by Patrick Toworfe
For years you’ve heard fans the world over talking about how they want Square Enix to remake Final Fantasy VII. The generally held belief is that that Square has the power to recreate that masterpiece of a game in current gen graphics and it will be widely accepted as a masterpiece once again. I surely shouldn’t have to point out already that not everyone believes that FFVII is a masterpiece in the first place, and that FF fans love to argue amongst themselves about which is the best all the time; though I just did point this out for those not in the know. Regardless, even to this very day many want that remake for some reason or another, either cause they’re not content with recent FF games/RPGs, or they want to re-live the magic of FFVII in an updated format. Thing is, I’m here to tell you right now that an FFVII remake would not be what the fans want at all. And it bothers me that few people seem to realize this.
Fans are hard to please. If you keep a series the same people will complain that it never changes and if you change it too much people will complain that it’s too different. This applies to a lot of game series and often gamers don’t realize that game developers can’t please everyone. Consider for a moment that FFVII was remade today, and for the sake of argument let’s say for the PS3 and Xbox 360. There is a massive list of things that would have to change to reflect the game standards of today. And no, before you get cynical and start talking about DLC and DRM and all that, what I’m talking about is more relevant than you may think. Remember that FFVII came out in 1997, for the PS1, performing marvelously amongst its peers in terms of graphics, gameplay innovation and narrative storytelling.
However, how much of FFVII’s strength lies in the core game itself compared to how much of its strength is borrowed from its time period? Is FFVII even a timeless game? I can certainly play FFVII again today and enjoy for nostalgia’s sake myself, but could a new player to the FF series pick it up and enjoy it all the same? It’s hard to call many games timeless, but I’ll leave it up to you to decide if FFVII is.
Assuming a ‘remake’ implies a complete overhaul and not a HD re-release, a lot of things are going to change. Firstly, the presentation. Remember that FFVII had blocky graphics for characters, who were all in a weird chibi form without many facial features. In today’s graphics we can even program wrinkles and scars down to the minute. Cloud and Tifa would look amazing, just as they looked in Kingdom Hearts II, but even better given today’s technology. FFVIII was a step above and didn’t feature chibi characters anymore and subsequence FF games did the same. Fully rendered character models would replace the weird chibi characters of FFVII which, at the time, were perfectly fine but wouldn’t make sense if they were put in a game now. That is unless you don’t count games like Bravely Default where the style is done like that on purpose. But not only would the characters look more normal, the stellar pre-rendered backdrops wouldn’t be in PS1 graphics anymore, we’d now have amazing and beautiful 3D backgrounds with moving animations.
Current gen technology is good enough to make the world of FFVII more immersive and believable but the double edged sword is how it would not be the same as it was before, removing the imaginative spark that made the original backdrops so interesting. Another example is how the music would be completely updated or altered, changing some of the eerie tracks to be more orchestral and vibrant in nature. Visual and auditory changes can drastically alter how we experience a game, and there’s a difference between being astounded at a game like FFVII during its release and playing a highly detailed RPG today amongst the many highly detailed RPGs. The presentation can definitely be designed better than before, but it won’t be the same as it was when the game was released.
The next aspect of FFVII that many people don’t think about is how cutscenes will become a major part of FFVII, something which was mainly missing in the original game. There was the occasional CGI cutscene that looked very impressive, but those didn’t have any voice acting and were very brief. A FFVII remake would have to have fully voice acted characters and cutscenes, leaving text conversations only for interacting in towns and non-important character conversations. Even then, those conversations could be voice acted too. I often hear that ‘older games were longer’ or that the older JRPGs in particular were longer, but if we’re talking about FFVII then you should consider how much of that length was in reading text at your own pace. A lot of the major plot points in FFVII are really long text conversations. If converted to cutscene format, what would have taken 10 minutes of reading can be summed up in a 3 minute long cutscene.
I’m sure you realize how much this alters the core experience. In fact, there are entire gameplay segments and parts of world exploration that can be completely taken over by cutscenes, because getting the characters from one place to another can just be shown through a cutscene instead of a long empty gameplay segment. For example, the part where Avalanche (the mercenary group that Cloud joins) runs up the Shinra headquarters stairs can be shown through a cutscene, rather than having the player run up a seemingly endless flight of stairs. It may have seemed immserive at the time, but today it would only feel tedious and not worth being a gameplay segment. Which leads me to perhaps the biggest change that a FFVII remake would do.
How much of FFVII was the actual gameplay and story, and how much of FFVII was actually a random assortment of WarioWare style mini-games that had nothing to do with RPG gameplay? It was certainly fun and it made for an interesting experience at the time, but I can’t imagine that the FFVII remake would contain snowboarding and motorcycle riding. As I mentioned before, both these segments of the story (if they would be included at all) could easily be told through a quick cutscene. They could make these on the rails sections with Quick Time Event (QTE) button presses where appropriate, as it could make them more cinematic. For example, the motorcycle sequence could be very well directed and resemble the action scenes from Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children (the CGI movie) and have you press a button every so often to fight off an enemy. However, QTEs are something that polarizes gamers so it would have to be carefully considered.
While the snowboarding and motorcycle parts are two of the more memorable segments, FFVII has a lot of completely random mini games. Pressing a button to avoid getting hit by one of the Turks’ punches, performing CPR, playing a piano, performing squats to win a piece of drag to dress up Cloud as a girl to get into a brothel. I’m not sure how all of this would look like in modern graphics and not chibi form, but I can assume it would look a lot more ridiculous now than it did back then, losing most if not all of its comedic value if it was ever included. Mind you, I’m not saying these mini-games were bad. In fact, I think that the variety of mini-games and interesting interactive features are what made FFVII very fun and engaging beyond the core RPG gameplay. There were also some random genre cross over mini-games, such as the tower defense side mission where you had to protect a bird’s nest at the top of a hill. Miscellaneous features like that in a game today would only stick out like a sore thumb next to the core gameplay (think of Assassin’s Creed Revelations’ tower defense mission) but at the time they made the game a lot deeper.
Speaking of the gameplay itself, this is actually an area that would benefit the most from a remake, though it would be very different. Say what you want about the FFXIII series, but it’s one of the most impressive real-time battle systems, with exciting action going on and upbeat music. FFVII’s active time battle system would flourish in modern graphics, with your party of 3 communicating on the battlefield and monsters moving around all menacing on the screen. The backdrops to the battle would look just as impressive, with each locale being an exciting stage for battle. Also, just think of the summons! FFX was the first game to have truly astounding summons and FFXIII’s summons were incredibly cool to see in action. I’d love to see a graphically updated Neo Bahamut or Knights of the Round, it’d be very satisfying and visually stunning.
So yes, it wouldn’t be the same as it was in the PS1 version but the battles could be even more exciting even if they’re not the experience you remember. There could also be a chance to expand the gameplay, adding little features that weren’t originally present. That said, no matter what little is new with the gameplay, it’d be a massive departure from what made the original gameplay and I honestly don’t think fans realize that it won’t be the exact same game as a result.
The final thing to consider is the story. The story could very well remain the same since there would be no reason to change anything, since it’s simply a remake. However, as I’ve illustrated to great lengths already, your experience of the story will be miles different than when you played the original game, especially with the addition of cutscenes. You might wave off all of the things I’ve described here and say that you’re only interested in the narrative alone but you have to wonder if you’ll enjoy the narrative just as much when it’s not the same as the original game. To be honest, a FFVII remake would be fantastic for those who have never played it and it could retell the awesome story through a modern game’s presentation. But for those who aren’t open to changes and cherished the PS1 experience of FFVII, it would more than likely disappoint them when they realize how much of the unique and original content you would lose when the game is updated.
Cause that’s the thing; when games are remade, just like remakes of movies, they aren’t just updated with a modern game engine, a lot of subtle and apparent things need to be overhauled. Trends, social sensibilities, technology and pop culture references that were all relevant to the time period of a game’s release won’t translate as well years later, which is why remakes are almost never the same experience. If FFVII was remade, it wouldn’t just be copy-pasted, it would have to reflect modern day in its design. Sure the elements of lore and narrative would remain the same, but anything that shows a sign of its age would have to be scrubbed and replaced with something more relevant. It’s sad to think so but that’s just how things would probably go down. I will point out that a lot of what I’ve said is conjecture and maybe a FFVII remake would be incredibly well done, incorporating a lot of the original elements of the game. I doubt that it would be universally accepted as a masterpiece or that everyone would enjoy it, but it could still do well.
However, what I am here to say is that while it’s fun to imagine how awesome a FFVII remake would be, it’s very, very important to take into account what would have to change to make it possible. And you have to ask yourself if you’re willing to enjoy the remake when it’s not the same game you remember. A FFVII remake could very well be an awesome game, but it most certainly won’t be the FFVII from when it was first released.
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