I obviously don’t have to tell you that the Final Fantasy VII Remake announcement was a gigantic disappointment. Yes, Square Enix: you do have a golden goose, and you have been making it poop out eggs since the game came out, pretty much. The first FF to have a PC Port. The first FF to have a spinoff game. The first FF to have a spinoff movie. The first FF to have a mobile game attached to it… lots of firsts, and many of them were financially successful in spite of their general lack of quality (Advent Children and Crisis Core mostly excepted).
But C’MON: you created not two, but three games about Lightning (another weather phenomenon), using your epically massive graphics powers to animate individual hairs on her pink mercenary head. It was a fantastically shiny trip through a world I didn’t really care about. And this is, in essence, why the remake of FFVII is a tremendous letdown.
We can talk about Final Fantasy’s legacy till our faces turn blue (and Kimahri already did, apparently), but we need to focus on games as a whole. Many Triple-A titles for console have forgone the idea of a compelling story as being a selling point. The Last Of Us took the gaming world by storm because it actually made us care about one of the characters in the trailer. It separated itself from the pack not by its graphics, or its music, or its gameplay, but by its solemn promise that there would be a story that the player could actually get into. It’s a rare thing.
Granted: it’s not always necessary. I don’t really care if King of all Cosmos was playing tennis and tore a hole in the fabric of spacetime, I just want to make an enormous Katamari.
But we’re talking about a genre of games that is known for and largely relies upon its story: the JRPG. We’re not talking about another Call of Duty game whose only purpose is to let you frag 12-year-olds in glorious 1080p. We’re not talking about the newest Mario Kart or Super Smash Bros. We’re not even talking about Western RPGs, which often favor gripping, intense gameplay and player freedom over the craft of their story. We’re talking about the tried-and-true, fantasty-novel style of storytelling that makes JRPGs such a wonderful, intriguing, engaging genre of games.
And Final Fantasy VII is among the best of that legacy. It is what many people consider to be the “Lord of the Rings” of the whole RPG genre. It’s timeless and amazing. We CARE about the world, the characters, the story. It defied its graphical limitations and made us feel for the characters in a way that many of the FF games that came before and after couldn’t manage. It made us laugh, it made us cry, it made us utterly terrified, bewildered, intrigued, and, in the end, it made us resolute to bring the monumental story arc to a fitting conclusion. It was a rich, interesting world with lots of “fluff” that made it seem organic, instead of a linear set of missions that guided the player from place to place. It was a rarity back then, and it still is now.
However: we’ve been spoiled. We saw Final Fantasy XIII. We saw the individual hairs. We saw the epicness. And we can’t just forget about that. The imaginations of the new generation of gamers unconsciously put two and two together and envision the story of Final Fantasy VII, but where Cloud’s hair moves. Where his hands aren’t little spheres. Where his arms aren’t cylinders. Where the massive machinery is as terrifying and lifelike as whatever this guy is.
The world of Final Fantasy VII isn’t tired and cliche. The monsters could be scarier. The towns could be more organically laid out, with less invisible walls. The characters could express their emotions on their faces instead of body language, like the original had to employ to get its point across. We could actually see Cloud as a crossdresser (I’d say it’d be a personal kick for me, but let’s face it: SO many fans would love it).
We’re not even mentioning upgrades to the combat system: the RPG combat field has been honed to beautiful perfection by the later FF games: nigh unlimited computing power gives devs the ability to create deep, interesting, customizable progressions and fluid, seamless combat scenarios. It’s most of what made FFXIII playable! Imagine if something similar were employed in FFVII, so we didn’t spend all our time looking at white text on a blue background, wondering if we’ll hit Limit Break before we die.
I’m not even going to go into the multitude of minigames in FFVII: they were often awkward and strange, but interesting enough in design that if they got redone, it’d only add another beautiful dimension to an already beautiful game.
There’s a lot to process here, but the gist of it is this: Final Fantasy VII is the most beloved game of the entire, massive, 27-year-old franchise. Gamers cannot help but imagine the glory and grandeur of one of their favorite stories, brought into the graphical and game design era of paradise we’re currently experiencing. We want it almost as bad as we want Half-Life 3 (maybe even more). And instead of going the honorable (if disappointing) route of Gabe Newell and refusing to fuel the fires, Square Enix gave us all the ammunition we needed to imagine the glorious future of Final Fantasy VII…
… and then they denied that imagined magnum opus the chance to make its way into reality.
P.S. Next time, just let M. Night Shyamalan have a crack at it. It’ll be great.