It's official. A full remake of Final Fantasy VII, a franchise fan-favorite, is finally in production. This was certainly a major announcement for both Sony and Square Enix, but it raised questions as to the nature of this highly anticipated title. Namely, how much of the original Final Fantasy VII experience was going to be altered or evolved for this remake. In an age of HD re-releases and remasters, calling this current gen version of Final Fantasy VII a "remake" doesn't do much to communicate the direction of the game. In fact, director and original character designer Tetsuya Nomura has since had to clarify a few things.
While he claims that he can't get into details, Nomura maintains that this is not a simple remake. "Let's say for argument's sake that we only pretty up the graphics for current gen hardware, I don't think that would surpass the original version." He said in an interview with Dengeki Online. "We haven't shown any gameplay yet, but since we're updating them quite a bit, please look forward to that." Nomura then went on to suggest that the addition of Kazushige Nojima, known for his writing on the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII, as primary scenario writer would leaded to added plot devices in the story. Finally, his interview with Famitsu echoes the same sentiments of evolution. "If you are going to do a full remake, you have to take a different approach and make something that suits the time." Clearly, this is not an updated port or a re-release with improved graphics and audio.
A ground-up rebuild of the JRPG classic sounds like a noble goal, though some might not agree. After all, many appear to see Final Fantasy VII as the pinnacle of the franchise. I've personally seen tweets in my timeline which communicated a sentiment of "why fix what isn't broken?" I suggest that there is plenty to fix in what is ultimately a great-though-imperfect game, and this remake is an excellent opportunity to rectify past mistakes. Instead of looking at what makes Final Fantasy VII great the announcement of this remake provides us with an opportunity to examine what held the original release of Final Fantasy VII back.
Of course, the first thing that will likely come to mind is the original game's blocky and jagged graphics. Released at the start of the PlayStation's lifecycle, Final Fantasy VII couldn't leverage the full graphical capabilities of the console because the use of three-dimensional polygonal technology was just too new. We now live in an age where most developers, and certainly Square Enix's internal production studios, have a strong understand of how to translate basic character models and environments from flat two-dimensional conceptual art to near photorealistic levels of three-dimensional perfection. It's a brave frontier, and hopefully it will mean that all hand-painted environments from the original release will be more interactive and realistic in the remake. Likewise, character body language and attire may finally also go from sprite-based designs to more detailed representations that don't contrast as much with the environment. That being said, the visual improvements of this remake are only one part of the puzzle. Those working on this new iteration of Final Fantasy VII also have the unique opportunity to improve other less-than-perfect elements of the game.
Those with intimate knowledge of Final Fantasy VII tend to point out how lazy the original translation was. Items were confusingly mislabeled, character names changed wholly (Aeris was supposed to be named Aerith, for example), and dialogue lines such as "This guy are sick," riddled the game. A remake offers the chance to do right by the original script's vision. More than that though, with the addition of new scenarios we may actually get further clarity on such obtuse plot elements as why Tifa says nothing when Cloud details his tour with Sephiroth in Nibelheim five years prior to the events of the game when, as far as she was concerned, Cloud was never there. Another narrative mystery is how Cloud, before being experimented on, was able to withstand being direct slashed by Sephiroth's 68-inch sword. These things didn't make sense in the original release and could be explained or expanded upon through this new remake.
Personally, I would also like to see more focus on Zack's character. Sure, we did get to know him in the release of Crisis Core for the PSP, but added scenarios that highlight the character's impact on Cloud and Aerith's lives could evolve his role within Final Fantasy VII into something other than just a plot device.
In terms of audio, this remake could enhance the same original sound track while also adding elements like voice acting to the mix. Final Fantasy VII was the first game in the franchise to play around with VA, but the instances of its use are few and far between. Adding voices to each character, or at least each primary character, could go a long ways into improving the game's production value. At the very least, Sephiroth would likely sound more menacing than the boxes of text from the original release allowed him to be.
There is a contingent of gamers out there that are of the persuasion that Final Fantasy VII's combat should remain static; turn-based combat where characters stand still and wait for their enemies to attack. While I'm not totally sold that this traditional JRPG approach would make sense in a modern release, I'm also not sure I would want a more action-oriented approach akin to Type-0 or Kingdom Hearts. I'm excited to see what the team developing the remake decides to do, but I'm not sure they can truly please anyone unless only a few minor evolutions or tweaks to the classic system are made to make it more enjoyable.
Other than those dated elements from the original release I can think of a short list of minor issues that could stand to be updated to improve the remake's overall impact. The scene in which Aerith is killed by Sephiroth (not a spoiler by this point) is the first that comes to mind, as the original sequence doesn't do either character justice. Impalement is not something that happens so cleanly, and it never made sense that the scene was completely bloodless. Without animations that express the physical trauma of such an attack, the impact of the scene is neutered. I'm sure other gamers also have problems with forced mini-games, the length of the summons, and other nit-picks that hold the game back from greatness.
The point that I'm driving at is that Square Enix has a real opportunity to perfect Final Fantasy VII with this remake. Unfortunately, there is also a risk of alienating fans of the original release by making too many changes. Finding the right balance of new and old elements will likely be Square Enix's greatest challenge, and will ultimately determine whether the proposed remake will be beloved or bemoaned. For the sake of Square Enix, I hope they don't buckle under the pressure.