While impassively pummeling the world’s kidney in my last post - it turns out some people are super-protective of Final Fantasy X and feel personally attacked when I point out its sucky parts - I got to thinkin’. I got to thinkin’ about the Final Fantasy VII Remake and the myriad directions it might go if indeed it is a remake and not just an “HD Remaster” like Final Fantasy X. Because you know what? I’m not especially enamored of “HD Remasters” anymore. I’ve cooled off on them. My market for HD Remasters is not bullish. Fortunately, it sounds like Square-Enix is dead-set on giving Final Fantasy VII more than a sharper coat of pixels; director Tetsuya Nomura has made that pretty clear. What he is going to do beyond overhauling the graphics, though, is anyone’s guess at this point, and I’ve got to admit: I’m worried. That worry is not something that occupies much of my brain-space - yes, I was excited when the bomb dropped, but I didn’t shit myself in joy or have a heart attack or weep inconsolably like some of these lost souls. It’s more like a faint but persistent tapping on the back of my head. Like a tiny sprite is trying to get my attention. LISTEN! I ignore it most of the time.
But sometimes, I can’t. And when I can’t, I start theorizing. And theorizing, as we know, is the devil’s plaything, so basically I’m tinkering in a toyshop in hell. That’s probably an overstatement, but I have spent some time pondering the imponderables about what Nomura might have brewing in his brewery, and I might as well share my findings. They’re laid out for you below and presented as a series of hypothetical scenarios.
HYPOTHETICAL #1: HD REMASTER
Now, we already know this is not what’s happening. Or, at least, this is not all that’s happening. And we think we know. Nomura told Famitsu, “Let’s say for argument’s sake that we only pretty up the graphics for current gen hardware, I don’t think that would surpass the original version.” For argument’s sake? Dude is being cagey. Maybe in some twisted, deeply perverted way he’s working to lower expectations and actually telling us exactly what is in the works without us knowing it. Or maybe he doesn’t even know. He didn’t know he was directing until way late in the game, so it’s possible he’s publically spitballing to try and get a temperature reading.
If the remake does turn out to be a simple beautification project, it might not be the worst thing. Besides, isn’t that what everyone and their Playstation-addled grandmother has been clamoring for since 1998? This whole “redo” idea is actually pretty new for Squeenix; every other Final Fantasy re-release to date has been graphics-only, and to my memory, the Avalanche-ing (!!!) argument for the past decade-and-a-half has been “You did every other game - why the hell not VII, bro?”
The good news is Final Fantasy VII’s bones are much healthier than, off the top of my head, Final Fantasy X’s, so an HD Remaster would mostly serve to deliver a new way to ingest a game that was already fantastic. It’d be the difference between eating a deli-meat turkey sandwich out of a brown paper sack and unhinging your jaw to cram a whole thanksgiving turkey down your filthy maw. In other words, it would be undeniably awesome, but mostly because Final Fantasy VII was already undeniably awesome. It’d be shiny and new and Cloud’s antigravity hair-spikes would probably (definitely) look preposterous when rendered with any real detail, but that same familiar gameplay would underpin everything and you wouldn’t have to worry about being a sad old dog learning new tricks that your arthritic hands aren’t equipped to handle in 2015. You could kick back in your easy chair, adjust your reading glasses, and enjoy a scenic, nostalgic trip through a more realistic evolution of a world you already know very, very well with a satisfied little smile on your face, you smug bastard. No surprises, just oohing and aahing and warm, syrupy comfort.
That’s all well and good, and it’s a strategy that’s worked like gangbusters in the past to sell a drillion copies of remade games back to people who have already owned and played them, but technology has come so far by now that there’s suddenly additional cause for concern. It’s been pointed out before, but it bears repeating: there are some (a lot of) scenes in this game that work precisely because of how unrealistic the visuals are, and boosting those visuals to a certain level of realism is going to have weird, off-putting results. Cloud dolled up in a purple dress as a pig-tailed seductress? Red XIII - an ancient dog - disguised as a human SOLDIER? Vincent Valentine not being played by Johnny Depp? That’s going to require a steady hand, Nomura. There are FMV sequences in the original game that depict the characters as recognizably human-shaped humans, but all of the truly far-fetched scenes are relegated safely to the super-deformed realm of the actual gameplay.
Still, I trust the Square-Enix of today a good deal more more than the Squaresoft of a decade ago to divine crafty ways of pulling off this bitch. If nothing else, this could be a good opportunity to collapse the disparate visual styles that tried to coexist in the original game into a cohesive whole. By my count, there are currently at least four competing versions of Cloud & Company in Final Fantasy VII: super-deformed block-monsters during exploration, realistic humans during battle, smoothly animated, stubby cartoons during certain cutscenes, and full-blown CG-people during others. With the capabilities of current-generation consoles on hand, surely one exquisitely detailed, mind-meltingly sweet version of each character will be enough.
HYPOTHETICAL #2: NEW BATTLE SYSTEM
If the remake extends beyond graphical updates - and there’s every reason to believe it does - the battle system is where I start getting worried, because the battle system is perfectly fine as is. Unfortunately, Tetsuya Nomura, despite having a hand (or two) in designing the characters in mid-series Final Fantasy games, didn’t put on his cozy director hat until Kingdom Hearts, and the Kingdom Hearts battle system - while great in its own right - is a totally different beast from the turn-based joys of Final Fantasy VII. From his comments, I have a sneaking suspicion Nomura is about to unload some freaky updates all over this game. To Famitsu: “[I]f you are going to do a full remake, you have to take a different approach and make something that suits the times.” That sounds dangerous to me. I smell real-time battles, and in this case, they smell like big bags of trash.
There’s something appealing about the idea of real-time battles in Final Fantasy VII - after all, we’ve seen Cloud swing around his Buster Sword in decidedly non-turn-based fashion in everything from Ehrgeiz to the Dissidia series to, yes, Kingdom Hearts, and it was pretty flipping cool in almost every case - but maybe here it’s safer that we keep everyone corralled to the menus and ATB gauges of yesteryear. There are widespread, gamebreaking ramifications to turning Final Fantasy VII into an action game. Here’s a butterfly effect analysis to help illustrate:
- Turn-based battles are eliminated in favor of a system skewing toward real-time.
- Having more than one playable character becomes a problem and a question of redundancy. Why play as anyone but Cloud?
- Environments are way too small and confined to accommodate real-time battles.
- The Materia system becomes awkward because most spells only make sense in the context of turn-based battles.
- Hunting for Materia becomes much less of a prerogative, and Materia itself becomes a somewhat perplexing plot point.
- Sephiroth gets over his existential crisis and forgives and forgets.
- Aerith never dies and opens up a flower-shop empire called The Shinra Peony Palace.
- Square-Enix stock plummets, Tetsuya Nomura resigns in disgrace.
- Final Fantasy X the stage play opens in New York starring all of the original voice actors.
Obviously, this must not be permitted to happen. Now that I write it all out (minus those last few points), I’m a little less worried that it’s an actual possibility - Nomura couldn’t modify something that fundamental and still be left with an even remotely similar game, and I don’t imagine he wants to straight-up alienate the original fanbase.
Still, what he could do is incorporate some version of Final Fantasy XIII’s hybrid battle system. That might work, but I really wouldn’t know because, to be honest, I’ve only played the demos of the games in that mini-series. The whole “run down the gray metallic corridor” thing put me in a dark place almost immediately (actually, it put me directly into a gray metallic corridor), and at least a few of the characters’ voices gave me that familiar Tidus-is-near prickle on the back of my neck. But I’m relatively certain that at least one of those games featured a Chrono Trigger-esque, enemies-are-visible system hybridized with a separate screen for fighting where characters were free to frantically sprint around the battlefield but were still locked into an ATB gauge. That might not be so bad. Again, though, that system would remove a good bit of player agency and strategy since only one player would be controllable at a time.
Frankly, I don’t want any of that garbage.
HYPOTHETICAL #3: N00Bs
Here’s where things might get really interesting. Updated graphics are definitely happening, the battle system is up in the air, but unless my spidey senses are wrong (and they’re...usually wrong), there will be some unknown X-factors rearing their glorious heads. My faulty spidey senses don’t actually matter, because Nomura has more or less confirmed the existence of a few of these n00bs already. Quoth Nomura, “...there will be more plot devices in the story, so I think you can also look forward to that.” Plot devices? What are we talking about here? CAN I look forward to that, Nomura? Really?
I’m nervous and excited, like a little kid climbing the ladder to the high dive. Maybe I’ll execute a perfect swan dive, maybe I’ll bellyflop myself into a thousand pieces. I can foresee some good and some bad additions (I’m clairvoyant), but what gets me most en-weirdened is a possible “enhancement” that I think is almost certainly a given: voice acting. There is zero chance that Nomura is going to pass up the opportunity to bathe this game in some sudsy, old-fashioned voice acting. And why would he? By now, Final Fantasy VII has a go-to stable of voice actors for many of its main characters courtesy of Kingdom Hearts, and they’re mostly high-profile and talented. Already, that puts Final Fantasy VII leagues ahead of Final Fantasy X in the keeping-me-comfortable department, but I still have major, gloomy doubts, almost entirely due to the script. The script is a lot of fun to read - the dialogue can be funny, ridiculous, charming, etc. - but there’s a large percentage of it that, while easy enough to read on the page, is going to make for a rocky transition to voice acting. Barrett’s and Cid’s quasi-censored cursing freakouts, for instance; not only are there often no actual curse words to be read aloud and recorded by a voice actor, there’s a very real danger that the freakouts themselves will sound incredibly stupid if vocalized with any attempt at sincerity.
The best remedy for this problem is a literal game-changer: a new translation. Whoa. WHAT IF NOMURA ORDERED A NEW TRANSLATION. Shit, I’d be willing to learn Japanese and do it myself if that’s what it came down to, I’m not above a little hard work. A new translation might sound like too radical of an endeavor to be something that’s actually on the table, but I’m willing to bet that the first time one voice actor catches another voice actor’s eye while they’re recording the Don Corneo scene and a heavy blanket of awkwardness settles over everything and then the whole studio bursts out laughing because of how ludicrous, how purely embarrassing, it all is...there will be some reassessment.
Something else about “new plot devices” that makes my thumbs all a-fidgety: the dubious legacy left behind by Advent Children and Crisis Core. I experienced both years back, and while I don’t have many lingering memories of them to draw from now, that in itself is sort of the problem. They were forgettable. Both tried to shoehorn new characters and stories into the Final Fantasy VII universe to middling-to-unsuccessful effect. Crisis Core had that whole kerfuffle about Genesis and poetry and clones, Advent Children was basically the story of some Death Eaters trying their to resurrect Voldemort, and neither plot has any logical place in the original game. But if Nomura is looking for new content, I have a feeling that may be where he looks first. Probably not Dirge of Cerberus, though. I’m not as worried about that.
Somewhere within my flurry of worry - within my worry-flurry (now available at Dairy Queen) - there are some potential additions that I’m genuinely pumped about, long shots though they may be. The option to shorten summon animations and skip cutscenes would be welcome, of course. But what if they rebuilt the graphics so hard that different pieces of equipment affected character appearance? They already did it with weapons - why not bangles and armlets and whatnot too? A non-midi soundtrack would be killer and is almost assured - the relentlessly touring Final Fantasy Orchestra or whatever has already made it very clear how glorious these songs sound when played without using armies of tiny keyboards.
In the end, speculation is a loser’s game, because only Nomura himself knows what this thing is ultimately going to look like. And he’s not telling. But, then again, maybe that’s because he doesn’t know.