Final Fantasy VII Remake Is Haunted By What Came Before

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Final Fantasy VII Remake Is Haunted By What Came Before

Final Fantasy VII Remake bears a heavy weight on its shoulders, needing to recreate a beloved classic in a way that can ignite the imaginations of old-school fans and newcomers alike. There is an expectation surrounding the game: Be like the thing that existed in 1997. Be the game we loved. Be the game we want now. These expectations can’t be ignored, the hazy cries of countless fans haunting each passing moment like the howling of ghosts.

Here’s the catch about Remake, and once you know it there’s no turning back: This isn’t Final Fantasy VII. It’s not a beat-for-beat remake where the story plays out exactly as before. Instead, it attempts to forge a new path. That path might have similarities to the original PlayStation classic but also some inevitable deviations. As Cloud and his friends stray further from what was, agents of Fate called Whispers guide them back. These ghosts appear within the plot whenever the story begins to deviate from what players might be familiar with. When it seems Cloud will miss the bombing mission in Sector 5, the Whispers attack Jessie so that he and Tifa need to go instead. In a late game scene, Barret is stabbed by Sephiroth and dies. The Whispers bring him back to life—after all, he didn’t die in the original.

Final Fantasy VII Remake is a game about being the remake of Final Fantasy VII. The burden of player expectations and the absurd pull of “canonical” events exerts itself at key moments. Because you can’t make Final Fantasy VII in 2020. You can only make a game about trying to make Final Fantasy VII in 2020.

Final Fantasy VII arose in a key period within gaming’s technological development. As systems shifted into the third dimension and carts were phased out for larger-capacity discs, Final Fantasy VII became the poster child for a new generation of video game experiences. “They said it couldn’t be done in a major motion picture,” one television commercial boasted. “They were right.” Final Fantasy VII embraced techniques like intricate backgrounds and FMV cutscenes that were far beyond what players had seen before. The shift to optical discs and higher-fidelity worlds helped cement the Sony Playstation as a cultural force to rival Nintendo’s consoles, and Final Fantasy VII paved the way. Here was this game, this strange but evocative thing, in which eco-terrorists clashed with a cruel corporation, heroes died without warning, and conflict spun out into a world shattering threat.

It was the perfect game at the perfect time. Cloud, Aeris, Sephiroth and their story were embedded into the culture unlike any Final Fantasy game before and arguably any entry since. Final Fantasy VII was formative. Not just for Sony but for a generation of video game players. (And yes, in this case I will call her Aeris.)

When a game achieves that level of success and subcultural penetration it inevitably becomes a crucial piece of the medium’s canon. Do you want to experience Final Fantasy? Do you want to understand Japanese role-playing games? Final Fantasy VII is one of the chief texts that gamers refer to. It’s not just a game, it’s one of the games you play. When a tech demo showing a revamped version of its opening debuted at E3 2005 it lit a fire. Gamers had Final Fantasy VII already but video games are obsessed with emerging technologies and graphical fidelity. Was it possible to experience Final Fantasy VII again? To relive that crucial moment in more detail? Could players have their childhoods back? Even if Square had no immediate plans to create a full remake, there was no putting that toothpaste back in the tube. Final Fantasy VII already belonged to the culture, and now the idea of what a remake could be belonged to gamers as well, birthing an impossible dream to which no studio could live up.

Final Fantasy VII Remake comes 15 years after that teaser, after more than a decade’s worth of rumination and mythologizing about what the shape of such a remake could be. More than anything else, and especially as time passed, the idea of a remake became less of a game and more of a time machine back to a crucial experience. But games exist within the contexts they released into, and so Final Fantasy VII Remake is not merely a chance to reconnect with old friends. It is, necessarily, a moment to grapple with the question of who owns the story of Final Fantasy VII.

Hence, the Whispers: the very forces of time and fate that seek to keep our party on the path they travelled before. No deviation, no difference. “Give us what we want,” they seem to say as they correct every little alteration from 1997’s canonical events. Gamers and the culture had enshrined those moments as crucially important. This was a game among games, whose plot was unimpeachable. Cloud and the others can’t do something different. We didn’t pay $99.95 to get something other than the thing we loved.

Within the game’s story, the Whispers are a cosmological force. Viewed from the outside, they are something else: the swirling anxieties of players who do not want something different, the vengeful spirits of those who’ll call Square Enix “scammers” when they learn that Remake is not a one-to-one experience. Cloud needs to be on the Sector 5 bombing run! How else can he meet Aerith and form one of the culture’s favourite couples? Reno can’t die! He’s my favourite Turk! As these changes pop up, the Whispers rise to push things back on track, fulfilling player expectations to the frustrations of the characters.

Who owns a story once it is told? On one hand you have the storyteller, who’s crafted the moments and written the plot. They found the voices of characters in their heads and made them speak as loud as thunderclaps. In theatre, actors bring these beings to life and work with the playwright to create a living experience. With games, teams of artists and composers, coders and model riggers, conspire with script writers to create a world players can live in and explore. They make the dream and players, arguably, only get to explore it. But stories also belong to the listener. They snake and slither into our minds and hearts, taking up residence with an importance that the storyteller cannot predict. Those sentiments, that version of the story—keenly coloured by the player’s emotional responses—belong to the culture as a whole. There is the Final Fantasy VII that Square made, the one you played, and the one that we all remember. Which one is true? Which one should be remade?

Final Fantasy VII Remake’s ending suggests that the story belongs to someone else, to a group that’s been altogether ignored within this discussion: the characters. In pushing back and eventually fighting the Whispers and Arbiters of Fate, Cloud and the party create an altered version of the events fans knew. Zack Fair, Cloud’s close friend and the SOLDIER he modelled himself after, seems to have survived his death, which happened prior to Final Fantasy VII’s event at the hands of a Shinra hit squad. Biggs awakens after the battle at the Sector 7 plate, where he died in the original. In effect, the heroes give Sephiroth what he wants—a timeline where nothing is certain, so his defeat may not occur—but also break free from the burdens of player expectation. This is their story now.

Before the final fights, as the party find themselves on the precipice of a portal that will take them beyond time and into the realm of fate itself, Tifa asks Aerith what they will find on the other side.

“Boundless, terrifying freedom,” Aerith said. Because fear is a component of freedom. The fear of the unknown. The fear of failure. The fear that you will not find your way to the end of the path.

In literally fighting off the agents of fate and rejecting Sephiroth’s overtures that they join forces to build a future to his own liking, the party also rejects countless players. They reject the cultural memory of Final Fantasy VII. This is not the story you know. This is not the story you possibly want. It is something new and boundless and terrifying.

As time shifts and fate changes, a new world emerges. There is no more burden on Remake’s shoulders. Instead, there is anxiety. “I miss it,” Aerith notes. “The steel sky.” Life in Midgar came with certain facts and sureties, the cold and solid steel of the upper city plates looming above the slums chief among them. They are gone, as is any semblance of a future fans might know.

Perhaps events will play out similarly but, free from “canon” and player demands, the future can be anything the characters want it to be. Such a departure might upset fans looking for a perfect recreation of the story they knew, the story they claimed ownership over. Tilt your head and look from another angle, and you will find a spectrum of colour and possibility. An electric sense of freedom in which Final Fantasy VII can be anything and everything. It’s fine to miss the solid steel sky, but exhilarating to know that there is no future but what the party makes. It might be messy, or it could be the “perfect” version of events. But it is their own story now, and that is at least as beautiful as the sun-tinged horizon.

Comments

  • Fans were worried that Square couldn’t do it and they were right.
    Square avoided it for years because they knew the original was where they peaked and they’ve been tanking for the past decade.

    It all culminates in a remake that reads like a 15 year old’s fan fiction brought to life through a pretty picture that when starts to move reveals all it’s blemishes and the lack of talent behind the scenes.

    No matter what angle you come from when trying to process this game it all ends up being jank, “it’s a remake, but it’s not, it’s original but requires playing the original which makes this superfluous unless you play for the additions which are way lower quality and aren’t worth your time now and won’t be in 10 years when the series is finally done”.

    It’s ultimately a punch-up job, a group of developers coming together riding on a prior victory. If they wanted to do 7, then do 7. If they wanted something new, do something new because heaven forbid they really need to put out something that proves they still have that kind of capability because aside from XIV they’ve proven only that even if there’s good to be found within their games it’s hidden deep and underneath a heaping pile of garbage each and every time.

    “We acknowledge we’re hacks so here’s Final Fantasy VII again but with new things that undermine the story and motifs of the original and only serve as basic and thin fanservice written by a character designer, only in parts because we realized ahead of time that we couldn’t measure up to our masters, the current state of gaming is over-inflated so part 1 is only Midgar but don’t worry we extended the play time by making every cutscene take forever for even the simplest of things like boss transitions, giving things tonnes of health and adding in so much bullet time you’d think we’re back in 1999.”

    • See, I disagree with you wholly. I don’t feel like it’s a ‘punch up job’ at all and tbh, I think you’re kinda going overboard a bit. There’s remakes and there’s appropriations of materials. Appropriations where you take the original idea and make it into something all your own. This falls into the latter category. While we did want a straight up remake, I’ve been enjoying the hell out of this *because* of the nice little curveballs it’s thrown.

      If anyone was annoyed by it to begin with, we should’ve been annoyed that it was shifting from 2.5d plate scenes that changed when you hit the edge of the frame, to fully realised 3d areas after all. The evolution it’s taken imho has been quite outstanding and the idea it’s now playing with the concept of multiple realities allows the original to be the confirmed ‘absolute’ canon and this, to be the optional side story essentially. I don’t think it’s perfect, I think Midgar goes on a bit long, it would’ve been nice to hold it back a year perhaps and get the *whole* game released, but they’re going to do what they’re going to do.

      Is it a bad game? Hell no, it’s probably the best Final Fantasy in *years*, is it a great game? That’s yet to be determined, it’s a lot of fun for me so far, but I’ll judge it once the whole component is released, but as a start to a series, it’s an interesting way to sidestep the issue of *being* a remake and avoiding the inevitable comparison of being just that, a simple remake by acknowledging the past and owning it instead of denying it.

      • I agree, I think the extra stuff they added in really adds to the world and the characters within it. I don’t see it as being “padded” at all, everything is there for a reason. I never really cared much for secondary characters like Biggs, Wedge and Jessie in the original, but here? I cared, purely because of how their characters were expanded. You learn about their actual motivations for joining Avalanche in the first place and not just because “Shinra’s killing the planet yo”.

        New characters like the trio make perfect sense and to be honest that whole sequence with them involved makes much more sense than it ever did in the original game. It remains to be seen exactly what role that new guy on the bike is going to play in the scheme of things but I can’t wait to find out. Even the climb up the Shinra tower, you actually learn more about Shinra itself and what they are trying to accomplish and exactly how inflated their opinions of themselves are.

        It expands the world very well and I’ve loved it. I finished the game the other night but I didn’t want it to end. Can’t wait until part 2.

        • I gotta respectfully call bullshit on Biggs, Wedge and Jessie getting expanded on, when you step back it amounts to almost nothing.
          (As I said below, for a game that revolves around the small portion of the game they inhabit it’s almost insulting)
          I genuinely question how that one small part made the difference between caring about them or not.

          The Trio was perfect, they slot in perfectly without taking away from the original.
          The Don was basically the Don right out of the original scene for scone, the Trio did more for Wall Market than they did for him.
          (I’m leaving the error, scones are awesome)

          • There were plenty of places where extra scenes were thrown in with the three Avalanche members, including an entirely new mission involving just the three of them without Barret or Tifa. You learn why they have joined the cause – a question that was unanswered in the original. It also gives you a bit more insight into the kind of organisation Shinra is. But even outside of that, there are plenty of interactions between them and Cloud that occur until he arrives in Sector 5 slums, and it really made you feel for them during the plate collapse.

            I’m actually wondering if Wedge survived the Shinra tower, or if the whispers corrected the earlier deviation of the original story (where Wedge died when he fell prior to the plate collapse) by making sure he died in the tower instead.

    • It’s frustrating because if you’ve never played the original there’s largely no good option for you right now.

      You can play the original if you’re ok with the super dated graphics 1st gen 3d graphics (Seriously, those overworld models…) and the distractingly shoddy localisation, or you can play this one until you get to the end and get super confused because the time ghost shenanigans mean nothing to you and you don’t know a thing about Sepiroth yet.

  • Either remake FFVII or don’t, some bastardisation is the game nobody wanted. They could have gotten away with a few modern game play tweeks but delivered an updated version of a classic game, instead it sounds like they’ve gone off the rails and up their own rectums.

  • FF7R is at it’s best when its expanding on the story and delving into the parts we didn’t really get to see in the original game because it would have blown the game’s length out so much they’d need twenty discs instead of 4. It’s at its worst when it ham fists in minor plotlines and characters just to pad out the story, Roche and Leslie being the prime examples.

    Then you have the very clear influences of Tetsuya Nomura trying to inject Kingdom Hearts DNA into the game as if he were Hojo himself, something we’ll have to wait and see whether it results in an interesting story or another completely confusing mess.

    • Roche being a completely new character is intriguing. He doesn’t show up again after the early chapters but I have a feeling he’s going to have a role to play going forward, so it’s going to be interesting to see how that pads out.

      As for Leslie, I enjoyed that little segue. You got to know a bit more about an albeit minor character, but you learned his motivations for helping the group earlier in the game, while also expanding on Cloud, Tifa and Barret’s characters as well particularly when his pendant was recovered. We also learned more about what kind of guy Don Corneo is. Will his plotline have any significant impact moving forward? Probably not. In fact we probably won’t ever see him again now that the group has left Midgar. But it was still an interesting insight.

      • I have a slightly theory that Roche may actually end up becoming an ally for some reason in part 2. I don’t know why, I just get a feeling we’re being set up for it. Sephiroth is still evil ole’ Sephiroth, but I can see Cloud and Roche becoming allies…

          • I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s the classic Antagonist come good. I’m really interested now in seeing how Zack turns out? Will he take on the path of Sephiroth? Will he be good? There’s a whole world of possibility now.

          • My guess is he’s going to end up being part of the Reunion lot whom you never really identify with in the original and/or be part of the Mako degradation that gets touched on.

    • Agreed.
      Rouche is a bloody awful character, a walking trope who’s only purpose so far seems to be making the existing characters look less like walking tropes and sucking up what little effort was spent on them.
      I see folks going on and on about how Jessie gets all this extra story and nobody talking about how it’s a single fleeting mission that ends up focusing more on story elements that don’t actually add anything substantial to the game.
      Personally I think it’s a kick in the teeth that a game centred on such a small portion of the greater story did so little to expand on those characters.
      (Don’t even get me started on poor Wedge and how they doubled down on him being the fatty fat comic relief)

      I think the reason Wall Market resonates so much with folks is it’s basically exactly what you say in that it expands on what we know in such a way it shines through, the other craps wafts in like bad fart.

      • I mean sure, Roche is a trope, but which characters *aren’t* in FF7? Cloud? The mysterious badass who secretly has a heart, Barrett, the loudmouth black man with a penchant for violence who secretly has a sensitive side. Tifa, the tough girl who grew up in a rough neighborhood who just wants to be treated like a lady, Aerith(s?) the sweet, innocent young girl who’s secretly a badass…

        They’re *all* walking trope city and that’s kinda why we ended up loving them in the first place. None of them were overly original, Barrett was easily based off characters like B.A.Baraccus, Cloud was based off every male anime protagonist *ever*. Tbh, the only one who *kind* felt like it was something new, was Caith Sith? Even then, strange person from a strange land who acts in a quirky manner, but has a touching, revelatory moment and bonds with our characters? Still trope city…

        • There’s a difference between being built on tropes and being built out of nothing but tropes.
          Rouche got no character development what so ever so he was just a walking gaggle of tropes who ends up being so ridiculous that he comes of as a distraction.
          Sure, there’s every chance that he could get some quality development later on but there’s also a pretty big chance that he won’t.

          On a side note, the work done on Aeris was exceptional.

          • All the characters initial character designs are ‘built on nothing but tropes’ though, it’s where they go from that standpoint that counts. As I said, that’s what all those characters are at the start, they all grow *beyond* those points though by the end.

            Look at Star Wars episode 4, Luke is a trope unto himself, the innocent wide eyed boy who’s never seen the world, by Episode 6, he’s the world weary traveller. That’s simply character growth. Sure Luke grows incrementally in Episode 4, but by the end of 6, he’s grown massively, as they all will. Barrett grows incrementally in the remake, as does Cloud, not a hell of a lot, but we know that significant events in the original 7 changed them in a huge way. We’ll see that change later on for sure, likely even for Rouche (the R I believe is pronounced a D 😉 ) But we’ll see how that goes. The worst case scenario? He dies an antagonistic douche. Best case? He gets developed and becomes a memorable ally. Either way, he’s been a fun villain at this point, even though he’s not a particularly deep one.

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