The original remains a fixed point in time; a revered classic with which very few games can truly stand toe-to-toe. I think that for a lot of gamers my age it was simply in the right place at the right time, coming out just as we were on the cusp of adolescence and searching for something more mature and forfilling than Sonic or Mario. Indeed, it and the equally revalatory Metal Gear Solid defined the first PlayStation.
The remake was first teased at this year’s E3, but during the PlayStation Experience we saw a new trailer featuring debut gameplay footage. It looks like big changes are afoot, with a shift towards spin-off CG film, Advent Children’s animé feel and aesthetic, full voice acting (something of a given in this day and age, I guess) and real-time combat all on the cards. Truth be told, I remain somewhat skeptical.
Here’s the thing: much of Final Fantasy VII looked pretty crude, even back in 1997, but this and the fact that the story was told almost entirely through speech bubbles, meant that gamers ended up having to fill in the gaps with their own imaginations. In this way, playing Final Fantasy VII, and all those original PlayStation Final Fantasies, had a lot in common with reading a good book, giving each and every would-be Cloud Strife a unique and special experience. You could probably argue that being able to project some of our own cultural sensibilities onto Final Fantasy VII’s already richly detailed world factored into its breakthrough success here in the West.
Hence, my key misgiving is that the remake is effectively attempting to force somebody else’s vision of the story onto me, thereby presuming invalidate some of my own most cherished gaming memories. To mulligan such a revered piece of work, toward which so many people have such powerful affection, is a very risky endeavour. From what I’ve seen so far, I certainly prefer my own interpretation of Final Fantasy VII to Square Enix’s new one.
In terms of gameplay, even now there’s nothing wrong with the trusty ATB system. I would have much preferred a full and complete transplant of it rather than a real-time overhaul, and I suspect this is just the tip of the AVALANCHE iceberg in terms of changes. My biggest fear here is heavy-handed George Lucas-style tampering with a view to tying Final Fantasy VII more closely into posthumous spin-offs such as Crisis Core or the aforementioned Advent Children.
Having said that, I’m not totally adverse to legitimate improvements. I’d be happy with some measures to take the grindyness out of the endgame, for example, or the original’s rough translation work getting a do over. I’m just not all that optimistic that SquareEnix will have the restraint not to overdo it, given that their most successful franchise is one built on stylistic excess.
Since the PlayStation Experience trailer premiered, it’s been revealed that the game will be episodic. The official line is that it would simply take too long to remake the entire things from scratch, and while cynics are quick to brand such an approach a money-grabbing exercise, I am actually inclined to agree. If you consider how many super-detailed environments and assets need to be built and animated, all the story that’s got to be pretty much re-written and the redone soundtrack and voice work that has to be recorded, it’s clear that SquareEnix has a task of biblical proportions ahead of them. Hell, trying to squeeze everything into one release would probably mean the project not seeing the light of day until towards the end of this console cycle, by which time fan enthusiasm would inevitably have waned. I will concede that the cost total of entry for every episode in will likely far exceed that of standard boxed game, however.
Despite my reservations, there’s no way I’ll be letting the Final Fantasy VII remake pass me by. Not only will it be too important of an event for the industry at large to miss out on, but I’ll be very keen to see what’s changed, even if I may disagree with much of it.
I’ll be watching this one closely, hoping to be proven wrong.