It was only a short time ago that they announced, much to everyone’s surprise, that Final Fantasy 7 was getting a true remake. The announcement came coupled with a fantastic trailer that delivered an odd message, likely referring as much to the fans as to the gameworld itself. The trailer showcased Midgar, spoke of the reunion, and showed off a brief glimpse of Cloud and Barret.
But… can Final Fantasy 7’s success be reproduced? Because this isn’t a remaster, it’s not an up-res, it’s a remake. Change is coming, and I don’t think the meaning of that has set into a lot of people quite yet. While doing my Final Fantasy 7 stream, a lot of people, myself included, were asking questions like ‘how are they going to do this?’ or ‘I wonder how this will look in HD’… but that’s not what we’re getting. We don’t know how much, or how little, of what we remember of the original will actually make the cut. And that’s the part that has me so excited, and just a little scared.
Fans, myself included, have played Final Fantasy 7 enough times that we can practically recite the story. We know the game like the back of our hand, maybe even better… and the game is a constant chain of good decisions from the developers. Breaking even one link of that chain will break the entire thing… think through the game: every scene has ramifications, foreshadowing, and connections to the rest of the game. Nearly every scene has some hidden portion.
So what do they keep? Or, as a better question, what are the lessons they learn from Final Fantasy 7 when trying to craft a new take on it… what is the core of the game that must be maintained in order for it to be recognizable?
Cloud’s Identity Crisis
One of the key elements that made the game complete was the gradual progression of Cloud. His snarky character, his arrogance, the downfall of his sanity… the whole progression was handled nearly perfectly. You never quite know what was happening with him, until that pivotal moment.
The strange pseudo-love triangle between Cloud, Tifa, and Aerith. The dichotomy between reality and his memories. The gradual unraveling of the plot works because of Cloud’s strange confidence in a past he only barely remembers.
Sephiroth and Jenova – The Real Plot
This is probably the biggest localization fubar in gaming history, but the dichotomy between Sephiroth and Jenova has to remain. What keeps Sephiroth from being directly involved, who is really in charge, what led to Sephiroth’s current situation… hell even the current situation itself.
These elements can all change… but Jenova’s mystery involvement is too good of a story to get rid of, especially since most of North America still doesn’t know about it. It’s a great chance for us to get a handle on the real mystery, a mystery we’ve all never seen before.
Aerith Must Die
I know it can be tempted to question ‘what if’ regarding the remake, or to try to create some attempt at rewriting the story around her survival. The reality is, the story is her story. As much as Cloud is seen as the protagonist, Final Fantasy 7 is at its core a tragedy about Aerith’s death and the impacts one death can have.
Every aspect of this game is built around the assumption that she dies. I love her character, she is one of my favourite Final Fantasy characters. Hell she was practically my childhood crush. But looking at the story… if you attempt to alter it so that her life isn’t lost, the story simply doesn’t work. So many elements hinge on her not being there… and not just Holy. Even the Highwind has a bit of a tragic tie to her, her involvement goes that deep.
A Dark Fantasy
Final Fantasy 7 is not a happy story. There are happy elements, but it is the story of a world approaching its end. It is a story of characters who are coping with various tragedies, overcoming personal demons. Whether we’re talking Tifa and losing her home twice, clinging to the one familiar element she has left, or Aerith’s death, or Barret taking care of his best friend’s child for him after their town was destroyed, or even Cid’s shattered dreams… the common thread is tragedy.
This needs to stay. It is what makes the game feel so real. So impactful. And it’s what makes the desperate defense of the planet so memorable. Because there’s really little reason for most of these characters to care… yet they do. And they find that little reason together.
The final pillar of the game is Materia. These magical little orbs of awesome. The concepts behind Materia – the wisdom of the Ancients, bestowing power to the user, crystallized life energy – are too integral to be left out.
There is some room for creativity here, depending on the specific gameplay model the development team would like to create… but the concepts that were so strong with the Materia must remain. Because they are not only unique and have such untapped potential, even to this day, but also are oh so integral to everything that is Final Fantasy 7.
This is it. There are a lot of things I loved about Final Fantasy 7, in reality it is one of the most iconic and memorable games ever… but most of the things we remember are easily altered without wrecking the final product. In the end, I think what needs to be remembered is that this will not be the Final Fantasy 7 we remember, but a new product designed to appeal to an older audience – the audience that played Final Fantasy 7 over 15 years ago when it first came into the world and are now adults, retaining enough of the old to be memorable, but not so much so as to be redundant. And, it is that realization that overrides my nerves and makes me simply excited for what is to come.
Final Fantasy 7’s remake may bring joy, and it may bring fear… but I am prepared to embrace whatever it brings.