The Episodic Nature of the Final Fantasy VII Remake: Hopes and Fears

I think it’s fair to say that Final Fantasy VII was one of the ‘big’ games of its day. The kind of game that has a pretty much permanent place in a lot of people’s “Top 10 Games” lists, and was an important step for the Final Fantasy franchise. What had already been a hugely popular series of games in Japan took a massive step up in the world-wide market, effectively making it a household name in western territories. Final Fantasy VII is one of Square Enix’s most successful games ever released, and has spawned numerous spin-offs and extra material, which included an anime and a god-damn movie. With all this in mind, it’s not really surprising that Square would eventually be tempted to remake the game for modern audiences. While remaking a game of FFVII’s scale and scope is not exactly a cheap or easy process, it’s one that possesses almost guaranteed returns, potentially huge ones. With that kind of money on the line, it was less a matter of if Square would remake the game for modern audiences and more a matter of when. Despite everyone kind of knowing that Square would eventually get to work on a remake, it was still quite a shock for fans when the remake was unveiled at E3 2015. They weren’t so shocked that they couldn’t completely fill the room with cheers, though.

(Bonus: You haven’t seen pure human joy until you’ve seen reactions to this trailer.

I’ll preface all of this by admitting that I was among the group that were absolutely losing their minds over the reveal of the remake back in 2015. I grew up playing all of the old Final Fantasy games, and while FFVII is not necessarily my favourite out of the series (FFIX, for all of its flaws, cannot be replaced in my heart), I was just as excited as everyone else that it would be getting its own full remake. However, I did become a little bit more trepid after Square Enix revealed that the game was going to be released in an episodic format.

I’m not going to totally reject the idea. There are merits to the plan, namely that Nomura can spend as much time as he wants making sure all the small details are in place without letting the game’s development time run across an entire console generation. Additionally, breaking the adventure down into parts means that there shouldn’t be any need to skip any parts of the game, since (in theory) there should always be both the time and the budget necessary to recreate every part. However, I think it’s healthy to maintain a certain level of scepticism about this product until it’s actually released, as an episodic release could result in any number of problems.

The potential problems:

For example, this does mean we’re going to have to wait A LOT of time before we can get a complete story. While using this chance to expand on the narrative of the old game is a worthwhile goal, the wait between instalments is going to be fairly hefty, which could kill the pacing. I’ve no doubt that they’re going to try to keep them semi-self-contained, each giving you a goal that’s a step on the path to the overall objective (i.e, the first episode will most likely just be the gang escaping around Midgard, and then maybe the second episode sees them to Junon and onto the boat etc.). However, will those small feats feel worthwhile knowing that you’re going to have to wait potentially a couple of years before you actually see your efforts bear any kind of fruit? Likewise, how many years are players going to have to wait until the story is even fully complete? To be fair, this could maybe result in making FFVII’s already grand adventure feel even more impressive in scope, and could give it a real odyssey feeling, but that’s a big ‘maybe.’

Another problem that might crop up is the sheer cost of buying into this adventure. Square Enix is going to have to be very careful in how they market and advertise this beast, especially if the promise that each episode is going to be like a stand-alone game in terms of length is true. If they come out and announce that the full season-pass for the whole thing is in the triple figures, forget the Black Materia; the sheer amount of rage from the fans is going to be enough to send this planet to the Promised Land. Honestly, I think the best approach in this situation is simply not draw attention to how much the whole package is going to cost. Just release the episodes as they come, never comment on any total costs, and let people get too financially invested in the ride to get off. It would be a bit underhanded, but not really any worse than some of the stuff they’ve pulled off in the past. Even then, some fans might be put off from the idea entirely based on its cost, and might simply wait until the inevitable complete edition comes out, which I predict would really throw a wrench into Square’s financial plans.

One final problem is less of a negative for players, but something to think about none the less: just how much of Square Enix’s production power is going to have to go into this mammoth of a project? Like I said previously, FFVII is one of Square’s most acclaimed and successful games, and thus it’s really in their interest to not make a mess of things for its highly anticipated remake. So while I’m glad they’re not rushing things, you have to remember that Square was already in the middle of Kingdom Hearts 3’s production when they announced the remake. Therefore, it’s easy to imagine that even the massive company that is Square Enix might be feeling the burden of trying to juggle several large games at once, especially since it looks like neither game will actually be released in 2017. In a recent presentation, Square Enix displayed the following slides:

The main point to focus on is that both the remake and Kingdom Hearts 3 are under the sub-heading ‘2018 and beyond,’ without any mention of a release date.

While I’m sure that none of their games really suffer from being delayed slightly due to the production of another game, this remake project is going to take a lot of time and manpower to complete, which might cause Square’s other licences to become slower and less numerous. How much of a problem this is going to be is entirely dependent on how invested you are in Square’s other products (friendly reminder here that the fates of the Bravely, Mana and SaGa franchises rest entirely on Square Enix’s efforts).

So, all in all, there are a fair number of problems that could hinder the remake because of its episodic nature. That being said, I like to think optimistically whenever possible. So, while keeping a healthy level of scepticism regarding all the potential problems, let’s at least allow ourselves to dream a little bit about all the good that it has the potential to bring:

The tentative hopes:

This is a fantastic opportunity to expand upon the already great characters of the original game. As Final Fantasy VII’s crew was strong enough that one of the optional and most hidden members got his own entire spin-off game, I don’t think anyone will be opposed to them getting a little more screen time. This is especially true for ‘Red XIII’ and Cait Sith, whose importance and presence in the story are greatly diminished after their short time in the limelight. This was fairly reasonable in the base game, since both the development time and budget were a heck of a lot tighter, and thus it would have been a sizable risk trying to fit more time for each character in. However, as the game is now going to be split into multiple episodes and original elements expanded upon, this gives the developers the perfect chance to do even more with these characters.

Likewise, this is also a chance to tighten up some of the looser aspects of the game’s overall narrative, and address some of the more bizarre translations. While the minute-to-minute story of Final Fantasy VII is strong enough to be one of the reasons the game is so well remembered, there are a couple of moments where perhaps it could be a little bit tighter. For example, there are a couple of points in the story where the main group doesn’t have very much direction. Often, the player would head somewhere based purely on the fact that it’s the only new location the player can reach and maybe one idle line that Sephiroth was seen in that direction. Not to mention, while hilarious in hindsight, it might do the game some good to fix up some of the weirder translations: for a long stretch, the party is following behind the steps of someone with a “black cape” who they assume is Sephiroth (and to be fair, it’s the name of one of his themes). This would be perfectly fine, if Sephiroth ever wore a cape. Also, fixing up the warning Barret gives in the scorpion robot fight could also save some headaches. So, correcting little things like that might be beneficial, if only because there’s no reason to let things lie as they are. Except ‘this guy are sick.’ That can stay.

In conclusion:

So, with all these points in mind, I think it would be fair to say that the Final Fantasy VII Remake is going to require a huge amount of work to meet its stratospheric expectations. There are a lot of potential pitfalls, but there’s also a lot of good that this project could produce, for both the sake of its creator and its fans. This re-mastering of an old classic has been a long time coming, and it would be a shame if it didn’t at least try to reach the lofty heights that are being ascribed to it. In many ways, making a video game is like running up a seemingly endless flight of stairs: you gotta just keep going, even when it seems like your destination is too far to actually reach, and climb up as high as you can before you start to wonder if you shouldn’t have just gone through the front door…

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