Myles Berrin ’18 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
If there was anything to take away from Sony’s incredible E3 Conference this year, it’s this: Dreams Can Come True. Within a single hour-and-a-half period, Sony took the stage, and proceeded to blow everyone’s collective minds. They showed off gameplay footage for Shadow of The Colossus developer, Team ICO’s The Last Guardian, after nearly five years of sitting in development hell with relatively little information about the game’s development status. They treated us to several enticing new IP’s, such as Little Big Planet developer, Mondo Media’s Dream, a game where the player can create literally anything, and Horizon Zero Dawn, a game about hunting Robot Dinosaurs with a Bow and Arrow. But at the midway point of the show, Sony presented us with one final surprise: A true, HD Remake of Final Fantasy VII directed by Character Designer and Kingdom Hearts director, Tetsuya Nomura.
It was an incredible moment, and one that many gamers probably never expected to see. Fans screamed and cheered, as players were treated to a glorious HD rendering of the fantasy city of Midgard, one of gaming’s most unique locations, quick glimpses of the game’s iconic protagonists, Cloud Strife and Barret Wallace, and a cryptic monologue by a mysterious voice, hypothesized by many fans to be the story’s antagonist, Sephiroth, narrating over the spectacle. These iconic moments were so powerful that Square Enix didn’t even need to include the game’s actual title for the fans to know exactly what the project was. Simply the games logo (a Blue Meteor) and the phrase “Remake” were enough for players to confirm that, yes, this was the remake they’d long been awaiting. Needless to say, the hype was immense.
But for many non-fans, this Final Fantasy VII remake must seem like an absolutely baffling thing to be excited for. Even with the context of VII being one of gaming’s most beloved titles, Final Fantasy VII does not have the same clout as it did when it was first released in 1997. As with most popular titles, Final Fantasy fans began coming out of the woodwork to criticize the quality of the game, suggesting that players avoid it in favor of a more underrated title instead. Additionally, player trying the game out themselves on modern platforms such as Steam and PSN reported having a difficult time understanding the appeal of the dated, blocky, and poorly translated classic, with many of them unable to even complete the first three hours. With so many differing opinions on so many sides, it may seem like this level of hype is somewhat overblown. However, Final Fantasy VII, despite recent criticisms, is still a game players should very much be excited for.
To some, Final Fantasy VII is that game where a Spikey-Haired Emo Boy wielding a comically large sword goes on a quest to defeat a Leather-Garbed Pretty Boy… oh, and also some girl dies in the middle of the game and its, like, really sad or whatever. That summery isn’t totally wrong, by any means. But it does undervalue the hidden brilliance of Final Fantasy VII. Despite being most famous for codifying the modern JRPG, Final Fantasy VII is actually brutal deconstruction of the genre as a whole.
This is perhaps best illustrated in the games main character, Cloud Strife. Cloud is a stoic, badass mercenary with a ridiculous fashion sense who is confident, brave and strong, reflecting the generic JRPG heroes of the time. However, Cloud stands as an unusual aversion to these concepts. His stoicism is a front, as he’s really a geeky, socially awkward loner with in the midst of a massive identity crisis. NPC’s and even his own party members mock his fashion sense constantly. His motivations throughout the game aren’t due to bravery or virtue, but selfish pursuit of closure, which, as the game later reveals, may not even be entirely of his own free will.
The game itself, meanwhile, takes the time to justify and subvert a lot of established JRPG tropes, to either contextualize them in a new way, or to highlight their absurdity. Castles, Empires, and Quaint Villages are replaced with Cities of Steel, Evil Mega-Corporations and Dirty Slums. Magic is eschewed for pseudo-science. Linearity, and the “but thou must” narrative style that JRPG’s frequently used are lambasted mercilessly through the game’s narrative through a series of events that rob both Cloud and the player of choice, while constantly highlighting how unfair that really is.
But despite acting as a work of pastiche, the game still finds time for sincerity and levity. Its story telling is clunky, due in part to an awful translation, blocky visuals, and a story that the game’s writers have stated wasn’t even fully finished when the game hit store shelves, but it survives due to a combination of its unique thematic elements and its sheer, unabashed honesty. Final Fantasy VII isn’t a game that is afraid of being on-the-nose, and at the price of being very heavy handed every now and then, is such an impossibly earnest sight that you can’t help but admire it. During the game’s most famous scene, the Disc 1 Finale, one of your party members is killed off permanently. It’s a sequence that is scored by a cheesily sad tune, as Cloud nearly spells out for his feelings for the player while clutching his fallen comrades corpse, and ends with a water burial that just barely escapes being totally ham-fisted. But its total sincerity makes it still manages to hit hard, even for players who know it’s coming. The game is actually packed to the brim with moments like this: Honest, tragic moments that are as awkward and obvious as they are truly upsetting.
Those scenes are then tied together through exhilarating action sequences and some truly funny scenarios. Early in the game, to rescue Cloud’s childhood friend, Tifa Lockhart, from a perverse Mafia Don who seeks to have his way with her, Cloud needs to find a way into the Don’s luxurious mansion so that he may spring Tifa free. His method? Drag. The player must help Cloud collect the necessary items to complete his perfect disguise, including a wig, lingere, a dress and perfume. Then only a few hours later, the player is speeding down the highway on a Motorcycle, in an attempt to escape the city of Midgar, with enemy patrol cars flanking Cloud on the left and right, forcing the player to smack them with his sword to get them off your trail in a high octane action sequence that ends in an epic turn-based boss fight. Final Fantasy VII’s ability to balance Tragedy, Comedy, Action and Gameplay without ever dropping the ball is absolutely staggering, and acts as a perfect testament to the game’s masterful design, both in story and in gameplay.
With the impending release of the HD Remake, there is no better time to experience this majesty of this gaming masterpiece. Final Fantasy VII isn’t without its flaws, and those flaws have only been accentuated with age. Hideous graphics, stilted translation, glitched enemy and item stats that can occasionally affect the battle system, and an outdated control scheme that makes exploration and basic movement feel clunky and awkward. But its core is as pure and beautiful as it ever was, and that core is what fans remember most. Final Fantasy VII is a beautiful game marred by the sands of time, that will finally get the update it needs to be beautiful again. There are no guarantees, of course, but for the most part, players should be optimistic. Final Fantasy VII HD has been an E3 pipe dream for almost 10 years, and with the true thing finally within reach, it is important to remember just what it is about this reveal that is so exciting. Beyond the excitement of its announcement, and the realization of a crazy pipe dream spurred by a simple tech demo way back in 2005, gamers wanted this remake because Final Fantasy VII is an amazing game that deserves an amazing touch up. I look forward to experiencing Final Fantasy VII HD in two or three years, and I hope that many new players will do the same.