Over a year ago, while reviewing the remake for Resident Evil 2, I asked myself and the audience the following question: “how necessary a remake can be?”. To most, RE2 Remake came just out of the blue but, unlike other similar attempts of the past, it was an absolute smash hit.
On the contrary, fans around the World have been fantasizing (yes, this is exactly the word to be used) about an FF7 remake for at least 15 years and, while the date was approaching, those very fans have started to ask themselves if such wish was about to be a blessing or a curse.
23 years have passed since the original game hit the Planet as a storm, changing forever the way players were looking at RPGs in general and JRPGs in particular. Not only the game set new (and, for a long time, unsurpassed) standards for the genre from a technical standpoint, but also its very profound story, deeply intertwined with the feelings and the souls of the protagonists, made for an epic saga of life and loss that someone believes it was better off to leave untouched. Yet, a few years ago a remake was announced and the hype went to the stars, soon to be ruined when players leaned that this new installment was going to be episode-based.
And so here we are, dealing with a complex title that promises over 40 hours of gameplay. Those of you not very familiar with FF7, its remake, or RPGs in general, will wonder if this amount is fair or not. Usually, RPGs feature a story that puts the game length around 80 to 100 hours at least, so this amount seems to be well “below par”. What if I told you that in the original game the facts narrated here only take 6 to 7 hours? Would it mean that the plot has been developed to unveil new insights, or just that you are doomed to be bored to death by a game that, in the end, does not take you anywhere?
It is my opinion that the above statements are both true, yet this not necessarily means that this remake was a bad thing. As said, over two decades have passed since the game was first published and, obviously, even more since the game was initially conceived, so it is normal that developers had to arrange it in many different ways, both technically and story-wise, with an eye to the infamous “politically correctness“.
As an example, at a certain point while exploring the city slums Cloud meets an old acquaintance: a young teacher that usually works in a poor quarter. While in this new course she’s just masked to go to a party (or something similar), in the original game the player was faced with the tragedy of a girl doomed to have a double life (teacher in the day, a prostitute at night) since she couldn’t make ends meet. Many long-time fans condemned this (an a few others) rewrites of the story blaming the developers’ inability to dare, but although it is true that the original game had a different attitude, it is still too early to judge an unfinished product. No one knows how long it will take to complete this journey (even the devs state they are still unsure of the exact number of episodes), so I believe that instead of keep comparing this remake with the old one, it would be much better to take it for what it is at the moment.
Like it or not, FF7 sports the most advanced features of dynamic JRPGs, clearly based on the outstanding engine of Final Fantasy XV. The classic turn-based system is available for the true nostalgic player, but I decided to go for a pure 3D system with full freedom of movement and the ability to switch on the fly from any player to the other inside the party. One thing that I sure missed during the story was a real antagonist to deal with so, in the beginning, I thought that 40 hours was a very long time to pass by without a precise goal. Yet, the writers at Square did a good job of tailoring a new story on the different protagonists. Also, the graphic artists did an awesome job in defining and rebuilding from scratch a significant part of Midgar, the city ruled by the evil Shinra Electric Company that is the backbone of the entire FF7 world.
While in the 1997 version you could only sense the magnificence (but also the evilness) of this tentacular, multi-level environment (in a way, we are both dealing with a cyberpunk and steampunk environments), now you can (and you will have to) explore almost every crack and crevice of it, from the slums of the city to Shinra’s higher-ups luxurious quarters. I guess the secret for me was to keep exploring and enjoying what I had in my hands, so step by step I got to the end, which actually was a real game-changer. The last few hours, in fact, progress in an endless battle against very powerful foes, definitely raising the level of difficulty and your interest in the game.
None of those battles though, as far as I recall, were present in the original game and often you will have to face new ghost-like creatures put into the plot only to preserve its original continuity. Such creatures have really and obviously been conceived to avoid altering the original story since, as said, most of Midgar is now available for an almost free exploration (when not actively involved in a higher-priority main quest).
Despite its length, the “only” thing this first episode really misses to do is a deep and true characterization of Cloud, its main protagonist, who entered the history of gaming for his complex personality and psychology. The game is technically well done, the battles are fun and this new story is interesting but, if the original Cloud will not be taken in account, this game seriously runs the risk to end up in an overwhelming endeavor for its devs with no real impact on the history of the videogames, unlike its true, noble, predecessor. What the future holds for us is surely unknown, so we can only hope that this new course can find its true self and that it turns out to be, once again, a memorable story to tell for many years to come. Thank you for reading.