Let's Talk About The Final Fantasy VII Remake

At E3 2015, SquareEnix announced that it will release a remake of the classic RPG, Final Fantasy VII, on the PlayStation 4. This is welcome news to fans of old-school RPGs. It was Final Fantasy VII on the original PlayStation that pushed the genre into the mainstream. But while the original version certainly holds a special place in our hearts, all nostalgia aside, there are a few reasons to be worried about the upcoming remake.

Same as it ever was

In the remake, SquareEnix will expand the original's already epic story. This is one reason why the company chose to release the game in a multi-part series, similar to Final Fantasy XIII and its sequels. Yet, we suspect that story's narrative spine will remain largely unchanged from the 1997 original. Drastically changing the plot, after all, would make this a sequel, not a remake. Keeping the same story, however, may be to the game's detriment. Many criticize Japanese RPGs for featuring stories that are some variation of "save the world from destruction." Final Fantasy VII, being one of the first mainstream, modern RPGs, had just such a storyline. The game's protagonist, Cloud Strife, is also a former soldier who joined a ragtag group of rebels fighting against a mega-corporation, yet another very familiar plotline. We're not saying that Final Fantasy VII has a bad story, but the formula it follows is as fresh as a month-old banana.

Contrasting styles

The 1997 original featured pre-rendered, visually-arresting backgrounds with cartoony characters. Its graphics are dated by today's standards, but they nevertheless retain a certain charm. The new game, based on the trailers, reminds us of the cyperpunk cityscapes of Deus Ex: Human Revolution (2011). Some of the original game's characters, like Barret, also feel like they were ripped from Eidos' cyperpunk series. Yet in the remake, the game's hero, Cloud Strife, is the same spikey, blond-haired anime character from 1997 who, much to his chiropractor's delight, carries an oversized buster sword. This style was acceptable given the more exaggerated nature of the original version's 32-bit visuals, but it clashes with the more realistic style of the remake. Also out of place in this new style is seeing our hero Cloud Strife fight gun-toting soldiers with the aforementioned sword. Wouldn't these Metal Gear Solid rejects easily gun Cloud down like Indy did with that Egyptian swordsman in Raiders of the Lost Ark?

Real-time battle system

The original game featured a menu-driven, turn-based battle system that was common in other RPGs of the time, like in Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VI, to name a few. But the remake uses a real-time combat system akin to the Kingdom Hearts series. This transition is potentially problematic. First, it may turn off part the game's older fans (more on that later). Second, switching between characters may prove cumbersome. Real-time combat is fine in games like Witcher 3 or the Legend of Zelda series, because you only control one character. Switching between three characters in real-time could be a chore if SquareEnix isn't careful with the implementation. Presumably the game's A.I. will control the non-active characters. This might be annoying if the A.I. is dumber than a box of rocks. On a side note, does the gameplay trailer that shows Cloud slicing through enemies with his buster sword remind anyone of Ninja Gaiden minus the decapitations?

Multi-part story

SquareEnix will release the remake in multiple parts. This will be similar to Final Fantasy XIII and it's sequels, Final Fantasy XIII-2 and Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII. SquareEnix claims that each installment will feature enough gameplay for one Final Fantasy title. In other words, say goodbye to your social life. It's not entirely clear if SquareEnix will spread the story first told in Final Fantasy VII over several games or if each will tell a self-contained story. If it's the former, then this method of storytelling could frustrate some older players who have already fought through the original version. Will the extra content truly placate a player who knows what is coming in the story and just wants to get on with it? Sometimes padding a story with extra subplots can create a dull experience. Looking at you, Hobbit movies.

Final Fantasy's age

Simply put, Final Fantasy is not the venerable series it was in the 1990s. Final Fantasy XIII received a lot of criticism for its corridor-grinding gameplay. Moreover, the popularity of JRPGs in general has faded over time. Western-developed, nonlinear RPGs like The Witcher and the Fallout series demonstrate where the genre is these days. These games simply have a lot more to offer than the battle-focused mechanics of the Final Fantasy franchise. Their popularity also demonstrates the larger transition in video game development from Japan to the United States, Canada, and Europe.

Nostalgia working against it

It's safe to say that the most fervent fans of Final Fantasy VII back in 1997 were in either middle school or high school. These folks are now adults who are likely in their 30s. Do they have time to pick up and play the remake after they attend little Jimmy's soccer game? Also, there is a high chance that the real-time combat of the remake may alienate those older gamers who preferred the turn-based system of yore. In short, the changes that SquareEnix plan to make to Final Fantasy VII may serve to alienate the older audience who grew up with the game.

Look, there's little doubt that the new version of the game will still sell like crazy. And it will probably even get great reviews. But will it be everything its target consumers—players who loved the original—want from it? They may have more fun just dusting off their PS One's and spinning up their old FFVII discs.