Square-Enix's financials: the elephant in the room

#1
In light of Square-Enix's recent financial woes, I felt it would be a good time to take a
look at an ongoing problem the company doesn't seem to register in its reports. And that
is how the company has been hemorrhaging talent for more than a decade, despite
various acquisitions, which in turn can be felt in the games published over the last two
generations.

The PlayStation era saw Squaresoft lose key staff from games like Final Fantasy and
Chrono Trigger to the independently-spirited Love-de-Lic. They produced some very unique
titles on the PS1 and Dreamcast before dissolving into Skip, Vanpool, and Punchline. Skip
and Vanpool have since become 2nd party to Nintendo and have had a hand in many of
Nintendo's more original titles, like the Artstyle games, Giftpia, Chibi-Robo and
(Vanpool) Tingle's Zelda offshoots and Paper Mario Sticker Star.

Many of Squaresoft's most beloved titles published during the PlayStation era were
produced by none other than Hironobu Sakaguchi. After the disastrous gamble on the
Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, he was essentially forced out of the company. He went
on to form Mistwalker, which has produced titles for Microsoft and, more recently, Nintendo.
Mistwalker has been hit-or-miss, but The Last Story (Wii) and Lost Odyssey (Xbox 360)
were considered by many gamers superior to Square-Enix's best output this gen.

There's no denying that Squaresoft on PS1 was fantastic, but that their PS2 line-up failed to
recapture that same magic or enthusiasm for new ideas. The problem got even worse with
the current generation, and judging by their new direction things are only going to get worse.

More talent was shed during the PS2/Gameboy Advance era. Staff from the Xenosaga
team became Monolith, and the Mana team branched off to form Brownie Brown (now 1up Studio),
both of which are now 2nd party developers to Nintendo. They of course are now responsible
for Nintendo RPGs Baten Kaitos, Xenoblade, and upcoming X, and the less celebrated
Magical Vacation series (and Mother 3) respectively.

Furthermore, other staff who worked on beloved SNES titles like Super Mario RPG left to
form AlphaDream, which quickly became 2nd party to Nintendo after their first GBA title,
a cute RPG called Tomato Adventure - and would develop the Mario & Luigi games.

Another major loss came when Matsuno left the company mid-development of Final
Fantasy XII (reappearing to collaborate with Level-5 on Guild 01), and it appears that
Hideo Minaba (artist, FF9) has also left the company around the same time (working on
titles like A.S.H. and Little King's Story). Around this time Matsuno's mainstay composers
(Sakimoto + Iwata) left to form Basiscape, and mostly do work with Vanillaware these
days. S-E seems content to release versions of their past successes, like Final Fantasy
Tactics and Tactics Ogre, but where does Team Ogre go from there without them?

Meanwhile, Tri-Ace has had a string of failures in this past generation which puts
their future in jeopardy. They have shed key staff who have gone on to make cool titles like
Radiant Historia on Nintendo DS. GameArts has also not published a new
entry in the Grandia series, and has been relegated to releasing an endless stream of remakes
of Lunar but are showing promise on PS Vita.

Another collaborater, Level-5, is no longer working much with the company
since the announcement that Dragon Quest X would be developed internally. It could be said that Level-5
was responsible for some of Square-Enix's best games of the past two generations, namely Dragon Quest VIII and IX.
They seem to embody the spirit of the old Squaresoft by regularly developing new franchises with fresh concepts,
as well as RPGs like Ni no Kuni.

The result has been a steady decline in original, compelling titles from Square-Enix over
the past two console generations.

So who's left?

Well, Yuji Hori (of Dragon Quest fame) is still there, which is pretty important.
They also have Tetsuya Nomura (but he seems to have lost the ability to self edit).

But I think the most important people left at the company are the teams responsible for
the portable games - the best output by the company in recent years - who
have been working on games like Final Fantasy III + IV remakes, Final Fantasy 4 Heroes
of Light, and Bravely Default. Mainly Tomoya Asano and Akihiko Yoshida. Yoshida is an
incredible artist, and should he leave for greener pastures that will leave only Nomura to
handle most design work - yuck! And Asano, who has been working with outsourcing
companies like Matrix, could easily leave to work for them on original titles. So things are
looking pretty grim.

I'm sure fellow Gaffers could easily expand and expound on this list, but suffice to say
Square-Enix isn't the company it once was, and it seems like the majority of their former
staff now work at companies which are 2nd party (or have extremely close ties) to
Nintendo.
 
#4
You're talking about staff from 15 years ago, not many companies keep people on board that long these days, in any industry.
I trace the loss of talent from then to now because 15 years ago was when Squaresoft was at the top of its game, and also because many of these staff are now making great games for Nintendo.
Secondly, the Japanese corporate culture is to keep staff on for life (though admittedly that is changing).
 
#5
I trace the loss of talent from then to now because 15 years ago was when Squaresoft was at the top of its game, and also because many of these staff are now making great games for Nintendo.
Secondly, the Japanese corporate culture is to keep staff on for life (though admittedly that is changing).
Yes, it is changing, and affecting companies like... Square.

Companies change, man. People leave, they get old, they retire, new people come in with new ideas, other companies mix things up and consumer tastes change and then companies have to adapt, however imperfectly. I loved Squaresoft back then but it is simply unreasonable to think that the company could be the same for decades. The world just doesn't work like that. I'm not the same as I was 15 years ago.
 
#7
Yes, it is changing, and affecting companies like... Square.

Companies change, man. People leave, they get old, they retire, new people come in with new ideas, other companies mix things up and consumer tastes change and then companies have to adapt, however imperfectly. I loved Squaresoft back then but it is simply unreasonable to think that the company could be the same for decades. The world just doesn't work like that. I'm not the same as I was 15 years ago.
I disagree. It's the same deal with Capcom losing a bunch of talent over the past few years.
If they had been more respectful of their talent (like Clover Studio) they could have kept them.

Matsuno complained his team wouldn't listen to him. Even a composer, Sakimoto, said he left the company due to lack of freedom. That should tell you something.

I tried to read that but your love for the Enter key meant I couldn't. Format properly.
Boo hoo
 
#14
You only mention Yoshida & Nomura as primary artists/art directors, but forgot Yusuke Naora, who is fantastic and, IMO, deserves to do character designs for a main-line FF.

Yoshinori Kitase and Hiroyuki Ito are still employed by S-E and are among the most important senior names associated with Final Fantasy at this time.
I think most of us fans agree we'd love to see them tag-team again on another main-line FF.

I agree with you, though.
The creative output from Squaresoft from 1996-2001 was absolutely staggering. Many teams, covering almost every genre, and each release was an at worst average product with the majority being well above average.
If you think about it, they did things the absolute right way. They had a global success and generation defining game with Final Fantasy VII. They took a genre that was only really popular in Japan and made it one of the (if not the) most popular genres worldwide during the 32-bit era. Most companies would have taken that cow and milked it to the last drop, but Squaresoft hired, expanded their studios, experimented with different genres, appeased fans of long-established series, but also took risks on new IPs. Most importantly, they took risks on their bread-and-butter, Final Fantasy, which is evident with FFVIII. It could have easily been 'FFVII-2', but there was a tremendous deal of trust, respect, and freedom towards the creative minds in the development teams. Love it or hate it, FFVIII was ballsy.

Does anyone else recall the rumors of Squaresoft tossing around the idea of breaking away from the major players (Nintendo, Sony, MS, Sega) and creating their own console? This was back in the late 90's/early 00's.
Yeah, crazy idea, but at the time it was completely believable. They were on the top of the world.

The merger with Enix and management structure changes have taken a significant toll on this once great company.
Square/Squaresoft/Square-Enix is actually a fascinating study regarding the ups and downs of a major business. Although they haven't completely collapsed yet, it should still be a tale of caution for other companies- particularly the ones on top of the world right now (Activision, Ubisoft, etc.)
 
#15
Writing was on the wall during the PS2 era. I guess there is hope from hardcore fans that Ito is doing 15. Kitase pretty much sits in office and does nothing now correct?
 

SMT

this show is not Breaking Bad why is it not Breaking Bad? it should be Breaking Bad dammit Breaking Bad
#17
They let Xeno slip throught their palms. lol Sony should buy Monolith.
 
#18
KH is shit.
Where was PS2's equivalent of FF Tactics? Einhander? Vagrant Story?
Brave Fencer Musashi's sequel was terrible.
I don't get how anyone could think PS2 era S-E was as good as PS1.
I don't get how anyone could think otherwise.

FFX, FFXII, DQVIII, VP Silmeria... some of that was among the company's best output.

Grandia 3 and FFX-2 weren't nearly as bad as they get painted to be either.
 
#19
Nintendo sure is building up a lot of Japanese talent.

To be honest, I would love them to do the same with Matsuno, give him a studio and a free reign. Although, he'll probably have to 'earn' the autonomy Sakurai had in making Kid Icarus: Uprising, I see no reason how Matsuno couldn't be given the same freedom as Takahashi was with Xenoblade Chronicles (which iirc, he said he had far more freedom with than under Square or Namco).
 
#20
I don't get how anyone could think otherwise.

FFX, FFXII, DQVIII, VP Silmeria... some of that was among the company's best output.

Grandia 3 and FFX-2 weren't nearly as bad as they get painted to be either.
FFX was ok at best. Too much focus on CGI. Sphere dungeons were downright terrible (if you've forgotten, the HD remake will surely remind you).
FFXII was much better but still had many issues and DQVIII was a Level-5 joint as far as I'm concerned. Haven't played VP Silmeria.

And yeah, FFX-2 ... not my cup of tea.
 
#22
I wonder if Square execs perceive a talent drain? I'm sure they wouldn't discuss it publicly if they do. But seriously, if they don't hire some good writers and find directors who can actually manage a team, they're screwed.
 
#23
You're talking about staff from 15 years ago, not many companies keep people on board that long these days, in any industry.
I think that's really what it boils down to. There's still talented people there. Hajime Tabata, the director of FF: Type-0 and Crisis Core. Tetsuya Nomura, Versus XIII and Kingdom Hearts. Hiroshi Takai, The Last Remnant, Saga series, XIV: ARR. Naoki Yoshida, XIV: A Realm Reborn. And while everyone on here seems to hate Motomu Toriyama, I think he's done a pretty great job with 4 games I love under his belt, FFX, FFX-2, FFXIII, FFXIII-2, and now Lightning Returns coming up.

I think the exciting thing is all the people we've never even heard of that could step up and take advantage of new opportunities during a mixup. No one had heard of Naoki Yoshia. Now he's leading XIV: ARR with flying colors, running the old game and the new game at the same time, and remaking a complex MMO in record time.

Let the old guard go. They're really old. The PS1 era was 20 years ago. Sakaguichi is overrated, and his work at Mistwalker shows that pretty clearly. Uematsu is not in his prime anymore, even though he still works with SQEX from time to time. Matsuno has had major issues as well, having problems at SQEX and Level-5. For all that people criticize Toriyama, he's made 4 (almost 5 now) main FF games, and Matsuno left before finishing 1. And a ton of what people like about XII was the product of Ito.

Hiroyuki Ito, who is still missing in action, but is likely still working on some major project there.

I think Tabata could step up to console game development and do really well, in particular.

This isn't counting their major art talent, like Naora, Nomura, Kamikokuryo, and Yoshida. Or their major musical talent, like Mizuta, Suzuki, Ishimoto and Hamauzu.

They have no shortage of skilled people working there. They just have to really re-evaluate their overall development and management structure and hopefully make things more efficient. Ironically (considering the opinions on this site), Toriyama has been the most effective director at streamlining development and speeding up projects, and getting them all finished.

And you talk about the decline of studios like Tri-Ace, but forget to add their other partnerships that are working very well. Bravely Default was made by Silicon Studio (3D Dot Game Heroes). The 3rd Birthday was made by Hexa Drive (EX Troopers, Okami HD), and they are still working with Cavia on NieR and Drakengard 3. And it's not like Tri-Ace is dead yet either. Working on a mainline FF title (XIII-2) isn't doing nothing. And if we're talking about partnership studios and Enix and Tri-Ace, you could add in all of Eidos as well as Avalanche (Just Cause 2), Rocksteady (Batman: Arkham Asylum) and United Front Games (Sleeping Dogs).

Monolith is cool, but they put out so few games. One console game last gen, and it wasn't even an HD game. A couple DS games too. SQEX puts out an order of magnitude more content than that. Mistwalker is on life support, making Party Wave on iOS.
 
#25
Writing was on the wall during the PS2 era. I guess there is hope from hardcore fans that Ito is doing 15. Kitase pretty much sits in office and does nothing now correct?
It seems like he doesn't have the creative input he used to. He used to be very hands-on with the writing and directing process, but now he just seems to act as an 'executive producer', allowing nuts like Toriyama to run the nut-house.
Whether that's self-imposed (i.e. removal of stress) or upper-management imposed... who knows? I'd hope it's the latter, because he's a valuable asset to the FF franchise and it just seems like his talents have been wasted these past 10 years.

All I know is the FFs he had a heavy hand in (FFVI, VII, VIII, and X) are among my Top 5. :)

I'd love to see him come back into a more active role.
 
#27
OP: I presume you wrote that all up in notepad before copy+pasting into the NeoGAF box. That's fine. Just remember to turn off word-wrap before you do, else you'll have poorly formatted posts like yours.

I see you're trying to take some sort of offense to people criticising your odd formatting, but it factually makes your post harder to read than it should be. It's unnecessary difficulty. Hopefully you won't leap on me in my attempt to give you constructive help there.
 
#30
I think that was a good read too, at least for the history and what happened to each team.

Don't know why people coming in here complaining about formatting. I read it perfectly.
 

CorrisD

badchoiceboobies
#31
Square Enix is a mess, at least on their Japanese side, they are quite happy to ignore how awful they have been moving into this, and what will become last, generation of consoles. I'm not surprised that they are aiming to move more into mobile/internet gaming because their home console work has been about as slow as can be.

The writing was on the wall when they took 5 years to get out what is considered by a good number to be a subpar game. And now we are getting sequels that nobody wanted because they can be developed with a quick turn around to recoup what has to be a ridiculous amount of money lost over the last few years, and that is ignoring Vs13.

Their expectations for their western studios are also crazy, they expect their titles that either have never hit these big numbers or haven't hit them to do really well, then come down on them because they don't seem to have any realistic expectations.

Then don't read it, and don't post to complain.
Lol.

I have to ask though, is there a reason why? there doesn't seem to logic to it, some sentences are much longer than the rest, there doesn't seem to be any consistency to your line length at all in the op or any of your posts really like you seem to forget to randomly line break. Did you copy this from a document program or something?
 

SMT

this show is not Breaking Bad why is it not Breaking Bad? it should be Breaking Bad dammit Breaking Bad
#32
He copy pasted it from his blog, give him a break, or a thumbs up.
 
#35
Still surprises me how much of SquareSoft of old is actually under the Nintendo banner. Not only that but they have Dragon Quest lockeddown for the most part as well just like they did in the beginning.
 
#36
They'd probably get a big boost in sales if they'd reduce the prices of their games on the iOS App Store and Google Play. Their games are easily among the top tier in terms of pricing, and almost all of them are ports of old games. The money they think they'd "lose" by reducing the prices would be made up by the quantity of sales they'd likely get.
 
#38
I think that's really what it boils down to. There's still talented people there. Hajime Tabata, the director of FF: Type-0 and Crisis Core. Tetsuya Nomura, Versus XIII and Kingdom Hearts. Hiroshi Takai, The Last Remnant, Saga series, XIV: ARR. Naoki Yoshida, XIV: A Realm Reborn. And while everyone on here seems to hate Motomu Toriyama, I think he's done a pretty great job with 4 games I love under his belt, FFX, FFX-2, FFXIII, FFXIII-2, and now Lightning Returns coming up.
Nobody got to play FF: Type-0, so it's hard to comment on that one. However, I think you're clearly wrong when you say that FFX-2, FFXIII, FFXIII-2, and now Lightning Returns are "pretty great". They're shit.

I think the exciting thing is all the people we've never even heard of that could step up and take advantage of new opportunities during a mixup. No one had heard of Naoki Yoshia. Now he's leading XIV: ARR with flying colors, running the old game and the new game at the same time, and remaking a complex MMO in record time.
It's too early to say that FF14 is a success, and frankly the decision to go MMORPG is something pretty divisive amongst fans. Many of us who enjoy Squaresoft's RPGs have never even touched their online equivalents. That and Dragon Quest X seem to have been made entirely based on financial reasons rather than creative ones. Nobody asked for DQX to be online. And FF14 seemed to be originally made in China or something and was a total mess. An expected quick cash-in for the company that bit them in the ass.

Let the old guard go. They're really old. The PS1 era was 20 years ago. Sakaguichi is overrated, and his work at Mistwalker shows that pretty clearly. Uematsu is not in his prime anymore, even though he still works with SQEX from time to time. Matsuno has had major issues as well, having problems at SQEX and Level-5. For all that people criticize Toriyama, he's made 4 (almost 5 now) main FF games, and Matsuno left before finishing 1. And a ton of what people like about XII was the product of Ito.
Matsuno can tell great stories and makes interesting game mechanics. Can't say that about the 4 (almost 5 now) Toriyama games. And Sakaguchi proved with The Last Story he still has some good ideas left in him. Let's all let the old guard go, get rid of Miyamoto and Miyazaki while we're at it! :/

They have no shortage of skilled people working there. They just have to really re-evaluate their overall development and management structure and hopefully make things more efficient. Ironically (considering the opinions on this site), Toriyama has been the most effective director at streamlining development and speeding up projects, and getting them all finished.
You seem to love Toriyama, yet the vast majority of us dislike his turns at directing. All he did was recycle assets and engines to churn out games quickly. The characters and stories and game play suck. The problem is a lack of talent and vision which has left the company over the years (the point of this post). Anyone who wants to break free now has a handful of good options courtesy of Nintendo to leave S-E.
 
#40
As much as it pains people to hear, many of these talents at SE also forced themselves out. Sagoochi's epic blunder with FF Spirits Within (though I liked it), Matsuo's inability to finish 12 and his breakdown, staff of games that did not sell well, and most likely Nomura in the future, given his recent projects have been money pits...

Nobody got to play FF: Type-0, so it's hard to comment on that one. However, I think you're clearly wrong when you say that FFX-2, FFXIII, FFXIII-2, and now Lightning Returns are "pretty great". They're shit.
Sorry you didn't like those game. PLENTY of people did. People are entitled to their opinions too.
 
#41
So what? High turnover is the norm in the games industry. Hell, it's the norm in most industries.

Besides that point, a few of your points are pretty ridiculous, like your assertion that the entire Mana team left to form Brownie Brown. In reality, only two people left (Shinichi Kameoka and Koji Tsuda).

And I don't understand what Level 5 and GameArts have to do with anything, as neither company has ever been attached at the hip to Square Enix. Nor do Square Enix own Grandia.
 
#42
You seem to love Toriyama, yet the vast majority of us dislike his turns at directing. All he did was recycle assets and engines to churn out games quickly. The characters and stories and game play suck. The problem is a lack of talent and vision which has left the company over the years (the point of this post). Anyone who wants to break free now has a handful of good options courtesy of Nintendo to leave S-E and things will continue to get worse.
What?
 
#44
So what? High turnover is the norm in the games industry. Hell, it's the norm in most industries.

Besides that point, a few of your points are pretty ridiculous, like your assertion that the entire Mana team left to form Brownie Brown. In reality, only two people left (Shinichi Kameoka and Koji Tsuda).
High turnover isn't supposed to be the norm at Japanese companies (they have a corporate culture of working your way up a company until retirement), and if S-E management was better they wouldn't be losing so many people left and right. And regardless of how many people have left, the point is they have a sustained history of losing their top talent over and over again.

And I don't understand what Level 5 and GameArts have to do with anything, as neither company has ever been attached at the hip to Square Enix. Nor do Square Enix own Grandia.
That was at near the end and had to do with companies S-E has collaborated with in the past but no longer does. They added some variety to the company's portfolio, like the talents that left to form their own companies. Get it now?

Did you read the post? Look at how many of those spin-offs are now owned or financed by Nintendo. It's gotten to the point that I wouldn't be surprised to hear Nintendo has some agreement with Mistwalker next.
 
#45
I disagree. It's the same deal with Capcom losing a bunch of talent over the past few years.
If they had been more respectful of their talent (like Clover Studio) they could have kept them.

Matsuno complained his team wouldn't listen to him. Even a composer, Sakimoto, said he left the company due to lack of freedom. That should tell you something.

right.

These companies started believing it was the franchises that brought in the money [half right] instead of the people behind it.


Nintendo with Miyamoto, and Konami with Kojima get this.

When you have influential game designers, you dont treat them like shit if a couple of their games fail to reach expectations.


Sega and Yu Suzuki [shakes head]
 
#46
Nobody got to play FF: Type-0, so it's hard to comment on that one. However, I think you're clearly wrong when you say that FFX-2, FFXIII, FFXIII-2, and now Lightning Returns are "pretty great". They're shit.
I enjoyed the games a lot, so I'm not "wrong." It's a subjective judgment really. You didn't like FFX or X-2? Lots of people did. They're both Toriyama games.

frankly the decision to go MMORPG is something pretty divisive amongst fans.
This is exactly what someone would say who is still stuck in the 90s.

Matsuno can tell great stories and makes interesting game mechanics. Can't say that about the 4 (almost 5 now) Toriyama games.
I honestly think Matsuno's stories are dreadfully boring. For as neat and in depth as Ivalice is also, I just prefer the world building and mythology in Vana'diel, Eorzea, and Cocoon/Pulse more. It's up to personal preference, so if you like his stories, that's great. Personally, I thought they were pretty boring, and had boring casts as well. The best thing about FFXII is the art style and the gameplay (Yoshida, Ito).

And Sakaguchi proved with The Last Story he still has some good ideas left in him. Let's all let the old guard go, get rid of Miyamoto and Miyazaki while we're at it! :/
If your bar is set at The Last Story, then it's a pretty low bar. I played through it, but I didn't enjoy it all that much. Lightning Returns seems like the same kind of hybrid action RPG in some ways, so maybe you might find it interesting if you try it? I'm more interested in LR, personally.

You seem to love Toriyama, yet the vast majority of us dislike his turns at directing. All he did was recycle assets and engines to churn out games quickly. The characters and stories and game play suck.
I mentioned probably 10 names in my post. It's odd how much you've fixated on Toriyama in your reply. Yes, I'm sorry, I don't hate FFX, X-2, XIII and XIII-2. It's not for a lack of others trying to make me hate them.

The problem is a lack of talent and vision which has left the company over the years (the point of this post). Anyone who wants to break free now has a handful of good options courtesy of Nintendo to leave S-E.
I disagree. You merely rattled off names and companies from 20 years ago without any critical thought behind the quality of what they're putting out.

Level-5: White Knight Chronicles, Girls RPG, Guild 01, Time Travelers, all bombed, and all sucked. Ni No Kuni looks very nice graphically, but that's about it's only saving grace. It's just as linear as FFXIII is, but without any of the interesting story or gameplay.

Mistwalker: They are on life support. They don't even make their own games. They're currently making bad iOS games. If we compare just their iOS games to SQEX, SQEX is miles ahead ... just comparing iOS.

Matsuno: Now he's left Level-5 even faster than SQEX. Do you use this information to say that there's a problem at Level-5? No. You started from a conclusion and then looked for evidence only to support your idea.

United Front Games, Eidos, Rocksteady, Avalanche, Silicon Studio, Cavia, Hexa Drive: You ignore every other successful partnership they've built.

There isn't a lack of talent. You're just stuck in stasis, circa 1997.
 
#48
High turnover isn't supposed to be the norm at Japanese companies (they have a corporate culture of working your way up a company until retirement), and if S-E management was better they wouldn't be losing so many people left and right. And regardless of how many people have left, the point is they have a sustained history of losing their top talent over and over again.
Even if all these people stayed, why do you think they would've kept pumping out games like it was 1998? The industry doesn't stay still. Gamers don't stay still. People don't stay still.
 
#50
I enjoyed the games a lot, so I'm not "wrong." It's a subjective judgment really. You didn't like FFX or X-2? Lots of people did. They're both Toriyama games.


This is exactly what someone would say who is still stuck in the 90s.
So liking a game or not is subjective, but if you don't like MMORPGs "you're stuck in the 90s". LOL ok

I honestly think Matsuno's stories are dreadfully boring. For as neat and in depth as Ivalice is also, I just prefer the world building and mythology in Vana'diel, Eorzea, and Cocoon/Pulse more. It's up to personal preference, so if you like his stories, that's great. Personally, I thought they were pretty boring, and had boring casts as well. The best thing about FFXII is the art style and the gameplay (Yoshida, Ito).
You have bad taste.

I disagree. You merely rattled off names and companies from 20 years ago without any critical thought behind the quality of what they're putting out.

Level-5: White Knight Chronicles, Girls RPG, Guild 01, Time Travelers, all bombed, and all sucked. Ni No Kuni looks very nice graphically, but that's about it's only saving grace. It's just as linear as FFXIII is, but without any of the interesting story or gameplay.
Ni no Kuni looks like a masterpiece next to FF13. It has an overworld and side quests. It's not a tube RPG. You clearly haven't played anything by Love-de-Lic or its spin-offs, AlphaDream, etc.. They are still making great games.

Matsuno: Now he's left Level-5 even faster than SQEX. Do you use this information to say that there's a problem at Level-5? No. You started from a conclusion and then looked for evidence only to support your idea.
Mastuno was never technically "at" Level-5. He agreed to collaborate on Guild 1. One and done.

United Front Games, Eidos, Rockstead, Avalanche, Silicon Studio, Cavia, Hexa Drive: You ignore every other successful partnership they've built.

There isn't a lack of talent. You're just stuck in stasis, circa 1997.
Actually, I've been playing and enjoying the games of all the other companies that have spun-off of S-E in that time. You're the one who is desperately clinging to S-E's terrible games and holding them up as "great" when they have become the laughing stock of the industry.