Final Fantasy VII remake and why we need it
The Final Fantasy VII remake is due out in only a scant few weeks, and like many long time fans of Final Fantasy, I await its coming with a sense of hype not seen since… well, since its first release in 1997.
There has been no more commonly voiced request from the gaming public over the years since it came out. Many in June of 2015 did not think that such a thing would ever happen. Square-Enix was knee-deep in the making of Final Fantasy XV at that point. It had slogged on for nearly a decade after starting life as a spinoff of Final Fantasy XIII named Versus Final Fantasy XIII. Fans of the series had mostly come to accept that the glitzy CGI film Advent Children and the 2005 PS3 Tech Demo that SE had shown off at E3 were as close as they were going to get.
Flash forward to today and here we all are again. Getting ready to save the world and smack Sephiroth so hard in his perfect jawline that his white bishi hair falls out. But has anyone bothered to ask “Why? Why do we want a Final Fantasy VII remake? Why are we getting a Final Fantasy VII remake? What is it with remakes?”
Well…yeah. Me. I’ve bothered. And here’s what I came up with! Missiun Suttato!!
Final Fantasy VII came out on January 31st, 1996. Bill Clinton had just been re-elected to the United States Presidency. The #1 Single on Billboard’s Hot 100 was “One Sweet Day,” a duet between Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men.
Mario 64 was already out and everyone was playing it. All were loving it, and simultaneously throwing up their hands at Nintendo’s bad decisions. It seemed utterly outlandish (recall that this was the era of the Virtual Boy, and remember the Wii U fiasco of a few years back, Switch Fans. Nintendo trips on their Kingly Robes every once in a while).
Almost an N64 release
Nintendo had brought along their new system, the Nintendo 64, to compete with the already-out Sony Playstation and Sega Saturn consoles. They had made the unthinkably strange decision to stick with cartridges rather than move on into the Compact Disc format that Sega and Sony had embraced.
The official word was that Nintendo didn’t feel that the CD format was necessary to deliver quality software (technically correct). There were subsets of gaming fandom at the time that posited that it might also have had something to do with Nintendo not owning much in the way of Compact Disc production facilities (Their holdings did seem to include quite a bit of the business of manufacturing plastic parts and microprocessor chips, being that they’d been in the toy business for the better part of a century). In order to mass produce a CD-based system, Nintendo would have had to pay the prices that CD manufacturers wanted. The Big N is nothing if not cautious about its purse strings.
However, this decision, while frugal and prudent for Nintendo, heavily rubbed Squaresoft’s genie in a bottle the wrong way. They decided to grant three wishes to a rival console manufacturer, namely Sony. Therefore, even after having made a technical demo for the N64 hardware featuring Locke, Terra and Shadow of Final Fantasy VI fame fighting Goda, a boss creature from the SNES RPG Breath of Fire (which Squaresoft had translated and released in the USA when Capcom offered it to them), Square ultimately jumped ship from Nintendo to join Sony’s ranks. Final Fantasy VII became a PlayStation exclusive.
And what an exclusive indeed.
Why was it so significant?
It is hard to overstate the cultural significance of Final Fantasy VII to those who called ourselves ‘gamers’ in 96. The previews we were seeing had familiar tropes of the JRPG genre but with a stylish, razor-edged sharpness to their execution and a dark, rebellious nature to it’s story that hadn’t really come across with Final Fantasy VI’s visual presentation.
In addition, computer graphics at that time were really nothing special. Terminator 2 had introduced their ability to change the shape of human faces. However, this technology was a parlour trick, not an art form. Other than being used in Terminator 2, ‘morphing’ as it was known, was mostly just a costly flash effect that was used to sell action figures to children. Toy Story, while excellent in its technical use of CGI, still comes across mostly as a giant marketing stunt (which Disney is well known for).
Final Fantasy VII brought these three things. JRPGs, a burgeoning punk rock rebelliousness and the advent of CGI technology, all together in one fell swoop. It then delivered them with such pizzazz, it was hard not to get excited by it. But these are just the surface features of VII. Once you start looking under the surface, Final Fantasy VII transforms into something even more engaging.
The importance of narrative
Even in 1996, video games with story were regarded as kind of a novelty at best, and pointlessly boring and drawn out at worst. John Carmack (of ID Software fame) once famously remarked that story in video games was like a story in pornography; “expected to be there, but nobody pays attention to it.” Players of the JRPG genre of course disagreed with this sentiment, but were the minority in a world where the internet was nowhere near the cultural powerhouse it is today. Games mostly focused on twitch action, level design, and (if you really wanted to start getting ‘technical’) a bit of resource management and puzzle solving to break up the action parts. No one would have said in 1996 “I don’t feel like Doom’s story is well written enough.”
FF7 changed all of that. When it dropped, it went straight through the roof. There were technical feats abound. There was the seamless shifting between CGI videos and gameplay. The intense combat pyrotechnics. The luscious color profile (which made even the mighty Super NES look a bit tame by comparison). The increased sound quality of a CD based game. But there was one thing that put Final Fantasy VII in gillions (that’s a real number right? I’m just gonna say it is) of homes across the dirt-and-water ball floating in space which we call our humble abode; its story was the most complex work of interactive fiction that had ever been produced, bar none.
And it still is, to this day.
Twists and turns
Final Fantasy VII’s story remains unequaled in its sheer level of cultural impact in the gaming world. It hits you like a ton of bricks whenever it throws a new plot twist at you. When the big reveal happens (no spoilers), it takes the top of your head clean off and I fully expect causes your eyes to each become as wide as the Midgar Plate System. It was just such an “Oh, my, freaking, GOSH” moment, that it can’t really be put into words without… without, well, spoiling it entirely.
The Concept of Materia
At the same time, Final Fantasy VII manages to be a fun, engaging and at times challenging video game, while still carrying around this ginormous (I’m also going to just say that that’s a word) weighty storyline. Materia is a more believable and thought out solution to why people have magic powers in this world. In Final Fantasy I (they read), Final Fantasy IV (they read and then gain experience) or Final Fantasy VI (ghosts of magic beasts live inside rocks that you wear while you go kill monsters). The various modes of transportation are all fun to use and have a cool feel to them. The Limit Break system has just that right amount of risk vs. reward that makes for an enjoyable time playing. And the ability to collect all kinds of awesome swords and stuff? Sure, count me in!
That’s not even getting into set pieces, which stand in for an action-type game’s ‘levels.’ In breaking with the whole ‘medieval fantasy’ setting that FF1-5 were known for, Final Fantasy VI gave birth to Final Fantasy VII’s total inside-out turning of the genre. Final Fantasy VI could be considered almost modern. Final Fantasy VII goes straight for those science-fiction credentials, right down to the fact that it does, in fact, take the time to provide an explanation for how Materia is formed and how it works. The technology that the in-game world uses is actually a large part of the story as well. It is powered by the magical energy of the world they live in and is also siphoning it away from that world, causing it to be slowly destroyed.
Flaws and Inspiration
This integration of gameplay, story and indeed the integration of everything with Final Fantasy VII’s story, was not just an innovative gameplay achievement for 1997. It was tantamount to someone inventing the fictional novel (it was a Japanese noblewoman, in fact, and it’s called The Tale of Genji. This is where we get the Genji Armor/Genji Glove/et al in the FF series). Somehow, it all just comes together into this swirling whirlwind of intensity that just bowls you over when you sit down to play it.
It’s true that the character models were not quite what they should have been. This was done to save time for the other elements of the game. They still looked better than the glorified cereal pieces of Final Fantasy 6 and Secret of Mana, at any rate. We forgave them back then, and would do it again. Anyway, it didn’t diminish the impact of the game’s story.
Final Fantasy VII’s story had such an impact all over the game world that it has been the high mark of video gaming since 1997. There has been a continual push for more realism and other strides forward. Even so, Final Fantasy VII stands alone as one of the most cohesive batcrap-crazy video games in history. There has never been any game that I’ve ever heard of which managed to illicit so universal a response from the gaming public. “We want to go back to this!”
Why do we want it?
Because people don’t simply want a Final Fantasy VII remake to see it. They want to smell it, to taste it, to breathe it again. They want to go back to being the them that they were back in January 1997. To being the people who played this game when it came out. To go back to wherever they were when they finally (heh) got around to playing it. They want to be Cloud again. They want to beat Sephiroth again. They want to save the world again.
They want, and indeeed I want, to return to Midgar. And that’s something no other game that I can think of has ever made me feel.
And that’s why I want to get the Final Fantasy VII remake.
Come on, newcomer. Follow me.
Thank you to the following links for the images….