I remember several conversations with friends about why Square Enix hadn’t remade Final Fantasy VII yet, as I know many others have also talked about. Personally, I’ve always subscribed to two theories. One, they never needed to make it, financially they were doing fine, and they’ve always known how much they could profit from the venture–the break in case of emergency theory; and two, they needed to feel confident that when they did remake Final Fantasy VII, they’d be able to go all out and appease the mass fandom that the game has generated. However, this undertaking isn’t as easy as just getting it down, and then roll in the fat stacks that rain down from it. Touching this classic comes with risks. Lots of risk, actually. This isn’t just an HD version of the classic; as stressed by the trailer teased at E3, they’re doing a Remake. For all intents and purposes, they’re making a new game from scratch with the template of the original FFVII.
When they announced the project, I was excited, but shortly after, I had a pit in my stomach. Square was emphasizing something in the gritty voice over and the singular worded end screen: “Remake”. Changes are going to be made to the beloved title, and this worries me. With a project like this, it brings about opportunity for the creators. Opportunity to do something they may have compromised at the time the original game released that isn’t a limitation now, or apply lessons they’ve learned from the years since its release. In the trailer, we see a positive result of this opportunity in the massive upgrade in graphics since its original ’97 release date. However, in an interview, Nomura has pointed out that this project isn’t just going to be a new can of paint.
No creator is completely happy with his or her work, they’ll have their own reasons, but at the end of the day, in the process of making anything, they’ll learn and grow and want to apply that to the project. Regardless of how revered a source material is to the fans, many creators would make changes if given the opportunity. Think The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, and Harry Potter. Their source material is hailed as some of the best in their respective genres, but when it came to their television and movie adaptations, changes were made. Sure, there are more brains in the bucket for their adaptations, all of whom have an opinion to share, but each adaptation still worked closely with the original creator. Some of these changes were considered positive, like Daryl, and some negative, like giving lines Ron said in the books to Hermione in the movies.
Now, let’s face it, it doesn’t matter what anyone puts out to the world, no one is ever going to make everyone happy. Ever. Believe or not, there were people who played the original FFVII and thought, “this kind of sucks.” So, Nomura and company have their work cut out for them. Not only are they rebuilding the game that helped solidify both Square Enix (Soft at the time) and Sony in the gaming market, they also have to apply changes and modifications that appeal to the longstanding fans and hopefully draw in new fans as well. The gaming industry’s audience is more diverse than what it was in ’97. Some changes will be welcomed unanimously, like having the ability to skip long combat animations. I don’t need to see Knights of the Round go off twelve times in my battle against the Emerald Weapon–though I’ll probably watch it anyways because it’ll look so gosh darn pretty. But maybe they’ll cut out the combo that made Knights of the Round being summoned that many times out of the game. Perhaps that was an oversight in the original specs and that’s not how Square Enix wants players to play the game. We’ve seen this kind of behaviour in companies like Bungie who have constantly applied patches to Destiny that claim to fix the unbalanced system, but often end up trading one overpowered system for another, which results in mixed reviews. #fuckthorn #bringbackautoriflesusefullness #iwasliketwentyfeetawayandhekilledmewithoneshotfromashotgunfuckthisimgoingtoelderscrollsonline.
Nomura has alluded that they’re won’t just be changes to the original core game, but that they’re most likely will be added content as well. Seeing as Square Enix has released sequels and prequels to FFVII, I imagine most will be okay with more content. There would most likely be a positive response, if the added content integrated and flushed out Zack, Genesis, and Weiss’s arcs into the original plot. For those who don’t know these characters, Zack is a hinge point for the Final Fantasy VII series, Genesis is a brooding warrior poet who rivals Sephiroth in power, a mirrored appearance, and craziness, and Weiss is a thrice experimented on member of Shinra’s SOLDIER program who leads a secret division after he overthrows the oppressive leadership. I would be ecstatic to see more from those arcs. My biggest concerns, however, is how they might change the original established plot itself and the battle system. When asked about the scope of the possible changes, Nomura has stated that he is actually happy with making cuts. That scares the hell out of me. But hopefully with the original writer Nojima and the original director Kitase onboard, those cuts will merely be trimming the fat and updating the dialogue.
As for the battle system, I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, I’ll be disappointed if they try to implement an action-turn-based hybrid, like that of Final Fantasy XXII, or try to scrap the turn-based combat all together; and on the other hand, I understand the need to update and change the stand-and-wait system the original game used. One primary issue with turn-based combat is showing an almost colonial style battle system where combatants will patiently stand and wait for their ATB (Active Time Battle) gauge to fill in order to act. The average combat visuals from the original game would be considered stilted in today’s standards, sans the action cinematics for Limit Breaks and Summons. However, I don’t feel like this means that turn-based gameplay is stale by any means, it just has a different emphasis. Action-based combat emphasizes timing elements, dodging and attacking according to the enemies animations, while turn-based combat emphasizes strategy during combat and pre-combat. That isn’t to say action-based combat doesn’t have its strategy elements or that turn-based combat doesn’t have timing elements. Who hasn’t tried to tap the X button at the perfect time of an enemy’s attack, thinking it’ll make you dodge the blow? The two systems aren’t better than one another, they simple offer very different vibes to the gameplay. I actually don’t prefer one over the other, I actually really enjoyed FFXII’s combat, I would just prefer that the Remake stays true to the turn-based, Materia driven combat system implemented in the original
In a perfect world, or at least my perfect world, Nomura’s directorial role for the project would be to simply direct the new visuals for the combat. My team of three doesn’t need to stand and wait for their respective turns to attack or be hit, they could be shifting positions and moving through the battleground’s landscape. Although if I’m being realistic with myself, an action element is imminent for the FFVII Remake. Since Nomura has taken the reigns as lead from Sakaguchi, the original producer and director of the Final Fantasy series who left Square Enix over a decade ago, Nomura has led the series to more action orientated combat. My one hope for his creative changes in this regard will be that he stays as true to turn-based combat as possible, and if he does implement action elements that they would be most reminiscent of the pseudo-action system in Chrono Trigger–a Square classic that introduced a positional element to the turn-based combat system. There was an interesting amount of nuance to this removal from the more traditional JRPG standard of standing all in a line, but the biggest thing I think that would work for the FFVII Remake would be how the characters in Chrono Trigger could interact with one another.
Characters in a party could learn techniques that allowed them to pair or team up with their battle mates to perform stronger attacks. We’ve seen a degree of this kind of combat recently in the demo for Final Fantasy XV–a project originally headed by Nemura but handed off to Hajime Tabata to free Nomura’s schedule–though it leans far towards the action side of RPG combat rather turn-based. However, in FFXV it’s looking like you’ll only be able to control the protagonist Noctis and I would be remised if I wasn’t able to control all my characters in the Remake. This type of combat and visuals would also lend credence to the type of choreography Nomura put on display in Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children. The scene where the cast of characters throw Cloud higher and higher into the air to battle a rising Bahumut really stands out in my mind, and it would be absolutely bad ass to integrate that as mechanic in the Remake. Essentially, I hope the combat stays the same, but knowing that it most likely will change, that instead of scraping the original, they merely add more visual components and mechanics to original system.
All changes aside, the hype on this game will most likely make its money back on the pre-orders alone, but considering the current position for JRPGs in gaming, I don’t know if Square Enix can afford blundering on this. It’s no secret that the JRPG market has made some drastic changes in the last decade. The console JRPG just doesn’t sell like it used to, not in Japan, not in North America. Japanese gamers have heavily shifted to mobile and handheld gaming, and North Americans have recently been putting their money down for western RPGs on consoles instead of the J variety. And although handheld and mobile gaming has come a long way, it definitely seems that Square Enix knows how beneficial and lucrative the console market is for game developers.
Many have started to consider that FFXV may be the final attempt at cracking JRPGs into the console market, or rather I should say ‘re-cracking’ the console market. The Final Fantasy series brought mainstream success for JRPGs to North American audiences and consoles. As I see it, as Square Enix goes, so goes the rest of JRPG developers. However, in an amazing twist, it no longer looks as though FFXV will be the last scion after all, a new competitor has appeared, and in one hell of interesting way, or at least it will be interesting if Nomura sticks to a turn-based combat system. Both VII and XV will be utilizing Square Enix’s gorgeous looking Luminous Engine, so we know both games are going to bring an unprecedented level of graphics the typical anime heavy genre contains. It’s a huge blend of JRPG mechanics with Triple A looks. However, we’re seeing two mechanics at hand here, again, if Nomura stays true to the original FFVII combat mechanics. Action and turn based. Like I said, Nomura has definitely evolved the Final Fantasy series from the turn-based combat of old, but alas, they’re hopefully working with the mechanic again now. So what if the remake outsells XV? Not only does that open doors to other possible remakes, which Nomura has stated he is interested in doing, but it would also show that gamers are not bored with turn-based combat…at least when it’s done right. It could mean we see a revival of turn-based combat in Final Fantasy 16. I think that would be pretty cool.
Skepticism and hype aside, I hope that both of these games blow the fuck up and take the world by storm. I haven’t played every game with Final Fantasy in the title but I’ve played a ton, and I’ve enjoyed and loved every one for different reasons. Sure, some more than others, but they all bring something to the table. Two memories stick out in my head. First, the memory of picking up Final Fantasy XIII on a midnight release with a line that wrapped around the corner; and second, when I went to pick up Lightning Returns at noon on its release day. I asked the EB guy if he had a big turnout for the release. He told me that I was the third person in that day to pick up their pre-order. I want the former so much more than the latter for both of these games. I want my JRPGs back on console, whether they look great or not. It’s my own preferred way of gaming and I miss the variety I had as a kid. I hope that this huge undertaking in remaking Final Fantasy VII, with its much younger brother XV, revitalize my favourite type of game. I would be over the moon. I would be so happy I would ride Meteor down to Earth in true Dr. Strangelove fashion.