Hello, Giant Bomb community! With the release of the Final Fantasy VII Remake demo and documentary, I thought it was high time for me to talk about the game and get my mind off of this global pandemic. After giving the demo a whirl, I have to say I left with a more favorable impression than I anticipated. It's a flashy package, and I genuinely enjoyed the new combat system. Narratively, it seems Square-Enix is striking a decent balance between the spirit of the original and modern video game storytelling. Still, I continue to maintain that . First and foremost, the company is in a creative dessert and is staying afloat financially, mainly thanks to Final Fantasy XIV and a handful of mobile games. Dedicating as much development time to this project, as they have, is not a viable long-term strategy.
Additionally, I do not trust the current head honchos at Square to make all of the "correct" creative decisions in translating the original game. Yes, I am aware Final Fantasy VII is available on every conceivable platform imaginable, and it wouldn't surprise me if my refrigerator eventually could play the game. Notwithstanding, something doesn't "feel right." The Square-Enix of today has virtually NONE of the staff who made Final Fantasy VII a work of art. Admittedly, I'm not going to suggest Final Fantasy VII is an impeccable diamond free of imperfections. The game is a messy, convoluted, and occasionally bewildering experience; but, I think that's part of the game's charm. And I do not believe the Square-Enix of today knows how to best address Final Fantasy VII's original suite of shortcomings without losing a part of the original's appeal.
That said, don't let my nihilistic point of view bum you out if you are looking forward to the game! As I have always said, you do you. I am but an amateur blogger who, for the most part, wouldn't know their head from their ass when it comes to making video games. Likewise, I cannot envision this game being an objectively terrible experience. Square has attached some of its brightest and most talented minds to the project, and its creative leads appear passionate enough about bringing this game to the forefront. Furthermore, I honestly hope the game proves me wrong because I think it could serve as a critical jumping point for Square-Enix as a developer. An additional "best-case scenario" is a new generation of gamers ends up checking out the rest of the Final Fantasy franchise following this game's release.
However, let's jump into the "meat and potatoes" of this blog! Regardless of how I feel about the thing, there are a handful of unanswered questions that will, at some point, come up during episode one. These "burning questions" are significant issues that Square will not be able to dance around, and whose answers will determine the complexion of the entire experience and all episodes following it. Furthermore, there are no "right" or "wrong" answers here, and whatever course Square takes will undoubtedly prove to be possible points of differentiation between the remake and original. And I want to make it clear that I do not think differentiating this game from the original is a bad thing. In fact, I hope that's the case. However, before we jump into that, I'll list the additional unanswered questions I have that do not warrant deep introspection. Also, I want to warn anyone reading this blog that there will be about Final Fantasy VII and its supporting media!
- How is the relationship mechanic going to work, and is it more visible to the player than in the original game?
- Will the characters from Before Crisis: Final Fantasy VII ever make an appearance?
- What about that Japan-only mobile game? Characters from that game make an appearance?
- Will there be a "teaser" for episode two at the end?
- Do I have to worry about carrying over my save data to episode two?
- Will there be any references to Kingdom Hearts?
- Is Dirge of Cerberus: Final Fantasy VII still the bookend of the Final Fantasy VII timeline?
Burning Question #1: How Much "Original" Content Is There?
During one of Square-Enix's promotional videos for Final Fantasy VII Remake, they showed off something that caught a lot of people's attention. During a teaser trailer, the game showcases optional side quests that did not exist in the original game. Of the many changes they have shown, this is one I happily applaud. As someone who recently replayed the original game, I found Midgar, as a level, to be shockingly linear. There are few, if any, side quests to complete during the game's first romp through the industrial cityscape, but to its defense, that is by design. The environment as a whole is less about providing you the usual JRPG trappings and more about setting the mood and tone of the overall narrative. Nonetheless, the lack of side quests is a shocking gap in the game's overall flawless worldbuilding.
At any rate, what this additional content culminates towards is anyone's guess! Will completing these fetch quests expose you to storyline characters earlier than usual? Will some of the game's "deeper cuts" be hidden behind these side quests? Will there be "secret" cutscenes only viewable if you complete a series of menial tasks? If Square wants to put extra fanservice into the game, then these sorts of missions are the best way to do it. People who wish to mainline the game can do so, whereas others who like playing around with the Materia System have the option of doing that as well. Speaking of the Materia System, the real question here is if the game is going to provide more combat-oriented missions. If that's the case, then the original game's pace of delivering Materia and abilities needs to be thrown out the window. In case you've forgotten, the game doesn't provide a ton of magic-based options until AFTER your party leaves Midgar. Then you have the game's summons, which also does not come to the forefront until AFTER the overworld becomes accessible.
Which leads me to another concern, and that's the game's overall pace and sense of progression. One of the benefits of Midgar in the original game is that it does not provide a lot of situations where you feel like you need to stop everything and grind levels. As such, the game progresses at a decent pace, and you never feel motivated to stray too far away from the story's critical path. If Square puts in a bunch of fetch quests or optional tasks, I worry they are going to ruin the game's breezy pace for the sake of making the game more akin to a traditional JRPG. What's more, they're going to have to play around with the game's random encounters if they want players to feel motivated to complete these missions.
Burning Question #2: How Much Of Advent Children Is Actually Canon?
It seems odd to question the canonicity of an official Square-Enix product, if not ostentatious. Nonetheless, a lot has happened regarding the state of Final Fantasy VII since Advent Children's release way back in 2005. Now, as you can see below, Square-Enix has addressed this issue repeatedly during interviews and press-releases. So, that's "case closed," and we can all move on with our lives, right? Well, not so fast, my dear readers. In terms of surface-level changes, Square-Enix has mercifully shit-canned the character designs from Advent Children and instead elected to reinterpret them using entirely new technology. This choice might seem like a no-brainer, but it also raises plenty of questions on how much of the film holds water in the remake. Furthermore, if Square-Enix is going to lean into the remake honoring the spirit of Final Fantasy VII, then a lot more of Advent Children needs to be shown the door.
First, Advent Children's tone is going to be a massive issue. The film's grimdark, almost post-apocalyptic tone was an enormous deviation from the game it is based on, and a departure I can only imagine Square will avoid with the remake. I know a lot of you will likely respond Advent Children takes place AFTER the events of Final Fantasy VII, and therefore, doesn't represent that significant of a tonal shift. And you know what, that's a fair point I fully appreciate. Nonetheless, the "temperament" of the remake is still a significant question mark, and that's doubly so when it comes to its characters. As I will discuss shortly, we have seen over a dozen different extrapolations of Cloud Strife, and none of them are even remotely complimentary. But the tone of Advent Children isn't the only issue at hand here. The film also makes some decidedly "controversial" decisions about Final Fantasy VII's canon that Square has been rather flippant about in recent years.
You might have forgotten this, but Advent Children takes a handful of narrative stances, which profoundly impact Final Fantasy VII's canon. Some of these, such as bringing Tseng back to life, can be dismissed as originating from a translation error. On the other hand, you also have characters like Rufus surviving a goddamn nuclear explosion. However, the most important of these "stances" would, by a country mile, be the film retconning Aerith as Cloud's primary love-interest and relegating Tifa to the role of the proverbial "girl-next-door." This point of contention is relatively minor for the remake's initial outing, but as the story progresses, things will only get more complicated. Especially when you consider the original game's revelatory moment in the Lifestream has an entirely different meaning if you pursue a relationship with Tifa. Will the remake honor the player's agency in pursuing the romances they see fit, or will it try to find a compromise that satisfies no one? Only time will tell. Finally, you have Jenova, who has always been a "messy" character in Final Fantasy VII. However, as we will discuss later, Advent Children somehow makes this already convoluted character even more confusing.
Burning Question #3: Which Versions Of These Characters Are We Getting?
Speaking of Advent Children making things a convoluted mess, we need to return to the issue of "tone." If my previous chapter made it seem like I'm not a fan of Advent Children, that's because I hate the damn thing. However, if there's something I must give the film credit for, it's that it fully commits to its grim/emo tone. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about OG Final Fantasy VII. The game, in its original form, has bewildering tonal shifts, sometimes within minutes of each other. At the time, this was by design as Squaresoft was trying to "cast a wide net," much like a Summer Blockbuster. The consequence, however, is that the remake will have to do a better job of managing these pivots. Based on what I played of the demo, all signs point to Square, knowing where that middle ground is, but things will only get more arduous as the story progresses.
This point inevitably leads us to the issue of "characterization." For some characters like Barret, the options on the table do Square's job for them. In his case, we have either see him as a racist caricature or a kind-hearted freedom fighter. However, other characters have evolved MASSIVELY since their first outing way back in 1997. As mentioned earlier, Aerith has gone from being a free-loving storytelling lynchpin to Cloud's canonical love-interest. In Final Fantasy VII, she often jokes and teases Cloud and acts like a normal-ass young adult. However, she avoids outright swooning on Cloud as we have seen her do in some of Final Fantasy VII's supporting media, Kingdom Hearts included. Tifa, on the other hand, isn't the hot-headed badass we think of her as in OG Final Fantasy VII. Instead, she has a TON of moments where she attempts to level with Cloud and expose her emotional vulnerabilities.
But the million-dollar question I want to know is What sometimes gets lost when people ruminate about their Final Fantasy VII memories, is the game's emotional diversity. Even a character like Cloud had moments of levity where they cracked jokes to lighten the story's mood. Since 1997, Square has forgotten this Cloud even exists. Thus, which version of the blonde-haired golden boy are we getting? Are we getting the emo grimdark Cloud from Advent Children? Are we getting the soulless Sephiroth-killing meatbag from Kingdom Hearts? And before any of you chime in that, they should just interpret the character as depicted in the original game; I want you to think about what you're saying. In OG Final Fantasy VII, Cloud oscillates between being comedic-relief, a standoffish asshole, an action badass, and a level-headed "straight man." Sometimes he even rotates between these stock characters within the same scene. So, to Square-Enix's defense, it's not like there's a coherent character to adapt in the first place!
Burning Question #4: Will This Game Finally Settle The Sephiroth vs. Jenova Debate?
A Final Fantasy game is not complete without a good old-fashioned fan debate. Final Fantasy VIII fans have been weighing the merits of the "Squall is Dead" fan theory for over twenty years, and crazy people have written entire dissertations about Necron's role in Final Fantasy IX. In Final Fantasy VII's case, the point of contention among fans comes down to whether Sephiroth or Jenova is the game's "true" antagonist. Now, before we jump into this rabbit hole, I want to warn you, To keep things simple, "Camp Jenova" argues Sephiroth is dead before the events of the game, and Jenova steers the course of the story using an army of doppelgangers. "Camp Sephiroth" maintains that a "real" Sephiroth exists in the Lifestream and employs an army of doppelgangers to manipulate and control Jenova.
To an outsider looking in, this kerfuffle might seem like an exhausting argument over semantics. Nonetheless, similar to a few of my earlier points, the issue here reiterates the daunting task facing Square. For one thing, Square has jumped back and forth between both camps in the last thirty-plus years. In Advent Children, they retconned Jenova to be the franchise's primary antagonist and framed them to be more like Lavos from Chrono Trigger. Unfortunately, in virtually every OTHER source of Final Fantasy VII supporting media, Sephiroth is a real person with clearly articulated motivations. Simply put, Square can't have things both ways, but the standard response of "just leave things ambiguous like in the original" probably will not pan out either. I do not think for a fucking minute the company is going to forego twenty years of supporting media, they have made from the ground up, mind you, with the release of this game.
Luckily for them, this is a question they can punt until the next episode. Still, we all know about THAT SCENE with Jenova at the Shinra Headquarters. You know, the scene that gave you nightmares as a kid when you first played Final Fantasy VII. In the remake, will this juxtaposition be a quick moment, or will it be a segue for something more substantial? Additionally, there are plenty of flashbacks and internal monologues (which, DO NOT WORRY MY SWEET CHILD, we will talk about shortly) that play around with the idea of Sephiroth and Jenova's existence and role in the greater world. More importantly, each interpretation plays an essential role in setting the "temperature" for Cloud's moment of self-actualization in the Lifestream. Is his human existence being challenged by an alien from another planet or a silver-haired asshole? Your guess is as good as mine!
Burning Question #5: Is Any Part Of Crisis Core Going To Be Addressed in The Game?
Speaking of characters Square-Enix cannot make up their minds about, let's talk about Zack Fair! Part of why I outright reject fan requests for the remake to adapt the source material literally is because things are not as simple as they seem. Some characters, such as the Turks, Barret, and Zack, have benefited MASSIVELY from Square's "Compilation of Final Fantasy VII." Take, for example, the namesake for this chapter, Zack. In OG Final Fantasy VII, Zack is a character who barely exists if you only follow the game's mainline story. To learn more about the man and his relationship to Cloud, you have to explore several backdrops and environments at different portions of the story. It would be incredibly if Square-Enix maintains this structure for Final Fantasy VII Remake.
When it comes to the original, we only get a few passing remarks and flashbacks to Zack. However, his ghost LOOMS LARGE over the shoulders of Cloud, Tifa, and Aerith even during the game's opening chapters. Lest we not forget, part of the reason why the Turks avoid outright kidnapping Aerith is because they fear Zack is still alive and protecting her. As with before, the issue here isn't how much light episode one will shed on Zack, but which interpretation of the character it decides to use. The Zack of Final Fantasy VII is a "nothing burger," who is less a genuine character and more a vessel for Cloud's moment of self-actualization. The Zack of Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII, on the other hand, is one of the most profoundly tragic figures in all of video games and one of the best characters conceived by post-Sakaguchi Square-Enix. I'm not fucking around here; the ending of Crisis Core is FUCKING AMAZING!
Seriously, if you have not yet seen the ending of Crisis Core, do yourself a favor and fix that! With that in mind, I think it would be a missed opportunity if the remake completely ignored every storytelling contribution of Crisis Core. Virtually every character, including the Turks, benefits from elements of Crisis Core being present in some form in this game. Furthermore, it would be incredibly stupid if Square-Enix didn't at least use the Crisis Core version of Zack, as doing so would add so much more authenticity to the emotional core of the game. Yes, this issue doesn't need to be addressed right off the bat, but at some point, Square needs to decide on how to structure Zack's moments within an episodic format. Are we learning more about the history of the Buster Sword via a series of side quests? Personally, I think that sounds astonishingly moronic! All joking aside, I believe it is imperative Square makes his story arc a part of the game's critical path.
Burning Question #6: How Are They Going To Handle The Flashbacks and Internal Monologues?
As I have hinted, Final Fantasy VII is an awkward but magical by-product of the era it was made. Nothing pleads this case better than a quick examination of the storytelling structure of Cloud's story arc. There, his character evolution progresses through a series of pre-rendered cutscenes, in-engine set pieces, flashy boss battles, and quiet interstitial moments. The only tricky part for Square will be figuring out how to handle his flashbacks and internal monologues. In case you've forgotten the first monologue pop-offs during the second reactor attack. Likewise, after you escape the first reactor, the game spends a decent amount of time in the past as Tifa and Cloud reminisce about their childhoods.
The flashbacks will be the easier part of this puzzle. All they require is the same attention to detail Square has put into the rest of what we have seen of Midgar, and things will be peachy. Though I must admit, I'm curious to see how Square-Enix handles the voice acting for a young Cloud. The internal monologues, however, will prove to be trickier. Part of what makes those monologues impactful is that you do not know where they are coming from right off the bat. Discovering they are a manifestation of Cloud's consciousness and suppressed childhood, isn't just a shock; it reframes entire parts of the story under a new light. What I worry about is how Square-Enix will handle those monologues in a world where voice acting exists. As we all know, Final Fantasy's track record of having child voice actors is poor.
This concern isn't simply about me not wanting to eat my own eyeballs while listening to people talk in Final Fantasy VII Remake. The reveal that Cloud has been talking to his past is a powerful moment that defines the heart of Final Fantasy VII. If Square-Enix has these monologues spoken to you by a child, it will immediately spoil one of the best moments in the entire game. I am, of course, talking about Tifa and Cloud's revelation in the Lifestream. Cloud's whole character arc culminates towards this moment, and it plays a HUGE ROLE in adding emotional weight to the game's final two acts. Yes, Aerith's death is more iconic, but the moment in the Lifestream is no slouch, either. And unlike Aerith's death, I think Square has an opportunity to preserve the surprise of this scene for newcomers. Even if that isn't possible, I'm not 100% privy to having an omnipotent child spell out what should be a surprise ten or twelve hours too early.
Burning Question #7: How Will We Have To Wait For Episode Two?
This question is the proverbial "big one." When Final Fantasy VII Remake releases on April 10, 2020, it will cap-off a nigh five-year-long wait for Final Fantasy fans. However, its release will be even more celebrated at Square-Enix as the game's development has been nothing but a nightmare. Indeed, a significant reason for this wait wasn't entirely the game's fault. Square encountered problems with the original studio tapped to make it, and these issues culminated in Square switching to in-house development in 2017. However, if Square honestly thinks fans will be as forgiving of delays and production issues for episodes two or three, then they will be up for a rude awakening. It's okay they are going a more deliberate route this time around, but if they want this game to be their lottery ticket back into the public consciousness, then the next two episodes better come out on a faster clip.
What I think is the even more significant "elephant in the room" is whether or not Square has even BEGUN MAKING episodes two or three. A recurring fear I have expressed regarding the remake is that Square hasn't adequately planned or mapped out their next steps or what the logical stopping points for the future episodes will be. Sure, there have been quick teasers here and there of characters and moments from later portions of Final Fantasy VII, but nothing significant enough to assuage my overall concerns. What I think fans forget is how WEIRD the middle act of Final Fantasy VII gets, and I worry modern-day Square has forgotten this as well. Which reminds me, the next two episodes are going to be FAR HARDER to adapt than a scenic tour through Midgar!
Adapting Midgar for current-generation technology IS THE EASY PART of making Final Fantasy VII Remake! After Midgar, you have a TON of interstitial levels and set pieces that cause the pace of the story to slow to a crawl. For the sake of the game's worldbuilding, they serve their role admirably. But the Square-Enix of today doesn't have a great handle on with the mechanics and structure of 1990s era Squaresoft game design. Will the game have a traditional overworld? How will the optional summons dole out? Will I have to chase down Yuffie like in the original game? Speaking of Yuffie, when will I be able to visit Wutai? And what about the excessive amount of minigames that LITTER whole swaths of the mid to late game? As long as Square-Enix is willing to sink in the time to provide excellent production values, there will always be a fanbase for Final Fantasy VII Remake. That said, considering our time on this planet might be more precious than we all could have imagined, I honestly hope they get their shit together for future episodes.