When you talk about JRPGs, there are few names out there bigger than Square Enix, formed in 2003 from a merger between Square (makers of the Final Fantasy series) and Enix (makers of the Dragon Quest series).
Since then, this massive company has created some of the most enduring video games of all time. But which ones are the very best of the best?
Here are my picks for the best video games by post-merger Square Enix, with special attention paid to games beyond just Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest (because that would be too easy).
5. Tomb Raider (2013)
Lara Croft is one of the most enduring female characters in gaming history, even if her backstory has been retconned a few times.
That said, the most compelling story in the entire Tomb Raider franchise came with the 2013 reboot that was released after Square Enix purchased developer Eidos Interactive.
The rebooted Tomb Raider doesn't feel like a Square Enix game, but it absolutely feels like a proper Tomb Raider title. It's more grounded in both combat and story, even with the obvious supernatural elements.
It has the right balance of crafting, combat, and exploration to make it one of Lara Croft's most engaging outings of all time. Whether you're a returning fan or new to the series, 2013's Tomb Raider is a fantastic entry point for the most recent trilogy of the franchise.
4. Kingdom Hearts 2 (2005)
There's simply not enough space in a single article to explain the plot or chronology of the Kingdom Hearts series—and it doesn't help that Square Enix has made it more confusing than necessary.
For starters, when Square Enix released Kingdom Hearts 2 in 2005, it was actually the third game in the franchise (with the actual second game being Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories).
The game's story started off confusingly and made little effort to explain itself—and yet, it's easily the best game in the series to date.
The combat of Kingdom Hearts 2 was a huge improvement over its predecessors, and the graphics pushed the PlayStation 2's capabilities to their limit. As for story, there are heartbreaking moments mixed in with genuine humor and massive battles.
Sure, it may have one of the most confusing starts to any video game ever, but the overall package is a fantastic action RPG filled with so many incredible Disney and Final Fantasy characters we all love.
3. Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn (2014)
Who doesn't love a good comeback story? And in the world of video games, it's hard to think of a more successful comeback story than the one behind Final Fantasy XIV.
When this MMORPG originally released in 2010, the game was a critical failure in every way. Not only did it lack in engaging content, it also suffered from server instability issues.
As it turned out, the original development team had a serious lack of MMO development experience—and it showed.
Fortunately, a brand new team was brought in to overhaul the entire game. Rather than patch the game with incremental fixes, Square Enix boldly chose to shut down the original game for nearly two years while the team worked on it.
The result was Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, which was essentially a totally new game. To this day, it's one of the most popular MMORPGs of all time, and it continues to draw in new players every year.
It's one of the greatest stories of a game developer listening to player feedback, taking responsibility for mistakes, and rectifying everything in a way that overjoyed players.
2. Nier: Automata (2017)
No one makes games like Yoko Taro. His ability to play with viewpoints in his storytelling is legendary, and the best example of this is Nier: Automata's numerous different endings.
It's the kind of game that requires multiple playthroughs as different characters if you want to fully explore the narrative. In this case, the world is caught in a war between invading aliens and the defending robots that were created by humanity.
Each playthrough reveals a little more about the world, culminating in one of the most touching game endings of all time.
It's impossible to explain without delving into spoilers, but suffice it to say that very few games explore the nature of humanity or play with the format of video games the way Nier: Automata does.
It's a masterclass in both narrative punch and gameplay development that should be experienced first-hand.
1. Chrono Trigger DS (2008)
Chrono Trigger remains the greatest RPG from the SNES era for so many reasons. But for many, the game's greatest achievement was its densely woven plot that spanned millenia and wrestled with the nature of fate and destiny between dozens of memorable characters.
It's been decades but Chrono Trigger still feels modern and fresh. Its characters are full of personality and there are so many story beats that are just downright emotional.
And as good as the original Chrono Trigger was, it was re-released for the Nintendo DS with several improvements and enhancements. For example, the updated translation fixed many plot holes that arose in the original, and there were some graphical upgrades as well.
Chrono Trigger DS is the definitive version of one of the greatest games of all time, making it the perfect choice for number one Square Enix game ever. If you still haven't played this masterpiece, what are you waiting for?