(Not so) Special Edition

One of E3 2019’s biggest stories was the new footage of Final Fantasy VII Remake. Expo-goers seemed to love what they saw and much frenzied fanboy whooping and cheering ensued. Hitting the videogame news outlets a little more quietly was the information on several special/collector’s editions that will be available when the game releases in 2020. The most premium of these editions will include a statue of Cloud astride his Hardy-Daytona motorcycle and be available exclusively available at Square’s online store. It’s also going to be very expensive. If you want the details then I suggest you check out Strange Girl Gaming’s blog since that’s where I learnt about it.


But I’m not here to talk about this particular special edition specifically. This pricey collector’s piece is simply the inspiration that I’ve needed so that I might collate my thoughts on special editions in general and put my opinion out there. You see, in the past, I would have been all over a product like the FFVII 1st Class Edition and making sure that I slapped that pre-order down before it was too late. Times have changed however because the 2019 version of me doesn’t lust after collector’s editions anymore.

In fact, I think the majority of them are just garbage. There; I’ve said it.

The market for special editions wasn’t always this way of course but you have to cast your mind back to a time when special editions were the exception rather than the rule. Younger readers amongst you might not remember but most games prior to the PS3/360 generation only shipped as standard copies. Special editions were unusual and the ‘special’ in the designation actually meant something. They were actually limited (today’s “limited” editions have pretty big print runs in comparison), difficult to find and came with bonus items that actually had some thought and money put into them.

There were two examples that immediately sprang to mind when I first started thinking about the evolution of special editions and how the older examples were simply much better. The first was The Last Ninja 2 on the Commodore 64. Here, the special set came with a real shuriken (imagine that being permitted now!) and a wearable ninja mask/hood. The other was the Ecco the Dolphin boxset for Sega’s Mega Drive. Manufactured in tiny quantities, proceeds from the sale went towards a real dolphin in the London Aquarium that had been named ‘Ecco’ as part of the tie-up.

[Source: ebay]
But somewhere along the line, publishers realised that they could charge a small premium on top of the standard RRP of a game by placing the regular game case within a flimsy card outer sleeve and including a non-comprehensive artbook and sometimes a soundtrack CD (again, non-comprehensive and usually more of a sampler CD). JRPG’s were the first genre to frequently receive this treatment in the PS2 era and while nobody can deny the appeal of some nice extras, the problem for me was that if you enjoyed the art of the game THAT much, then there would usually be a ‘complete’ artbook available to buy from Japan which included ALL of the concept art. Likewise, a complete version of the soundtrack would be available in a standalone CD set.

The trend wasn’t so bad when confined solely to JRPG’s though. After all, JRPG players are more likely to be collectors in general so a pretty boxset that offered a little more than the usual retail release was a welcome option. But then the concept spread to pretty much every other genre and by the time of the PS3/360 era, seemingly every game had a special/collector’s/limited edition. Steelbook editions became a widespread trend as did packing games into oversized boxes with massive figurines or statues. Some games had multiple special edition variants exclusive to different retailers and then came the ‘Day One’ editions of games which usually included a voucher with some free DLC on it (did you feel ‘special’ buying those ones?). I seem to remember one of the Call of Duty games going a step further and shipping with a ‘Day Zero’ special edition.

Ar Tonelico 2 SE
The JRPG side of the PS2’s library regularly featured boxsets like this Ar Tonelico II special edition of mine that I recently sold.

The reasoning for all of this was actually quite simple. Videogame publishers were losing money thanks to the a) the pre-owned market b) retailers slashing prices within a week or two of a game’s release in order to be ultra-competitive with their rivals and c) the ignorant, entitled consumer expectation that they should receive incredible gaming experiences and pay nothing for them. Eliminating manuals, reaping extra revenue through DLC and selling season passes were methods employed to recoup some of the profits they were losing. Exploiting the materialistic magpie in us was another.

Some of you may be thinking, “Well, the contents of the special editions would cost more to produce in the first place so the publishers wouldn’t make that much money on them.” It’s a fair point until you consider that a great chunk of these collector’s editions were packed with cheap tat that really wouldn’t have cost that much to manufacture. Outer boxes were flimsy for example. Many steelbooks were produced from cheap tin, as evidenced by how many older ones are rusty or corroded at this point in time. And the bundled statues were cheap, low quality efforts that paled in comparison to dedicated releases from specialised figurine/toy outfits, trading on their eye-catching size rather than finish.

And as I touched on earlier, the vast majority of these so-called premium variants were not as limited as many believed. Some were still readily available from major retailers months after release with heavily discounted price tags to encourage buyers to take these hunks of plasticky shit off the hands of stores. The Duke Nukem Forever ‘Balls of Steel’ edition for example was far cheaper than the RRP of the standard game in no time at all. I too got burnt when I bought the special set for Driver San Francisco, only to discover that the bundled Dodge Challenger model was nowhere near as good as I’d expected. Worse still, it launched for around £60 before tanking to the £20 territory.

Looked impressive but rapidly lost all value. [Source: Youtube]
Whichever way you choose to analyse the market for special editions, there is only one truth as far as I am concerned. That truth is that publishers saturated the market with this crap and forged a paradox where something ‘special’ isn’t actually ‘special’ anymore. Take billionaires for example: we see them as extraordinary people with masses of cash that lead the kind of lives we can only fantasise about (unless you, valued reader, are a billionaire too in which case I feel a little honoured by your presence on my blog!) but if everybody was suddenly to become a billionaire then none of us would be extraordinary. In fact, we all be extremely average and ordinary. Boring, even. It’s a similar thing that has happened to special editions.

To put it another way, you EXPECT there to be a some form of limited/special/collector’s/ultimate/Day One/Day Zero/steelbook/exclusive (delete as applicable…) variant of any new release these days. There’s no surprise anymore; no value. We all could have safely bet next month’s paycheck on Square unveiling a lavish special edition for the Final Fantasy VII Remake but the odds on such a bet would have been incredibly low because we’d all win that wager.

I very rarely show interest in special editions anymore. Partly because of what I’ve discussed so far in this post but there are other reasons too. Storage space is one. These big boxsets take up a lot of room and when you are buying a lot of special editions, that space is eaten up rather quickly. They also cost a lot of money and investing both space and money into piles of cardboard and plastic that is often never used or displayed (just stored in boxes, cupboards or attics for the sake of ‘having’ it) is not something I see much logic in doing. For me it is just straight-up materialism and I am personally attempting to move away from materialistic personal values. I want a more minimalist, rooted approach to life where I own a few things but not excessive amounts of products that don’t enhance my life.

You might be wondering if there was a specific tipping point or collector’s edition that broke the camel’s back and you’d be correct in asking that question. For me, it was the Soulcalibur VI collector’s edition on the PS4. I was hyped for this game and pleased to say that the end product surpassed all expectations I had – SCVI is fantastic. Unfortunately, that hype led to me pre-ordering the collector’s edition which I consider to be one of my biggest wastes of money.

The big draw was the large Sophitia figure that takes up most of the box. Sophie is my favourite character in the series and so I was enticed by the prospect of owning a decent model of the Greek warrioress. Unfortunately, the actual figure felt cheap and unimpressive once I had her in my hands (I’m sure the real thing – if Sophitia wasn’t just polygons and code – would be less disappointing!). If I’m being generous, it was extremely average and not something I was happy with.

Looks good from a distance and in pictures but up close, I wasn’t impressed. [Source]
To add salt to the wound, I then discovered that we’d been utterly shafted here in Europe by Bandai Namco. Our soundtrack was a download voucher rather than physical as in the North American version of the collector’s edition. Also, we didn’t receive the artbook or steel case. The Euro version of the SCVI CE felt like a cheap, watered-down imitation of the American counterpart. Worse still, the pre-order price for this (incomplete) edition was £130. At the time of writing this article, that translates to $163.41 which is an utter joke when you consider that the US equivalent launched for $149.99…for MORE extras.

Right now, the Euro version of the CE is still available from Amazon for just under £80. So…it’s still in stock and cheaper than it was when idiots like me pre-ordered the fucking thing. Thus proving my earlier observations that CE’s are over-priced, undesirable and nowhere near as exclusive as made out.

All I had to show for my purchase in the end was the game and bundled season pass (which has proved to be great in fairness). I struggled to sell the figure, soundtrack voucher and box on ebay for more than £25 so had to take a massive loss on the chin and learn a valuable lesson. I won’t be buying any more special editions in a hurry, that’s for sure.

What is your opinion on special editions? I’d love to read your comments/thoughts on the subject.

Final Fantasy VII Remake isn’t going to live up to expectations

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.

[Image: wccftech.com]
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.

The game is going for a more action-based, realistic look this time around but will it put off stalwarts? [image: polygon.com]
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.

It doesn’t look like this segment will appear in the remake which is a shame. Direct your thanks to those who would find some way to twist it into an “offense” or social injustice…

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.