We’ve all heard the rumors about Final Fantasy VII, SquareEnix’s hit iteration of the Final Fantasy series that debuted on the Playstation in 1997, being remade on the PS3 when the developers used the opening scene of the game to cast a “tech demo” for the system at E3 2005. That was ten years ago, and fans eagerly anticipated the company announcing a remaster of the iconic title on the Playstation 3. That never came. For years, SquareEnix said it would never remake FFVII, continuing ahead with its newer Final Fantasy titles, Final Fantasy MMO, and other titles. Remaking FFVII would be a gaming in-joke, like Duke Nukem Forever or Half-Life 3.

Until last night.

Not surprisingly, Twitter almost exploded with overjoy at the showing of this trailer during the Sony E3 2015 presentation last night.

and of course, I had my own fangasm of sorts.

Not to mention SquareEnix’s stock price

The hype was real. And why wouldn’t it have been? A lot of people my age (thirty-one) got our Playstations and embarked on the Sony path in 1996-1997 when then-Squaresoft launched an array of JRPG titles in the US, one of which was Final Fantasy VII. The legacy it created sustained their brand until the more wobbly PS2 era where the formula did not hold up so well, and they merged with Enix. But if you were to go back and play FFVII today, you have to deal with the blocky polygons and translation quirks of console yesteryear. I did so recently last winter, and still enjoyed it despite it being the tenth or eleventh time I’ve played straight through.

So why remake Final Fantasy VII? Why now?

Obvious Cash Grab

I’ve said for years that the only reason SquareEnix would remake FFVII is for money. Squaresoft has a very loyal fanbase, almost as much as Nintendo or Apple. Unfortunately, however loyal, they have not bought in to a lot of the changes Square made to its iconic roleplaying formula over the years. Many fans regard Final Fantasy X as a critical departure from the usual turn-based style, something that continued to morph and change into subsequent versions of the franchise. The departure from classic formulas began to eat away at Square’s dominance of the JRPG market. Western RPGs from companies like Bethesda and Blizzard began to compete heavily, and especially Blizzard’s World of Warcraft dominated the online MMO space and completely changed how roleplaying games were made. The classic turn-based RPG would be largely absent until the indie development scene brought it back along with other game mechanics of yesteryear. SquareEnix’s response to the resurgence of old-school RPG was to remake and remaster older Final Fantasy titles for newer consoles and audiences. While this pleased older fans familiar with these games, its effects on newer fans is questionable.

So you would think that this makes a remaster of FFVII somewhat of a silly move, but it was a move I believe they were going to make as a last-ditch effort to really make a buck. FFVII is a blessing and a curse in this respect, because it is a game we all want and will play, but knowing that doing this means the company is very likely throwing a hail-mary, and may indicate that there are deeper problems under the hood than anyone knows, or is caring to admit.

Rose-Colored Criticism

If there is one thing some people enjoy more than the announcement of a remastered classic, is the sound of their own voice snub-nosing it and reminding everyone how awful it is, or how this is the worst idea, or other such. Thing is, there is some truth to the dissenters, no matter how much unwarranted self-importance they muster. Remakes and reboots are a over-done phenomenon in media and gaming, and often do not hold up well to their originals. Even if they do well with newer audiences, older audiences will almost certainly complain or boycott, trying to preserve not only its original legacy, but their own past feelings about it.

However, I think that a remake/reboot has the potential for new and exciting changes that might make a second (or twenty-eighth) playthrough of this title a unique experience on a new platform.

New Graphics and Character Models

The most universally disliked aspect of the original FFVII were the graphics. Having to work with the first console of Sony’s newly-minted gaming division, Square created something that had great potential, but did not draw out the full power of the console at the time. The result was a game with very well-made backgrounds and fight scenes, and excellent FMV segments, but as you move the character around, they were a blocky mess. It wouldn’t be until Final Fantasy VIII and IX that Square would really pull the full power of the system, before moving on to the PS2 with FFX. Here, with vastly more graphical and computing power, Square as the opportunity to make FFVII shine the way it might have if it were being made for the first time today, or on the PS2 or PS3. Consider the graphics seen on modern Final Fantasy titles, and apply that to FFVII. Being able to see Cloud, Tifa, Barret, Red XIII, and others rendered in higher quality, is paramount for a fan of the franchise and this iteration in particular. The FMV quality will also be significantly higher, and allow for more FMV sequences than might’ve been originally planned, or expanding the existing scenes for additional detail. The virtual sky is the limit.

Story and Characters

The most important aspect of a remake is how to address the story and characters. The greatest taboo for a creator looking to remake their original vision is how to manipulate it in a way that doesn’t compromise themselves, and doesn’t let down their fans. The best example I can think of is Hideki Anno and Evangelion. By now, fans of the iconic robot series have seen three of the four Rebuild movies that essentially serve to reboot the original television show and movies. There, the story and setting is largely retained, but the characters and actions vary slightly, adding a couple new ones, and changing how others interact with each other. Remakes and reboots are a double-edge sword, because on one hand, you have the opportunity to change things you did not like or thought could be improved, and introduce new elements to improve the overall setting. But fans entrenched in the classic, unaltered version, will no doubt be turned away by an attempt to change what they love. Certainly, most enthusiastic Evangelion fans prefer the original show over the remakes, while others embrace the changes as something new and exciting. I prefer the latter, because as much as the former is great and all, seeing your favorite characters or favorite universe re-imagined, is like reading a new story.

For a game like FFVII, which has a pretty solid story reinforced by side-stories and prequels like Crisis Core and Dirge of Cerberus, the possibility of them altering the story or characters is probably minimal, but not impossible. Adding some additional elements to characters like Cait Sith, Yuffie, or Cid would go a long way to ensuring the long-term viability of the game once it is released, and give fans on the fence about playing a remake a reason to pick it up.

It also allows for some story streamlining. I saw a few comments on Facebook that the Midgar arc in the beginning of the game is too long, and indeed, even at a fast pace, it takes four to five hours to clear this section, longer if you’re exploring for the first time. Streamlining some of the events into FMVs to get players out into the world faster would certainly help cut down on gameplay they would have to produce. Things like mini-games or the Chocobo Racing should stay in the game, but not be required to advance with the story. I hesitate to say the letters DLC, but that’s a likely place some of the side elements to FFVII would likely go.

Gameplay and Battle Mechanics

The Materia System is the most important aspect of this game, its uniqueness to the franchise is what has kept it a fan-favorite to this day, because frankly they have not done very much better since. It offered a challenge in configuring enough magic and effects without compromising the character’s stats and abilities. But as mentioned before, being 2015, we’ve evolved into RPGs that do not utilize old-school turn-based mechanics. Battles are more fluid now, and happen much faster than before. This is where I feel an FFVII remake can really shine, a complete overhaul of the old battle system and replaced with a new one, that borrows from current third-person roleplaying games, and incorporates materia and limit breaks from the old game to produce something further unique. If they choose to stick with a traditional battle system, I’d hope they introduce some new features to run alongside the old ones, or even change the way the materia system works slightly for an additional challenge.

Voice Acting

Voice acting became a part of the Final Fantasy series starting with X, and has continued on into the 2000’s era of the franchise. Certainly, we’ve heard some voices for FFVII characters in Advent Children, but voice acting for a remake would add another complex element on top of a game that had no voice acting in it before. Perhaps this is why it was never considered for remake in the first place, Square would have to add voices to maintain integrity with their current offerings.

Voice acting would certainly cast an ominous wrench into the core gameplay of FFVII. Certainly, adding voices to pre-rendered FMV sequences would be easy, but having dialogue occur during the action would require more to the game. Some parts of the game would have to be done differently to account for voices. Of course, much of the game can still be played without voices, sticking to text dialogue instead.

Localization

Many folks cite the dog line in the Juno Reactor among other translation snafus that plagued the original release of the game. Certainly back then, translation was a little rougher around the edges, especially for a new game on a new system. Today, with a stronger internet and all sorts of communication improvements between Japan and the US where teams can collaborate in real-time, translation quality has vastly improved and the localization process has been made more efficient. I am not too worried about the localization team for this new remake, I think they will do a good job with it.

TL;DR

Final Fantasy VII being remade and coming to the PS4 is a great thing for one of the most iconic games of the past thirty years, and one of my personal favorites. I dumped a lot of hours into that game, beating it several times, hacking it to keep Aeris in the party, and so on. It’s not the best Final Fantasy out there, but it’s what got me into Playstation and RPGs in general. But since I am not the same person who bought everything back then, I am cautious to see what will go into this remake. Hopefully they will put out something even better than what went out before and renew my faith in the “reboot”.

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