Thursday, 18 June 2015

Thoughts on the FFVII Remake

I’d pretty much given up on writing as laziness and self-doubt got the better of me, but FFVII is one topic I want to put my thoughts out on regardless.

So Square Enix has announced they're remaking FFVII. It’s a move that has me excited and worried. Tetsuya Nomura is taking on directing duties. He was the character designer on the original FFVII and though he had his role in the success of FFVII his subsequent rise through the ranks often seems responsible for imbuing the series with many of the traits that have turned me off the series.
Final Fantasy VII is a weird game. It’s not the first description people go to when thinking about such a seminal JRPG, but it’s a game that’s full of odd, quirky moments.

It can also be somewhat of a mirror to the player’s own interpretations.  Despite the reams of text, the baby steps into deeper videogame storytelling, crass localization and lack of voice acting mean’s one can’t help project a certain amount into the characters.

I certainly feel that way when I see how others perceive the characters.  Subsequent FFVII spin-offs never captured the right tone. It suddenly seemed like FFVII was a game that was dark and broody. Advent Children came out and seemed aimed at the My Chemical Romance generation. It didn’t tally with the game I knew at all.

It 's  hard to describe Cloud, because his characterisation is broad, inconsistent, both perhaps because of the original writing of him and by accident of the localization. But one thing he’s not is a brooding teenage emo. His hair’s spiky because he’s a fucking mess, not because he spent hours styling it that way. He’s not deliberately aloof; he’s just a bit awkward and not very good at talking to people. (Okay, maybe I’m just projecting myself into the character there)

It led me to question if I was I just reading things wrong. Was I imagining depth that wasn’t there? Was I just projecting traits onto the characters that seemed more appealing to me? It’s a question I’m still not entirely sure of the answer to, but I’m certain through subsequent playthroughs that its whole style is worlds apart from its spin-offs and Square Enix’s style now.

It tends to be reduced to its bigger moments, and while there are huge emotional moments and great set-pieces. The smaller moments, the little bits of interaction between the characters are what really held things together. You feel like you’re on a journey with people you care about.

A lot of these smaller moments are what resonate so many years later, but a lot of them might not be so essential to the overall plot.  Some things that will inevitably get cut and changed will hurt, even though removing them may be a good decision.

So a remake raises the question of what they should change, what they should keep. Being a fanboy means one is too rigid when it comes to different interpretations of a story. People will be unhappy regardless, but will this be because of fear of change itself or because of the changes not being very good?

Obviously there’s going to be outrage when the game fails to revert the world to a blissful idealized child state before we knew the abyss (much like meteor) loomed ever closer  But I can already see there being huge “Well the fans just didn’t like it because it was different” “No we didn’t like it because it was shit” debates.

But it does present them with opportunities to improve things. I’d hope the material system is still very similar (it would have to be in some sense because it’s a system that’s very much tied to the world) but they could do away with random battles.

They could also bring clarity to certain parts of the story. Some major plots points are made confusing by the translation. Others are hidden away in optional scenes where the importance isn’t really hammered home. They can also explain what the fuck Cait Sith actually is!

But I hope they don’t lose sight of what made the original so successful. They need to be brave enough reinvent things but still understand the impact of what they’re changing. They have to keep a very delicate balance between the old and the new.