When Square-Enix revealed the long anticipated and much demanded Final Fantasy VII remake in 2015, they finally put their fanbase out of their misery and sent the community into meltdown mode, especially as the same expo saw the announcement of Sega’s Shenmue III. Things have gone decidedly quiet since then however with only the occasional reassuring statement to let fans know that development is still on-track.
This isn’t a post about how I have concerns for the project’s progress though. This is going to be me exploring why I believe that the FFVII remake – no matter the eventual quality of the finished product – will fail to satisfy expectations. This isn’t just baseless doom-mongering and negativity on my part but a stance inspired by videogame history itself which has shown that remakes and sequels to beloved games/franchises have such a microscopic sweet spot to hit if they want to please everybody.
Change too little and the new game can seem unnecessary and can even come off as a quick, lazy money-spinner for a publisher. Alter too much and the developer risks alienating fans of the original products. With the FFVII remake, it is my belief that Square could run the risk of the latter. I have no doubt whatsoever that the finished product will be a fantastic, polished game of high production value in its own right but in the process of thoroughly modernising everything and going down the episodic route it could lose too much of the original’s charm and ‘feel’. To look at one example, the FFVII community has been slightly split in the years following the original game with many not entirely happy with the realistic, sometimes ’emo’ mood that the spin-offs and – in particular – the Advent Children CG movie adopted. FFVII Remake is certainly going to look a truckload more realistic than the world inhabited by Popeye characters in the Playstation original but it’s important that Square don’t try and get all serious and gritty as with more recent Final Fantasy installments.
Speaking personally, I can’t criticise the newer games because I haven’t played them but the battle systems and general gameplay have left me doubtful purely based on the footage I have watched over the years. Obviously, this could simply be me refusing to let go of the Active Time Battle system but on the flipside, I am one of millions of gamers who enjoyed the original on the PS1 and so a remake that behaves like many other action games will be off-putting. It looks a bit Kingdom Hearts-like thus far and while I had no issues with the battle system in those games, I also don’t have any overly fond or nostalgic memories of it either. Like it or not, people like me have to be catered for if you choose to remake a game that is as special as FFVII. Newer FF sequels…not really; they can do as they like and lean more towards the younger gaming generation. It’s called progress.
If you want to see some examples of remakes that succeeded in the black art of remaining true to the structure(s) and feel of the originals while also looking like fresh, modern experiences for newcomers then you need to check out the likes of Yakuza Kiwami, Pokemon FireRed & LeafGreen and last year’s Spyro Reignited Trilogy. All of these were brought right up to (the then) modern standards with minimal meddling with the original game design and mechanics.
Final Fantasy VII Remake is going to be an entirely different beast that will not resemble the original game that much at all and while I reiterate that it will be a great product, I also think it will simply be too different for those that adore the Playstation classic and still regularly embark on play-throughs of the game all these years later. This reasoning aside, it has also been too long, With all of the hype and anticipation that has built up over the past fifteen years or so (remakes were first talked about by Square in the PS2 era!), there’s very little chance for the remake to actually meet these sky-high expectations. This isn’t a damning prediction that I am levelling exclusively at the FFVII remake but at any long-awaited remake or sequel such as Shenmue III, Half Life 3 or Streets of Rage 4.
You could say then that Square were foolish to even consider greenlighting such an ambitious project that has to be realised in a very precise and specific manner. On the other hand, a lot of the old guard amongst their fanbase have drifted away over the years anyway with hardcore fans who have been there since the early days of FF not gelling with the likes of FFXIII and the the recent MMO style sequels. In this sense, perhaps they don’t fear pissing off the loyalists as much as they might have done ten or fifteen years back. At the end of the day, it will be a great end product and it’s good to see a publisher committing money and manpower to a bring into being something that their fans have pleaded for.
Me personally, I would have opted for a much more mild remake that would have risked less consumer division and taken less time to produce. I would have kept the third-person perspective that they are going with for the town/overworld exploration but ensured that things don’t get too dark by careful use of colours and music. I would have retained the Active Time Battle system (regardless of how outdated it may seem) and given the music a sympathetic mix (i.e. not transforming the OST into the “badass”, techno and rock update that I fear will actually happen) with the option to use the original composition. I would have let the visuals, CG scenes, updated script and a few extra expanded areas here and there do the talking when it comes to the actual updates and new content.
But that’s just my view as a gamer who has a special place in his heart for the original and doesn’t wish to see radical changes that will alter the atmosphere I recall. The remake will be a big event, will be a good game and will likely sell by the bucketload so the opinion of a dusty oldtimer like me doesn’t necessarily mean all that much but there are a lot of us out there and I – sadly – don’t see us all being satisfied come release day. Pleasing everybody is impossible and that’s just a fact.