It was a great many years ago when most of us entered the bustling metropolis of Midgar and first encountered the virtual version of a living breathing post-apocalyptic nightmare. It was a place of steaming machines, surreal emerald lighting, and an omni-present police state operated by the most powerful corporation in the world, all perched atop a series of structural plates that literally put the thriving 1% well above the rest of the populace.
It’s a place that no one would ever wish to return to under normal circumstances, however, the digital frontier is anything but and with that in mind, few games could rival the kind of excitement at the 2015 E3 conference that the Final Fantasy VII Remake garnered during the Sony conference. Even though we really know next to nothing about it, from a possible release date to whether, or how long, it will be a PS4 exclusive (the fact that it was announced during the Sony conference suggests that it will, at the very least, be a timed exclusive), the notion of the hotly anticipated FFVII remake finally seeing the light of day, much like The Last Guardian‘s triumphant return during the same conference, ignited a lot of emotion in gamers and it’s not difficult to see why.
For many of us, Final Fantasy VII was a special kind of game, one that affected us heavily in our development for this particular past-time. It was the first high profile 3D RPG to ever see the light of day, and with Squaresoft’s storied Final Fantasy franchise, hot off of their most ambitious and sweeping epic to date, Final Fantasy VI, there was a lot to be excited about when FFVII first arrived on the scene a sprawling 18 years ago. From the stirring advertising campaign that promised “a cast of thousands” to the most impressive cinematic presentation ever seen in gaming at the time by a pretty large margin, there was no shortage of reasons to seek out this title back in 1997, but with the mountain of nostalgia that is attached to FFVII, it’s easy to forget about some of it’s most glaring flaws.
Primary among them is that the game has not aged very well. While the fully CG cut-scenes (with standouts like Sephiroth wading through the flames of Nibelheim and the mythical weapons being released from their slumber, standing as stalwart examples) remain powerful and evocative nearly 20 years later, there are plenty of moments that suffer narratively due of the presentation. Chief among them is the conceit of presenting the world in two different modes, one with ugly 3D sprites and the other with fluid realistic dimensions. Sharing the former are all of the world map sections, all dungeons and towns, and even some awkward CG moments, while the latter is showcased in battle sections, proper cut-scenes, and promotional art.
It makes for what often feels like two separate versions of the same narrative, with particularly strange sequences actually traversing back and forth between the alternate styles. The chief reason for a Final Fantasy VII Remake seems to make itself apparent in moments like these, where the scale and feeling of the plot and character moments are compromised by the technical capabilities of the time and the general no man’s land of developing a game on this scale in 1997. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, the most common competitor that FFVII faces for the coveted “Greatest Game of All Time” title, faces similar issues, though they are rarely as jarring as they are here. The short version is that in a burgeoning medium like gaming, a remake is a lot easier to justify as time goes on, as it’s not just the special effects or the color of the film that can be updated with a reimagining like this, but the notion of the whole game itself on a technical front.
This is not to say that the Final Fantasy VII Remake will come off without a hitch, Tetsuya Nomura, a long standing Square-Enix alum, has already revealed that there are a lot of changes coming for this new version of FFVII, but how will these changes affect the general feeling of the game? Can Square-Enix possibly maintain the lightning-in-a-bottle urgency of the game as it first appeared, while simultaneously updating and introducing it for a modern audience? Hopes are high but with many fans beaten down and dejected by the Final Fantasy series over the last few years, and the relative failure of the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII ten years back, fans will have to take a realistic look at this project as it develops and accept that it might not be precisely what they are imagining in their manic fever dreams of anticipation.
Still, with two years of likely speculation ahead of us based on speculation alone, there will be plenty of time for us to imagine the best and worst possible situations for E3’s most jaw-dropping announcement.