Another E3, another no-show for Final Fantasy VII Remake. For a fanbase that waited 10 years for Final Fantasy XV, this is looking like development hell déjà vu. However, should we even be disappointed anymore? The hype around Final Fantasy VII Remake overshadows the original game.
Final Fantasy VII, a beloved JRPG classic like Chrono Trigger, is not in need of fixing. In fact, the planned remake may remove many of the aspects that made the original so iconic. Instead of imagining a better version of Cloud Strife’s story, why can’t we just appreciate the one we already have?
Tech Demos and Nostalgia
Though Final Fantasy VII Remake was announced at E3 2015, many fans have actually been waiting since 10 years earlier. At 2005’s E3, Square Enix presented a remade version of the game’s Midgar opening as a demonstration of the power of the PlayStation 3. Square Enix and Sony wanted the demo to be a teaser of what an HD Final Fantasy might look like. Instead, many people wanted the shiny new Final Fantasy VII they were shown.
For years, fans and websites spread rumors that a remake of Final Fantasy VII might be in the works. They responded to every mystery countdown with, “Is it Final Fantasy VII?” (Spoiler alert: it never was.) That nostalgia sold plenty of spin-offs in the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII series. But these spin-offs, like the movie Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, only made people want a remake even more.
Unfortunately, many fans find the idea of remaking a game from 1997 way more exciting than the new games Square Enix is actually making. Final Fantasy games are still successful and popular. But when a game has built a reputation as large as Final Fantasy VII has, nothing can compare. Final Fantasy XIII and Final Fantasy XV have their fans, but many others won’t let Cloud, Aerith, and Tifa go.
Final Fantasy VII Remake looks like a game Square Enix is making due to fan pressure, not passion. The developers always said they wanted to make a game that would surpass Final Fantasy VII. But fan nostalgia made such a goal impossible. (Though, let’s not forget this is nostalgia Square Enix themselves created and profited off.) The remake obsession has been unfair to the series as a whole, and in fact, unfair to Final Fantasy VII itself.
Angst, Slapstick, and Weirdness
The 1997 version of Final Fantasy VII is imperfect in many ways. The characters look like crude blocks and shapes with huge Popeye arms. The minigames are terrible. The story is confusing and, at times, poorly translated. The three PlayStation discs of Final Fantasy VII cannot compete against the RPGs of today. No game from the Spice Girls-era can match The Witcher 3 or Breath of the Wild in terms of infinite hours of content.
However, those limitations don’t feel as restrictive when you actually play the game. At the time, Final Fantasy VII’s small world was full of diverse content. You go from a cyberpunk dystopia to Godzilla monsters to outer space, and you also encounter a vampire, a bunny robot, and a giant killer monster house. The game is melodramatic, but also funny, psychedelic, and even spiritual.
Final Fantasy VII is a weird game. Cloud begins hallucinating in the first dungeon. The plot is stuffed with ancient aliens, the living will of nature, and science experiments. All that, plus Chocobo Racing and the option to romance Barret Wallace, a foul-mouthed, but loving father with a gun arm. “Realism” was not a focus of Final Fantasy VII’s story, so the unconventional characters worked.
Changing the character designs to their Advent Children art style changed the tone of the world. In the Compilation, Square Enix focused on the melodrama rather than the over-the-top moments. Perhaps angsty boys were the most marketable element to audiences. But in a “realistic” remake, it’s hard to imagine the game will retain its infamous cross-dressing scene. Losing those moments also means a lot of Final Fantasy VII’s ridiculous charm is lost.
The original Final Fantasy VII used an ATB turn-based combat system like most JRPGs of the era. Tetsuya Normura has announced that the remake will have “action-based” gameplay, probably similar to Final Fantasy XV or Kingdom Hearts. Whatever game we get in 2019 or 2020 will not be the Final Fantasy VII of old. So why aren’t players more protective of the gameplay they love?
The remake will not keep the old gameplay because this game is not aiming for just one fanbase, but the mass audience of today, where gaming genres have all melted together. Final Fantasy VII was massively successful at the time, but it still was made for fans of the JRPG genre. The new gameplay might be fun. It’s hard to judge since we haven’t seen more than a few seconds of it. But streamlining the experience also leaves us with a less unique — or even boring — game.
If Final Fantasy VII cannot be itself anymore, why do we want this remake? This won’t be the game that lets you mix together Materia into unstoppable combinations of power or pull off pyrotechnic stunts with Limit Breaks. It’s a hard sell to get a mass audience to wait for ATB bars and fight based on random encounters. But frankly, they’re missing out.
Nobuo Uematsu wrote Final Fantasy VII’s soundtrack using MIDI sounds, which were well below the CD quality the PlayStation could produce. This music was out of date even in 1997. Yet Final Fantasy VII’s soundtrack is beautiful and is unlike anything else. The music has a unique texture that feels both archaic and timeless at the same time. (Just listen to the Main Theme, linked above.) Every jagged polygon and bizarre plot twist is special. That’s what all of Final Fantasy VII is, even with the ugly parts: special.
I play Final Fantasy VII, and I can feel the excitement of the team behind it experimenting with 3D spaces and cinematic storytelling. The PlayStation was a massive new frontier for that team after the limitations of the Super Nintendo. Final Fantasy VII was made by people who thought they could do anything and tried everything. The series would eventually get slick and polished, but in 1997, it was a pot boiling over with too many ideas. The remake won’t have that feeling. The old experience is messy and flawed, but it is also irreplaceable.