Final Fantasy 7 Remake: Five Things We Want

We explore ideas on how to bring FF7 into this generation

After they cleaned the brains up from the E3 show floor when gamers' collective minds were blown upon hearing the announcement of the actual Final Fantasy VII remake, conversations started spawning all over the internet: "Well, what does this mean exactly?" Slowly, we've been discovering what the developers intend to do with this remake. Needless to say this is no easy task as FFVII is considered one of the all-time greatest video games ever created, and for this writer is one of the most inspiring pieces of art I've ever experienced. On the PS1, FFVII was the very first video game that got me emotionally involved in a massively scaled, brutally dark tale that has inspired me since seeing the opening scenes. The music by the legendary Nobuo Uematsu is one of the greatest scores I've ever heard, generating limited run symphonic concerts held across the world nearly 20 years later. The characters are adoringly nuanced, flawed, and elaborately connected through an insanely rich cyberpunk/fantasy world. Materia, magic orbs combined together and inserted into your gear for a near-endless variety of game play options is inspired directly from core components of the story—a story that continues today in many spin-offs and animated films.

For those that don't know, this remake has been an ongoing, dreadful tease starting ten years ago at the 2005 E3 where a mere tech demo, intended only to showcase the power of the PS3, got gamers hyped for a possible FFVII remake on the ten-year-old console which was to never happen. Developers stated bluntly, that it's highly improbable seeing as the budget and production size needed to meet today's standards for a remake of FFVII's caliber would be unrealistically immense. Fast forward another ten years and days prior to the 2015 E3 there were elusively small articles sprouting up in the dark corners of the web speculating on the probable appearance of a proper remake announcement. These articles were shrugged off as routine click-bait with nothing to back it up. Whatever, we all said. Yeah, right.

Then it actually happened.

I'm a 32 year old man now and I've since become scarred with bitterness and skepticism, but even the E3 announcement, though my appearance suffers from a wicked case of resting bitch face, made my soul weep with unadulterated blissful happiness. Considering that the remake is way early in development and we'll not likely see a promising release window until the end of 2017, we're going to fanboy out for a minute and talk about the things we really want and don't want in the remake of one of the most beloved video games in history. Since this game is nearly 20 years old now, and our wishes will need to touch on major spoilers in the story, consider this a warning to those who have been living in a cave up until today.

Get us the Advent Children voice actors

The original FFVII didn’t have any voice acting (FFX was the first game in the series with that honor) but the cut-scenes were still effective in telling the story.  With this remake, Square Enix has the ability to give all the characters a chance to be heard and propel the plot to new heights.  They could utilize the same team that did the voice acting in Advent Children for the Japanese version.  I wasn’t a huge fan of the English dubbed version, however, so I would hope they would get some high profile talent for the stateside translation.  From Square Enix’s past remakes though, they tend to use a mixture of text boxes and voice acting.  I would be okay with that as a compromise—perhaps they can use voice acting for important scenes with minor NPC interactions getting the text box treatment. In this day and age, having fully voiced characters is a must.  Remixing the soundtrack could be an option as well, or even bring Uematsu back again to amp up his magnificent score! Since the score has been prepared for and performed by symphonies around the world, I don't imagine it would be difficult to round up some of that talent and get some great recordings and reworks for the new game.

FFVII didn’t get the best English translation the first time around, with there being many typos and some odd sentence structuring. This was a recurring problem with Square Enix’s American division in the past, as many games had shoddy translations—Final Fantasy Tactics, I’m looking at you! It would be a welcome change for them to completely retranslate the entire game and it might clear up some of the vaguer story points.  Games back then (especially in niche genres such as RPGs) didn’t really have the multi-million dollar budgets they do now, and I am sure they can give us a higher quality product this time around.

Expand the story

I've played FFVII through its close many times over, went back to refresh on the lore prior to the release of Advent Children, and again when Advent Children Complete released. I don't want to just experience the original FFVII story copied and pasted into this remake with prettier graphics. To do proper justice to something of such a massive influence in the gaming industry, it would be short-sighted to simply enhance what's already there. The developers have been adamant about the fact that this is truly a remake and not a simple remaster. I'm hoping that direction is fully explored.

Hinted at in the remake teaser are small clues that touch on the past and future of the world and its characters, even beyond the events of Advent Children. The narration alludes to a story that has continued to unfold after the events of the original game and a reunion of our characters in the future. Hopefully, this means we get strong injections of nostalgia, re-experiencing the past, while also continuing to fascinate us with the untapped potential of moving this vast epic forward. What new darkness awaits our characters? How has Cloud continued to cope with Aerith's death? We understand that it is likely that every line of dialog and every trivial scene won't be present in this version, and we're fine with that, but it is crucial to meaningfully expand the plot in their absence.

Aerith and Cloud's relationship I'd love to see expanded more this time around. Show us some new scenes or game play mechanics that further embellish their bond. Expanding this will do two things: new players will better understand the importance of Aerith, while old players will be forced to endure bittersweet reminders of the inevitable tragedy that comes. While her death in the original game still resounds strongly with gamers all over the world, there was a strange oversight, depending on your perspective, in the design of her character. Before most gamers unlocked her final power, she was killed off. In retrospect, this further empowers the harsh reality of death in the story, but was it intentional? Was her unexpected death designed specifically to imbue the players with a sense of cruel unfairness? Before her and Cloud's potential was realized, she was robbed from him and the players. I'd love to see this theme explored more in the remake as they began doing in Advent Children. In that film, Aerith showed up often in spirit when Cloud needed her most and provided him with the necessary strengths to overcome conflicts of epic proportions. This time around, let's see Cloud gain some Limit Breaks or combat augmentations delivered straight from the Lifestream, compliments of Aerith.

Final Fantasy VII is serious business, but don't forget the humor and charm

While the universe in FFVII is grim indeed, it didn’t shy away from having those silly touches that gamers came to expect from Japanese games.  When you aren’t fighting an evil corporation and a crazy megalomaniac, you are cross-dressing to infiltrate a bee-themed brothel or going on hot dates with other party members.  One playable character, Cait Sith, is literally an anthropomorphic cat holding a megaphone that is riding a giant stuffed Moogle.  It's utterly ridiculous but completely integral to the FFVII experience, and it would be a shame if Square Enix decided to take it out of the new version.  I can see why they might make that decision, video games nowadays are Serious Business™ and they might not want to rock the boat.

Speaking of Cait Sith, where you find him/it is one of the most charming portions of the game. The Gold Saucer is the amusement park of your wildest dreams (or nightmares) and is loaded with an eclectic mix of entertainment including rollercoasters, ghostly hotels, and chocobo games. The park acts as not only an integral series of character and plot building scenes, but later is a nice escape from the grim story and the grind. 

However, Square Enix has two camps they are marketing this game to: die-hard fans of the original and curious newcomers who want to find out what all the hype is about.  If Square was smart they would try to do what they can to appease both of these groups without alienating either. This may be harder because the super-deformed character models they used in the old version lent themselves better to inane situations.  They may have to rewrite the occasional scene, but I think they can easily incorporate some of the sillier aspects without compromising the overall theme of the game.

Make this game drop-dead gorgeous

When FFVII originally released it was a jaw-dropping stunner. The graphics and scope were mind blowing for their time, especially on the PS1, and served to further enrich the atmosphere, brutality, and scale of the saga. Living up to expectations is a monumental task and one I don't blame them for trying to avoid for the last ten years.

Square Enix has the power and experience to make FFVII one of the most beautiful console games to date, surpassing or matching The Order: 1886, Arkham Knight, Killzone: Shadowfall, and other likely titles to come such as Horizon Zero Dawn. By the time the remake releases, considering the evolution of development on the PS4, that shouldn't be too much to ask for, right? Please? When Cloud and the gang are scaling the never ending Shinra Tower staircase, a state-of-the-art look and scale is exactly what FFVII deserves. When I summon the Knights of the Round, It should be something I need to experience now, just like it was on the PS1 hardware back in 1997. The summons alone were something you ran down the block to tell your friends about. You then hiked to the corner store for some chips and soda and you came back to fire up a summon spell and show off to your friends what you can do in the game. Granted, a skip button would do wonders nowadays. Instead of one-off cut scenes during battle, we'd like the option fight alongside Odin or Bahamut, cooperating with the gods to destroy the most insane kaiju Weapons scattered across Gaia. Introduce a fleshed out interactive element to the summon spells. Let us not just watch our summons rain destruction on our foes, let us help them, let their powers enhance our combat options.

In 1994, when development of the original began, they had intended the game to be released on the Super Nintendo, but tried to move it to the Nintendo 64. The size of the game was so immense, however, that the N64 cartridges could not accommodate FFVII's size and is one of the reasons why it ended up releasing on the CD-based PS1. Besides just the complexity, dynamism, and heart in the story, the sheer brilliance in production was awe-inspiring. While gamers have become increasingly desensitized to advancements in pretty things to look at, spectacular visuals that we can also interact with is a wow factor only this generation can offer.

Not only should we be able to battle with Shiva at our side, but excise the two-dimensional backdrops in favor of fully interactive three-dimensional environments to explore with the downtrodden children of the Midgar Slums begging for food and playing on heaps of junk. I want to feel the dirty, cold, rusty atmosphere as if I've virtually entered the dark crevices and cobbled-together homes of Midgar. I want to be inside of FFVII.

Modernize the battle system, but don't forget the strategy

Sharing a real-time battlefield with our summons and gaining temporary new abilities would be wicked, but what about the rest of the time? If this remake is to be a ground up redesign of FFVII, replete with arresting environments, gorgeously rendered character models, and a story of sadness, friendship, and the twisted depths of Sephiroth's story, then incorporating the classic arbitrary active time battle system would be thematically, and conceptually jarring. Think about it. You're walking through the cold, neon rubble of Midgar's dank pathways, absorbing that "next-gen" smell. Two Shinra guards searching for your party ambush you. Just as you are about to butt heads, a swoosh noise whisks our characters off to a battle field roughly resembling the slums we were walking through, but conveniently large enough to accommodate exactly how many players you have who are all now perfectly aligned in battle formation waiting for you to sift through some commands before they make a single attack, one after another, until the last guard is killed, and you all celebrate by cheering and spinning your weapons around. Come on, now. I'm all for respect to source material, but for obvious reasons this will look and feel ridiculous in a game of this scope and era. Imagine if Skyrim was like this now. Before swinging your axe into a skeleton warrior, you're first transported to a battle arena where you take turns hitting each other. This is where I draw the line as a fan.

This doesn't mean we have to entirely do away with the old system either. I propose a hybridization of modern, real-time combat, and the active battle system in FFVII. At will, you can choose to control in real-time a character who plays similarly to a Bloodborne or DMC, inspired by the insane action choreography of Advent Children with timing and environmental awareness as top priority. The battle would unfold in the same environment your foes were encountered. This would keep the action rooted in the world of Gaia and Midgar, never interrupting our journey with a contrived, modular battle system. As you're obliterating Shinra guards, feeling like the futuristic magic bad ass you are, you can engage a bullet-time-like mechanic that slows time to a crawl as your character, Cloud, is slicing his Buster sword mid-air toward an enemy. This mechanic pulls up a list of options, not unlike the ATB system, which allows you to issue commands to your squad such as spells, attacks, summons, and cooperative moves. You can have Aerith cure Cloud. You can have Barret join you in attacking the guards. Or you can assign command strings and other timed strategies to Cid. Closing the ATB menu then ramps the combat back to real time where you see Cloud finish slicing through a guard and you continue your rampage on to the next foe. This would please both old fans and new. Let's face it, Square Enix can't rely on nostalgia alone to sell a game with this size of a production. If we want what's best for this remake, success means profits and they'll have to design it to the standards set by modern gaming if they want to invite other gamers besides diehards. We diehards already had our fun. FFVII is always going to be an important part of my life. The outcome of this remake, good or bad, will never take that away. If you truly want to do justice to FFVII, you can't only consider the superficial or traditional, you must consider the fact that it was a milestone in gaming history and to achieve anything close to that again, you're going to have to turn some heads. Tradition won't turn heads. Innovation does. The original game was highly innovative for its time. This remake should do the same.

There's nothing wrong with the classic battle formulas in RPGs. They work wonderfully well and they are highly rewarding systems for smaller scaled or more deliberately classic-style games, which considering the currently awesome indie market, there is no shortage of. I want to finally be able to feel how awesome Cloud is and not just watch how awesome he is. And maybe, just maybe, can we get a little couch co-op? What if my friend has a Barret within the same skill level as my Cloud and she wants to sign in to his PSN on my console and join me in defeating one of the notoriously difficult Weapons? We're screaming commands at each other, and trying to strategize on the fly how exactly we're going to kill this gigantic Godzilla beast! Now, that would amount to ridiculous levels of fun.

These suggestions are just a big scrape off the top of our own ideas and from what we're sure a lot of other gamers have. It's going to be next to impossible not to hope for another masterpiece, but games like the original Final Fantasy VII come along only once in a few generations. It would be like remaking The Godfather or Citizen Kane. How do you top that? How do you do justice to it and subvert expectations? I don't think you can, really. I imagine fans will be divided, but I'll be happy just being able to experience the story again through a fully realized three-dimensional world. Oh, and some chocobos. 

-J.G. Barnes
-Michelle Kisner

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