Forget the HD remake: what Final Fantasy VII really needs is a 2D remake. Just ask Lucas Brown, an Australian web developer who is building his very own two-dimensional slice of Square's classic role-playing game, one sprite at a time.
Although he doesn't plan to re-create every scene in FFVII, Brown says he's remade the menu and battle systems in "excruciating detail", and he's hoping to have at least the first mission finished and playable in the near future.
Brown, 23, says he's been working on this project on and off since 2008. He's developing the "demake" in RPG Maker 2003, using a customised scripting language to painstakingly re-create every Final Fantasy VII mechanic, from enemy AI to limit breaks. (A website called qhimm helped him determine the fine details of most of these mechanics.)
"Over the years I've seen many people attempt a 2D remake of FFVII and fail, so I thought I'd try do it right," Brown told me in an email. "My core goal is to make the FFVII that would've existed if it was developed in 2D instead of 3D."
Brown has released a couple of videos to show off his progress. One video showcases combat:
(The music, by the way, is dumped straight from the PC version of Final Fantasy VII — "I'm probably the only person whose glad the PC version of FF7 used midis," Brown said.)
Another features a clip from FFVII's iconic opening scene:
Sadly, we might not see too much more than this — Brown says progress has slowed recently. "I now work full time and have a girlfriend I care about, so I'm very particular with what gets to occupy the remainder of my time," he said. "I want to start developing my own games that I have the rights/ability to release on Steam or Android/iOS, so my remake is on the back burner, although I do return for it from time to time when the motivation strikes. Its actually very likely when your article is released that I'd get the surge of enthusiasm I need to finish it off!"
To recreate each scene in RPG Maker, Brown says he draws each background by hand, one pixel at a time. Here, for example, is an in-progress outline of the inside of one Midgar reactor:
It's a time-consuming process, and as appealing as it may be to imagine playing all of Final Fantasy VII in glorious 2D, Brown admits he'll probably never remake the whole game.
"I'd say recreating the entire game was my dream more than my goal," he said. "The game has over 700 scenes, and the process for replicating each one takes me at least a week — you just need simple maths to work out how long it would take me, and this is ignoring the additional time needed for character and enemy sprites.
"I still want to finish the bombing mission to make a complete package of 'what it might've been like,' but my progress on this is glacial — the work left on this is Barret's battle animations, a few enemy sprites and about seven more scenes."
Brown says he's not too worried about Square Enix's lawyers coming after him, like they went after the fanmade Chrono Resurrection, a three-dimensional remake of Chrono Trigger that was shut down a few years ago.
"When you look at Square's actions they're pretty inconsistent," Brown said. "Most projects that infringe on Square's IP go completely unnoticed, and it's only a few high profile ones that get slapped down. I've just been trying not to post any definitive timeline as that seems to be what actually draws Square into action."
"My personal goals have already been satisfied," Brown said. "I gained experience designing/implementing complex game mechanics, and I answered my question of if you can really make a 2D game feel like its 3D counterpart (hint: it's yes!)."