The day finally arrived. Endless clamoring, rumormongering, and all-out rampant fanery have finally converged into a singular point in our lives, finally generating a loud and booming storm of inevitability, releasing a downpour of hype and excitement that will flood us all for years before finally drying up and disappointing us all with yet another gaming industry failure.
Final Fantasy VII Remake? Yeah, you could say I’m skeptical.
I was skeptical before, but now I’m downright dismissive altogether.
Editor’s Note: Calum – Danny West is a writer and editor at the Magic the Gathering website Star City Games, and is formerly one half of the widely liked Commander Vs video series. In his spare time, he is also a speedrunner of games such as Bioshock Infinite, Donkey Kong Country and Silent Hill 2. I’m glad to call him a good friend of almost a year, after I helped him with some technical problems on his stream, and when he wanted to share some opinions about this hobby we all enjoy, I was more than happy to give him a platform.
You can find Danny on Twitter, and you can join me in watching his speedrunning efforts and high brow chat on Twitch.
Let’s get something straight before we begin: Final Fantasy VII is unequaled to me. Unrivaled. It is my favorite video game, and there’s a very good chance it always will be. Every video game we play has two types of benefits and/or detriments: Firstly, it carries with it good qualities and bad qualities that can be mostly looked at objectively. The controls work or they don’t. The game crashes or it doesn’t. It functions or fails. The other type of benefit and detriment inherent in every game is far more subjective: It’s about those qualities that change in value depending on player preference. Mass Effect’s tight control schemes and open world won’t mean anything to a player that positively despises defining their protagonist through dialogue and actions. Fallout 3’s incredible emphasis on organic exploration will be completely worthless if the player is too paralyzed by options to carry out their Lone Wanderer’s story. The fantastic platforming action of a classic Mario game will be crap if the player inherently dislikes portly Italians. You can’t please everyone all the time.
Final Fantasy VII pleased me in more ways than any game before or after it. The mechanics of the game were accessible but customizable. The characters were complicated and interesting, but they acted and talked like human beings for the most part. Before FF7, I’d never seen game characters actually cry before. I’d never played a game where the things characters were saying seemed so uncannily like real passionate people even though it was in a fantastical setting. The story meandered and branched, but it never lost its overarching focus. The story pre-dated living “green” and Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth, but it prophetically told of the dismal and crooked future, a future where the proud and wealthy few irresponsibly endanger everyone else smaller than them. Final Fantasy VII’s planet is our planet, it was always our planet, and we were just a few years behind. Years before September 11th, it looked at the relative morality of terrorism. It had a world that felt bigger than it ever actually was (two tickets to Loveless, please!), it had distinct and cared for set design. The plot didn’t progress so much as bloom. It knew when to be fun and when to be funny. It knew when to be neither.
In short, for many of us, Final Fantasy VII was the first indication that gaming was growing up, that the medium had pretty stories to tell and that we were no longer just entertaining ourselves with the digital equivalent of children’s toys on Saturday mornings.
So where are we now? As gamers. As story-receivers. As consumers.
Well, a vast majority of gaming releases in 2015 are dangerously and pathetically narrow. They can be called art by community without the art part, for the most part. They’re big-budget risks that must ensure the greatest possibility for return, even if it means that all traces of inspiration and storytelling are completely rotted away by the time the final product is complete and on a shelf.
Final Fantasy VII is from another world. It’s a game that exists in both the artistic storytelling space of impossible idealism as well as in the profitable real world that needs spectacle and premature communal hype. It sold well, and it didn’t need jiggle physics or an American soldier half-covered in flame lighting to do it.
To this day, the game is a surreal miracle.
And remaking it is fruitless, pointless, and ridiculous. Here’s why:
Who Is The Audience?
A large number of the modern gaming audience has not played the original PSX release of FF7, and a great number of that group never will because of outdated graphics. A remake is presumably what would get these people to play the game, but if that’s the case, why remake FF7 instead of just putting out another title with a giant marketing engine behind it? The large section of the gaming populace that lacks critical thinking of any kind will buy whatever carries the most posters at the mall and whatever their friends are saying they should buy. So why bother remaking a classic for these people? They’ll buy anything anyway.
The other section of the audience is obviously people who have already played the game. It is an undoubtedly safe bet that most of these players will purchase the game, but when the word of mouth backlash starts happening, how many of these consumers will be retained for future Square titles? How many of these consumers trust Square to begin with at this point?
In 1996, American rock band Weezer released their most critically acclaimed album to date, Pinkerton. The album was initially a flop, and only years later did pompous critics and other overpaid professional cultural droolers re-review the album to give it its proper due. More importantly, the album contained a handful of tracks that were leftover from a bigger project that the band’s leader, Rivers Cuomo, had been working on in the years prior. The original album was to be called Songs From the Black Hole, and its mythical and nebulous nature made it something fans of the band clamored for for years and years after.
So what does this have to do with FF7?
Because no matter how good or great something is, the album or game devout fans didn’t get will always be better. Nobody can create something better than whatever a group of fanatics can dream up. Real projects, real games, real music, can’t compare to whatever nonsensical impossible ideal you’ve made up in your head. The grass is always greener.
Final Fantasy VII’s remake is destined to become a colossal misfire and betrayal. Every year, the film industry cranks out a handful of reboots and remakes, and they’re almost always utterly terrible. Updating a film for a modern audience is child’s play compared to having redesign a forty-plus hour video game. The original game had dialogue that the player could mash through at their own pace. This allowed for the game’s plot to be digested as the player wished. The older graphics and lack of voiceovers made it so the player could project their own thoughts and ideas onto the loose templates the game provided. The modern version will presumably replace these small, well-paced dialogue sections with information dump exposition. The characters won’t have any gray area for the player to fill in with their imagination–Cloud, Tifa, and Sephiroth will be completely visually polished and voiced. If you don’t like what you’re getting, there’s no room to renegotiate it. Cloud’s train metaphor? His clever comparison of the lack of control poor people have over their own lives with the predetermined public transport they have to ride to get around Midgar? If the voice actor delivers that line without understanding its importance or its meaning, you’re boned. There’s no repairing it. And you can bet your ass that nobody at Square Enix in 2015 knows anything about what made Final Fantasy VII such an important game. Square is extinct. They’re creatively bankrupt. They’re misguided, they’re bloated, they’re unreliable, and there’s zero chance this game will be 10% as good as people imagine it will be.
The Fall of Square
Square Enix was the pinnacle of video game excellence twenty years ago. They were the perfect size: big enough to have all the resources they could ever need, but small enough that they were able to dodge much of the convoluted corporate backlash that comes with that territory. Squaresoft consisted of composers, storytellers, and artists. Today, Square Enix is a multinational media monster. It employs not composers, not storytellers, not artists, but individuals who wanted to be those things and failed. They’re creative individuals so exhausted, so burnt out and creatively destroyed by top end capitalism gone wrong that they’ve lost all means to execute even the most fundamentally dignified product. Square’s catalog since the halcyon days of FF are laughable. Final Fantasy XII correctly embraced new design choices and the ways the genre was evolving, but the big wig interference and meddling resulted in a story that went completely unfinished, characters that vanished so fast from the plot that you can almost see erase marks on your television, and a protagonist so universally reviled that it kept lifelong fans of the series away entirely. Final Fantasy X (pre-Enix) was a mixed bag due to some design tension and linearity, but it ultimately became memorable for its unique love story, its beautiful color palette, and its critique of religious corruption. Final Fantasy X-2 (post-Enix) was so bizarrely awkward and misguided that it managed to mangle the once respectable main character of the previous game before the player ever even gained control. Final Fantasy XIII and its inexplicable tumorous sequels need no critique because everyone knows they’re terrible, they know Lightning is terrible, and they know that they’re the greatest and most final indication that nobody at Square Enix has any clue what they’re doing creatively in any way.
So why should we be excited that they’re remaking Final Fantasy VII? Shouldn’t we be outraged? We are trusting our beautiful child with a babysitter holding heroin. They don’t know what they’re doing, they don’t even know why they’re doing it, and there is positively zero chance that this will just so happen to be their first successful venture in game development in over a decade.
We Have No Indication It’ll Ever Be Released
Square Enix thinks you’re stupid. The AAA Games Industry thinks you’re stupid. They think that showing you trailers with no gameplay will be enough for you to go out and buy a video game console. E3, once the most reliable indicator of the year to come in video gaming, has become a festival of empty promises. E3 thinks you’re stupid.
Don’t be stupid.
Remember the trailer for Dead Island? Remember Silent Hills? Remember The Order 1886?
The video game industry is the only entertainment entity that not only gets away with false advertisements, they positively revel in them. Video game commercials continuously show you things that aren’t in the game, and in many cases, these projects are either unrecognizable from what was first shown or they don’t come to fruition at all.
There are two types of people in the world: people who do things, and people who talk about doing things. The AAA Games Industry is composed of people who do absolutely nothing but talk about what they’re going to do because they think that’s all it takes to win you over. As excited as you are for a remake, don’t think for a second it’s even close to a guarantee. This industry lies to you continuously because they get away with it. Don’t be a fool and don’t hold your breath. Believe it when you see it, and not a second before.
If you really want to enjoy FF7 again or for the first time, it’s easy. Put it in your Playstation or download it from the PS store. Then turn your phone off and press New Game. If the polygonal graphics and textual dialogue are a turn off for you, no amount of updating will make you enjoy it anyway. Maybe this game isn’t for you.
And maybe its remake isn’t for anybody.