As a child, I was always relegated to playing video games in the garage. Not that I minded, but being the younger brother of four children meant I didn’t have the luxury of a console in my bedroom. No, that was reserved for the upper class. My brother had a PlayStation in his room, where trespassers were forbidden except by invitation. My cousin and I would occasionally watch him play, which we enjoyed well enough, but the real treat was watching him vault through his favorite game: Final Fantasy VII. Naturally, I was dreadfully curious, and so, also naturally, I snuck into his room from time to time while he worked.
Thus began an obsession with JRPG’s that led to other Japanese entertainment, and instilled in me the idea that most people had at the time: the Japanese were on the cutting edge of game development, storytelling, and immersion. This remained true for years, but recently that progressive mentality has given way to rehashes of the same tired ideas and failure to improve upon the formula that made those series milestones with each new installment. And while many can argue that a remake of such a beloved game is another indication of Square Enix’s decline, I see it as not a cash grab at the end of a company’s life but a refocusing of passion, and a new beginning for a team of artists.
WALKING UP A HILL
When the first trailer for FFXIII was shown in 2008, I was ecstatic. New art direction, female protagonist, insane-looking combat - they'd gone and surprised me again. I counted the days until it came out. And then I wondered how Square ever thought it had done justice to the Final Fantasy name. The linear game play, painful voice acting, and even more painful storyline felt like a betrayal. Many of the features that make FF games exciting, which are tweaked and brought closer to perfection with each new iteration, lacked finesse and were simplified to the point that most fights boiled down to mashing the X button.
And that was only Square-Enix's first misstep. For FFXIV, they chose to return to the well of online gaming, and the initial result was an unmitigated disaster.. Again, I was floored by what I saw beforehand. I loved FFXI, and the idea of adding an economy controlled by players was an enticing feature, but it was broken from the start. It was eventually fixed, and compensation was given for those who bought the original, but it was still another bump in Square-Enix’s long road. Add to that a multitude of mobile games, re-releases, the controversial Compilation of Final Fantasy VII, and the PlayStation Experience last December, where Producer Shinji Hashimoto announced a port of the inferior PC version of FFVII to PS4, it’s easy to see how some people might have lost faith in the company.
After college, I went back home. While I loved living on my own, financially, I needed something stable. The freedom I had was daunting at first, but without a well paying job, it wasn’t going to work. I needed to restart. I needed a moment to collect myself so I could venture back into that freedom with some well placed feet. This is what I think the remake can be.
I get that some people find FFVII to be an over-hyped, blindly beloved piece of nostalgia. It probably is, if I’m being honest. But this game isn’t for those people. This is for the people who are tired of experimentation touted as innovation; for people who want a good, solid game rather than a risky leap into the unknown. Now, I don’t want to be misunderstood. Risks are a catalyst for competition and inspiration, but what do you do when the latter is dwindling? A return to what is considered one of the best games ever made could be a much needed palate cleanser. While full creative freedom is fantastic, pulling back on the reins can sometimes narrow focus and allow for refinement of a craft. Like other forms of art, there are works that ignore any rules or formats, while some choose to abide by them. For example, poems follow no rigid system, unless the writer begs for them to. By doing this, the writer must think of creative ways to stay within the boundaries.
If anything, this remake can at least remind the developers what a Final Fantasy game is supposed to be. Without the reliance on gimmicks or new, outlandish battle systems, by forgoing the creation of a new story or world, Director Tetsuya Nomura can focus on building a damn good game. If they can bring back Nobuo Uematsu to build on his brilliant and heartbreaking score, cast some serious talent to voice the characters, and maybe even some writers or translators to tweak the script, the FFVII remake can be a thing of wonder.
In fact, Nomura has expresses in change. Speaking with Famitsu (translated by Brian Ashcraft of Kotaku), Nomura said "if you are going to do a full remake, you have to take a different approach and make something that suits the times.” Now, this may sound like a flame that will kindle a revolt, but FFVII was never perfect, and translation errors, while charming, were definitely rampant. Any changes made should be more corrections and enhancements, since plenty of the game's charisma is found in the wacky scenarios that are scattered throughout. Hopefully, an HD version of Cloud riding a dolphin won't be too much for today's audience. But seriously, I don't even care, because I want that.
A LONG RIDE DOWN
It’s impossible to judge where a company is going by what they haven’t yet released. Many of Square-Enix’s projects, including Kingdom Hearts 3 and a new unnamed IP shown at the end of their E3 conference, are still way too early in development to make a judgement call on. Many may complain about the time needed to complete the projects, but in an industry riddled with bugs and unfinished games, shackled to unrealistic release dates, I personally don’t mind, as long as the final product is a complete one, and includes every expectation the developer had in mind.
What people may not understand about the remake is how massive a gamble it is for Square-Enix. Even if FFXV, Kingdom Hearts 3, and Deus Ex: Mankind Divided are critical successes, a failed FFVII can be the powder keg for gamers’ faith in the company. Alternatively, by hitting the right notes, they will effectively be communicating to their fans: “We listen to you. And we work hard for you. Tell us what you want next.”
As a fanbase, gamers love to rush developers and then criticize the final product for being sloppy or incomplete. This isn’t a common practice amongst movie or music fanatics (though I can’t say the same for book fanatics), so its ubiquity in the gaming community is unfortunate. Like anything else, every step to making the game, possible delays, and the eventual release will be marred with backlash, and the loudest of opinions will usually be the most vitriolic. But that’s okay, because if Nomura and Square-Enix take this for what it is, a fresh start, they can produce what the audience wants: a refined game filled to the brim with nostalgia.
Now that I'm a responsible adult with my life perfectly in order, having a console in my room will be nobody's decision except my own. My brother will still be able to play FFVII at his own leisure, but instead of watching for a younger brother, he now has his daughter to worry about.