Do We Really Want a Final Fantasy VII Remake?
Final Fantasy VII was the defining moment in an important time for gaming. The PlayStation was breaking down barriers and appealing to a far wider audience than previous home consoles, and FF7 was the high profile, AAA title that the platform needed. It's been credited as the game that sold the PlayStation brand and is widely regarded as one of the most influential titles of all time.
Thirteen years later, and it has never really left us. From its release in 1997, we have seen a movie (Advent Children), tie-ins (Crisis Core, Dirge of Cerberus and Before Crisis), tech demos, cameo appearances (Ehrgeiz, Dissidia and Kingdom Hearts), a PSN re-release and countless toys, merchandise and soundtracks. Square-Enix have repeatedly tapped into the legacy and success of FF7, and understandably so. Furthermore, in the face of apparently overwhelming popular demand, they have continued to tease the prospect of a remake, be it a HD polish-up or even a current generation re-imagining.
In the weeks leading up to the release of Final Fantasy XIII earlier this year, Square-Enix continued to openly address the possibility of a remake. Badgered by FF7 related questions, FF13 producer Yoshinori Kitase spoke quite frankly about the promise and unrealistic challenges presented by a current gen rehash. He admitted that it's something he'd love to do, but that such a project would be so time consuming that he couldn't envision it. He stopped just short of a "no, impossible", which was more than enough to get the internet rumour mill churning.
Clearly there is still wide-spread support for a return to Gaia. But why do we yearn for it so?
Firstly, and most importantly, FF7 was platform and era defining. It clearly marked a shift in popularity and content of RPGs, and to this day fans speak of role-playing games before Square's opus and those that came after, either lamenting the demise of the classic console RPG or celebrating the birth of a worldwide phenomenon. It's a point of reference for a generation of gamers and we are loath to let go of such things. It represents a shared memory from a time when gaming truly exploded onto a larger stage, when publishers finally came to realise that RPG's could be just as popular in the West as in the East.
Thanks to a huge and costly marketing campaign, the public were arguably more aware of FF7 than any title before it, RPG or otherwise. TV commercials wowed the audience with grandiose cut scenes, conveniently omitting the less polished in-game graphics. Breath-taking cut scenes would quickly become a requisite for big name RPG releases, setting the bar for any title with aspirations of mass appeal. These graphical delights necessitated that games be spread over numerous discs, and it became a badge of honour of sorts for big titles. I can recall scoffing at my single disc copy of SaGa Frontier 2, thinking it could only be a third of the game that FF7 was. It changed the way we thought about games, and has retained a grip on our collective interest ever since.
The generic yet memorable characters were easy to embrace, the battle system simple to master and its sprawling narrative struck a chord with gamers worldwide. Even to this day I can still hum the world map tune and recite some of my favourite Barrett quotes. It boasts an undeniable pedigree and no matter what the future holds, its name will remain etched in stone in the gaming pantheon.
As you may have gathered, I adore the Final Fantasy series and hold the seventh instalment in the highest of esteem, yet I have no interest in seeing a remake. Take a look at this recent quote from Yoshinori Kitase, taken from videogamer.com:
"So as the hardware develops there's so much more that can be done for the game. Visual capabilities are up. The quality is so high right now. So in a sense I'm really interested to see this more complete form of a Final Fantasy VII portrayed more realistically with the voice and animation and all the subtle expressions there."
For me at least, part of the appeal of FF7 was the disproportionate, anime-like character models, and I shudder to think what they would look like if given the FF13 treatment. At the very least they would lose their considerable charms. Besides, is FF7's lasting appeal in any way related to its in-game visuals? A jump into the 21st century for technological sake only seems to miss the point entirely. As for voice acting, I've only ever been disappointed when muted characters have been voiced in later incarnations, so I'm far from enticed by the prospect of Barret and Red XIII being given the gift of the spoken word.
As alluded to by Kitase, a FF7 remake would require a huge investment of time and resources. Much like FF13 it would take years to complete, which could be to the detriment of other fresher and more innovative projects. Where would it end? Do we really want to see a FF7 remake before FFXV? God forbid, could we actually end up with a FF7-2? I have no interest in seeing Tifa, Cloud the drag queen, and Yuffie performing as an all-girl pop group. Seven years later and FFX-2's Charlie's Angels approach to the genre still has pride of place in the darkest recesses of my nightmares.
For all its serious moments, FF7 was at times a very tongue-in-cheek, one might even say silly game. Some of the moments that made it great would not fit comfortably into current expectations for a big budget RPG. You have Cloud doing squats and cross-dressing, Red XIII being a talking cat, Barret and Cid's bouts of Tourette's syndrome, Shinra's laughable henchmen, Cait Sith just being Cait Sith, and a crazy narrative littered with plot holes. As it stands, FF7 does not lend itself to a faithful current generation port, and if it's not faithful to the original then why do it? We have already seen recent entries in the FF7compilation leaning towards dry melodrama, vainly struggling to justify elements of the original that don't fit with a more mature realizing of the yarn. By taking itself too seriously, it has at times drifted away from the brilliance of the original.
As long as there is popular interest in FF7, and it serves to keep the Final Fantasy brand in the public eye, Square-Enix is unlikely to completely close the door on the possibility of a remake, at least not openly. However, I don't think we will ever see a full return. After all, why would Square-Enix want a costly and time consuming upgrade when the original is still financially viable, raking in profits from PSN on the back of development costs that have long since paid for themselves. Still, when it comes to Final Fantasy I've learnt to never say never.
When Final Fantasy was first developed by Hironobu Sakaguchi in 1987, it was intended to be his last hurrah in the industry, a final farewell from a company facing bankruptcy. The series was an instant hit and has gone from strength to strength, making a mockery of its theme of finality in the process. There has never been anything final about the series, and FF7 stands out as being guiltiest of perpetuating the misnomer of conclusiveness. But I for one hope that the story of Cloud and co. and their battle for the planet will soon be laid to rest, once and for all. It is time for this particular Fantasy to step aside. Finally.