Pete: It’s coming. Finally. After a decade of rumours, hearsay and a statement denying it would ever happen until sales and quality surpassed the original a remake to Final Fantasy VII is finally happening. We all know that now of course, but what could this all possibly mean for the industry, us gamers and Square Enix as a company?
Let’s start with the latter. Square Enix CEO Yoichi Wada went on record about three years ago to say that a Final Fantasy VII remake would never happen until the company had made a Final Fantasy title – or possibly even any title – that surpassed VII in terms of sales and quality, which made sense in a way, despite gamers’ frustration at the decision. Around that time the company had just released Final Fantasy XIII-2, the sequel nobody wanted for the game very few people liked, and were about the release Sleeping Dogs which they were very confident of being a big seller; despite good reviews it’s only sold around 2 million copies, way below the expectations of Square Enix. Hitman: Absolution and the Tomb Raider reboot followed the same formula, so it looked like while they were developing games that maybe matched Final Fantasy VII in terms of quality (certainly regarding review scores, all three games have aggregates of 80+) they were not matching the sales. Final Fantasy VII has sold more than 10 million copies since 1997 across a variety of platforms, and no game they’ve made since has come close to matching that figure.
What were Square Enix to do? By that point they’d released the relatively unpopular Final Fantasy XIII and ultimately two unnecessary sequels, two top quality games that few (by their lofty standards) wanted to play and a game that has until recently been in development hell for nearly ten years, and the company were struggling. It seemed like their was no way Square Enix would please their fans by making a Final Fantasy VII remake, and the fans in turn generally weren’t interested in anything the company were throwing at them.
I think eventually Final Fantasy XIV (which itself had a disastrous start) and the remastered Final Fantasy X helped make Square Enix realise the Final Fantasy franchise is what matters most to the fans, and in turn for their own survival as a company. We fast-forward to this years’ E3 when THE announcement finally happened, and in my opinion Square Enix had no choice but to make it when they did. They’ve had several self-proclaimed failures, a huge relaunch of Final Fantasy XIV to deal with and currently no sign of Final Fantasy XV for the foreseeable future. They needed something huge to restore the fans’ faith in them, so they took the plunge and announced the VII remake.
The announcement is also good news for the industry, specifically the JRPG market of which both Alan and I are huge fans as are millions of people all over the world. In the West the genre has dried up in recent years with only the above-average ‘Tales’ games (Vesperia excluded, that game is the tits) making regular appearances, so the Remake announcement has really given the genre a proverbial shot in the arm as developers realise how popular JRPGs still are – just look at some of the four hour reaction videos to the Remake announcement on YouTube for proof of that. Now I’m not saying that the remake is responsible for this resurgence in JRPGs, but it’s certainly helped cement their popularity in what has now become the ‘Call of Duty Era,’ if you know what I mean. Just look at this list of upcoming JRPG titles, obviously most were in development before the Remake announcement but developers will hopefully be reassured that the genre is still alive and well which is nothing but good news for the industry – gamers want more than just Call of Duty and FIFA.
OK, now to that first point, what the Final Fantasy VII Remake announcement could mean for us gamers, which in fact ties in with the earlier paragraph about Square Enix as a profitable company. One thing is for sure, Square Enix have to get it right. They are a company with divided fans who now have renewed faith in them going forward, and the pressure is truly on to get the game right. Not necessarily perfect, just… right. If they get it wrong they might not come back from it, this is a monumental project that they need to take their time over to get the end product as good as it can be. It’s impossible to get it perfect as gamers will always be divided on one feature or another that will be a part of the finished game, which brings me nicely to the point of this thing – should Final Fantasy VII simply be remastered, or remade completely?
There is a lot to factor in to this question. Alan and I have discussed at length how we feel and what we’d like to see, but one thing that I can’t quite decide on is the battle system. The original game had what’s called a turn-based system, where characters and enemies would each have a bar that built up over a few seconds before taking their turn to attack, defend or perform magic abilities. It was simple and at the time how most RPGs had their battles, but as time moves on a lot of gamers have expressed a preference for a more action-based system found in games like the Tales series, and indeed Final Fantasy XIII – where combat is more fluid – it’s not simply three characters lining up to take on a line of three enemies, but a more random system where characters and enemies can be almost anywhere on the battlefield at any given time. Personally I like this system and it was hailed as one of the better aspects of an otherwise lackluster Final Fantasy XIII, so it makes sense to have this style of battles in the Final Fantasy VII remake. This seems to be exactly what director Tetsuya Nomura is going for, he has said he’s bringing “dramatic changes” to the combat system, while at the same time “keeping it recognisable.” That article made me both nervous and then hopeful. There are many fans who want to see the game take a whole new direction, a ‘re-imagining’ as Nomura himself called it, but there are also many who feel that deviating too much from the source material (myself included) would perhaps be detrimental to the success of the game. That’s what makes me nervous, but the fact that he wants to keep it reconisable suggests that he’s not going too far away from the source material. One thing I hated about the Tomb Raider reboot was the Quick Time Events moments – pressing X to dodge that, followed quickly by mashing circle to do something else. That’s actually a staple of recent Square Enix games and one thing I definitely do not want to see in the Remake, but with every trickle of news that comes out of the Square Enix camp I grow more confident that Nomura is listening to the fans of the original, but at the same time not being trapped in a sea of nostalgia. When I first heard the announcement I wanted little more than a graphics overhaul and voice acting, but as my understanding of the game gradually increases I feel more confident that the finished product will feature a throwback to the incredible story that made the original such a success, with modern necessities included throughout to cater for today’s generation of gamer.
It seems to me at this early development stage that Square Enix are taking a huge risk, but a necessary and exciting one. They’re clearly going in a new direction with the Final Fantasy VII remake, but keeping core features intact in an attempt to please as many fans as possible. As a fan of the original I’m excited by the prospect of revisiting my childhood memories, and my young son (who has attempted to play the original but can’t overcome the dated visuals and lack of voice acting) is intrigued by the new direction the game is going in, so Square Enix has made a fan of us both. Assuming they get it right, a full remake is the correct decision.