In the gaming community, a popular topic of conversation seems to always stem around remakes. They’re fairly popular and have become more so due in large part to the rising price of game development and the profitable business known as nostalgia. Games cost a ton of money these days to develop, and with little change in the pricing structure of games once they hit retail, profit margins aren’t what they used to be. I haven’t seen any hard studies on the matter, but I would assume that publishers make less per game sold today than they did twenty years ago. Just look at the credits for a game developed in 1994 and compare that to a modern game. I recently completed Assassin’s Creed 4 on the PS4 and the end credits ran as long, if not longer, than most films. All of those people have to be paid, so either they’re getting paid peanuts (and many probably are) or the take-home is much smaller than it used to be. Remakes allow developers and publishers to take existing software, sink little resources into the remaking of it, and release it at a comparable price to a new game. Square-Enix is one such company that has made a habit out of this strategy with its Final Fantasy franchise, but one game has yet to be remade in any sort of way despite being arguably the most popular game every put out by Square: Final Fantasy VII.
Whenever remakes are discussed, the potential for a Final Fantasy VII remake coming up is inevitable. Part of that is due to the game’s immense popularity, and part of it is due to the fact that Square-Enix used the game’s likeness to create a Playstation 3 tech demo years ago. Such a strategy was a huge tease to fans of the game seeking a remake. Square-Enix will even bring it up seemingly on an annual basis and offer reasons for why it hasn’t happened while leaving the door open to the possibility just a crack, giving fans legitimate or false hope, depending only on one’s perspective. The supporters for the game are vast in numbers, though there is a contingent that has risen up over the years downplaying the impact of Final Fantasy VII. That’s mostly due to the fact that Final Fantasy VII was the jumping-on point for many fans. Much like when a band gets popular with a specific record, the old fans tend to want to keep a part of that band for themselves and look down upon fans of the newer material. Final Fantasy VII is a great game, and many of its detractors exist just to downplay it in comparison with a prior game, or just never liked Japanese RPGs to begin with.
Many Final Fantasy games have received either a port or a remake over the years, with the most recent being the HD release of the PS2 games Final Fantasy X and and X-2, set for release next month on the PS3 and Vita. Final Fantasy X is a popular and well-received entry in the series, but for some its remake is a source of frustration considering it’s a more recent release when compared to Final Fantasy VII, so why is it getting an HD release first? Well, as most can probably deduce, it comes down to money. Being a PS2 game, Final Fantasy X can be upscaled to HD and touched up here and there with minimal effort, and more importantly, minimal cost. The game will still look old, but still mostly pleasing to the eye. Playstation 2 games as a whole have aged pretty well. Early generation Playstation One games on the other hand, have not. An HD version of FFVII would likely not improve the look of the title any, and may even harm it. Even when it was released, FFVII was not considered a tour de force when it came to graphics. Certain aspects of the game were praised, such as the FMV summons and cut scenes, but the general look of the game was mostly just passable with its blocky characters and pre-rendered backgrounds. For a re-make, FFVII would require a new game engine and would need to be recreated from the ground up. Square-Enix could use an existing engine and could probably farm a lot of the textures and models needed from other games, but the cost would be considerable making it more like a brand new game in terms of production, as opposed to a remake.
As a result, none of the Playstation-era Final Fantasy games have received a make-over since release. Final Fantasy VIII isn’t looked on fondly, so that fact makes it unlikely for re-release, but Final Fantasy IX was mostly well-received by fans and critics and that too has not been re-done. As a later era title, an HD remake would suit the game far more than one would for Final Fantasy VII. If anything, it’s surprising none of these titles were ported to the PSP, but availability on the Playstation Network has made it so that they can be purchased and downloaded to Sony’s portables, as well as the PS3, and enjoyed as they were originally released.
The lack of a physical re-release for Final Fantasy VII likely irritates fans almost as much as the lack of a re-make, and that’s mostly due to the fact that so many other titles have been released in its place. The NES era games have all been re-released, and in some cases, remade all together. The SNES games have also all been re-released or remade on other platforms, most notably Final Fantasy IV which has been re-released multiple times and also completely redone for the PSP. A sequel was also commissioned and released in installments before being released as a physical game. If supporters for a FFVII re-make are looking for companions in misery, they at least can turn to the group looking for a Final Fantasy VI re-make. Final Fantasy VI and VII are often considered the best in the series. I blogged years back on the subject and selected VII as my favorite, but in truth my opinion changes with the wind. FFVI has had the benefit of re-release on the Gameboy Advance and Playstation, but outside of those two it really hasn’t been touched much. Working against both games is their reputation as all-time greats, which probably does intimidate, to some degree, Square-Enix as they know any attempt at a reimagining for both games will be held to considerably high standards. Square-Enix likely could have remade VI instead of IV with the Final Fantasy III engine crafted for the DS, but maybe felt like fans would be less willing to accept a half-way attempt at a remake of such a beloved game.
Whichever game you would prefer to see remade, it’s undeniable that supporters for a Final Fantasy VII remake have been teased far more than those holding out hope for a VI remake. Square-Enix, and the gaming press, have kept the topic alive over the years and I sense that fans are starting to tire of it. Most seem to have the attitude of “just announce a final decision already or don’t talk about it at all.” I suppose I share that sentiment, as I don’t care to read about Square-Enix or one of its producers musing on the subject and offering no substance. Part of the reason why the subject seems to be coming up more and more is due to the fact that a lot of gamers aren’t satisfied with the current Final Fantasy XIII themed games. Ultimately, the question is simply should Square-Enix take the time (and money) to re-make Final Fantasy VII?
In short, the answer is “Yes.” Square-Enix could approach a remake in two ways: build it form the ground up, or just attempt a better looking game from the original. The ground-up approach wouldn’t necessarily mean a brand new engine. Square-Enix could opt to use the same engine currently in use for Final Fantasy XV which is being developed for the Playstation 4 and Xbox One. They’re also developing numerous other “next-gen” games they could utilize. Going in the other, less-ambitious, direction, Square-Enix could opt for a remake more on par with the Final Fantasy IV ones, which aimed to improve the look of the original but not up to current home console standards. That engine was crafted for the old portables and obviously would not be suitable for a FFVII remake now, but Square-Enix could use the FFXIII engine, or if aiming to be even less ambitious, a PS2 era engine. Upgrading FFVII to resemble a game like FFXII would be a huge improvement over the original and something fans may even accept if released for a modest price.
Considering how big the game is and how beloved by its fan-base it’s become, Square-Enix probably feels like a Final Fantasy VII remake can’t be done on a conservative scale. This is likely the biggest obstacle standing in its way. That means if Square-Enix decided to green-light the project today, it would have to do so as a PS4/Xbox One game for retail release at the standard price of $60. In addition to re-crafting the look of the game, Square-Enix would also be faced with the decision of whether or not to dub the game. When FFVII was originally released, the characters didn’t speak and would not do so until FFX. A sequel movie for FFVII was made a few years back, so Square-Enix has already given a voice to the main characters, but it’s still a large undertaking to dub an old game for multiple audiences. Such an undertaking means Square-Enix is basically faced with the choice of remaking FFVII or making a new game such as a potential FFXVI. Square-Enix’s strategy with the previous generation of consoles was to make a new game, FFXIII, and then reuse the resources to create multiple sequels. Square-Enix never used to make direct sequels to its Final Fantasy games but I suspect it started to because of the rising cost of game development. A sequel to FFXIII was a lot cheaper to make than a brand new game, primarily because development time was shortened with gameplay mechanics that could just be carried over as well as textures and character models. I would propose this time around, Square-Enix opt to not make a direct sequel to FFXV and instead remake VII. XV already started off as Final Fantasy Versus XIII, a would-be spin-off/sequel for the original FFXIII that never made it out of development Hell. It’s likely not going to happen, but if FFVII is ever to be remade then this seems like the now or never point.
At the end of the day, I find myself asking do we even need a remake for Final Fantasy VII? It’s only being discussed as much and as often as it is because it was such a well-received game in the first place. If it’s already a classic, does it need a new version? After all, nobody is asking for remakes to Casablanca or The Wizard of Oz even though technology has advanced monumentally since those films came out. I would argue it is different with video games as opposed to film. Classic films are restored and re-released on new formats all the time, Final Fantasy VII hasn’t even received that much attention. The game is somewhat crude looking by today’s standards, more so than even the game that preceded it. The sprites of Final Fantasy VI have aged much better than the polygons of Final Fantasy VII, and a fresh take on the game could make the world even more expansive than before (just go ahead and look at the world map of FFVII, there isn’t much going on that makes it feel “alive”). Fans want a remake because they honestly believe the game can be improved, which isn’t something you hear when discussing remakes for famous films. It feels like it’s worth doing because it is, and there’s little question a remake will sell extremely well for Square-Enix, and that’s the biggest reason why fans are still holding out hope.