The trailer for the latest iteration of Final Fantasy VII Remake just dropped. I’m happy to see Yuffie rendered in 4k, and I know her resurgence as this expansion’s lead character is going to have fans enjoying some seriously awesome cosplay, but I’m really just left wishing that the Final Fantasy VII Remake, would actually remake Final Fantasy VII, rather than existing as a series of games that are about Final Fantasy VII.
I’m not even really a purist about this type of stuff either. One of things that makes Shakespeare so great is the way that its aesthetics can be modified so it can be more relevant to the world around it, or give marginalized actors a platform to shine on.
Final Fantasy VII has that quality about it too. It’s got an immense story, with magnetic characters, dramatic high-points, and it even has some crossdressing to put it over the top with Shakespeare’s south-of-the-border je ne se quois.
Part of what gave the first game that quality, as it tends to be with most monumental pieces of art, is the self-contained approach to its own existence.
Star Wars as a movie wasn’t meant to be the billion dollar IP that it became, instead a loving tribute to Kurosawa samurai films and the pre-feature serial films that the creators watched growing up. Inversely, the sequel series sucks because it always had the intention of creating toys, merchandise, spinoffs, and a bunch of other excessive crap. It insists upon the brand, rather than itself.
Square-Enix had a totally remake-able game with VII on their hands, because the story and user-friendly design worked for so many people, even gamers that normally hated JRPG’s. The biggest ding against it is its lack of fidelity in the graphics and sound. All it needed was for its dynamic environments to look less like dioramas that crudely rendered dolls walked through, and for its soundtrack to be at the standard that modern technology allows for these days.
Instead, Square-Enix is more interested in cultivating the brand of Final Fantasy VII with this remake project, something they’re clearly not interested in with the other iterations of Final Fantasy. Ironically, that’s led to those games getting better remakes as a result. VIII has quality of life improvements that accentuate its positive aspects. IX doesn’t move at a snail’s pace anymore, and XII is still XII but at least people aren’t changing out discs every hour.
VII could have easily benefited from this straightforward approach. Obviously some grandiosity would be in order. It deserves a re-orchestrated soundtrack and totally new character models rather than ones that simply get spruced up. Hell, it deserves everything that the first Resident Evil got when it was remade for the Gamecube.
It should have been what gamers were collectively imagining when they all saw the mockup of Final Fantasy VII on PS3 hardware all the way back in E3 2005. But Square-Enix decided to go the convoluted route that they were already on.
This wasn’t a snap decision. Square-Enix had this approach in mind for a while.
In the 2000s, noticing the demand for a pure sequel to Final Fantasy VII, rather than the other one-off standalone games that the series was known for, Square-Enix decided to appease fans by creating a sub-franchise known as The Compilation Of Final Fantasy VII. This had the intentions of giving their smaller teams something to do with an established world and aesthetic to work within, almost like opening an Applebee’s.
The first game to come out of this was Before Crisis, a mobile-game prequel, that focused on the events that led to the original game’s opening. Then came Advent Children, a movie which was a remarkable testament to what CG-I was capable of at the time, with a soundtrack that made sure audiences could feel the full weight behind Nobuo Uematsu’s original composition, and one of the absolute worst stories in video-game-movie history. This was followed up with Dierge of Cerberus, a lame shooter that nobody wanted.
Honestly, the only good thing to come out of The Compilation of Final Fantasy VII was Crisis Core on the PSP, another prequel that focused on Zack Fair, who, to this day is one of my favorite video game characters ever.
Final Fantasy VII Remake exists to justify all the bad baggage that The Compilation created, with the newest trailer showing some nods to Dierge of Cerberus in the new enemies. The game will probably find some way to make sure that Vincent Valentine appears too, because having two unlockable and genuinely miss-able characters be presented in the original way they were presented back in 1997 doesn’t bode well for the brand.
It’s the same reason Sephiroth had to visually show up in the first release of Remake, rather than hanging over the first part of the original story like a ghost who creates a tangible feeling of dread whenever his name is brought up.
The issue with making a faithful remake that stands alone, divorced from The Compilation, is that it wouldn’t enhance Final Fantasy‘s brand as a relevant force in JRPG’s, which has been on the downturn since the release of X, along with the rise of other JRPG franchises like Shin Megami Tensei, Xenoblade Chronicles, and Monster Hunter. They have to make something new with the aesthetics that gamers already fell in love with years ago, because simply redoing it would validate the assumption that the brand has nothing solid to offer now, that its best days really are behind them, and all it can do is play the hits.
The amount of attention they’re putting into getting as much out of VII as they can really doesn’t bode well for the coming release of Final Fantasy XVI.