A decade since a technical demo was unveiled at E3 2005, fans of the original have been obsessing and clamoring over a remake. Last year those cries were finally answered and the Final Fantasy VII remake was unveiled to the world. From denials to rumors and glimmers of hope, it seemed a remake would never come. It all came to a head at the PlayStation experience in 2014. Maybe it was his delivery. Maybe it was the giant Final Fantasy VII logo plastered behind him. Maybe it was the audience being too naïve and optimistic. But when Shinji Hashimoto walked on that stage to make an announcement, the world believed. In hindsight, under the context of an event featuring new game releases, it probably wasn’t the best idea. The trailer played to a roaring crowd and ended with a whimper. As I relive the agony on faces as the camera panned, I’ll always wonder, was it in that moment when Square Enix decided it was time?
Six months later the remake was unveiled. We asked for it. We’re getting it. It’s going to be different in numerous ways. Just by default, those coming into the game wafting nostalgia fumes or demanding a 1:1 remake will likely come away disappointed, regardless of how well the game does critically. A game that cannot meet everyone’s expectations. A beloved game being developed by a team most likely exhilarated and terrified at the prospect. I think it’s a wise decision to look at the changes made by Square Enix and understand the reasons behind them. For you may realize it isn’t the time to panic yet. So please, be excited.
Now is the Right Time for a Final Fantasy VII Remake:
From a fan perspective (I’m not about do dive into the business/financial aspect in this article) Square Enix hasn’t had the best decade. From 2006 to 2016 fans have lost quite a bit of faith in the company and most notably with its flagship brand, Final Fantasy. To summarize the problems seen over the last decade: outrageously long development times (Final Fantasy XV), games not meeting expectations (Final Fantasy XIII trilogy), outright disasters (Final Fantasy XIV… the first one), the last console Dragon Quest (Dragon Quest VIII) came out in 2004, and mediocre and fragmented Kingdom Hearts games with no whiff of the mere concept of KHIII until 2013.
Ever since that 2005 E3 tech demo we’ve been clamoring, begging, and hounding Square Enix for a Final Fantasy VII remake for years…. YEARS! Fans have gone to message boards, comment sections, social media pages, and forums: “Remake 7! It would print money, what are you doing?!” or something to that effect. I cannot begin to imagine the angry fan emails sent to Square over the years. Now I bring up these two points; Square’s decade (kind of) of struggle and fan demand for an FF7 remake for a reason. There hasn’t been a time in the past decade where Square Enix has felt this together, this on the ball, as it has now. There’s never been a better time to attempt the Final Fantasy VII remake.
Ten years is too short to want to remake something. Twenty years is a much better length of time. Granted when the first installment comes out, it’s likely to be 2018 at the earliest. Additionally, the console hardware is more powerful than it has ever been (obviously Matt, duh)… but in hindsight I don’t believe an FFVII remake could have been fully realized on a PS3 or Xbox 360. Whether they fell into this situation by accident by finally giving into fan demand, or by purposeful calculation is not certain. What is certain however, is that now is the time for a remake.
Lastly I want to address the fact it realistically it hasn’t been a literal decade of struggle and disappointment. With Final Fantasy XII released in 2006, we couldn’t really expect either of the AAA games such as FFXIII or FFvXIII to be released in 2007 or even 2008. Additionally, the last few years have been sort of a positive learning process for Square Enix. We could sit here and pick out games and details where things go right, but over the past several years the following has occurred:
- They have found success with two franchises in Tomb Raider and Deus Ex, developed by Crystal Dynamics and Eidos Montreal (subsidiaries of Square Enix).
- Bravely Default’s financial and critical success has helped Square re-evaluate their game development and who they are developing games for.
- Bravely Default is especially important. Using two time frames, the date the linked GameSpot article was posted and the initial hiring in September 2014 for the yet unannounced studio, it’s possible that Bravely Default was a, or the, heavy influence behind the creation of Tokyo RPG Factory. (I perused around the internet and didn’t find any statement by Square regarding if this was true).
- I am Setsuna was announced at E3 in June of 2015, it released on February 18th 2016 in Japan and will be localized in English a little over a year (July 19th) since its announcement.
- Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn was one of the best turnaround stories you can find in video game history. Going from a train wreck to one of the best MMO experiences out there.
- Final Fantasy XV is actually going to be released this year.
- We’re getting a new slice of Kingdom Hearts in 2.8 & Kingdom Hearts III is actually in active, confirmed development.
- Type-0 saw the light of day outside of Japan, Dragon Quest XI will be a single player console game, and Nier is getting a sequel.
- And finally, my personal favorite: Hajime Tabata. In an interview with GameInformer, he comes across as knowledgeable, realistic, and understands the situation regarding Final Fantasy XV and the Final Fantasy brand in general.
It’s not Time to Panic over Final Fantasy VII… Yet:
If there’s one thing I can guarantee about this game, it’s that not everyone will be pleased. Actually I think the preceding sentence is a bit light on the reality of the situation, so I’ll try again: many, many people are going to get really pissed at the remake regardless of how small or large, good or bad the changes to the game may be. I understand why people will be upset. There is a love and passion for FFVII that most games could never hope to achieve. However, a remake inherently comes with change.
Whether those changes will be good or bad remains to be seen (obviously). I’m not here to tell you this game will obliterate expectations. I’m also not here to tell you the game is going to be bargain-bin bad either. It’s going to be different. What we know now, is that the initial changes are major ones. They are fundamental to the game itself, both in terms of gameplay and story. Square Enix and Nomura want to surpass the original game. The only way to do that is through change. In their current state (i.e. the best they’ve been at in over a decade) I’m going to trust them with this remake. So it’s time to put out your torches, stick your pitchforks in the ground, and withhold from throwing your stones. Now is not time to panic (or riot, or panic-riot)… just yet.
Let’s start with the probably the biggest point of uncertainty: Final Fantasy VII will not be a single game, it will be released in multiple episodic installments. There are a wide range of implications for this. Final Fantasy VII was complete game shipped at launch to the consumer for a single price point. Multiple disc semantics aside, the original version was a completed whole. The very foundation of the remake is that it consists of multiple installments. Its currently unclear how many installments, two? Four? According to the GameSpot article (linked above) Square is using the Final Fantasy XIII trilogy as a model, so the game may likely be three installments. One question remains however, why?
There are two likely scenarios for this. One of which they discussed and other implied by consumers. Square states that they won’t be able to fit the entirety of Final Fantasy VII onto a single disc. Off the top of my head I cannot remember the last time a game couldn’t fit onto a single disc. Skyrim was on one disc, The Witcher 3 was on one disc, Grand Theft Auto V was on one disc. What could be so impossibly large that forces Square Enix to cut game into parts and create a completely realized game for each installment? I actually have a hypothesized, yet logical answer to that question: everything.
The scale of the game will be increased dramatically and there will be more of, well, everything. You’ll be getting Midgar like you’ve never seen it before. They will however deliver the same game. In Wired UK’s interview with Nomura, he has expressed the desire to not touch that scenes, places, events that make Final Fantasy VII iconic. But when you bring the setting of Final Fantasy VII into modern day gaming, everything gets bigger and more complex; more details, more NPCs, side quests, locations, and so on. If I’m interpreting them correctly we’re getting a super-sized Final Fantasy VII. But if the The Witcher 3 delivered as massive game, why can’t FFVII?
If they are truly shooting for a fully-realized RPG in each installment, which may translate to roughly 40- 50 hours of mainline story content (excluding extras). Over three games players could be looking at 120-150 hours of main story content (assuming three installments). Cramming that into one game, with extras, sounds like a daunting task from that perspective. Therefore it makes sense why they would want to split it up. It allows them to do more with the world, drastically increase scale, deliver breathtaking graphics, in addition to avoiding the need to create a condensed version of the game to fit into one disc.
Take for example, Costa del Sol. The remake won’t just have include this location as is. It won’t be a small location, with a relatively small amount of buildings (Inn, some shop stands, a bar, etc) and a sliver of beach. I’m assuming Square wants to take this coastal resort town in the remake and actually make it a resort: more beach, people, places, side quests, etc. Even going back to play the original, Costa del Sol feels small and sparse. If they take an approach to flesh out most locations (i.e Junon will likely be massive) and small towns to a greater degree of scale, than cutting up the original game into installments actually makes more sense.
The length of the game will likely feature be driven by additional plot elements, side quests, etc. However, the existing story and events may take longer to do in the remake because of its increased scale. A segment that may take thirty minutes or an hour in the original game may be several times longer just based on increased scale. Again, think about Costa del Sol. You realistically don’t spend much time here, but in the remake you could. Ultimatly, this pushes the possibility that each installment will be a fully realized game.
Consumers and fans of the series have also looked at this situation and have done simple math: $60 x 1 = $60 … $60 x 3 = $180. Yes, Square Enix stands to make more money by splitting up the game into several installments. I bring this up because it is a reality. They are a company, they need to make money. This is an opportunity to make more money than usual based on the popularity and influence of the original game. From everything I’ve read about the Final Fantasy VII remake in the creation of this article and my attempt to understand Square’s current status as a company I’m confident this remake and the decision to separate it into three installments isn’t solely driven by the almighty dollar. They have been learning from their mistakes, lending ears to their core fanbase, and as creators are passionate about creating something they want to surpass the original game.
Lastly, this allows for a faster development time. If the scope and scale of Final Fantasy VII is realized by Square, a completed game from start to finish, wouldn’t likely be done until 2024 (based on personal hypothetical nonsense). If they can get out an installment every two to three years, it becomes an easier burden to bear. Faced with compromising the scope and scale to fit it onto one disc and release it in a timely manner, versus a non-compromise and developing the entire game and shipping it in a box as a three-disc set, the multiple installment release format makes sense in the context of what they say they’re trying to do with this remake.
The Witcher. Elder Scrolls. Dragon Age. Dark Souls. What do all these franchises have in common? They’re all action-RPGs. They’re also some of the biggest and successful franchises in gaming right now. Even some of Square Enix’s bigger franchises Kingdom Hearts and Star Ocean are action RPGs. Final Fantasy XV is an action-RPG. So, last year when rumors and speculation regarding a modernized battle system, it became obvious that things were doing to be different. In December of last year, at the PlayStation experience Square Enix unveiled this trailer cementing Final Fantasy VII as an action-RPG.
In defense of the action-RPG approach I want you to think about it juxtaposed to the rest of the game (i.e. the hyper realism). In the context of a 1:1 remake, wouldn’t it be weird to have your party line up against enemies to battle it out? It would be an awkward implementation. Some type of change would have to occur to make logical sense, otherwise Cloud getting shot at by Shinra while standing still. This would happen in glorious 1080p, but he’s still just standing there. Inherently, ATB couldn’t exist here as a 1:1 remake. Would it have been possible to implement a more traditional ATB system but just give players an illusion of movement on screen? Potentially… potentially not. Despite what you may think of Final Fantasy XIII it did a good job of using the ATB while giving more visually active and dynamic character movement and interactions. Square either felt this wasn’t feasible from both a creative standpoint, but also looking at the current state of RPGs which is more action oriented.
I cannot say that the success or failure gameplay will make or break this game. Story alterations are more crucial to FFVII than the gameplay to some, while other fans may feel gameplay is more important. It is however one of two core pillars (other being the story) that Square must succeed in for the remake to be revered, not reviled. So far we only have glimpses of that in the trailer. Gameplay is realistically the least developed aspect of the game. There’s even a Kingdom Hearts style menu bar in the lower left corner, which I’m assuming is a placeholder (Square, please don’t use that).
The good news is that I can see (personal speculation) Square Enix implementing a highly similar, if not exact Materia system. How Materia works, the different types, how you find it, and level it up don’t need to be changed to fit into an action-RPG. It can work as it. The same can be said for limit bars (taking damage through combat), or using Summons. You can still have HP and MP bars as well. Additionally, Square has confirmed that your party will consist of three members at a time. They’re not completely uprooting the gameplay, just changing the medium it’s delivered thorough. In an interview with Famitsu, via IGN:
“There will be three-member parties in Final Fantasy VII Remake and free switching between them, and while the ATB gauge will be present, it won’t be the type that fills up while you wait to attack but instead its own system that “lends to the action of this game”. … “By using the new system, we want to do action battles while also being able to fight while thinking strategically.”
The above excerpts indicate that being able to play as more than one party member in combat is a possibility, freely switching between them. Nomura also used the word strategically, an aspect that is often lost when making a transition from a turn-based or ATB system to an action-RPG. The fact that they are aware that strategy is an important element is promising. However, it remains to be seen to what extent that occurs.
Additionally, other developers have been attached to the project. Most notably CyberConnect2 (known for .Hack, Naruto fighting games). Square Enix wouldn’t hand over the entire development of such an important game. With Final Fantasy XV, Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn (updates, expansions, etc.), Kingdom Hearts 2.8, and Kingdom Hearts 3, how many more internal development staff do they have? The Final Fantasy XV demo combat felt a bit sluggish and non-responsive. A company like CyberConnect2 has experience creating games with quick and accurate combat may be beneficial to creating good action, for the action-RPG. I can only speculate, but partnering with them driven by the need to improve combat in that regard.
I’m not doing to dwell too long on the possible story changes. Of the available information, what Square Enix has in store for story, narrative, and character alternations and their extent is unclear. As upfront as they’ve been with the game so far, the story and narrative will be kept under wraps. The major parts of the original game; events, characters, locations will likely remain as is. However, with the addition of new story content, plot devices, etc. as the result of a larger scale, may give the developers more room to flesh out the world with NPCs, new locations, side quests, and more interactions between party members. Final Fantasy VII’s story will change in response to that. To what degree remains to be seen. While it may be something to worry over, if Square has already addressed and confirmed that one of the weirdest story moment (arguably) still made the cut, then it seems they’re not going through slicing up the story and changing it however, and wherever they please.
It does have to account for localization errors that are present in the PS1 version, or added information to clarify how the world works or characters backstories found in Crisis Core or Advent Children. Take Nomura’s work from it, in an the interview with Wired UK, I believe the following excerpt provides a good indication on where Square stands:
“We don’t want to interfere with what makes the original title so iconic,” Nomura explains. “There are certain plot points we don’t want to interfere with or disturb, nor will we want to change elements that fans have very big attachments to.”
“Matt,” you ask, “When is it time to panic?”
My biggest fears and concerns occur in what changes the game may make from installment to installment in terms of gameplay. Square will take feedback from the reception of the first installment through fans and critics alike to improve and incorporate into subsequent installments. Despite my urge to list a dozen questions/concerns, there won’t be much of a point to do so now. It’s out of my hands and there won’t be an answer to most of them until after the second installment. Instead of worrying and obsessing over what Square says, implies, or doesn’t say. The action-RPG nature of gameplay, multiple episodic installments, and slight story alterations are not the cause for widespread panic and prophetic doom.
So when would it be time to panic? The cop-out answer is when the credits roll. Hop into your mental time machine fast forward to the game’s release. You pop in in your console and devour the game in a week. The credits roll. It’s bad. You then realize Final Fantasy VII isn’t just bad once, it will proceed to be bad two more times. That my friends, when that realization hits you, is truly the time to panic. But regardless of where this remake lands within the larger context of gaming history, remember one thing: we asked for it.