Don't expect the upcoming remake version of Final Fantasy VII to be exactly the same game you remember excitedly talking to your friends about over the school lunch table.
At least when it comes to FFVII's battle system, things are going to be different the second time around, according to Game Director Tetsuya Nomura. Speaking with Official Playstation Magazine (thanks, GamesRadar), Nomura called the changes "dramatic," although they won't change the game so much that fans are left looking at something completely different. Don't expect an FFVII shooter, in other words.
Still, at first it's easy to bristle at Nomura's comments, especially as a fan of the game and someone who looks back fondly at long Playstation play sessions and excited talk at school about finally beating the Emerald Weapon. Just exactly what do "dramatic changes" entail, and, uh, why do we need them?
But think about it for a second and the answer is probably, "Because no one (in the U.S., at least) would really want to play it otherwise."
Even loving the Final Fantasy series as much as I did when I was younger, I kinda ... hated playing the games. The stories and characters were why I showed up, and random battles and tough boss fights were usually just speed bumps on the way to discovering another strange town or catching the next batch of lengthy Sephiroth monologuing. I wanted to learn about Jenova, the Ancients, what the hell the Lifestream was and why Cloud was being such a dick. What I wasn't really interested in was fighting groups of random Shinra soldiers every eight or 10 steps.
And while I'll occasionally fire up an RPG with menu-based battles even today (I'm currently trekking back through Chrono Cross on my PS Vita), I can see why Square Enix has moved on to other systems. It's not especially engaging, and seems like a pace killer, especially when we see modern games fluidly moving from fight scenarios to exploration and back again. It's easy to imagine a scenario in which Square Enix looks at FFVII's old Active Time Battle fights and worries that kids these days won't want to play them.
The world's also a different place than it was in 1997. The games landscape has changed dramatically. Gone are the days when console gamers hoping for interesting stories in video games had nowhere to look but JRPGs. It's hard to see the genre as anything more than, well, niche, given the wealth of game options available to us. Players growing up today (again, this is my very American perspective, so take that as you will) know RPGs to be something more akin to Skyrim than to Chrono Trigger. My cowriter bestie Nick Hurwitch expressed similar sentiments over at Playboy.com.
That throws some loops at a Final Fantasy VII remake, and I think Square Enix is smart to recognise that fact. Near two decades to time passing is, well, a lot of time passing. And as much as I'd like to revisit Final Fantasy VII in a more graphically pleasing form, I think what I'd really like is Final Fantasy VII's story in a game form that doesn't make me slog to experience it. I wonder if other fans feel the same.
Phil Hornshaw is a freelance journalist and co-author of So You Created a Wormhole: The Time Traveller's Guide to Time Travel and The Space Hero's Guide to Glory. You can follow him on Twitter at @philhornshaw or contact him at [email protected]