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June 19, 2019
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Home » Brace yourselves, 'Final Fantasy VII Remake' fans. I'm worried.
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Brace yourselves, 'Final Fantasy VII Remake' fans. I'm worried.

Square Enix has commitment issues with Final Fantasy.

Fans of Final Fantasy XV no doubt recall the unfortunate confirmation in Nov. 2018 that three of four previously announced story add-ons for the game would be canceled. Then there was the whole confusing Final Fantasy XIII/Versus XIII saga that led directly to the creation of XV.

In short: Square has more than once made promises regarding the Final Fantasy series that never panned out. So it’s hard to see Final Fantasy VII Remake in its current form — an absolutely gorgeous rethinking of the original game’s first act, in the city of Midgar — and not be worried.

Remake, as I’ll call it from here, was originally announced as an episodic re-do of the fan-favorite game from 1997. They’re not thinking in terms of episodes anymore, though. Producer Yoshinori Kitase — also the original game’s director — referred to the Midgar episode and its subsequent, as-yet-unrevealed chapters as “games” more than once at E3 2019 (through a translator). And why shouldn’t he? Remake apparently spans two entire Blu-ray discs.

Given the size and scope of what was once merely the opening act of a 22-year-old game, it’s hard to imagine how long it’ll be before we see the rest. Especially given the length of the build-up to E3 2019’s big gameplay reveal — development started back in 2015. Kitase even said during our behind closed doors look at Remake that work on the second one is only just getting sketched out.

There are other reasons to be worried, too. The E3 theater presentation kicks off with Kitase laying out the vision for Remake. This game isn’t meant to be a 1:1 recreation of the 1997 game, he said. It’s bigger and more fleshed out, with deeper and more nuanced character development — thanks in large part to the shift from text-based dialogue to voice actors.

It’s a nice thought, at least. A perfect replica isn’t necessarily the right move for a good video game remake, especially when the source is so old. Games don’t always age well, both mechanically and creatively, and so the best remakes deliver an experience that plays like the game you remember as opposed to the one you actually played.

The action side of 'Final Fantasy VII Remake' does admittedly look exciting, especially if you're a fan of 'FFXV'.

The action side of ‘Final Fantasy VII Remake’ does admittedly look exciting, especially if you’re a fan of ‘FFXV’.

Image: Square Enix

Here’s the problem: after Kitase’s speech, we launch into a hands-off demonstration of Remake‘s opening moments, at the train station in Midgar. And friends, let me tell you: it isn’t the Final Fantasy VII I remember. It’s just… Final Fantasy VII.

It looks stunning, to be clear. Visually, it’s on par with Final Fantasy XV in terms of both the level of detail in the environment and the flow of the action on screen. The combat system is more of a hybrid, using XV‘s real-time hack-and-slash foundation and mixing it with a “tactical mode” that slows everything down and gives you time to dig through menus for spells and abilities.

The Active Time Battle (ATB) gauge makes a return; as you deal damage, take damage, and block damage, a meter fills up two bars. Those filled bars represent special actions you can take above and beyond hacking and slashing — this is where your spells and whatnot all come into play.

There’s also a stagger mechanic. The more you hit a foe, the more their “focus” gauge fills up. Once it’s topped off, that enemy becomes staggered and takes more damage for a short amount of time. Like XV, it’s refreshingly fast-paced and exciting to watch.

But looks and mechanics are only part of the picture here. The opening stretch that introduces Cloud, Barret, and their allies doesn’t feel much different, narratively speaking. There are more words, and more feeling behind those words thanks to the voice performances, but the characters themselves don’t come off as anything more than the two-dimensional cutouts they always were.

Cloud is still the moody, aloof soldier-boy. Barret is the excitable resistance leader. Wedge, Biggs, Jessie — their lines all hit the same beats as they did back in 1997. There may be (and probably is) deeper development as the game rolls on, but there’s a sense of dissonance between the game Kitase described and the one played live at E3.

I’m not suggesting it’s time to write off Final Fantasy VII Remake for good. But the game’s big E3 2019 pitch is at odds with itself. Given Square’s struggles with staying the course in the past when it comes to Final Fantasy, there’s every reason for fans to be concerned ahead of the March 3, 2020 release.

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