The people clamor for it, but they know not what they ask. They take to Twitter and Reddit to cry out wanton rage over their heart’s desire; but they know not why they want. They claim that they are being ignored and that it would be a “no brainer” to listen to them; but they know not what they claim.
I speak, of course, of the “outrage” over Square Enix announcing Final Fantasy VII for the PlayStation 4 – not as a remake, but as a PC port. Whether it’s due to a general lack of misunderstanding about the processes and cost behind game development, or pure nostalgia, fans have practically demanded a modern remake of FFVII.
Square Enix has wisely declined to listen to these demands.
For many, Final Fantasy VII was their first experience of the RPG genre and an introduction to Sony’s first PlayStation. As such, it’s frequently placed on a nostalgia-fuelled pedestal that prevents any reasonable discussion about the game proper. In reality, and with the hindsight granted by 17 years’ worth of distance since the original release, FFVII is arguably the worst of the PS1 Final Fantasy games, if not one of the lesser titles in the entire franchise. Many choose to look past or simply forget the absurd plot, boring characters, and your basic run-of-the-mill-battle system that was a step back from Final Fantasy VI. Often, all that is remembered is Cloud’s hair, the cross dressing, Aerith’s death, and Sephiroth’s impossibly large sword.
The question I want to ask is: what do people expect? What would a modern PlayStation 4 (and presumably Xbox One and PC) remake entail? It seems evident from the reaction to the announcement that most fans would be more than displeased with a handheld remake for Vita or 3DS; but I for one would rather this be the route taken should there ever be a remake.
The development costs of a modern game are considerably more expensive than last generation, and those costs are only ever going to increase in years to come. It’s well documented that many gamers don’t actually know how much money goes into making a modern game, and this is after a decade of Square Enix making poor economic decisions – all in the name of making an amazing-looking game.
There’s also the fact that almost nothing can be reused from the original release. All of the art, music, assets, and a litany of under-the-hood elements would need to be redesigned and re-programmed from scratch. Sure, there are the old designs for the developers to work from – but a game of the size of Final Fantasy VII would take a considerable amount of time to develop, on top of the undoubtedly high monetary cost of that development. Coupled with the lack of voice acting that would be expected of a next gen remake, and any potential motion capture that I’m sure Square Enix has used for Final Fantasy XV, and you can start to see why Square Enix has remained reluctant to invest in such a huge undertaking.
With all of that in mind, is the endeavor of remaking an old game (to the scope and expectations desired) worth it for Square Enix? I’d venture to take a guess and say no. I’m more than positive that the publisher has done their market research on this very question, and discovered that the margin for potential sales simply wouldn’t live up to the costs involved in undertaking such an exercise. However much genre fans might try to argue otherwise, the JRPG genre has been in decline in recent years, with numerous high-profile titles failing to meet sales expectations or recoup their development costs. Should any remake of Final Fantasy VII fail at retail, Square Enix would find itself in a precarious position that could compromise the company further than their most recent set of missteps. Since the original is held up on the a pedestal, nothing short of a masterpiece could stand up to the the hype that would surround the remake. Failure for any remake to be a success wouldn’t just spell significant trouble for Square Enix; it would call into question the very future of the entire Final Fantasy franchise – a risk that Square Enix wouldn’t want to take, for obvious reasons.
Furthermore, none of the original team that made Final Fantasy VII is present at Square Enix in the same capacity that they were before. 17 years is a very long time in the industry, as many of the original development team will have moved on to different projects or studios. Famed Final Fantasy director Yoshinori Kitase has moved onto producer roles and is less hands-on with projects within the company these days; his last directorial project was Final Fantasy X, and that was back in 2002. Art director Yusuke Naora has only recently returned to the Final Fantasy franchise with the upcoming release of FFXV. And legendary composer Nobuo Uematsu left the company back in 2004 to pursue other projects.
All of this begs the question: who would be making this new, and probably very different, game? A game that would resemble the original in cast and story only, and would likely need to make concessions to a more modern audience if it were to have any hope of commercial success? Even if the original script was adhered to, there would need to be subtle additions that would alter and change scenes – maybe even thematic and philosophical context. Cloud and the revolutionary group are, after all, terrorists. Hell, your first act in the game is to destroy a power plant, with the resultant explosion claiming the lives of hundreds of innocent civilians. It’s difficult to see how that would wash in a post-9/11 age, and is an ideal candidate for one of the first changes that Square Enix would make to the storyline in order to bring the game in line with modern sensibilities.
Back in 1997, the limited rendering power of the original PlayStation meant that players were forced to use their imagination when it came to the facial expressions on those basic, 3D blocky models; the characters that so many fell in love with were partially created by us. A new director with the powerful new technologies of today, and the expectation to live up to more modern technological standards, would in turn imprint his or her own philosophical imprint on character expressions and as such could change everything. The much-maligned film, Advent Children, has already shown what can happen if a new team of creators is let loose on Final Fantasy fandom’s holy grail – anger and upset caused by fans’ perceived failure of the “new” versions of the characters to remain faithful to their original depiction.
There’s also the artistic factor surrounding questions of a remake. In every sense, Final Fantasy VII is what Yoshinori Kitase – creative lead on the original – intended the game to be. The legendary game that will go down in history as a defining moment for videogames as a storytelling medium is one that we’ve already played. Anything else could potentially be a perversion of that piece of art, and our cultural legacy as gamers.
Remember when Han shot first? I do. Go and ask George Lucas how it feels to be on the receiving end of fans’ ire.
Speaking of a different horrible idea for a remake as a cash grab – which is what any Final Fantasy VII remake would be, were it to ever happen – here’s what a much younger George Lucas had to say, when he spoke at a United States Congressional hearing on the preservation of art (in this case, film):
People who alter or destroy works of art and our cultural heritage for profit or as an exercise of power are barbarians, and if the laws of the United States continue to condone this behavior, history will surely classify us as a barbaric society. The preservation of our cultural heritage may not seem to be as politically sensitive an issue as “when life begins” or “when it should be appropriately terminated,” but it is important because it goes to the heart of what sets mankind apart. Creative expression is at the core of our humanness. Art is a distinctly human endeavor. We must have respect for it if we are to have any respect for the human race.
These current defacements are just the beginning. Today, engineers with their computers can add color to black-and-white movies, change the soundtrack, speed up the pace, and add or subtract material to the philosophical tastes of the copyright holder. Tomorrow, more advanced technology will be able to replace actors with “fresher faces,” or alter dialogue and change the movement of the actor’s lips to match. It will soon be possible to create a new “original” negative with whatever changes or alterations the copyright holder of the moment desires. The copyright holders, so far, have not been completely diligent in preserving the original negatives of films they control. In order to reconstruct old negatives, many archivists have had to go to Eastern bloc countries, where American films have been better preserved.
Of course, we all know what happened with Star Wars in the decades to come, and it serves as a historical lesson of the folly of taking a cherished work and twisting it for a more modern audience. Videogames are rapidly becoming accepted as works of art (Roger Ebert aside). Final Fantasy VII by and large helped to move that notion along, aiding the public perception of videogames to evolve from kids’ toys, to a method of expressing a deep and thoughtful narrative. As a work of art, Final Fantasy VII it should be allowed to stand on its own; it doesn’t need to be modernized to have any more impact on games as a culture than it already did – and any attempt to do so would undoubtedly fail. The reverie surrounding the game is less to do with the actual quality of the game, and more to do with Square Enix releasing the right product at the right time, riding a cultural zeitgeist which saw the JRPG genre reach a highpoint, however brief that time in the limelight was. Any attempt to artificially recreate that impact is doomed to failure.
So, to those of you upset over Square Enix flying in the face of popular opinion, and accusing the publisher of ignoring of the fans, ask yourself: what is it that you’re really asking for? Why would you want a remake? Do you not like the game that we already have and love, and have done for the past 17 years? Or is there something wrong with it that warrants a remake? Seriously, I’m asking you: why you would reject the original game and ask for a remake? What are your logical conclusive points?
It’s one thing to ask for a 16-bit “back to basics” approach, or a handheld re-imagining of the older games in the series; it’s a completely different question to ask for a full-on return to Gaia.
Final Fantasy VII is perfectly fine as it is. If that’s not enough for the fans, then perhaps the fans need to find something else to worship.