Culture Bytes: The Final Fantasy VII Remake

I think it's safe to say that a lot of dreams came true at this year's E3 with Square Enix's announcement that the Final Fantasy VII Remake is finally in production. The trailer looks stunning, just as Advent Children did before it. But, there's no getting away from the huge expectations that this project faces. This is a classic game; is there room for improvement? Is this remake necessary? In any case, there are certain things Square Enix are going to have to do to ensure this is the success it deserves to be.

It goes without saying that Final Fantasy VII is one of the most popular video games of all time. This should translate very simply: do not change the story. The plot of this game is, arguably, still far ahead of many contemporary RPG. Dragon Age and Elder Scrolls tend to be quite derivative and even more recent Final Fantasy games don't have the same depth of story. Every fan of the original knows the plot by heart and, like most remakes or adaptions, changing the story is a sure-fire way to alienate fans (the lack of Tom Bombadil in The Lord of the Rings films, anyone?). That said, the remake can't just be a carbon copy of the original and should be seen as a way to improve upon a few scenes. Square Enix have already said that the cross-dressing Cloud scene is going to be 'a lot of fun'; no doubt aided by the fact gender identity is now less binary than in 1997. That Cloud cross-dressing is no longer risque does give the developers more scope to explore this scene and it could certainly be less puritanical than the original (the game faced censorship in America over this scene alone). However, it does also mean that it is no longer a socially acceptable joke. That audience can still laugh at Cloud's visible discomfort as a cisgender man dressed in women's clothing, though the actual act of wearing a dress will no longer be shocking (and rightly so). There are other small scenes that could perhaps be made more of. The date scene at the Gold Saucer is an obvious one and there are so many new mini-games that could be included in the arcade. These little touches will add up to huge improvement and make the game a suitable rival for most contemporary games, as long as the story stays the same.

Another improvement could be the addition of a side-quest system similar to that of Ni No Kuni or Dragon Age. The original game had many small tasks other characters might give you but no way of cataloging them which, unfortunately, was a fairly standard practice in RPGs of the time. Gaia is such a richly imagined world with so many beautiful landscapes and touches of humanity that it would be a shame not to elaborate on that and encourage the audience to explore it. Imagine a Midgar that is entirely free to roam with hundreds of individual stories to complete and characters to talk to. Imagine tracking bounties down across the icy plains of the northern continent or through the valleys of Cosmo Canyon. The possibilities are endless. A side-quest system could even make the aquisition of Vincent Valentine and Yuffie that bit more rewarding. Final Fantasy VII may be the grandparent of contemporary RPGs, but there are certainly things it can learn from its descendants.

To many fans of the original game the characters are like old friends, with one exception. Cait Sith. For those of you unfamiliar with this blight in an otherwise masterful example of characterisation in gaming, Cait Sith is a robotic plush toy being controlled by Reeve; an important employee of Shinra Inc (one of the few plot points not explored to its full potential). Cait Sith essentially becomes comic relief, which isn't necessarily a bad thing in a game as heavy as this. Unfortunately, he isn't even any use in battle. Reeve's betrayal of Shinra has so many places it could go in terms of plot (I'll settle for a side-quest at this point) and it's really something that needs to be addressed. Yes, most games tend to have a slightly less-developed character (Penelo and Vaan in Final Fantasy XII, for instance), but the other characters in Final Fantasy VII are so well developed that Cait Sith is unforgivably jarring.

It's fair to say that most RPGs have moved on from turn-based combat, though the advantages in terms of control are clear. The developers have two options; stick with the turn-based combat of the original and risk alienating contemporary gamers (unless they went in a slightly Persona-esque direction with it?), or go entirely the other way and use the combat system Final Fantasy XV is promising (modeled on the look of Advent Children itself). Of course, the action sequences revealed from Final Fantasy XV so far look amazing and are suitably contemporary, though we know little of the actual mechanics. Assuming they don't go too far down the route of Dragon Age 2 it could be quite successful. Whichever decisions the developers make, one thing remains clear; the Materia and equipment system will have to stay the same. Materia is such an important plot point that the game can't work without it and the characters are so synonymous with their equipment a class-system or licence board won't ring true. This could be a welcome reversion as the Materia magic system is a fan favourite; simple, quick and effective - a far cry from the convuluted battle tactics of Final Fantasy XIII.

In conclusion, there are many positive changes that can be made in the Final Fantasy VII Remake, though there are plenty that could be negative too. The fact the original composer, Nobuo Uematsu, will not be involved is slightly concerning in itself; the score is so iconic any vast alterations (aside from an upgrade from the MIDI files to actual instruments) could grate with fans of the original. If Square Enix are clever and build on its old successes, the remake cannot fail. But one question remains; is a remake really necessary? It's great that the developers want to bring the game to a new generation, but have games changed so much in their essence that a simple re-release wouldn't suffice? Obviously in terms of graphics things are now very different, but games like Final Fantasy VII have never been about graphical quality. A great story is a great story and nothing will ever change that, although the opportunity to explore Gaia further is an exciting prospect. All we can do for now is wait with quiet anticipation and see what Square Enix unleash. For now, I leave you with the opening words of Advent Children.

"To those of you who loved this world and knew friendly company therein, this reunion is for you."

Sam Leeves is the author of the novels 'Endless Tides' and 'In the Footsteps of the Behemoth', they are also a member of The Fawcett Society. Find them on twitter, @CptSkyheart.

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