The Ideal Final Fantasy VII Remake
In the history of videogames, Final Fantasy VII stands as one of the most important. This is a self-evident truth I don't need to elaborate on. However, a lot of people acculturated to the empty, graphics showcases that comprise "next-gen" videogames, don't really understand the importance of Final Fantasy VII, let alone how damn good it is. A lot of people can't get past the retro-ness of it, which is a real shame because I truly believe a lot of the best gaming experiences reside in past games. I was about 8 or 9 years old when the original Ps1 was released, so it would make sense for me to have nostalgia for that generation of games- it would make sense of the fact that most of the games I play are older (It was only like two years ago that I played and deeply enjoyed the original Deus Ex, and Half Life for example.) However, my nostalgia doesn't limit me. Many of my favourite games are on the SNES- a console generation I wasn't a part of and don't have nostalgia for, but the games of which I thoroughly enjoy and have played multiple times. My point is that retro-ness as a repellent to people indicates nothing but close-mindedness and brainwashed-ness. Nostalgia is surely a real thing, but you don't need it to enjoy these old games- the fact is, they're just good- they speak to us as people on some level. The same goes for anything "old", be it films or music. I and millions of others watch, enjoy, and deeply appreciate many old things like these- they're not somehow more primitive or lacking just because the TECHNOLOGY behind them is more primitive. If anything, the technology fascination these days has produced a regression in the substance of games- games have become more meat-headed as the obsession with technology has eclipsed the importance of story and of art. It seems to me that videogame experiences have become less idiosyncratic, and more aligned with popular culture and the mainstream media than ever before. Games have arrived at that point where the financial stakes are high, and so appeals need to be made to what's most popular. Not only this, but by fetishising the technology behind consoles and gaming, people become more and more mesmerised and preoccupied by such vacuous things, and these things become selling points. Fetishism appeals to the consumer in us- the individual of whom a large part of their agency is at the whim of market trends- who is spellbound by all the millions of diverse products around them. We need to realise that this is a bad and dangerously pliable way to be, and that we need to inject artifacts of greater intellectual and critical value into our culture.
Thus, I think a remake of VII would be a good way to reintroduce elements of games that have been neglected due to the juvenile technology fetishism, and simple, mindless reward that characterises games today. I also think VII's plot is particularly relevant to contemporary climate concerns in which climate change denial has become near institutionalized and made into ideology for the sake of short term high yield oil profiteering. Incidentally, I was originally opposed to the idea because I was locked into the idea that a remake would necessarily resemble the Ps3 tech demo shown in 2005. This, as far as I'm concerned, would be a ruinous course of action for Square-Enix - fans would be even more intensely divided than before - and not least ruinous for the prestige and memory of the original game. Now I know discussion on this topic has long raged and even seems banal at this point, but I'd like to propose an alternate envisioning of a possible Final Fantasy VII remake- one that updates the game but remains highly faithful to the original.
First, and this will be a bit of bombshell, I believe the remake should be on handheld platforms- namely the Vita and the 3DS. It could also be a downloadable title playable on the Ps3 and whatever other home console platforms. I have several reasons for this. Firstly, I believe a truly next-gen remake of the game would create too much of a gulf between said remake and the original- people ultimately wouldn't be experiencing a game close to the original. The Ps3 tech demo, if it had become a game, would have done this, and I think as a reimagining, it was quite tasteless. Secondly, and probably just as controversially, I think if there's going to any be next-gen Final Fantasy VII game, it should be VII-2- a sequel heavily implied by the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII games, (Dirge of Cerberus in particular)- I think Final Fantasy VII-2 would be a more appropriate title to adopt the look they were going for in the tech-demo. Also, I think it would follow the trend SE have going at the moment for remaking old Final Fantasy titles for handheld consoles- both of which have been huge successes (success I'd similarly anticipate for both V and VI if they were to be remade in the same fashion.) Plus, I'd love to play a VII remake on a handheld, and the option to download it and play it on your home console would be there too.
Alright, so now I'm going to outline the ideas I have for this potential remake, discussing the changes I would and wouldn't make to the visuals, the sound, the gameplay, and the story.
First up, the visuals. I think an important element to retain is the fixed, pre-rendered backdrops. It was a world design element pretty common to a lot of Ps1 era rpgs and some Ps2 era rpgs, as well as survival horror games and point-and-click adventures, and I think it was definitely an important part of what made those games so memorable for people. There’s something kind of awesome, sublime, and spellbinding about moving around in these beautifully composed still life images, and they structure the experience of the game in really artful ways. What I’d propose for Final Fantasy VII then, is that those backdrops and camera angles therein are retained, but given a fresher and crisper CG coat of paint- perhaps something a little beyond the graphical quality of the selfsame visual feature we saw in Final Fantasy X. To perhaps inject a little bit more life into these areas, little real-time elements could be added to the scenery be they windmills, neon signposts, or whatever. Just little real-time objects rendered the same way as the player character sprite (This was a common enough practice anyway.)
As for said character sprites, I’d propose they adopt a look similar to the character models in the Final Fantasy IV remake for the DS. By doing this, people won’t be turned off by the retro-ness of the original models, and the original fans will be satisfied and feel the game is getting as faithful a representation as a remake can provide.
As for the battle screen, those areas, like the original, could be rendered in real time, and I’d imagine the graphics would be on par with something like Crisis Core- maybe a little better. The people who want less deformed character models will be appeased here, because SE could use the character models they’ve been using in the Compilation, in Dissidia, and in Kingdom Hearts, as character models for battles. This appeases the kids and remains faithful to the original- since the original made use of non-deformed characters models for battles too. It goes without saying then, that the world map would also utilise real time rendering.
Next, the sound. One of the biggest barriers to me wanting a VII remake is that a big part of what made it so special to me was the music. There’s something so magical about the overall sound design of the midi sounds used- the way those sounds resonate and interact with the tone, mood and cinematography of the locales was something I’d never experienced before. I’ll admit it’s a very hard quality to pin down and verbalise, but it was and remains to this day, magical to me. However, that same resonance can’t really be expected to carry over to a remake. Even the minutest changes would affect it, not to mention that I’ve already proposed the graphics get an upgrade, and the midi tunes might clash with the crisper, more modern visuals. Of course, setting midi music to a visually intense game isn’t out of bounds as an artistic statement, but I remind you that we’re trying to recreate, as faithfully as possible, the experience of Final Fantasy VII. So I’d propose that the music be updated to a degree roughly equivalent to the visuals. I suppose all this would necessitate is the use of real instruments, but I’d stress that nothing should change beyond that- the arrangement and composition should stay as it is- much like the FFIII and IV DS remakes were merely more sonically advanced and up to date than the chiptunes of their namesakes.
Voice work is another agonizing aspect. As players of the original know, there were no voices in it- not even grunts, screams or shouts. Far from detracting from the experience, this drew more attention to the music- the music did the emotional work so to speak (and very well I might add.) Now, a problem arises when we consider that Square have gone to the trouble of assembling an official voice cast for Final Fantasy VII’s characters- Steve Burton is a regular fixture for Cloud and so on so forth. Coupled with the fact that Square have had voice work in most of their games of the last decade, I think it’s safe to assume that Square would record voice work for a VII remake. I suppose it’s a necessary evil, but I’d urge them to exercise restraint. Voices should be restricted to important scenes in the field, sounds during battle (I’m agonizing over this one), and FMVs. Fully voiced, I think the game would be spoiled. I think most of the dialogue is more effective read in one’s mind. Oh, and of course they could probably afford to increase the bitrate of the sound effects.
Next up, the gameplay. This mainly concerns the battle system. I get the impression that a lot people would prefer a flashy, hyper-modern battle system, but I honestly think this'd be a total overkill, and would clash with the game’s overall presentation. I think it would make for a highly disjointed and non-cohesive experience- nothing like the original. And there’s a worry that Square might implement such a thing, given their more recent battle systems, (The action-rpg gameplay of Kingdom Hearts, The action rpg cum turn-based rpg of Crisis Core, and the frenetic, edge of your seat battle system of the XIII series.) However, since they’ve been happy to make no changes to the respective battle systems of III and IV, I’m sure they’d assent to leaving the VII system as it is. I think they realise how important VII is, I trust they’d be careful with it. In fact, incidentally, I think the Compilation of VII was perhaps (besides being a possible prologue to VII-2) a way of testing themselves- seeing how well and faithfully they could work within the VII universe, possibly with a mind towards eventually tackling a remake. Anyway, I think the battle system and materia system can stay as they are- obviously with modestly updated interfaces, visuals, effects, and animations.
The world map should remain as a feature of gameplay- I’d imagine it’d look much like the world map of Final Fantasy Type-0 does. In fact, Type-0 pretty much demonstrates the quality of real-time graphics I’d expect and desire for the real time parts of a VII remake. Finally, I definitely wouldn’t say no to some extra content- maybe some extra side-quests and dungeons which don’t impinge on the main story so much.
Which brings me to the next and final point, the story. The story should remain as it is, simple as that. The dialogue however could perhaps use a bit of tightening (a process I think the recent PC version was treated to, so they could probably just use that script.) Now, if they wanted to incorporate allusions and connections to the Compilation titles, the extra dungeons and side-quests I mentioned above would be the perfect way to do it. The narratives of the Compilation games happened behind and after the scenes of the original game anyway, so they needn’t impinge on the original plot. There could just be little peripheral and optional references to them throughout the game- be they to Deepground, Angeal, Genesis, or even the Tsviets and the Restrictors. This would also be an ideal way for Square to lead us into VII-2- through mysterious and allusive hype-building things in the game. Like I said, extra dungeons could facilitate this, as well as little extra and secret bits of dialogue and things the character could interact with- signs, notes etc. They could even, as Tetsuya Nomura is wont to do, include a secret ending! These would all be excellent means of building hype for a VII sequel.
Ultimately, I think, before they make VII-2 (or if they do, I should say), it would be a good idea to remake VII in the fashion I’ve discussed. If people are given an experience close to the original that addresses their aversion to its retro qualities, I think it will succeed. I also think that it would instil a love and respect for the game in the younger generations, as well as hype up fans new and old for a potential sequel which would adopt the style of the tech demo which so many people got a little bit too excited about. What people don’t realise is that if VII was actually remade in that style, it would be a totally different game- a fundamentally different experience that doesn’t really pay homage to the original so much as it tries to eclipse it or usurp it; render it redundant- obsolete. I think it’s important to preserve the original as much as possible in a remake, before moving onto something new, and possibly akin to the tech demo, for the sequel. Ultimately then, I think this is a feasible and tasteful manner in which to go about remaking VII, one that wouldn't necessarily require years and years of development time as well as resourses and an enormous team. This to me seems a perfectly manageable and not overly ambitious (to the point of missing the point) endeavor that Square Enix should consider if and when they commence work on a remake. Anyway, that's about it. Thanks for reading.