Joystick: What Mario can teach moogles

I don’t get why so many people bash the latest “Final Fantasy” games. Granted, I am a fanboy when it comes to all things Square Enix, but I often enjoy the latest iteration in the long-acclaimed RPG series. I liked “Final Fantasy XII,” I thought “Final Fantasy XIII” was good, if not a little slow at the beginning, and I’m enjoying “Final Fantasy XIII-2,” silly monologues and all.

Yet I get why plenty of gamers aren’t as excited about “Final Fantasy” as they used to be. At times it doesn’t seem like the same spirit goes into these latest games as the acclaimed Super Nintendo and Playstation 1 classics we know and love. Though I think many look back on the old games’ prestige — and judge the new releases accordingly — with rose-tinted glasses, I can’t deny the series lost some luster once other companies caught up with Square’s technological prowess.

So where does that leave “Final Fantasy?” Where does that leave Square Enix?

The company has acknowledged the lead time for its AAA titles is longer than normal and Square Enix’s market value drastically dropped last year as a result of burgeoning costs and fewer stellar games. How do they turn it around?

Square Enix should look no further than Nintendo. The House that Mario built may struggle through its own stock value woes — the company lost billions of dollars in recent years — but there’s no denying Mario games consistently outperform other titles whenever a new big console platformer is released.

Nintendo is doing all the right things for a couple reasons:

• Nintendo gets innovation. While Square Enix is playing around with open-world RPGs and is still figuring out MMORPGs, Nintendo is marching to its own drum, offering quirky shifts in perspective and new ways to platform in its “Super Mario Galaxy” games. Each series has its set experiences, but Mario schools zipper-costumed protagonists like none other when it comes to changing things up.

• Mario floods the market. Nintendo successfully built a cottage industry out of shelling Mario merchandise to people, from spin-off games on portable consoles or Monopoly boards and Yoshi backpacks.

Part of the reason is Mario has been around for a long enough time to build that recognition. “Final Fantasy” is known for its spirituality and incredible experiences, but there isn’t one character out of the hundreds in each game that Square can reliable count on to market.

Sure, the “Final Fantasy 7” fans got an expanded universe several years ago when Square came out with three games and a movie, but Square smartly realizes there’s only so much they can do with a storyline set in stone like FF7.

Though the company is re-releasing and updating classics with their own spinoffs, there’s no strong focal character to build a brand off of, and it’s much easier selling an idea if you have a face to go along with it.

• People recognize Mario. He’s a cultural icon. Nintendo put millions, probably billions into marketing the tar out of Mario, and it paid off. While Square Enix is much better about running TV spots and ads through magazines and web sites, they need to create a strong advertising campaign to promote how incredible “Final Fantasy” is.

While I’m sure not all of Nintendo’s lessons are valuable or applicable to Square’s moogle-loving universe, the Square Enix execs and designers may benefit from the tough lessons learned in the Mushroom Kingdom.

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