You know what gamers need? Some kind of official poll system.
We may all identify under the hobby, but the collective is such a fractured mess that even the most basic classification is rough. I’m a fan of Destructoid, for example, but there are others who frequent Polygon, others who prefer USGamer, and yes, even those who like IGN. How do you get them to come together? To even begin to acknowledge one another’s opinions, gathered in a conclusive format? A universal poll -- one where all gamers vote on topics and see where their brethren stand on an issue. It’ll never happen, of course, but it’s nice to think about as a way to offer up some perspective.
I only ask for that poll because I’d like to have proof that gamers aren’t just a massive mob of hypocrites…even if it seems like they kind of are. “Give us something new and original!” they cry out -- and then Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed still make mad money. “They’re just trying to win us over with brand names and nostalgia!” they rage -- while games built on brand names and nostalgia get funded in hours, if not minutes, via Kickstarter. “Enough with the remakes and remasters!” they yell to the heavens.
And then everyone loses their minds over a Final Fantasy 7 remake -- which is a dumb, dumb, dumb, dumb, silly, silly, dumb idea. And also dumb.
Full disclosure: as I’ve said, I haven’t played every FF under the sun. But as it so happens, not only have I played FF7, but it was also my first experience with the FF franchise. Yes, I think it’s a good game. Yes, it had an effect on me. Yes, I have fond memories of it. I’m glad it exists, I understand why so many people hold it in high esteem, and I’m glad that those who do care about it -- and immensely -- can get so hyped over this remake.
With all that said? Come on, guys. Seriously. I know this sounds strange coming from the self-proclaimed “Eternal Optimist”, but optimism and stupidity don’t (always) have to go hand in hand. Everyone needs to calm down and think things through. The news of an FF7 remake is not the earth-shattering, reality-breaking announcement that you think it is. In fact, it’s very much the opposite; for every reason people have to get hyped, there are three more to make everyone worry. Maybe even more than that -- to the point where this whole venture risks being a complete disaster. I’m not saying I want it to be a disaster -- I’d love nothing more than to be proven wrong -- but…have you seen all the evidence?
In fact, let’s start with the trailer. Notice anything unusual?
I’m going to come back to the obvious exclusion in a minute. For now, I want to bring the soundtrack your attention. Does that song sound familiar? It should; it’s “Beyond the Wasteland” from Advent Children. You know, Advent Children, the CG movie that was practically AMV fuel, made everything a hundred times more morose, and was so filled with gibberish that Squeenix had to release a second version to explain some of the plot points. That’s the first thing they want you to remember with this announcement.
Also, do me a favor. Play the trailer without looking at it. Listen to what’s being said. I can’t be the only one that thinks it sounds like a bunch of moon-speak, right? All that flowery language just to say “they are coming back”, when really, they didn’t need to say a single word. And the trailer would have been more powerful if they didn’t say a single word; let the visuals speak for themselves and be done with it. Instead, there’s all this dialogue that goes meta and plays to the fans’ desires for this remake -- that they’ve been hoping for it (what’s being pushed as a second coming) all this time. Yet even in the trailer, they acknowledge that the remake could completely fall on its ass -- almost as if it was a bad idea.
So let’s get to the obvious issue. Did you notice it?
This is the last part of the trailer. This is where some relevant information should be, and apparently what they considered most relevant was “Play it first on PlayStation 4”. That’s nice and all, but…guys? When is it coming out? And, uh, it is in development, right? Like, it’s a safe bet that it is coming at some point, but didn’t you do this at least once before? Haven’t you shown off a CG trailer before as an announcement, but had nothing to show for it for ages? Are you -- are you actually not working on it, and just announced it to say that it’s happening, just not anytime soon?
I don’t want to make any harsh assumptions, but -- didn’t we just go through this with FF15, itself the remains of FFVersus 13? Squeenix announced the game almost a decade ago, info trickled in at a glacial pace, and the public went months, if not years, without any substantial information. We’ve only just now gotten a taste of the gameplay for ourselves, and it’s not even the same gameplay that was promised way back when. It’s not even the same story from way back when. So basically, there’s no concrete evidence as to what the final game has to offer.
If history repeats itself, then we might be waiting for another decade. FF15 STILL ISN’T OUT YET.
It didn’t even show up at this year’s E3. Okay, sure, it’ll be at Gamescom or whatever somewhere down the line, so maybe then it’ll have its release date. But first of all, we’ve been waiting for a decade. Second of all, I thought that the order of progression was FF15, then KH3. So now it’s KH3 that has “now in development” pinned to the end of its trailer, with no release date, and gameplay that could still change immensely from now until its release date…and yet instead of finishing either of those, Squeenix sees fit to announce another huge project? With no viable information to go on besides “it’s going to happen someday” and “please be excited”?
In all fairness, there are some points that keep the remake from being another Versus 13 fiasco. I’m under the impression that part of what crippled the Fabula Nova Crystallis project was poor directorial vision, underestimation of the work load, starting when they didn’t even know the PS3’s capabilities, and the resultant rush to play catch-up nearly every step of the way. With a remake, they have -- at a bare minimum -- a story to follow from start to finish, without too much of a need to change things around.
Speaking of which, they’ve already declared plans to change the story.
All right, look. I’m not saying that the original game’s story was an untouchable masterpiece. It’s probably long since started to show its age, so at the very least it’s not as if they can just import the script wholesale and be done with it. There need to be edits -- so given that, the best thing the remake can do is take the original’s issues and iron them out. Make everything that people love even better, so that it reaches that imagined ideal.
But do you really think that Squeenix is going to do that? This is the company that put millions of dollars behind a nonsensical system of gofers to the gods; they have no idea who the main character of their games is supposed to be; motivations are baffling, and world-building is often left unexplained; huge swaths of nothing happen, and when things do happen, they’re beyond the realm of human comprehension. This is a company that, without a shred of irony or self-awareness, had a grown-ass woman spout off “Destiny is destiny”. And sure, all of that is bound to the past half-decade or so of FF games (and let’s not touch the madness of Kingdom Hearts games), but that’s not where it ends.
This isn’t the first time Squeenix has tried to “pay tribute” to FF7. Or do I need to remind everyone of Dirge of Cerberus?
Dirge of Cerberus, and Advent Children, and (to a lesser extent) Crisis Core all make additions to the canon that didn’t have to be there -- mostly because they were awful. Is there anyone here begging for more Deepground, or Geostigma, or Genesis? Does anyone want them inserted into the canon instead of left easily ignored? Given that the remake’s trailer started with music from AC, it’s clear that Squeenix hasn’t forgotten about it -- and the worst-case scenario, if not a likely one, is that these games will add in all of that stuff to tie it all together. As if everything was just according to keikaku.
Yes, it’s good that they brought back some of the big names for the original. Yoshinori Kitase has gone from one of the story guys to producer, and Kazushige Nojima is back and listed as a scenario writer (not sure why or how that’s distinct from the story, but whatever). And now Tetsuya Nomura has gone from character designer to…director? What? So the guy who took the simple and clean KH1 and turned it into an endless cluster of inane plot points is being trusted to show restraint? On a game I’m not wholly convinced Squeenix even remembers correctly?
On that note, my biggest fear is that they’re going to remake this game in the image everyone -- Squeenix included -- thinks it has, and not remake it as it was. And yes, there should be at least some evolution in the characters and world; that game came out a long time ago, so there’s plenty of room for improvement. But over the past half-decade, and even before that, Squeenix hasn’t demonstrated that it’s willing to offer what the old FF games did. The old games might have been seminal JRPG entries, but the new ones (Dirge of Cerberus well among them) play out like terrible anime fluff.
And it’s not just that, either. Like other stories before it, the latest FF entries have tried to be dark and mature without understanding what that means. It’s not just the addition of violence, cruelty, and bleakness, and it’s not the removal of lightheartedness and fun. But AC was, save for a couple of scenes, almost entirely that. Same goes for Dirge of Cerberus, with the scenes that were (intentionally) funny being anything but.
My biggest fear is that Squeenix is going to remake this game, but it’s a possibility -- if not an inevitability -- that it won’t be the same game so many people fell in love with. It’ll be a complete misunderstanding of what made the original so precious, with needless exaggerations and simplifications that could have easily been avoided. That’s what we’re risking, at a bare minimum, with this remake.
It’s a dark future, but it’s one that’s happened before -- and maybe one we’re living in now.
It’s still way too early to think about the story, admittedly (though that last screenshot from the trailer makes me wonder why the character designers are listed before the writers). But it’s worth noting, again, that what Squeenix showed off was a CG trailer. Is the final game going to look like that? Who knows? What’s more important is that as of this post, we have no idea what the gameplay is going to be like. Will it revive Active Time Battles? Go for purely turn-based, like FF10? Drop all of that and make it an action RPG like Type-0? Or some unholy creation like FF13’s Paradigm system?
There’s more to it than that. What’s the world going to be like? The original game used pre-rendered backgrounds and fixed camera angles; is that going to fly in an eighth-gen game with a brand new audience, some of which hasn’t exactly been weaned on JRPGs? Or will it have a standard perspective and environments so that the player can explore a fully-realized world? I ask this because taken as-is, the FF7 remake sounds like the Olympus Mons of development challenges -- and people are expecting a company that’s blown it so many times in the past to suddenly make another masterpiece.
The seventh generation of games and consoles brought Squeenix to its knees. The myriad issues behind FF13 left it as a string of hallways with no sense of cohesion, in the story or out of it. 13-2, the Apology Edition, may have taken players out of the hallway -- but in exchange, it dropped them in bland, reused environments that didn’t even try to make good use of the time travel mechanics. It was bad enough that that game had a graphical downgrade, but then Lightning Returns downgraded even further, to the point where there were uneven visuals as well as framerate issues.
Whether they worked alone or partnered up with tri-Ace, there were misses all across the board. Infinite Undiscovery handled it best, more or less, but it still had its share of problems (like eighteen characters, but only a third of which actually mattered). Star Ocean: The Last Hope tried and largely managed to bury its good ideas under shameless anime fluff. And does anybody here even remember The Last Remnant? I do. I wouldn’t be surprised by anyone who didn’t -- though I half-expect those that do to remember its technical issues, at least on the original console release.
Making a JRPG in the HD era wasn’t impossible; the guys at Bandai Namco put out five Tales games, plus helped Eternal Sonata make it to those new Xbox 360s (and eventually PS3s) soon enough. Meanwhile, Mistwalker put out Lost Odyssey and Blue Dragon, while Monolith Soft would see plenty of accolades with the Monado-boy and Xenoblade Chronicles. It’s no easy task to make a JRPG -- or any game, really -- but Squeenix made it much harder than it needed to be, gameplay-wise or story-wise.
The company behind the KH games should have had it easy with Type-0. That game had the groundwork for the best action a JRPG had ever seen, but invalidated it again and again with incredibly poor design decisions. FF15 has the chance to make a stronger showing, but its demo wasn’t nearly as exciting as it could have been. The Dissidia games feel more like they’re complex for complexity’s sake, and even if there are deeper systems and strategies, everything about it points toward mashing instead of measured thought or combat. Dirge of Cerberus happened. So are we supposed to trust in this company’s ability to deliver an action RPG (if it comes to that) when their record is incredibly spotty?
Yes, they could stick with ATB or turn-based combat for the remake. I’d be okay with that; hopefully it won’t get thrown out just because of assumptions that it’s “not viable anymore”. But their combat has had needless complications for years, while denying players the options that would make gameplay good. FF12 created a pseudo-MMO that’s taken its heat over the years, and with good reason. 13 and 13-2 pared virtually everything down to one button under the guise of depth and challenge. Type-0 (and presumably Lightning Returns) talked a big game about their difficulty, but they clearly confused that with cheapness and weaponized annoyances.
If Squeenix wants to change FF7, then fine. They can make updates and changes, but they have to be updates and changes that make sense. They have to be innovations that enhance the game, and not just their ability to make the player into a non-entity. Strong systems with good balance are the order of the day here, and my concern is that after all we’ve been through over the past few years -- if not the past decade -- Squeenix either forgot how to make a good system, or it’s completely uninterested in them.
But that’s all overlooking the big issue: the world. Stepping out of Midgard and into the fields of Gaia was a big moment in the original game, precisely because the scope of everything increased by a factor of ten. How are they going to handle that huge world when they haven’t demonstrated an ability to do so in ages? Sure, Type-0 had a world map, but it also had copypasta towns, the most interesting of which the player couldn’t even see until a good twenty hours in. Are we just going to be back in the hallway?
Sure, the FF7 remake has the luxury of a map all charted out -- and yes, I’d love to be able to explore a fully-realized Cosmo Canyon. But here’s the thing: that all hinges on the company behind it being willing and able to realize this world with a level of graphical power they’ve typecast themselves into putting out. Because Squeenix always puts out games with good graphics, people expect them to put out games with good graphics, always; otherwise, people will zero in on anything less than amazing in an instant. (See: Lightning Returns.)
And that’s a reality that very few companies, Squeenix or otherwise, can surmount. Graphical power and the resources demanded have left entire companies (and genres, some would argue) as dust in the wind. That was in the last generation; in this generation, it’s as if there’s no middle ground between tiny indie productions and lurching AAA behemoths -- the latter of which has to push their big-budget gruel to make more big-budget gruel. They’re buckling under the strain so hard that a lot of them can’t even be counted on for a release without bugs, glitches, or day-one patches to sort everything out.
And now Squeenix, after saying time and time again in the past that a remake of FF7 remake is virtually impossible -- and justifiably so -- is going ahead with a remake of FF7? They’re going to build cities, and towns, and fields, and oceans, and vehicles, and monsters, and people, and weapons, and WEAPONs, and crystals, and Materia, and magic, and particle effects, and spiky hair, in full HD, with the graphical horsepower provided -- if not expected -- by the PS4 and Xbone? And that’s assuming it doesn’t get pushed to the PS5 and Xbox Sexual Euphemism?
You expect them to make a living, breathing world when at their very best they made a hallway with no meaningful sidequests, no meaningful NPCs, and no meaningful diversions from the endless tube besides grabbing treasure chests slightly out of the way? You think that the company that had to publicly apologize for their awful MMO and effectively start from scratch is going to make your dreams come true?
…Dear God. This game is going to burn Squeenix to the ground.
Maybe it won’t be that severe. But Squeenix has taken some hits to the wallet recently; A Realm Reborn has helped turn things around, I think, but I’d still imagine that this remake is going to have a pretty steep asking price. Maybe too steep. So unless Squeenix has figured out a way to make development super-cheap and efficient -- which is, relatively speaking, what happened with The Witcher 3, to great effect -- then the struggle is about to become realer than real. And bear in mind that this remake will be coming from the company that A) deemed its Tomb Raider reboot a financial failure after selling a good three million copies, and B) only recently started to turn a profit from the game after a slightly-different edition on the new consoles.
There are about a thousand different ways for this remake to go wrong, and not simply because I’d sooner trust a giraffe to make a competent game than Squeenix. The game industry is a different beast than what it was in the nineties; what was done back then can’t be done easily now, at least not without some clever hands behind the wheel. And again, I would love to be proven wrong. I would love for this remake to be all of the dreams come true. But the chances of that happening are, realistically speaking, as likely as stuffing the sun into your pocket. There are going to be at least a few caveats to this remake -- maybe slight, maybe severe. We’ll see.
But here’s the question that needs to be answered: do we really need a remake of FF7?
This goes right back to what I talked about at the start: for all the scorn remakes and reboots and nostalgia-mining tend to get, the end results either make the dissenters’ opinions not matter, or proves that the dissenters are a bunch of dirty liars. Just look at Jurassic World; at best, it’s a serviceable movie that most people can watch if they want a few thrills -- the perennial “dinosaurs fight and eat people” film. It pales in comparison in EVERY way to its ancestor, and I was under the impression that Hollywood decided to give up after two much-maligned sequels…yet here we are with a movie that, despite missing every point of its predecessor from the conceptual phase onward, has broken all sorts of box office records.
This remake doesn’t have the best prospects, and on more levels than one. But let’s pretend for a second that the game actually came out in a perfect, objectively-flawless form. Let’s pretend it offered up everything players have been hungry for. Let’s pretend it gets the sales it needs to justify the price tag. And then what? What’s the next step from there? Is Squeenix going to learn anything from a successful remake besides “bank on nostalgia even harder”? Maybe, because that’s the message that gamers are threatening to tell them. As if we need a security blanket.
It’s good to be mindful of the past, but that’s exactly what it is -- the past. It already happened. It had its time. Now we can move on to something new, and better, and different. But we’re not going to get that if creators all across the board are so dead-set on sprucing up the past (and missing the point on a regular basis). And worse yet, they’ll have no impetus to move on, because their customers have no impetus to move on. So all the resources for this financial black hole of a remake -- money that could have gone to a new game which gives us exactly what we never knew we wanted -- is instead going toward something we’ve already gotten, and something people can enjoy right now, with a new coat of paint.
I got dragged into contributing to Jurassic World’s box office records, and I’ll probably get dragged into playing this remake. But even if that’s true, and even if this game -- if every product that tries to sell us the past -- manages to make mad money, there’s something worth keeping in mind: this isn’t the future we deserve. More than money, we put our faith in creators so that they can deliver something that takes us to amazing worlds. Different worlds. Surprising worlds. As comforting as it may be to go back to the glory days, we don’t need to constantly revisit them. And we shouldn’t. Not when there are an infinite number of days just waiting in the wings.
I can’t tell anyone not to buy the remake, or try to get the thing to stop existing (even though it presumably doesn’t right now save for an announcement trailer). But I can ask others to do this: don’t be fooled. There’s too much about the circumstances that tell me this is a desperation move -- that Squeenix doesn’t know what to do next, so instead of moving forward, it’s going to bet all its chips on “the sure thing” and let nostalgia ensure some easy sales. It’s going to be costly, but there’s enough evidence to suggest that it’ll pay off on at least some level.
Can they make a good remake? Maybe. Should they? I say no. Again, anyone who wants to play FF7 can do so right now via several platforms, so it’s not as if the game has been lost to history. The game is an important part of the gaming canon, but that’s exactly why it doesn’t need any embellishments -- least of all unwelcome ones built on modern-day foibles. (How much DLC do you suppose there’ll be, especially some that dresses Tifa as *shudder*Lightning?) Let the past stay in the past, and stay special as a result; there’s absolutely no need to revive it just to cash in. But that’s what Squeenix is doing, it’s probably going to work, and it’ll perpetuate the cycle of nostalgia bait. Gamers the world over will help prove, almost conclusively, that “the things in the past are always better than things from the present”.
I can’t speak for anyone else. But I can say that that’s not the future I want -- because it’s stupid. And it’s exactly why I believe this remake is a dumb idea.
Look. I’m not telling anyone legitimately excited or shaken-up by the announcement to stop feeling happy. I’m just trying to be the voice of reason here; I hope that people who read this understand that I’m not out to play the contrarian. It would be cool if the remake turned out great, but that’s the thing: I want it to be a quality product, if we’re being forced yet again to chug a great big keg of nostalgia-bait.
So my hope is that anyone reading this approaches this remake with caution, understanding, and a cool head. The E3 reveal was a surprise, but only that. It’s not a promise of anything except that it’ll probably come out. Even that’s not a 100% guarantee, unless there’s so much money dumped in that they have to ship it.
I was under the impression that Final Fantasy was about iteration. Even if it is nostalgia incarnate at this point, each entry in the franchise took core concepts -- from the franchise and in the framework of each story -- and used them to craft an entirely different adventure time after time. That’s the best way to do things; it’s been a proven method by games, movies, TV shows and more.
That’s the method we should support, if we can’t get an absolutely-new IP on a regular basis. But apparently, Squeenix has other ideas. Apparently, they don’t feel like moving forward after FF15. Instead of starting fresh with FF16, now they just want to spin in place. And they’re inviting everyone to spin with them, for the sake of something with no promise of being the dream come true.
And when you think about it…well, isn’t that really kind of silly?