Symbiogenesis | A closer look at Square Enix’s curious NFT game


Symbiogenesis is billed as an NFT project where “10,000 collectible artworks meet real game utility.” But what does that actually mean?


“Untangle the story,” reads a cryptic line in the ‘first look’ trailer for Symbiogenesis. Weighing in at just 44 seconds, the promo is perhaps the most cryptic pieces of video game marketing this writer’s ever seen. Having rewatched the video several times, absorbing its curiously brash electronic score and dervish of digital patterns, I’m none the wiser, really, as to what the game’s even about. This is possibly because Symbiogenesis may not exactly be a video game in the traditional sense.

First announced in November 2022, Symbiogenesis is billed by Square Enix as a “Global NFT collectible art project.” In more plain terms, Symbiogenesis will be a browser-based experience where players will be able to collect (and buy and sell) characters and items in the form of non-fungible tokens. This is Square Enix’s first foray into blockchain games, a strategy the Japanese publisher first announced in January 2022, back when NFTs and the buying and selling of JPEGs was still being talked up as the future of humanity.

Digging a bit further into Symbiogenesis’ website, and the idea behind the project becomes a bit clearer. The game will feature 10,000 characters, each sold as NFTs. Players will be able to buy those NFTs and use them to progress through the game’s story and missions.


There are quests to complete, boss battles to fight, and hidden items to uncover, with the broader aim being to progress the story and complete each of the game’s six chapters. The developer notes that you won’t have to purchase the NFTs to play the game, but only NFT owners will be able to read the stories that are unique to their character. Square Enix also has other means of encouraging players to part with their cash to buy an NFT, however. The game’s progressed by uncovering items hidden in the game’s map; clues to their whereabouts can be found in each character’s story – which, of course, can only be read by the NFT’s owner. If you’re playing the game without an NFT, you’ll have to “tap the place son the map which seem suspicious… or acquire the items on the secondary market.”

Naturally, these scarce hidden items can also be ‘converted’ into NFTs by players. “The items which were converted to NFTs may be sold on the NFT marketplace,” the site tells us. “Items bought on the NFT marketplace can be brought back into the game in the same way, allowing the player to advance through the quests.”

All of this means that Symbiogenesis will inevitably favour players willing to pay out for NFTs over those who don’t. According to the website, “Only three players will be able to take part in the final mission,” and those players will get there by finding items and either sharing them or hoarding them for themselves: “Who to cooperate with, who to negotiate with, strategic communication will be required to reach the end.”

Cryptically, we’re informed that the lucky winner “may” receive a rare NFT once that ending is reached.

Read more: NFTs & video games – no flippin’ thanks?

The bigger question is whether any of this will be particularly enjoyable. The story sounds rather flimsy – something about the remnants of human life surviving on a tract of land called the Floating Continent, which is under attack from “the Dragon” – and the characters revealed so far have that uninspiring sameyness you often get from generative art. In other words, all the faces look broadly the same, just with different hats and wigs slapped on top, like a digital Guess Who.

Your mileage may also vary with the convoluted terms and language surrounding the game. Character NFTS are divided into five categories according to their rarity. Logging into the game each day will cause you to increase XP and other stats, but the more character NFTs you own, the more those stats will increase. Players will also be able to create replicas of their character NFTs, which they could potentially sell, but the game’s tactic of rewarding you with faster stat increases appears to be an attempt to encourage users to hold onto their NFTs for longer – all the better to avoid the ballooning cost of entry found in other play-to-earn games like Axie Infinity.

It all sounds incredibly complicated, and even after wading through 15 pages of explanations, it’s difficult to fathom why the game needs to be on the blockchain – unique characters and rare items have, after all, been the stuff of video games for decades. All that’s really new is the vague promise that someone, somewhere, might make a bit of money through the buying and selling virtual goods – though even that isn’t particularly new, as the industrial-scale gold farming that once surrounded World of Warcraft proved.

With a slightly more charitable eye, Symbiogenesis could be seen as an interesting experiment for Square Enix – certainly, it’s unlike anything the company’s attempted before. What’s uncertain is whether the company has landed on the NFT craze too late; not long after Square Enix boss Yosuke Matsuda loudly announced that blockchain games were going to be a “major trend”, the market for NFTs collapsed. To date, it hasn’t returned to the dizzying highs it enjoyed in the wake of the pandemic, when image of apes were changing hands for millions of pounds. To a casual eye, selling such valuable properties as Tomb Raider and Deus Ex to fund some blockchain projects sounds worryingly like selling a cash cow for some magic beans.

Symbiogenesis’ website is scheduled to launch on 17 March, and the first wave of NFTs will be available to purchase from that date onwards. Matsuda is scheduled to be replaced as Square Enix’s CEO in June. Time will tell whether Symbiogenesis will prove him right about the wonders of blockchain gaming, or whether it’ll be remembered as an ill-advised side quest from one of gaming’s biggest names.

  • Whynow Gaming contacted Square Enix for comment on Symbiogenesis, but didn’t immediately receive a response. We’ll update you if and when one emerges.

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