Square Enix knows that fans of their games are fans for life and have big places in their hearts for the titles they’ve produced over the last few decades, and there are plans to make those games available to people who feel nostalgic or who want to brush up on their history and archive these games for the future. Square Enix has a big hurdle to hop over first: some of those games are, well, lost.
In an interview with Game Informer during E3 this week, President and CEO Yosuke Matsuda acknowledged that fans are really itching for more of the classics and want digital versions of their favorite games, and that Square Enix is working on exactly that.
Square Enix has built massive catalog of games, starting from the days when the company was called Square Co, Ltd. in 1986. The company made a big splash at this year’s E3, making tons of exciting announcements that aimed straight for gamers’ collective nostalgia. In addition to re-releases, remasters, and remakes of previous beloved Square Enix titles like Trials of Mana and the Mana series and The Last Remnant, the biggest fish is the very ambitious Final Fantasy VII Remake, with the first installment set to release in March of next year.
Square Enix also announced something that really instills a lot of faith and hope into the idea of a complete digital back catalog of Square Enix games — the announcement of a Final Fantasy VIII Remaster. That might not seem like such a big deal to some people, but it’s definitely been noticed that VIII is conspicuously absent from the rest of the PlayStation One and PlayStation 2 Final Fantasy lineup of remasters, and probably not because it’s less popular or has broken mechanics. The problem is that the game’s source code and key design assets are rumored to simply be gone and not recoverable, and it could not be enhanced for a modern digital release with the assets on the retail version alone due to the way they were compressed from the originals to fit on the disc.
Matsuda told Game Informer about the challenges that come up when making these older games available digitally. “I’m embarrassed to admit it, but in some cases, we don’t know where the code is anymore. It’s very hard to find them sometimes, because back in the day you just made them and put them out there and you were done — you didn’t think of how you were going to sell them down the road,” explained Matsuda.
“Sometimes customers ask, ‘Why haven’t you released that [game] yet?’ And the truth of the matter is it’s because we don’t know where it has gone.”
Matsuda didn’t tell Game Informer exactly which which of Square Enix’s games have, um, been misplaced, but he did share an example of a developer who had the source code on his PC when he left the company. Luckily for Square Enix, Matsuda says that game’s complete data was returned home.
It’s crazy to think about now, but back in the late ’90s things like data preservation were not priorities to development companies like Square. Last year VG24/7 wrote up a fascinating report that provides a lot of the backdrop on this whole problem of “misplacing games” that Matsuda opened up about this week.
The funny thing is, I got a call [a couple years ago] from Square, because they wanted to rerelease the PC version, and they asked me if I knew where the gold master was,” Eidos President between 1997 and 1999 Keith Boesky told Polygon in their excellent “Oral History of FF7” last year. “Yeah, they lost it.
It’s interesting to see the CEO of a major game development company like Square Enix speak so frankly about something like lost game data (it might not be the burning of the Library of Alexandria, but imagine if Coca-Cola “forgot” the recipe), and hopefully the upcoming remastered version of Final Fantasy VIII is successful on current-generation hardware and becomes proof positive that these “lost” games can get another chance at life in our increasingly digital environment. Some dedicated fans are even using AI neural networks to blow the breath back in these classic games, so who knows what’s possible.