenshot of the device on-screen during a Livestream. This was well ahead of the Steam Deck’s official release in Japan by several months.

At the time of Final Fantasy VII Remake’s initial release on PC in December 2021, I criticized the port for its lackluster visuals, poor framerate, and inability to prevent dynamic resolution switching. Even after an Nvidia driver upgrades alleviated some of the stutterings a few months later, the PC port still seemed disappointingly stripped down. For a portable computer showcase, on the other hand? Something else entirely.

In spite of Remake’s terrible resolution scaling, one of the best-looking games from the previous generation can be played on a portable PC at a relatively steady 40 frames per second for a couple of hours before the battery dies. My favorite feature of the Steam Deck is how customizable it is; unlike many consoles, it is not limited to a maximum frame rate of 30 frames per second, and it is possible to implement any mod or technological tweak that can be implemented on a standard gaming PC.

Despite Final Fantasy 7 Remake’s lackluster performance on the PC, it’s still impressive to be able to play a game of this caliber on a portable system like the Switch. It’s not just the 2022 games from Square Enix that benefit from the Steam Deck’s adaptability. The newly released Final Fantasy 6 Pixel Remaster is practically flawless, save for the appalling font selection. It took me a little more than ten minutes to swap up the default font on my Steam Deck for a pixelated one, reminiscent of the one used in the Super Nintendo version of the game. It’s perfect in every way

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Both of these examples highlight how the adaptability of the Steam Deck has benefited titles published by Square Enix, although Square has also been kind in this regard. In the last months of the year, it released a string of games that were tailor-made for the Deck.

The first was The DioField Chronicle, which didn’t exactly break new ground but was at least an interesting take on combining tactical role-playing with real-time battles. Leana Hafer, a frequent contributor to PC Gamer, gave it a positive review on IGN, calling it “the perfect Switch or Steam Deck game: something to chip away at in your idle moments.”

Square Enix Won the Steam Deck Competition by Surprise
Square Enix Won the Steam Deck Competition by Surprise

Triangle Strategy, which ported from Switch to PC in October, fared well with critics. Although Digital Foundry’s technical evaluation of the Switch version was mostly good, it did point out the game’s two most glaring flaws at the time of its release: its intended frame rate of 30 frames per second and the occasional blurriness of its sprites. At maximum settings, the Steam Deck can achieve 60 frames per second (or a more stable capped 30 or 40 fps, if you want better battery life).

Since its script isn’t as good as games like Final Fantasy Tactics, Triangle Strategy doesn’t have what it takes to become the new king of strategy RPGs. Tactics Ogre: Reborn, a remake of one of the best strategy games ever, came out just a month later, so it was all OK. And it’s a big one; there are long YouTube videos detailing all the ways in which Square overhauled the game’s classes, levels, balancing, artificial intelligence (AI), fighting systems, and graphics. While I do find the sprite filtering in Reborn to be somewhat ugly, I am really pleased with the level of attention and consideration that went into this remaster.

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It’s great to see a team (with involvement from original director Yasumi Matsuno) take a true shot at developing a definitive version of one of Square’s games after the company has spent years putting its old titles into current wrappers to adapt them to new platforms. Tactics Ogre, which I previously recommended as one of the finest PSP games to replicate on the Steam Deck, is now also one of the greatest Steam Deck games you can buy.

Though we haven’t had the opportunity to give Square’s Harvestella, a life sim, a try just yet, the game’s Steam reviews paint a picture of a nice mash-up of RPG and farm sim, with the former being slightly better at the RPG aspects and the latter slightly poorer than in Rune Factory 5. Fans of the RPG genre will enjoy Romancing SaGa: Minstrel Song, the latest in a series of remasters that have been gradually converting new players to the game despite its age. (Scarlet Grace, released in 2018, is another SaGa album I highly suggest.

Only Tactics Ogre: Reborn from Square Enix’s fall roster has made it onto Valve’s monthly Steam Deck top charts, and even then it only made it at the very bottom of the list in November. That doesn’t surprise me, as none of them are as accessible as Vampire Survivors, the game that topped the charts, or as satisfying as Persona 5 Royal, the game that ranked second in November.

And this year, no other studio has put out so many titles that made me think, “Yeah, that’ll be amazing on the Steam Deck.” It’s possible that Square Enix’s 2023 roster won’t focus as much on cheap RPGs, but I’m still hoping for it too. It’s time for the conclusion of the period of Tomb Raiders, Avengers, and Outriders published by Square Enix. We’d all be better off if they were replaced annually by new experimental RPGs, including Final Fantasy Tactics clones, Dragon Quest Builders, and other out-there titles.

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