Back when it launched in late 1997, Final Fantasy VII was a revolutionary title. It was the first Final Fantasy game with 3-D graphics, one of the first games to heavily feature cinematic storytelling techniques, and, as a premier title on the popular Sony PlayStation, it was largely responsible for bringing Japanese role-playing games to Western audiences. To this day, it’s adored by gamers, making frequent appearances on “best of all time” lists.
But the transition to 3-D graphics from the sprite-based era was a rough one, and the game’s blocky polygons and pre-rendered backgrounds haven’t held up well over time. Fans have long hoped that developer Square Enix would remake the game with updated graphics — a hope amplified by a tech demo shown at E3 2006 of the opening sequence redone on PlayStation 3 hardware.
No remake came from that demo, however, as fans heard excuse after excuse from Square Enix as to why the developer simply couldn’t pull it off.
So how will game development advances over the last 18 years affect the re-release of the game? What’s changing, and what’s staying the same? And can it top the original?
Let’s analyze what we know about the game so far in advance of its upcoming release.
Back when the original game was released, the breathtaking FMVs seen in the trailers sold the game to many people, who expected to find the same graphical quality in gameplay. Instead, they found that the gorgeous graphics only made up a few cutscenes, which were rarely featured in favor of just using a few animations on field character models, with much higher quality in-battle models. Occasionally, cutscenes would simply have a layer of FMVs in the background, with engine-rendered models in the game.
None of this in Remake, which will see consistent character models used throughout — and boy, do they look gorgeous. (Seriously, I can’t wait to see Tifa already.) Running in Unreal Engine 4 — and not the proprietary Luminous Engine used in Final Fantasy XV, to the surprise of many — Final Fantasy VII Remake is fully rendered in high-definition glory. Many believe this is because Unreal Engine 4 is simply easier to work with, evidenced by the fact that it took a year to develop a trailer with Luminous, and that Final Fantasy XV still isn’t out.
Making proprietary technology is good when you want to have more control over the nuances of your graphics, but when a third party industry standard engine does what your engine does better, providing a well-integrated framework for building a game, why reinvent the wheel?
Here’s the thing that has everyone talking. On the surface, the revamped combat system sounds very new and more like what you’d find in action-RPGs, but examining it more, it doesn’t seem too radical. According to the developers, it’s similar to the systems found in the Dissidia Final Fantasy arcade game and the Kingdom Hearts series. With an Active Time Battle gauge and a Limit gauge, it might be similar to Final Fantasy XII in a sense, and you’ll be able to switch party members freely.
So in reality, other than the fact that your characters aren’t standing in a line facing the enemy’s own lines, not a whole lot is actually different from the original game. Attack, Magic, Summon, Item, and Defend are all back. (Notably absent is Command, but that’ll likely get added in, or maybe when the certain Command Materia is equipped, that command will be added to the menu.)
That said, I do want to break down the Attack updates in more detail: In the early portion of the original game, using “Attack” would mean Cloud deals a single hit for somewhere around 40 or 50 damage. Here, Cloud is clearly hitting multiple times for 19 damage each. But notice in the screenshot above that after Cloud hits them, “Attack” is greyed out, meaning that it’s more likely Cloud hits several times adding up to that.
It might not seem like much at the moment, but what I want to know is, what will happen to the Double Cut Materia? When equipped, Double Cut gave the ability to hit an enemy twice (four times when upgraded), but now that attacks already hit multiple times, will they just hit for double damage instead? When upgraded, would 4x cut hit four times randomly amongst the enemies? But if they’re going for more realistic combat, how will they just suddenly warp right next to the new target?
As for difficulty, we’ve seen footage from very early on in the game, so it’s much too early to draw any conclusions as to how differently the game is balanced from the original. Final Fantasy XV will be using a difficulty level system, and the last time Square remade a game on a scale close to this (Final Fantasy IV‘s 3-D remake), it was much harder than the original. This means it’s probable that this remake will have multiple difficulty levels, for people who’ve never played the original and those who have played the original many times and want a challenge. But we can’t tell for sure yet.
The most obvious thing we know for sure about Remake is that there are no “field” and “battle” models anymore; one set of models is used throughout the game. We don’t know how seamless the transition into a battle is, though we do know controlling the characters is still handled differently. The menu listing battle commands obviously doesn’t appear during the field gameplay we saw. In fact, there’s no HUD to be found at all — though this could do with current footage being from early in development, or altered for the trailers.
Furthermore, notice the camera angles in the field gameplay: It’s fixed a certain position behind Cloud when controlling him on the field, whereas it can be anywhere during combat. This suggests that, whether we still have instanced random encounters or the transition is now seamless (and boy, I hope so), gameplay will still be very different between field and combat.
Other than the third-person camera, which makes Midgar feel much more alive than the top-down camera from the original game, not much seems new from the footage so far. We see that Cloud can interact with the environment, and we specifically see him edging his way through rubble. Now, this section of the tunnel was not seen in the original game, but characters could still traverse the environment in ways other than simply walking. (Think of all the times you had to climb ladders in the game…)
So far we’ve seen Cloud, Barret, Biggs, Wedge, and Jessie. Each of them roughly retain their outfits, though with much more detailed models, following the realistic design that we’ve seen since Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children. The team has said they’re going for a balance between realism and recognizability, and indeed, what we’ve seen so far is very similar to the concept artwork that was used for the original game. Cloud’s kept Steve Burton as his voice actor, while Barret has kept Beau Billingslea (a.k.a. Jet Black in Cowboy Bebop). Biggs, Wedge, and Jessie’s voice actors are, of course, all new since they’ve never appeared anywhere else in the Compilation.
From this, it’s very easy to tell the direction they’re going for with characters in Remake: not much will change. Although the story they’re in may be bigger — Square has already said that Biggs, Wedge, and Jessie’s story will be expanded — it’ll be mostly the same characters we’ve seen in the series before, through the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII and other games.
It’s very likely, for instance, that Tifa Lockhart will be much like her Advent Children film model with the original outfit (think Dissidia in HD), and Rachael Leigh Cook will be back to voice her. Oh, and they’ll probably go with Aerith, not Aeris. Sorry.
In the trailer from the PlayStation Experience in December, we see more or less scene-for-scene the entire opening sequence. This, coupled with how closely Square Enix is sticking to the character designs from the original game, definitely implies that not much of Remake‘s story will deviate from the original game.
But the story itself will be told differently. As a clear example, both the scene of Cloud escaping from Shinra soldiers to jump on the train and the scene of Biggs and Jessie taking out Shinra soldiers are now cinematic cut scenes, whereas before both were just scripted field gameplay with the same top-down camera and a few model animations.
Square Enix has said that it would like to delve more deeply into the stories of Biggs, Wedge, and Jessie, which could be anything from a few more dialogue options to additional side quests. Furthermore, a scene of Cloud and Barret walking together through a crowded Midgar, seen in both the teaser trailer and the PSX trailer, has no equivalent in the original game, again showing that we’re going to get a slightly expanded story.
We’ve also been told by the developers that the “social situation” has changed, meaning players will need to “approach some scenes more carefully,” with the Honey Bee Inn given as an example. We know that crossdressing Cloud will still be in for sure, but we can only speculate what scenes players will have to take a “careful” approach with, and it’ll likely be very minor adjustments.
For instance, in the original game, you could get a date with Barret in the Gold Saucer, and be greeted at the theater with: “You are our 100th couple today… Oh, wait…no you’re not… Sorry.” This may have been funny to people in 1997, and Square may still decide to keep it, but homophobic jokes are a sensitive subject in 2016.
Finally, we definitely know the script is going to be cleaned up. Square Enix’s translation standards have improved drastically since Final Fantasy VII launched, so we know for a fact that lines such as “This guy are sick” and “Beacause Cloud, you are a puppet” will not make their way into the dialog this time around.
Well, we know that the game is releasing in multiple parts. Of course, the original game was split across three discs, but they were sold together. Square Enix claims that Remake‘s sections will be released separately so that nothing will have to be condensed or left out. The developer hasn’t told us much about how the game will be split, other than to say that each section will be the length of a standard game by itself.
So we know the releases are going to be spaced out, so we’ll get parts of the game faster, which means the first chapter could feasibly come out in 2016. That said, 2017 is the 20th anniversary of the original game, so that’s a more likely candidate for release.
Either way, there’s no gettin’ off this train until we reach the end of the line. I know the script is changing, but please keep that line in, Squeenix.
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