Monolith Soft (株式会社モノリスソフト, Monolith Soft) is a Japanese video game company owned by Nintendo since 2007, having been previously owned by Bandai Namco. They are best known for creating the Xenosaga, Baten Kaitos, and Xenoblade Chronicles series.
Prior to Monolith Soft's formation, co-founder Tetsuya Takahashi was an employee of Squaresoft (the company that merged with Enix to form the modern day Square Enix), who at the time was directing the PlayStation game Xenogears, which started as his original pitch for Final Fantasy VII. In 1999, he and fellow employees Hirohide Sugiura and Yasuyuki Honne left the company after being dissatisfied with the its business model of prioritizing their major properties, which had left Takahashi with no creative freedom or funding to go forward with his planned Xenogears series.
Takahashi and Sugiura agreed to have their new company be backed by a publisher with substantial market presence as opposed to being independent. After several rejections from other companies, Monolith Soft eventually received investments from Namco. The decision was made after the founder, Masaya Nakamura, shared many of Takahashi and Sugiura's beliefs and ideals. The company was officially founded on October 1, 1999.
1999-2007: Namco era
The first project the newly formed Monolith Soft began developing was 2002's Xenosaga Episode I for the PlayStation 2, which acted as the spiritual successor to Xenogears. Following its release, Takahashi stepped down from his lead role after determining that the company's current leads were too old, clashing with their initiative of fostering new talent. As such, Takahashi became a supervisor to the development of the Xenosaga series and allowing the younger developers to continue the series.
In 2001, a new property was created by Monolith Soft's Tadashi Nomura and Namco's Shinji Noguchi exclusively for the Nintendo GameCube called Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean, which was released in 2003. The development of the game resulted in the team being split in two; one dedicated to Baten Kaitos and one dedicated to Xenogears.
In May 2002, Monolith Soft moved its headquarters from Yokohama to Meguro, Tokyo. Development on Xenosaga Episode II also began under a new team. The series also began expanding to other media, starting with the mobile game spin-off Xenosaga: Pied Piper, which ended up being Tanaka's last involvement with the Xenosaga series. The following year, development began on the Japan-exclusive crossover RPG game Namco x Capcom, which features characters from both Namco and Capcom. It was released for the PlayStation 2 on 2005.
2006 saw the release of four new titles, the first of which was Dirge of Cerberus: Final Fantasy VII on the PlayStation 2, which is part of Square Enix's Compilation of Final Fantasy VII sub-series. Following that was a remaster of Xenosaga I & II for the Nintendo DS, making it their first handheld title. It was co-developed with the staff who worked on the Xenosaga: The Animation anime adaptation. The final entry in the series, Xenosaga Episode III, was released afterwards on the PlayStation 2. Though the series was initially conceived as a hexalogy, the story was retrofitted as a trilogy as Episode III was the last planned entry. The final of the four was Baten Kaitos Origins, released near the end of the GameCube's life cycle and published by Nintendo. A third Baten Kaitos game was in development, but Namco (who had recently merged with Bandai at the time to form Bandai Namco) cancelled the project.
2007-Present: Nintendo era
Things began to change within the company once the merger was completed; changes, they felt, were hindering them since Bandai Namco were less willing to take creative risks. After receiving support from Shinji Hatano (an executive director from Nintendo), Monolith Soft decided to break away to become a subsidiary of Nintendo and gaining back their creative freedom. Nintendo was announced to be the majority shareholder in April 2007, with them having 80% of Monolith Soft's shares while Bandai Namco kept 16%, which was divided between Takahashi, Suguira, and Honne. The announcement was a surprise to many in the industry as Nintendo had been previously vocal about not taking part in mergers and acquisitions of other companies. According to president Satoru Iwata, the deal was struck due to the positive relationship between Nintendo and Suguira as well as sharing many of the same design philosophies, whilw Bandai Namco said that the deal would strengthen their relationship with Nintendo. The company's first games under Nintendo were the Japan-exclusives Soma Bringer and Super Robot Taisen OG Saga: Endless Frontier (both for the Nintendo DS) and Disaster: Day of Crisis (for the Wii), all of which were released in 2008. The company were also tapped to develop Dragon Ball Z: Attack of the Saiyans for the Nintendo DS due to their experience with making RPGs.
In 2007, development began on a new project conceived by Takahashi and Honne. Unlike past games, this new title was not to rely on the usual narrative-heavy approach - something Takahashi felt was "old-fashioned". Initially, development ran into some problems due to the game's sheer scale. Takahashi sought out Nintendo producer Hitoshi Yamagami with proposals to cut back on the size; they were all rejected by Yamagami and he persuaded Nintendo to keep supporting the project. Its original title was to be Monado: Beginning of the World; however, Iwata suggested that the title should honor Takahashi's previous creations Xenogears and Xenosaga. Thus, the game was re-titled to Xenoblade Chronicles, which was released for the Wii in 2010 to surprise critical and commercial success.
A new additional studio was founded in 2011 in Kyoto close to Nintendo's headquarters. The Kyoto branch is essentially acts as a supplementary studio, providing support for Monolith Soft's and Nintendo's projects. Their list of contributions include The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, Animal Crossing: New Leaf, Pikmin 3, The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, Splatoon, Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Splatoon 2, and Animal Crossing: New Horizons.
By 2012, Bandai Namco had sold its remaining 400 shares to Nintendo, thus making them the full owner of Monolith Soft. The company's next game would be Project X Zone for the Nintendo 3DS, a crossover tactical RPG featuring characters from Bandai Namco, Sega, and Capcom and is the spiritual successor to Namco x Capcom. Development also began on the follow-up to Xenoblade Chronicles, being Xenoblade Chronicles X for the Wii U which was released in 2015. It is the company's first game in high-definition and unlike the first Xenoblade, the gameplay is more open-world based. A sequel to Project X Zone, Project X Zone 2, was released a year later on the 3DS. During the final development stages of Xenoblade Chronicles X, work on a third entry was started. This resulted in Xenoblade Chronicles 2, released in 2017 for the Nintendo Switch, which combines the story-driven narrative of the first Xenoblade with the gameplay of X. One of the game's original story prototypes was repurposed into the Torna - The Golden Country expansion, released in 2018. A remaster of the first Xenoblade Chronicles was released also on the Switch in April 2020, which also came with its own added story expansion titled Future Connected.
As of 2019, Monolith Soft is currently developing a new fantasy action game, a new RPG game, and a new entry in The Legend of Zelda series. New offices have also opened in Nakameguro and Ōsaki, Tokyo.
Involvement with Super Smash Bros.
In 2007, Monolith Soft assisted with the development of Super Smash Bros. Brawl shortly after its acquisition from Nintendo. It wouldn't be until 2014's Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS and Wii U where the company would get proper representation with the playable inclusion of Shulk, the protagonist of Xenoblade Chronicles. He brings with him the Gaur Plain stage, several music tracks (with a remix arranged by the game's composers), Trophies of the other characters, and his party members Riki and Dunban making cameos as an Assist Trophy and a Mii Fighter costume, respectively.
Shulk, the Gaur Plain stage, the music tracks, the Riki Assist Trophy, and the Dunban costume return for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. The representation is expanded upon with newcomers Pyra and Mythra from Xenoblade Chronicles 2, who joined Ultimate as a part of Fighters Pass Volume 2; they bring with them the stage Cloud Sea of Alrest, new music, and Spirits, in addition to the new base game additions such as the Mii Fighter costumes modeled after Nia and Rex and Spirits from Xenoblade Chronicles X.
Outside of the Xenoblade series, other representation comes in the form of additional Spirits from Soma Bringer, and Disaster: Day of Crisis. Remixes of the battle themes from Baten Kaitos Origins and Soma Bringer are also available.
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- Official website (in Japanese)