Fancy graphics are fine, but all gamers know in their hearts that nothing will ever top the drama of Final Fantasy VII or the pure physicality of Super Mario Bros. 3. Playboy’s Retro Gaming articles look at why we love the classics and give you your nostalgia fix.
It finally happened. Gaming’s quintessential Japanese role-playing game publisher, Square Enix, caved and announced the project that gamers have been clamoring over for years: the Final Fantasy VII remake.
But now that it’s official, I’m not convinced anyone will care beyond the announcement.
Final Fantasy VII’s soft-spoken protagonist, Cloud Strife, and his ragtag party of cyberpunk world-savers were hugely influential on me, personally, as they were for countless 12-year-olds all over the world. When I saw the moody ads for the game on TV, with Cloud brandishing his cartoonishly large Buster Sword (which seemed really awesome at the time, though it turned out to be a metaphor for inadequacy), I saved up to buy a PlayStation, the first system I ever bought with my own money. I beat the game three times and revisited it many more. But the remake isn’t for me, and I don’t know who it is for.
Final Fantasy is one of gaming’s biggest franchises. The first released for the original Nintendo in 1987, and the latest entry, Final Fantasy XV, is set to come out on PS4 next year. The series is no longer considered the best of the medium (or even of its genre), but it can still sell like crazy.
For many fans, Final Fantasy VII is where it peaked. It was a cultural phenomenon, the first FF game with 3D graphics and on a CD. It sold nearly 10 million copies worldwide, and loads of gamers, like myself, bought the original PlayStation just to play it. FF7 ushered in a new era of big budget, cinematic presentations that forever changed the way gamers and developers think about games.
Yet as much as I love the game’s mako-fueled world, the sustained, fervent demand for a “next gen” remake has always struck me as odd. Hardcore fans are purists (aren’t we?), satisfied to play the original in all its charming, overwrought glory. And it’s difficult for me to pin down why new fans would care. It’s not like all the discs are buried in the desert somewhere; modern gamers can download the game and play it with ease if they want to.
Final Fantasy VII has achieved a mythic quality in gaming lore, like the original Star Wars trilogy to children of the ‘80s—yet who among that group is clamoring for George Lucas to drag his clumsy scalpel across those films yet again?
WHAT’S IN A REMAKE?
Maybe existing fans and would-be new players alike just want a slick graphical upgrade. Technological advancements are key to the growth of video games as a medium, and giving old games a graphical makeover can be like painting and reupholstering an old car. If done right, it enhances a classic. These days, that’s what “remake” in the gaming vernacular typically means: a high-definition upgrade.
But FF7 won’t lend itself to such a simple cash-in. The game is constructed of static, painting-like backgrounds, and populated by blocky, “Super Deformed” characters. Those clashing art styles were part of its charm, and replacing them with completely rebuilt graphics—all three discs’ worth, no insubstantial task—might not feel like an “upgrade” so much as a different game altogether. Would that be such a bad thing? Likely no two fans will agree entirely on this.
To be clear, we don’t know what “remake” means in this instance. All that Square Enix revealed in the game’s oddly translated announcement trailer were some pretty shots of Midgar, the city where the game begins. Does “remake” mean computer-generated-movie-style upgrades to the game’s many cutscenes? Does it mean a moving, movable camera, rather than stationary backgrounds? Will there be changes to the game’s combat? Will Cloud (spoiler alert for an 18-year-old game!) be able to throw Aeris a fucking phoenix down this time?
How far will the developers go to make Final Fantasy VII feel fresh again?
All of that remains to be seen, and chances are there’s no good answer. Any changes to the original, beyond the technical, risk alienating the original game’s massive fanbase. But standing pat risks the multi-million dollar production of a game that, to anyone who doesn’t keep the original on a pedestal, will feel hopelessly dated in the modern gaming landscape.
A CAUTIONARY TALE
The Remake doesn’t have a release date yet. When it does, that date is unlikely to be in close proximity to the series’ upcoming new entry, Final Fantasy XV. But if nothing else, having them both on PS4 eventually will provide an interesting juxtaposition between the new and the new-old.
Now that we know it’s coming, I can’t help but wonder if all the fervor for an FF7 remake will simply peter out. Perhaps it would have been better off in the pantheon of long-awaited games that never happened (like Half-Life 3), rather than having the mystical game that exists only in our brains replaced by the real thing. The cautionary tale known as Duke Nukem Forever came out after 14 years of development, and it was a disappointment of nightmarish proportions.
One thing’s for sure: no matter how much Final Fantasy VII changes, I won’t waste my time leveling Aeris up, just in case they haven’t changed that particular plot point.
I think what people really mean when they say they want an FF7 remake is: “We like the way this made us feel and would like to be made to feel that way again.” If I’m being generous, they might be saying, “We like this world and these characters and would like to spend time with them again.”
What I’m afraid will happen—what I think will happen—is that The Remake will sell like gangbuster-swords in its opening week, then be quickly forgotten. Players will be awed by the graphical upgrade at first, but new fans will feel that the linear story, single-player gameplay and turn-based battles are epochs behind modern games, and old fans will realize that although it’s still called ”Final Fantasy VII,“ it doesn’t feel very much the same at all. After a weekend of social media gushing, the allure of finally getting this fucking remake will wear off, and 90 percent of early adopters won’t even get out of Midgar.
A big to-do over graphics, an incredible amount of hype, and—most likely—players will quickly move on. Maybe it’ll fit right into the modern gaming landscape after all.
Nick Hurwitch is a writer and author living in Los Angeles, where his time machine broke down in 2008. His latest book, THE SPACE HERO’S GUIDE TO GLORY, is available now wherever books are sold.