Several weeks ago, Square Enix dropped the latest updates to the long-awaited remake of Final Fantasy VII.
The breathtaking full trailer plus demo session erased the pessimists’ worst fears of its faithfulness to the original. At the same time, the reveal also worried the best hopefuls with the confirmed overhaul of the game’s pacing.
But no matter which side you are on with its development, the overall verdict was more or less, the same. It will never be the same experience as your childhood memories dearly wish it is.
Even as early as the very first confirmation in 2015 that the remake project is real and ongoing, the consensus was that, apart from noticeable graphical updates, it will be a significantly different game. That’s a no brainer. It is the only conclusion for anyone who is even aware of the current gaming landscape.
Thus, many of the core elements of the original game are set to be altered significantly or even removed altogether. Linear progression style equipment and items are all gone, the episodic — but a continuous story — were removed, the ever classic ATB system has been changed, and so on. Based on what we have seen from the trailer so far, all of these seem to check out.
Understandably, this isn’t merely about action games being more popular nowadays. Nor, just about polishing graphics to near realistic levels — its all about the targeted players. Gamers today who, contrary to what they might say about “classic gaming,” would most likely not appreciate a remake of an RPG that copied itself entirely onto a modern visual format.
True, there would always be a particular portion of its intended audience that would want a few graphical touches. But potential players of Final Fantasy VII Remake, upon its official release in 2020, would already have a different experience, especially knowing all the other game releases after.
Why? Our preferences in gaming have considerably changed after all these decades. At the very least, compared to what we used to expect in 1997 when Final Fantasy VII first altered the course of what was back then Squaresoft.
Take Resident Evil 2, for example. One of the most voiced opinions about the remake of the game was that classic tank controls should be implemented, and not the over-the-shoulder style that many games of the same genre do nowadays.
While that would satisfy a selected portion of its potential audience, there is absolutely no doubt that it would not provide the remake its needed current generation improvement. The introduction of modern third-person mechanics in Resident Evil 4 alone proved that such tank controls are, frankly speaking, already archaic. Apart from pure nostalgia, it does not enhance the enjoyment of the game.
As such, while the return of the exact ATB system we know would be appreciated as a way to keep the game intact as a classic, there is no improvement in its replay. Perhaps that is why Square Enix took the middle ground and combined action-style play with what was introduced as the “ATB gauge” for Final Fantasy VII Remake; no longer similar, but still familiar.
Another related dilemma comes in the confirmation of its episodic structure, with the detail that the first game will take place only in Midgar (which is only about the early 2-5 hours of the original game). This could be easily seen as a move by the company to milk the franchise as much as possible, while being able to slowly release updates for the same game, presumably within a stretch of several months to a couple of years.
The concern this time is comparatively justified. However, releasing the entire game on such an engine with untested balancing issues for later parts of the story, or additional content based on newer concepts, especially with the hype and expectation that players would want to play the game as soon as possible, is a difficult job nowadays.
As pointed out by YouTuber and developer Andrew Price, graphics alone eat up a significant portion of a game’s development schedule and funding. Even more so, to a highly anticipated game that practically and has absolutely no option to fail.
Remember how it took several years to get from the teaser announcement to the demo last month? Designing isn’t just building visual assets or crafting the game engine, or its combat system. Conceptualization also takes part. If there are no solid ideas, there will be no development. If the plan is not stable enough, then retracing the path to another idea may yet again take some time.
In conclusion, being pessimistic and no longer considering Final Fantasy VII Remake “the game it used to be” is not wrong. However, we need to understand that it needs to be different (precisely) since it needs improvements.
Because let’s face it, as much as we love the original — as much as it was one of the most essential elements of our childhood — Final Fantasy VII isn’t perfect. Remember when W-item duplication was a thing? How about one-shotting Emerald and Ruby weapons? Why did Shinra rebuild Nibelheim, even putting actors as villagers if barely anyone visits the place?
And who is the mother of Red XIII’s kids at the end credits?