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Well, it sure took enough pestering, but likely due to budgetary woes and the need to make a game everyone will love and is guaranteed to play, Square Enix has finally decided to remake Final Fantasy VII. Overall, most people are enthused about it. While it’s definitely one of the more infamous JRPGs of all time, the fact is it was very crude and experimental when it came out, not only having the rough polygon look but also being probably the buggiest game in the franchise. So lots of fans were not only looking forward to a re-release, but also a nice graphics upgrade remastering. A lot of people were hoping for a lot better look, perhaps making the game look more like “Advent Children”, “Dirge of Cerberus”, or “Crisis Core”, all of which were far more high definition and detailed.

However, what has been giving far more mixed reactions has been the follow-up to that announcement…namely that this would be a “remake” and not just a “remaster”, as the Kingdom Hearts and Final Fantasy X games were. Especially since they announced the story would be changing slightly and that the combat system would be very different.

The more pessimistic fan…such as myself…would argue, to paraphrase Dr. Evil:

“Square Enix…you just don’t get it, do you? You don’t.”

The “old generation” and “new generation” of fans of Final Fantasy have been pretty well split on recent entries, but the fact is the newer games are usually toward the middle or bottom of ranking lists. I myself am skewed on several scales. For one, I think “Final Fantasy XIII” really wasn’t that great and destroyed the gameplay, which is a view a lot share. But I think “Final Fantasy XII” was far more awful, and usually that’s pretty high on other lists. There’s lots of valid points that people can make in either direction, but the general consensus is that the Final Fantasy series has had more misses in recent history than hits. But I get the sense that the more Square Enix tries to “improve upon a winning formula”, the more it gets hurt for it. A lot of people like “Final Fantasy X”. “Final Fantasy X-2”? Not so much. People are split on “Final Fantasy XIII” but it’s fairly universal people feel the sequels were unneeded at best and horrendous at worst. And as for “Final Fantasy VII: Dirge of Cerberus”? …Need I say more?

Because there’s a matter of aesthetics and art involved in all video games, it’s hard to peg down a list that’s definitive or objective in this situation…but here I will present 10 ways in which I think Square Enix can use the opportunity of a remake to enhance the original experience of “Final Fantasy VII” to make sure it’s a winner…along with 5 ways in which they’ll seal its fate. Because these are subjective and my opinion, I’m expecting more than a little disagreement, but all I ask is that you hear me out. Yes, I’m part of the “old generation”…so if that turns you off, you best get out of here now before I get started.

Also, these changes are not “ranked”. Pretty much I’d like any or all.

10 Ways to Improve Final Fantasy VII in the Remake

  1. Remaster the Art; Don’t Redesign

Let’s be honest…as much as I love “Final Fantasy VII”, visually it was crude. I can’t really blame Square Enix. They were going into a totally different mode of operation; transitioning into the third dimension. And for a first effort, it ended up being good enough to hook the series into that mode from then on in as well as with JRPGs in general, so they had to do something right. That said…yeah, if there’s one thing the multitude of expanded universe FFVII material made clear, it’s that there’s room for improvement with the design. I got a nice picture of Midgar from FFVII, and while it looked amazing at the time…nowadays I have no idea what I’m looking at. A bizarre cyberpunk structure, but definitely not a city. It looks more like one big refinery. When I first played, the talk about the “plate” went over my head because you can’t really see it from the original design. And I definitely don’t really see a city in the artwork. Even if you stretch your imagination and manage to see something there, you have to conclude that the Shinra HQ Building is hundreds of stories tall and not just in the 70s. And that’s just one example.

That said…

It’s no secret that in the 6th Generation, Square Enix tried to make JRPGs look more like movies. Between the cutscenes, the voices, the direction, the angles… Basically it was following the push everyone was making to try and make games more cinematic. Whether you think that’s good or bad, one of the side effects it did was ground the characters so much in reality that for years they looked rather awkward and unusual. To me, it wasn’t until FFXIII they finally managed to work out the details enough to make it look more appropriate, but even then…that was for a different type of game.

I think what Square Enix did that worked rather well in the “Kingdom Hearts” and “DISSIDIA” franchise was a bit more attention to the art. It didn’t fully make characters cartoons but it didn’t try to make them look like actors either. It scored a “happy balance” between the two. In terms of artwork, I would like it if they did something like that…something that showed they aren’t trying to emulate a movie, but neither are they trying to make everyone sprites. From a personal perspective, I like the “anime look” more and would prefer if the characters looked more like they did in the original battle sequences, only for the full game. But I’d appreciate it if they looked like they did in the aforementioned games. It would add a note of seriousness, but it wouldn’t be so serious as to “lose some of the magic”. Because, to me, as crude as a lot of the stuff in “Final Fantasy VII” was, it also was very colorful and vibrant. A sense of a very detailed and amazing world, which is something the latter games tried to recapture rather than a dirty, greasy, oily, smelly one. I think the characters should reflect that a bit.

2. Fix the Materia System

I was more than a bit standoffish about the materia system when I first played Final Fantasy VII. In a sense, I really still am. I “tolerate” it now, but I wish there was more than could be done to make it better. There were a lot of rules to it that essentially boiled down to one thing: give magic to the ones who should cast magic; leave the ones who should be physical remain physical. That’s it. It’s a formula that’s been done in all sorts of JRPGs before, only this one felt the need to make it more complicated by having the better materia lower and/or boost stats so that you had to discover that trying to make physical fighters cast magic ruined them, or to make magic users more physical ruined them. In a sense, it’s almost like why bother making all moves and magic interchangeable if you’re just going to do that?

The other big complaint I have is Blue Materia. Come on, man…having to take up a special slot with a materia just so you can cast it on everyone at once? Needing to level up the materia just so you can cast it on everyone at one time more than once? That was annoying.

This point gets into my next one…

3. Give a Reason to Swap Characters

There was a great fan-made video years back about a tutorial to play “Final Fantasy VII”. At one point, the narrator suggests you swap characters and throws out Yuffie and Cait Sith. Immediately afterward, he laughs, saying he was only joking because “those two suck ass”. The fact is it’s not a joke…he’s right.

One of the biggest letdowns of “Final Fantasy VII” is that it went from 14 different characters who all had their pluses and minuses but who were all fun to play with and could be used effectively in “Final Fantasy VI” (even Gau) to 9 characters who had a lot of personality but were ultimately useless save for Limit Breaks. And once you found out which ones were the best, why swap any character out? In the first half of the game, you’re going to always have Aerith take a spot. Why? She has the most useful Limit Breaks. You’re never going to use Cait Sith. Why? He only has two Limit Breaks and both are essentially random. Really, the only reason not to pick a character and stick with them is because you get different reactions with different characters, but even that loses its novelty eventually.

This remake needs to do something to make characters more pertinent. I’d love it if they could make characters with special moves and not just Limit Breaks. But barring that, I actually like what they did in “Final Fantasy X”: certain characters are ideal for fighting certain enemies.

And tied into that…

4. Make Swapable Characters

One of the things I actually really liked about “Final Fantasy X” and “Final Fantasy XII” was the idea of swapable characters. It’s a way to help everyone level up without having to pause to grind, it makes use of everyone, and, all-in-all, it’s a useful thing to have. “Final Fantasy VII” would benefit greatly from it if they’re keeping the materia system because it would effectively allow you to bring more spells and techniques into play rather than being limited by the materia slots of your current party and their Limit Breaks. Especially if they include weapons like the Nail Bat or Mop that are great but ultimately can’t be used because you forfeit too many materia slots, or the ultimate weapons as they all were zero-growth slots.

5. Keep the Fun

One of the trends that I disliked with the coming of the new generations of JRPGs is that the developers spent so much time focusing on trying to create worlds for these characters and have these cutscenes in that they kind of “lost the world” in the process. Granted, some of it was just plain goofy and silly. Not all of it was fantastic. But one of the things that FFXIII essentially “killed” was the exploratory element. This is supposed to be an RPG. You are supposed to have some fun not only exploring and finding things, but also talking to NPCs and having some fun doing some normal things on the side.

Now, while there’s no need to go to the extreme of making this a GTA game or making everything a minigame (in fact, I wouldn’t mind if they lost a few of those minigames such as the Squats Minigame, CPR Minigame, the Dolphin Minigame, and the Avoid Overexposure Minigame), I think they should keep some humor in there. Simply because it’s such an infamous joke, they should leave cross-dressing Cloud in there. Red XIII walking around trying to impersonate a Shinra soldier? That’s another good one. An enhanced moogle arcade game? That might be fun.

But not just the fun stuff. You should be able to wander around these towns and locales and accidentally run into the Sephiroth clones. You should be able to explore the “ghost town” of Nibelheim and get a creep factor. Heck, I even want them to formalize the “Aerith’s Ghost” glitch (although “Advent Children” kind of already did that…) Basically anything to make this world more exciting and less linear. This is a game, after all, not a movie. It can have movie-like elements, but keep in mind there is a player playing it.

6. Keep the “Good” Minigames

The original “Final Fantasy VII” kind of went overboard on minigames. Maybe they still had “Super Mario RPG” on the mind…but whatever. Too many minigames gets pretty annoying. That said…there are such things as great minigames. Hell, if you let me do it too much, I might waste time not playing “Final Fantasy X” and just play Blitzball all night. Then again, there’s also horrible minigames, such as the Chocobo Racing in that same entry. While I don’t want to have to play a frustrating minigame continuously simply to advance the plot, I had some fun with some of them like the submarine game, the Fort Condor one, or Chocobo Racing in this version. And it would help expand the universe more to include some of them.

On a related note, I know people are going to flame me for this, but…keep the “Chocobo Breeding” side quest as is. It’s frustrating and takes forever, but come on, man. It gets you the best summon in the game. It’s not supposed to be easy.

7. Who is Denzel?

So long as they’re remaking this game, it might not be such a bad idea to retcon Denzel into it. We don’t know much about this kid or, for that matter, the other kids associated with him. All we know is Cloud, being his normal moody, aloof, standoffish self in “Advent Children”, somehow decided he cared enough about children to start looking out for them, and apparently he left such an impact on Denzel that in “Advent Children” this kid charges what’s basically a kaiju for thought he’s helping him out. I’m not asking for much. Just a scene or two that maybe introduces the two. Shows what happened between them.

And again, on a similar note…

8. END

The fact is the original game was very ambiguous. While the sequels eventually made it clear what happened to everyone, the original kind of just…well…stopped. And it didn’t even stop with showing Meteor clearly destroyed unless you inferred it from the post-credits scene. It didn’t even make it clear humanity hadn’t been destroyed as Bugenhagen threatened. It’d be nice to see what happened to the others. How the world changed. Even “Advent Children” realized that it needed to end with everyone being cured and not just the fading of the Advent Children.

9. Fix the Side Characters

There’s a reason Yuffie constantly makes the list of worst PCs in the Final Fantasy series…she’s annoying, she’s selfish, she sucks to have in your party, and, worst of all, she has a side quest devoted to her that does nothing save give you a hard challenge for no reward other than some cutscenes (although her second side quest is better). As for Vincent…not much more there. He’s twice the emo that Cloud is for a fraction of the backstory and reward. Even his ultimate weapon stinks and his Limit Break isn’t that good. Not to mention it never really makes it clear, either in this game or even in “Dirge of Cerberus”, what happened to Lucrecia. So…yeah, in keeping with my earlier point, give these two something to stand out about them other than cutscenes and dialogue, and give the player a reason to want them in your party.

10. Don’t Lose Sight of Who the Characters Are

Some people say “Final Fantasy VII” is one of the best in the series. Others say it’s completely overrated. Either way, there was a huge amount of untapped potential in it that was barely touched on. No seriously, there was. And all of it is rich for the mining to take “Final Fantasy VII” from being an already good game to giving it an even more fantastic and in depth story.

Here’s some examples:

  • Tifa comes off as innocent and perky and sweet, with her cute poses and folding her hands behind her back, warm demeanor, and gentle personality…but keep in mind she helped kill hundreds of innocent people working for AVALANCHE at the beginning of the game. When she descends into the Lifestream, you know what’s happening? All of those people she murdered are PISSED at her.
  • Barret is forced to come to grips with the fact he’s a hypocrite. Cait Sith (for as annoying as everyone says he is) calls him out on it. He confronts him with the fact that he doesn’t care how many people in Midgar die “so long as Marlene is ok”. People who were just struggling to survive and take care of their families like in Corel.
  • And on both of these notes, one very important thing to keep in mind: AVALANCHE. Are. Terrorists. Plain and simple, they are mass-murdering, crazy terrorists. They kill all sorts of people blowing up Mako Reactor #1, and all in the name of the “greater good”. Part of the depth of “Final Fantasy VII”, part of the appeal to it that games like FFXIII tried to recapture, is that these people aren’t heroes. They aren’t noble. They aren’t saints or selfless. They’re murderers. Terrorists. Mercenaries. Little better than thugs. BUT…they all have an encounter. They run into Aerith, the only truly “pure” one of the bunch. Because of her, they’re connected to a greater awareness. The idea of the planet and the “Oversoul”…even “encountering God” through the experience. And gradually, through the game, they realize for all of their faults and weaknesses and sins, that they can be heroes. They can stand up for something bigger than themselves. They can even rise up to save the city they were content to let burn at the start. In doing so, they show not just that people can find things in themselves they didn’t know they had but can actually change from something dark into something “beautiful”.
  • Cloud is insane. He’s the first FF protagonist ever to be totally and utterly crazy. And not just depression although that’s kind of stuck with his character…he’s actually been driven so insane from his life he’s split his personality into multiple versions and rewritten history.

If this game is remade, it can’t lose this or anything else. Lots of JRPGs have “tragic backstories”. This is one that shows that these characters were never heroes to begin with. It’s something that evolved. Maybe willingly…maybe unwillingly…but it came as a result of the events that unfolded. And most of it was as a result of touching the “Jesus figure” in the plot: Aerith. That’s pretty deep. Hopefully if they’re redoing the story, they don’t lose this.

Alright…good stuff out of the way…

Now for the worst-of-the-worst.

5 Ways to Ruin Final Fantasy VII in the Remake

  1. Make Everything Automatic

The main reason that FFXIII doesn’t pop up higher on lists in terms of ranking FF Games, whether you liked it or not, is summed up in one word: linearization. I’m not sure what Square Enix was thinking…if they thought catering to a new audience would somehow offset the number of JRPG fans they would lose or what. Well, their ill-fated attempt at a shooter, “Dirge of Cerberus”, might take-the-cake when it comes to that, but the fact is even people who enjoyed FFXIII didn’t care for the fact that it was “walk in a straight line and occasionally get into a fight”.

Now, that may have been ok for a totally new game. But if they try to do that to a game beloved in part for the ability to explore and tour and venture around this huge world in free exploration and roaming, they’re going to pay for it. The fact that they’re saying that they want to change the battle system heavily scares me. Square Enix seems to hate two things nowadays: world maps and non-RTS battles. It looks like it’s trying to rid the world of both.

Square Enix…I’m warning you. Do not try to ruin the “standard RPG” feel for this game. And definitely don’t try to reduce leveling up to a slot machine like you did in Crisis Core. Remember you’re trying to sell this game to people who played the original and they aren’t going to want to have a totally new game.

On that note, avoid making everything a cutscene to speed things along. People want to play through this, after all.

2. “Architect” It to Death

I hope to goodness that Square Enix has learned something from what’s happened to the “Kingdom Hearts” franchise…namely that their whole technique of adding new layers of complexity on to each new entry rather than resolving the ones that were in place in the previous one is a recipe for disaster. At best, it will make the thing hopelessly convoluted and create too many plot holes. At worst, it will turn the thing into an inconsistent abomination.

Already, thanks to “Advent Children”, we had extra Sephiroth Clones/Larva popping out of nowhere and the idea of the Geostigma. Thanks to “Dirge of Cerberus”, we have the whole mythology of Omega and the idea of DeepGround. But “Crisis Core” took it off the deep end too far by trying to “slip Genesis/Angeal in between the pages”. Not only is this a more slap-you-over-the-head metaphor than ever, it makes things more inconsistent than ever. Zack is good enough to beat the three greatest SOLDIERs ever and yet loses to a bunch of common Shinra soldiers? The Planet actually has a “god” as opposed to the idea of the “oversoul”? Zack knew Yuffie? Tseng actually was looking out for Aerith as a favor to Zack? (Why did he bitch-slap her on the chopper, then?) The Turks are actually “good guys”? Not to mention the fact Genesis ended up having such an impact that was retconned into everything makes things worse.

The very, very last thing this game needs is even more interwoven complexity. One of the main reasons “Advent Children” is still considered just another “terrible video game movie” is because unless you had managed to digest and interpret the plot to the original FFVII, you’d have little to no hope of knowing what that movie was about other than CGI action sequences. Enough is enough, Square Enix. Just let it sell itself.

3. Forget Your Audience

There was one thing I disliked about “Crisis Core” more than anything else: it glossed over the infamous Nibelheim Mission.

…Square Enix, you do realize the whole reason you made that game, the whole marketing strategy for that game, the whole push for it, what all the screenshots were about, the reason you picked Zack as the character…was all because of the Nibelheim Mission?! I mean, sure they devote some time to it, but at that point the bulk of the game is focusing on Genesis. They even throw Genesis in almost at random just to try and skew the viewer back to focusing on him rather than what’s going on. Hell, some of the most iconic scenes from FFVII are from Nibelheim, including the fire around Sephiroth. But even then, the whole feel of the mission in the original game… The arrival in Nibelheim…how things build over the next few days…the horrific discoveries…the nature of the Shinra Mansion… It’s all very tense. Very suspenseful. Very atmospheric. I had goose bumps playing that part in the original. It was so engrossing and led to such a climax…

…And “Crisis Core” just omitted so much of it. Why? “Because the audience already knows that part of the story. Get through it so we can get back to Genesis.”

Square Enix, no doubt you’re going to try and attract new gamers with this game. But keep in mind a lot of old gamers are going to be playing it too, and they don’t want to “coast on fumes”. They don’t want you to assume anything. They’re going to want you to recapture the magic and the thrill of it. That’s why we wanted a remaster first, not a remake. So either way, you better make this game tell the original story in all its slow and foreboding detail. Especially if you plan to add more to it.

4. Underestimate the Unspoken Word

This one’s going to be controversial…but what the heck? If there was one thing I could “uninvent” in the Final Fantasy series, it would be the inclusion of voice acting.

Yes, yes, I’m “old fashioned, out of date, a whiner, etc.”. But seriously, I would. The fact is the older games had a power to lines you couldn’t hear. To me, it was like the silent film genre. Most silent films wouldn’t work as “talkies” any more than films with speech would work as silent films, but that’s ok because it’s a different genre. Almost a different media. And…I think part of what made FFVII and other older JRPGs great is the fact that words were unspoken. That the audience could kind of resolve things through gestures and body language and kind of put their “own voice” on the characters to get both the tone and voice of what they were saying as well as the content.

I know they’re going to make most of this game vocal because “that’s what you do” nowadays…but I encourage them to not go overboard and realize keeping the characters “silent” will probably be more effective than needing them continuously talking in the game as they did for FFXIII.

And if you need further reinforcement for that, keep in mind Seymour has one of the most annoying voices I’ve ever heard in a video game that’s routinely mocked, everyone cracked up at the fact Lance Bass was the original Sephiroth, and one of the most hated characters in the entire franchise is Vanille, largely for her incredibly irritating voice. I guarantee she would have been far more bearable if you only had to “read her”.

5. Blaspheme…Again

One of the things I really liked about “Final Fantasy VII” is it tried to be more of a “thinking-man’s” RPG, and one of the ways it did so was that it actually was a metaphor for the New Testament. Now, other entries in the series would do the same, but…unlike FFVII…they wouldn’t smack you over the head with it. (Case in Point, the monster in FFX is named Sin. …Sure you don’t want to change Seymour’s name to Lucifer while you’re at it, or Yuna’s name to The Church?) But what’s gotten me in recent history, especially being a Christian myself, is that Final Fantasy has gone from merely being anti-organized religion to…really…”anti-theist”. Basically the recent games, including “Crisis Core”, have been promoting something that I take as beyond pro-atheism. It’s more like “if there is a god, they’re either cruel, indifferent, or incompetent”. That’s…actually kind of disturbing to me. It’s one thing to say someone’s religion is based on lies. It’s another to suggest that it’s real but “not worth following” or even “worth rebelling against”.

In fact, that actually makes me a little angry. I consider that almost pro-satanic.

As I result, I wouldn’t put it past Square Enix to have Minerva show up not as a superboss but as the final boss…with her actually wanting the Planet destroyed in order to be rid of humans and you needing to “overthrow her and let Aerith take over”. To me, that would not only make me angry, it would destroy the very philosophy of “Final Fantasy VII”.

The whole idea of the Planet was that it was never supposed to be an individual. It drew from the concept of the “Oversoul” that the Romantic Poets and Eastern Philosophies came up with…or, more contemporary, what is talked about in the sense of Star Wars’ “The Force” (er…before George Lucas “midicholorian-ed” it, that is…). The idea about how there is a greater spirit and higher power in the universe that is made of the sum of everyone’s spirits together. About how we are both distinct and one with everything at the same time. It’s this sort of thing that made the Romantic era poets and philosophers connect to nature and the world around them. And it gives greater importance to Aerith. She doesn’t save the world because she “seizes control” of the Lifestream; the fact is she was always the voice of the Lifestream personified. She was always the “good side” of humanity incarnate.

If they do what they’ve been doing in the sequels…try to take any “divinity” Aerith had as well as ruin the nature of the Planet by just making her, and the other protagonists, generic heroes who just simply “save everything through the power of our wills and hearts”…you’re going to destroy part of the legacy of “Final Fantasy VII” all together. Anything it had that rose above being “just a JRPG”. It will be a mistake the level of magnitude of making the Force a purely natural side effect of biology or “making the immortals aliens” like they did in the Highlander series.

Most of all, it will make it abundantly clear that this game was always, completely, 100% about the money: the fact that you remade it without understanding what made it timeless in the first place.

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