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The RPG Files: The Promise and Problems of Final Fantasy 7’s Remake

Columns By Christopher Coke on June 26, 2015

The Promise and Problems of Final Fantasy 7’s Remake

Final Fantasy 7 maintains an almost legendary status among RPG gamers. It is one of those games that makes other gamers gape at you when you admit you haven’t played it. As a result of this, it is no surprise that Final Fantasy fans have clamored for a remake of the game for years. Until now, they’ve been met with deafening silence and what seemed to be a complete unwillingness to make those fans’ dreams a reality. Now it’s happening. We’ve rejoiced. We’ve gushed. Now we’re starting to wonder what it all means.

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Back in 2012, Yoichi Wada, then CEO of Square Enix, famously said that a remake would mean “the end of Final Fantasy.” Though many in the media ran wild with the quote, what he was actually saying was that the company was trying to top Final Fantasy 7, not remake it. Today, Square Enix is in a substantially different position and not necessarily a bad one. Titles like Final Fantasy 15, Just Cause 3, Rise of the Tomb Raider, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, Hitman, Kingdom Hearts 3, and World of Final Fantasy are all hotly anticipated. So what’s the deal with finally giving in on a remake?

First of all, let’s take a second to call out just how flimsy that 2012 excuse was. What they were selling is that Square can’t multitask and we all know that’s not true. No, I think the reasons go far deeper than that. Take, for example, how crestfallen Final Fantasy fans were after finally, finally getting their hands on Final Fantasy 13 and realizing that it was a closed-world, hyper-future caricature of previous games. The franchise has recovered but is still swaying on its feet from the Fabula Nova Crystallis series (Type-0 not included). They lost cache and, frankly, the series is losing relevance with younger gamers.

So, they have something to prove. They have legendary status to reclaim. Cecil and Cloud won it (or Squall if you’re one of us cool kids).  Lightning and Snow lost it.

FF7 achieved the rare feat of transcending itself and becoming a cultural phenomenon. Once a piece of pop culture achieves that level of success, it is the daring maker that toys with greatness. That’s the trouble: how could Square ever release a game that lives up to everyone’s expectations? That’s still the problem. Whether they just touch up the art or re-do all of the game’s systems, someone will be upset. More than any other scenario in recent memory, Square is poised to really wreck somebody’s day.

You can remake games, not memories, so it’s very good news that Final Fantasy 7 will be more than just a remaster. We don’t know yet what will be changed, but in interviews with Famitsu and Dengeki Online, Tetsuya Nomura pointed out that it’s not just the graphics that feel old but also the game systems. Does that mean that the new, action-oriented combat of Final Fantasy 15 might make its way into the remake? It might. This is the perilous line Square Enix has to walk: make it new enough to feel fresh, but similar enough to stay true to the original.

If I had to predict how they accomplish that, I’d say that they will take the story, the characters, and the setting, and wrap that combat inspired by Final Fantasy 15. Materia and summons will still there, along with all the other standard Final Fantasy stuff, but I’m betting battles will be almost unrecognizable. Think “remake” in the same way movies are “based upon” true stories. The way to sell Final Fantasy 7 isn’t to mimic, it’s to re-envision.

So why now for the Final Fantasy 7 Remake? If I had to guess, I would bet a worry-filled memo went out amongst the executives at Square Enix, the same memo that pushed them to create World of Final Fantasy. A note about a company pillar losing relevancy against the likes of Dragon Age, Mass Effect and The Witcher, and of lost fans and money on the table. Yoichi Wada, the “Final Fantasy would be finished” guy, stepping down as CEO in 2013, and now off the board of directors, may or may not have had anything to do with it.

Quick Hits

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That’s all we have room for this week! Let us know what you think in the comments below!

Christopher Coke / Chris has been a fan of MMOs since the mid-1990s when he cut his teeth on MUDs. These days he scours the internet for the latest and greatest multiplayer gaming experiences.