The prospect of a remake of Final Fantasy VII has been a point of excitement for many gamers. For a large chunk of the maturing game community it represents a real moment in when they were discovering what games can be. Over a decade after its release it is still found on many lists comprising of titles such as “Best of…”, “Greatest Ever…” and the like. Then when Sony was displaying the power of their PlayStation 3, they showed a tech demo, comprising of opening moments of Final Fantasy VII that threw people into fervor. Here was a tangible example of what their beloved game could be like with the power that game consoles were now capable of displaying. However much to their chagrin it was not to be. Square Enix was expanding on the lore that made Final Fantasy VII and introduced and sold 3 additional games and a movie that continued the adventures of characters that players knew and loved. Then at E3 2015 the dream came true.
A full blown remake of the game was announced. Not a simple update, port to new console and not even a remaster of the original game just to update odds and ends. This remake promises to create an experience that fits with the expanded universe they created with Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII, Before Crisis: Final Fantasy VII, Dirge of Cerberus, and Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children. The big question on many fans minds is “What does that mean regarding what I’m used to?” The developers aren’t blind or deaf to the importance of the nostalgia and to what made the original experience so impacting. They have made it clear from the announcement. The inverse of that is that they are aware of what needs to change, and fans need to be open to that as well.
From a design stand point they have already confirmed changes will occur to the battle system. What that means is still unknown, but it is a bold step as many fans believe that is an immutable part of the experience. Which may be true, but in the expanded game age we are in, the game does need to be more accessible. This could roll into bigger changes that the community may not be ready for. A change to the materia system could follow, making it simpler could occur. While not hard to understand to begin with, the system as is specialized and boils down to creating a longer gaming experience through giving the player reason to grind against mobs of enemies for hours on end. The experience needs to be more succinct for players with less time on their hands and for those looking to become part of what older siblings, or even parents enjoy. Many of the nostalgia players who may be against that are leading fuller lives, speaking in terms of time, many now holding down full-time jobs.
The music is a big update that will occur, and one that nostalgia isn’t against, as the expectation is updated, fully orchestral versions of the original MIDI score. As a hot button issue there is many discussions going on regarding the inclusion of The Honey Bee Inn and the initial entrance to Don Corneo’s building questline. While there are strong arguments for keeping, removing, or completely redoing the quest, it is part of what many feel in nostalgia for the game, especially considering how early in the experience it occurs. Characters and the story on the whole are up for possible sweeping changes. The original translation being the aspect of both that will drive those changes. It will be harder to project Barret as a caricature when he is fully voiced. Many jokes and expected deliveries will fall flat as well as the danger of coming of not as a character with an attitude but as a racially insensitive prop. Within the story, since the additions of how terrorist group AVALANCHE was formed and the inclusion of other SOLDIER subjects such as Genesis and the impacts these had on shaping the story of what would be the original game, these will likely see some inclusion or at least a strong attempt at cohesion with this narrative. Names that many know will change when properly translated.
The biggest of those changes that will be readily noticeable is Aerith. That is her name in all conventions given since the release of the game in the US and her name in Japan. Many fans will have strong feelings with her being Aeris as that is how she is remembered from her pivotal moments. But unlike the original release there will be no option to rename characters to your liking. With fully voiced cutscenes and dialog, characters need set names. While this won’t affect the overall experience, there are moments where that freedom of control can be missed. Knowing Red XIII’s real name and not being able to name him as such in repeated playthroughs. Fortunately this will avoid awkward moments with characters stating things such as, “My name is Nanaki, but you can call me Nanaki.”
The contrasting vistas of pre-rendered backgrounds and painted back drops playing against the blocky and brighter colors of the simple polygon models of the characters and NPCs will be missed more than most players realize. It was this visual that lent to the visual memory that many have for the game. That’s not to say that sharp updated graphics won’t be welcomed or enjoyed, it will be a jarring experience for those looking for those similar moments between the original and the remake. But one of the most important aspects that must be found to work is the overworld map. Many modern RPGs have abandoned the use of one, but part of the exploration and for many the experience of flying the Highwind, or diving underwater with the subamarine are important not just to what created nostalgia, but also to the experience of the game. This is true for all of the vehicles and the Chocobos, getting to areas that weren’t originally accessible and revisiting places that the player hasn’t been since following the story, whether it is for additional items or new sidequests.
In the end it is a project worth taking note of as it could set the bar for any future attempts of similar remakes by any company in the future. Fans will have their work cut out trying to keep their nostalgia in check to judge the game properly on how it is presented now, but also using it as a tool for measuring if it captures the experience that the original helped create.