Editorial: Why a Final Fantasy VII Remake Is a Bad Idea

With the recent announcement that Final Fantasy X would be getting a high definition facelift, discussion has once again stirred regarding that ever-present topic: when will Final Fantasy VII be remade? It was originally released to massive critical and commercial success and it set the bar high for all large-scale RPGs that followed, including all future Final Fantasy games. There cannot possibly be any reason to not go through with it, right?

To ask me, the answer is definitely “wrong”.

Shinra looms
Is it possible to re-capture an iconic moment like this?

Because my love for Final Fantasy IX tends to overshadow my appreciation for other titles in the series, it is not particularly well-known how much I love Final Fantasy VII. It is the game that introduced me to the series, it is the game that brought me back to my piano, and I believe that it contains some of the greatest moments in gaming.

In fact, it is this love that leads me to believe that a remake is a bad idea. The game would disappoint more than it would satisfy.

Final Fantasy VII was released two console generations ago, and the differences in the hardware and expectations on an end product are huge. For one thing, companies were forced to be creative if they wanted to release a game on a large scale back then. Squaresoft’s solution on this matter was to draw many beautiful pre-rendered backgrounds.

While voice-acting was beginning to make its way into the gaming world, there was not an expectation for it and Final Fantasy‘s reliance on text was barely given a second thought by gamers.

While Nobuo Uematsu had more technology to work with compared to the Super Nintendo for his iconic score, the PlayStation was not able to support a fully orchestrated score, or even a properly simulated one.

A gamer might look at the point that I am setting up and shrug his hunched shoulders. “No matter,” he might say, “it is obvious what the correct solution is.” He will then continue to pine for a remake. However, Final Fantasy VII was such a personal experience for so many people that the “obvious solution” would be so vastly different for so many people.

Should the world be rendered in full 3D? Would it not be great to see Midgar in high definition with a fully rotatable camera? Maybe that would ruin the nooks and crannies that a player imagined in her mind, though. What if it felt so different that it spoiled the things she loved about it in the first place? Fine then, let us stick with re-drawn pre-rendered backgrounds now outfitted with a glorious 16:9 aspect ratio. Still, what a missed opportunity that would be! Why use current generation hardware for a remake if its benefits will just be ignored?

Tifa and Cloud need a room.
But Advent Children was pretty!

The major design decisions do not end there. A Final Fantasy VII made with today’s technology would surely seem very bizarre without voice acting. However, I cannot imagine a situation in which anybody would be pleased if voice-acting were included. I am not just talking about the already complicated matter of finding voices to match the different voice in every fan’s head, but also the issue of trying to match the tone and delivery of lines that have been read and re-read over the past 14 years.

What about music? Despite its brilliance, PlayStation-quality music would sound strange matched with pristine HD graphics. But a re-mastered score would also be near-blasphemy to many fans.

Luckily, music can potentially be toggled from a menu, but the other issues are not so clear cut. Even toggling off voice acting would not change the fact that cutscenes would still feature characters silently lip-synching to subtitles. Like the choice of how to render the world, there are other decisions that would have to be even more set in stone.

What about the battle system? Should the pacing be changed? Final Fantasy VII has a great battle system, but dumped into a modern game precisely as-is would leave much to be desired. That is just how I feel, however, maybe others would want the battle system practically untouched.

The silly stuff would probably miss the mark too.
A remake would be off course.

Hopefully it is becoming more evident that every single aspect of a remake would involve a major decision that would leave fans divided.

A counter-argument might point to Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children. While it is no masterpiece, I – and many other – fans agree that it is a worthy homage to Final Fantasy VII‘s world, mood, and characters. But Advent Children is a movie and a sequel. Perhaps the character designs and world look fantastic, but gamers are not interacting with it and it is not attempting to recreate an entire iconic experience. A movie sequel is a far cry from a game remake.

The ultimate point is that Final Fantasy VII is a game specifically made for the PlayStation. Very important design decisions were made because of the hardware and those decisions formed the game that RPG enthusiasts hold so dear. I believe it is an experience tied to the time it was created and a remake would not only never live up to expectations, but would take away from the legacy of the original. Let us leave well enough alone and appreciate Final Fantasy VII in all its original glory and leave the HD redesigns to Final Fantasy X and XII which were made in a hardware generation far more similar to our current one.

I know many of you LusiSprites are also Final Fantasy VII fans, so I am very interested in your thoughts. Sound off below.

26 comments

  1. I agree with you on every point except the battle system – I think it should stay just as it is.

    I don’t see the point in a FFVII remake – I was just saying the other day that VII has held up much better than X (provided you play on the small PSP screen).

    I would however dearly love to see SE announce a FFVII remake, only to faithfully recreate VII’s settings with high definition pre-rendered 2D backdrops – I have never before seen 100,000 Emo kids slit their wrists in unison, but I imagine that it would be quite stirring – Catfancy would loose their readership overnight!

  2. I agree wholeheartedly with the premise, but I can also imagine that if a reasonably good new version were made, it could stand aside and apart from the original, much like FFIV remake for DS doesn’t overtake the SNES version in any available form.

    Think that the “original” versions of the old games which we hold so dear are now only commercially available as downloads. Maybe they’ll package VII, VIII and IX together on Blu-Ray at some point, but the people who feel the most fondly for this thing are getting older, and I feel that someone new to it, as it is, might be like, wtf teh big dealyo?

    Final Fantasy VII is my #1 favorite video game of all time and I know I would be disappointed in multiple aspects of a remake. I see it as a great work of literature (for lack of a less euphemistic term) which happens to be in a dynamic, not static medium (as in proper literature). Kids are impressionable, and they’re graphically desensitized to a higher level that we were growing up, and expect that out of what’s out now. But no game has ever matched FFVII’s quality as true art. Therefore, it’s more important to me that the story, characters, meaning, music, artwork, environments, etc. are passed on in a relatable way to the next generation, rather than left to dry in a single generation’s hearts.

    I don’t want a remake, I want it for my kids.

  3. Give it better graphics and music, and leave everything else the same. If anyone expects every single game they play to have voice acting, they’d never play the original Final Fantasy games anyways, and if One Winged Angel being played by real instruments, or possibly something rendered differently in Midgard makes any fanboys cry, who cares? As we roll into another new generation of consoles and gamers, the fans of old games, such as FFVII, are going to seem strange for praising old looking games.
    Give us a remake not for the fanboys, but for the people who missed the initial PSone era boat and lack the nostalgia to push them through dated games.

  4. Y’know, usually I’m in that same boat of “the remake is a different beast than the original so who cares?”, but I feel like that applies more to movies (and even music) than it does to games.

    And Enrei, you sorta feed into my point. “Give it better graphics and music, and leave everything else the same.” I don’t think I’d want “better” music. Everything would divide everybody.

    I would love to be proven wrong by a perfect remake that is perfect or even great for everybody, but I doubt that could ever happen. And this is the optimist saying that.

  5. “I believe it is an experience tied to the time it was created and a remake would not only never live up to expectations, but would take away from the legacy of the original.”

    WRONG.

    Done well, as a straight up upgrade (as opposed to a remake) with HD-backgrounds and sprites, and a newly scored soundtrack, precious few FF fans will complain. And those that complain will still buy it and secretly like it despite their pretensions.

    Moreover, for every one angry otaku fanboy there will be hundreds more fans created–people who missed the FFVII boat and now find the graphics, sound, and interface clunky and unapproachable.

  6. Well sure, but that’s an upgrade, not the remake that I’m talking about and that most people are asking for. I’d love something like that. And I imagine that MANY people would complain. (though I agree that they’ll buy it anyway and like it anyway.)

  7. The biggest problem is that it would be SE doing the remake.

  8. I’m curious about how FFVII was made? They used the prerendered backdrops and popeye polygonal field models as we all know. Do they have 3D files stored that they could rerender at higher resolution or at least use as a basis for making a fixed camera fully 3D world? Japanese developers apparently kind of made each game from scratch instead of reusing an existing engine.

    Voiceacting I don’t think is really an issue as they did Advent Children and could redraft most of those VAs and really fans of JRPGs are used to terrible VAs. We all played FFX, afterall. With the exception of the ending FMV none of them have any subtitles, so that’s not much of an issue. Square managed “show; don’t tell” storytelling back then.

    For the visuals, I think the main reason we don’t see FFV and FFVI and later updated remakes is that the 2D games used the SNES’s more complex layering effects which prevent a simple 2D tile to 3D space conversion. The PSX games are even more complex as I think you’d need to go with fixed camera, fully 3D environments to recreate them on current gen consoles and you’d need to make up stuff on the sides of the screen to make them 16:9 widescreen.

    Music would be OK to either go with the PSX stuff which doesn’t sound bad or to go with some OST orchestrated stuff. Current gen consoles have shittier than 8 year old PC soundcard sound, so I doubt anyone would notice.

    The battle system in FFVII is kind of a dumbed down version of the one from FFVI, but the ATB is still fairly standard in JRPGs. So I don’t think it would really require much revamping. Maybe fix some of the ways you could break it (Auto-Phoenix Summon) and fix any bugs? If anything, I’d prefer FFVIII and FFIX to get revamped battle systems as FFVII has the best one of the PSX FFs. The others got soooooooooooooooooo goddamned fucking slow. Seriously, you could tell your dudes to attack in FFIX, go make a fucking sandwich, eat said fucking sandwich, make a second fucking sandwich because you’re a fat, lazy, Cheetos eating bastard, and come back to find Vivi is still waiting to ineffectually plunk something with his club.

  9. @EP: Most of the original FFVII assets were lost during an earthquake (not the recent one, but another serious one which occurred sometime relatively near the creation of the game), so they would have to be recreated.

  10. @Lusi: surely that would be easily accomplished by SE’s CG studio?

    I don’t think the broader baying masses would accept a 2D HD pre-rendered upgrade – everyone wants it ON TEH PS3 IN TEH 3D GRAFFIX!

  11. I don’t give a shit about FF7 (so little, I can’t afford the time to give it a Roman numeral but can justify the time to point that out), but here’s my pitch for one that will never happen:

    A complete HD treatment that is shot-for-shot, angle-for-angle, beat-by-beat the same as the original. Include the original as an optional selectable graphics-style. Also have an option to give the player control of the camera if they’d like, but lock it down by default.
    How many FF7 soundtrack compilations/remixes/arrangements are out there? Is there one or are there a few that are considered the best or fan favorites? Throw them all on the Blu-ray so you can pick your favorite. Include the original for good measure.

    For reference: Bionic Commando: ReArmed, Cave Story (WiiWare), Monkey Island (iOS, XBLA), Halo: CE Anniversary.

    I’d rather see SE shut the fans up than fuel their flames with everything else they’ve done.

  12. @Enrei I disagree. Most popular games these days have some kind of voice acting, whether it’s fancy, full-line dialogue or a narrator and a few grunts from the main character and the bad guys. An HD game released today, with dialogue but not voice acting at all, would be a massive disappointment. I see no reason to only upgrade part of the game and leave the rest untouched. Gamers that are too young to remember the PSOne era are also probably used to their large-scale RPGs having glorious sound quality. Dialogue boxes are clunky, take up large portions of the screen, would detract from the beautiful backgrounds they could render in HD, and slow the progress of the game down. While I can appreciate older games for what they are, in any instance if you ask me: “Would you like this game with voice acting or dialogue boxes?” I will say: “Voice acting.”

  13. I’m in that crowd lusipur mentioned of people who missed the VII boat. I have it on the PSN, but as I’ve said here before, I couldn’t play much beyond about 20 minutes. I think, however, if they were to remake this game, it’d be fully remade. Not with a stationary camera, or pre-rendered backdrops, or text only dialogue.

    The goal of this remake probably wouldn’t be so much to fulfill the wetdreams of old fans, but to get as many people to buy the game as possible. This means following all or most of the standards of today.

    But we all seem to be discussing two different things here: A full on remake or an upgrade. X is getting an upgrade. In fact, all the FF games that have been re-released have been done so as upgrades or even just straight ports. Unless I’m forgetting, few if any have been actually *remade*.

    Personally I’d be for a remake, since I wear no rose colored glasses for the original. But I’d be happy with something I could bear to look at and control with an analogue stick and not Sony’s poor excuse for a d-pad.

  14. All voice acting should be abolished from JRPGs. Period.

    @Slab: Text boxes don’t slow game’s down, they speed them up!

    @Mel: FFIII and IV were remade for the DS. I would also count the PS1 and Dawn of Souls (GBA) versions of FFI and II to be remakes, along with FFIV on the PSP – the graphics have been transformed beyond a mere upgrade.

  15. @SN Text boxes most certainly do NOT speed up games. The best I’ve ever seen it done is voice-acted subtitles that occur while the player’s actually playing the game. Voice acting i a wonderful story element, and the only reason it wasn’t a part of PS1 jRPGs like FFVII and VIII is because it would have hogged disc space. Also, FFIII DS was absolutely atrocious, so I wouldn’t even count it on a list of remade games. Maybe on a list of “made worse” games…

  16. They speed up games like FFVIII when I just mash “x” in hopes of not losing brain cells to Squall’s stupidity.

  17. They speed up games tremendously when all you have to do is read ” … … … ” instead of watching as the main character sighs and then proceeds to look soulful in front of the camera.

    It is not voice acting itself which causes event scenes to become so bloated, but rather all of the cinematic flourishes and body acting which accompanies it. By contrast dialogue boxes allow for me to advance the conversation just as soon as I’m ready – it cuts the fat.

    Dialogue boxes also make awkward dialogue more bareable – I imagine that much of the FFXIII dialogue would have seemed half-way tolerable if I was reading it instead of having it delived by the game’s obnoxiously voiced cast.

  18. @SN: Yeah, I can see how text would allow one to skip ahead and trim the fat. Baten Kaitos had the foresight of allowing the player to turn off the VAs making it like a regular game with text boxes. A combination of the two, like in that game or in some of the Xenosaga games would probably do well in a full on VII remake. And if Zelda can keep support by fans for not adopting voice acting, I’m sure this game can do the same if it ever does get made.

    However, SB has a point. They would likely have put VAs into VII and VIII if they were able. It wasn’t done, in my opinion, in the spirit of keeping the games from being overshadowed by the byproducts of VAs. Nintendo, however, seems very much to have this in mind. I’m sure we could all go on about Nintendo and their….”habits”. But I think you see what I mean.

  19. But the VA cutscenes are presumed to be something that the player of the game wants to take the time out of their day to see. Most good games with voice acted cutscenes nowadays allow players to skip the scenes in their entirety, which is loads faster than having to mash the ‘X’ button (or its parallel for other systems).

  20. Presumed by who? There are plenty who grumble at the length and frequency of cutscenes. Moreover it is far too easy for someone like SE to just fill their cutscenes with big flashy explosions instead of anything of narrative merit.

    As for just skipping cutscenes – who wants to play a game where they have no idea of what they are doing?

    I certainly want story with my games, but have grown tired of all the bloat which comes along with cutscenes – not to mention the near universal awfulness of Japanese voice direction.

    Dialogue boxes let people fully experience the narrative in a much more timely fashion, while neatly avoiding all of the things that can go horribly wrong with a cutscenes presentation.

    I prefer reading to ‘books on tape’, and I prefer dialogue boxes to cutscenes. People only demand cutscenes because they are lazy.

  21. I like your books on tape analogy, but I don’t entirely agree with you. Yes, there are a lot of shitty cutscenes, and FFXIII was nothing but explosions and horrible dialogue, but that doesn’t mean that cutscenes aren’t capable of adding anything. FFXII proved that even in a JRPG (and even with largely horrible characters), cutscenes can add mood, provide pacing, set tone, provide production value, and help to immerse one in the world. Now imagine those fantastic cutscenes with characters and a story that people actually cared about (besides Balthier).

    I think you have a fantastic case for preferring text to cutscenes, but I think it gets murkier when trying to argue text>cutscenes in every case.

    I don’t mind text-only games. Baten Kaitos was mentioned and is a game that’s ONLY playable if you turn off the VA. Also, for all of Nintendo’s stupidity, I can only imagine how much worse a Zelda with VA would be. (Although their decision there is probably also influenced by saving cash).

    I also agree that text-only makes awkward dialogue more bearable. As much as I love FFIX, if that game were voice-acted, it would be a joke. There are things only possible when designed story with text-only in mind.

    But the reverse is also true. I hope there’s room for both. As for my preference with the theoretical FF7 remake that I don’t want? (as opposed to the proposed upgrade that I would want that is even less likely to happen, imo) I’d be interested to see how those scenes were interpreted with modern cutscenes, but I’d hate to hear English voice actors do it. I know this mentality tilts Riddles, but like I said in the article, this is different than Advent Children (which I watched in Japanese anyway), because these would be lines that I’ve read so many times in my head, it would be impossible for somebody to deliver them like I imagine.

    With Japanese VA, I could appreciate the cutscene direction (hopefully), and be free of knowing how good a job the actors are doing.

  22. Ethan, some of my favourite JRPGs have cutscenes, and I fucking love those cutscenes to bits (even if FFX’s cheesiness shoots through the stratosphere at times) – but I’ve seen them ruin more games than they’ve enhanced, and as such I just wish that they’d go away (with respect to JRPGs).

    Besides, consider the possibility that the time and money saved on cutscene production and voice acting (for multiple territories) could be churned back into other areas of the game.

    Basically my argument is only theoretical – the public demands cutscenes and VA, so basically any game with a big enough budget to feature them, will do so. But they are something that overwhelmingly harms my enjoyment of Japanese games (though I’d probably be mollified by the simple inclusion of a Japanese language option).

    As for FFXII, that game suffered from a dearth of event scenes of any kind, and its pacing suffered heavily as a result.

  23. @SN When I say voice acted cutscenes are presumed to be what the player wants, what I mean is that gaming companies put those cutscenes in and put work into them assuming that they make the game better. If they don’t, that’s the writer’s fault for bad dialogue and bad plot and probably a slew of other peoples’ faults for other various reasons.

    I don’t mean to say that all cutscened games are good, or that I like all games that have cutscenes, but I do mean to say that if it’s a choice between a good game with good cutscenes, and a good game with text-based dialogue (made after 2004) I’d pick the cutscene one. That’s just my personal preference as a gamer.

  24. Hey, if I thought for a moment that Japan was capable of creating predominantly good cutscenes in their JRPG genre then I would be the first person to cheer them on – reality however have shown me that this is demonstrably not the case. Good cutscenes are the exception rather than the rule, and even many of my most cherished JRPG cutscenes are still heavily flawed.

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