Change Is Good: Final Fantasy VII Remake

Square Enix surprised the gaming world last week by re-revealing, after a multi-year absence, the Final Fantasy VII Remake it has long promised. And it looks good. Trading the original game’s turn-based battles for an action-oriented system, it’s fast-paced, full of chaotic battles against classic foes alongside the allies fans love. The trailer also showed off the first chance encounter between hero Cloud and everyone’s favorite flower girl, Aerith. Seeing that scene in glorious high definition, with modern graphics and voices, was like something out of a dream. (Even if the voice acting itself was a little… I don’t know. Stilted.)

And since it all does feel a bit like something out of a dream, I thought, why not dream big? What exactly should the Final Fantasy VII Remake look like in the end? Not in terms of graphics — we’ve seen that, and it looks fantastic. But now that the developers have a chance to revisit their classic tale more than twenty years later, how should they present it? What changes, if any, should they make to the story and presentation?

I have a few ideas.

A More Coherent Central Plot

Final Fantasy games have long had convoluted stories. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though it means frequently ending up with more unanswered questions than answered. Ambiguity can be an excellent tool when wielded by a strong storyteller, however. The problem with the original PlayStation release of Final Fantasy VII was that the storytelling was, to put it mildly, subpar.

Much of this, in English, anyway, had to do with the poor translation and localization. Now, to be fair, the person who did the work of translating Final Fantasy VII into English was alone, overworked, and lacked easy access to the original developers. The fact the game is readable at all is something of an accomplishment. However, the translation is bad enough that more than just nuance is lost. Sometimes, entire chunks of the story simply make no sense. I recently replayed Final Fantasy VII on PC using a re-translation patch that is a ground-up reworking of the text from the original Japanese. And honestly, it was like I was playing a brand new game.

Square Enix is a very different company today than it was when the original game hit PlayStation. Their localization is likewise greatly improvement. If they can pour at least as much care into this game as the uncompensated fan translation team that reworked the original did, Final Fantasy VII Remake will be a much better experience for it.

Episodic Storytelling?

Unless something was lost in translation, it does appear, based on interviews with the developer, that Final Fantasy VII Remake will be released episodically. Chances are good that the first “episode” of the story will cover the Midgar section of the game. Fans will remember this as the first six-to-eight hours of the experience, covering the introduction to the world, characters, villains, and central conflict. As much as I’d rather be given the full experience all at once, I supposed I’d rather have Episode One within the next year than the full game in 2030 (which, at the rate Square Enix makes its games these days, would not be too out there).

The Midgar story works perfectly as a standalone episode setting up the broader story. It has a beginning, middle, and end that are clearly defined. However, I don’t know that the rest of the plot divides up quite so nicely. Once you leave Midgar, the world and the story open up quite a bit. That’s not to say the plot isn’t still linear — it is, very much so — but the beats are further apart and lack the cohesiveness of Midgar.

What this means is that Square Enix can play around with the plot a bit. Surprise us, keep us guessing. Rearrange the pieces of the story to better fit the episodic format, or add new elements; heck, get rid of anything that doesn’t work in this new telling. Fans who have played the original a thousand times might think they want a completely faithful retelling in HD with modern graphics, but do they really? Will they be satisfied with a prettier version of a story they know backwards and forwards by heart? As a writer myself, I can only imagine the creative team at Square Enix would love a chance to retell the story, making changes to plotlines that have bugged them for decades now. Not many games get the opportunity to completely reinvent themselves. They should take advantage of this while they can. Which brings me to (and spoiler warning for an incredibly popular game that is over twenty years old)…

Let Aerith Live

Okay, I’m delving into blasphemy territory here, but hear me out. As profound as Aerith’s death was in the original, we all know it’s coming. We’re not shocked anymore. The only thing that might be surprising is to change the plot enough that Aerith sticks around. How does that alter the rest of the story? How do character motivations change? What happens to Cloud and Tifa?

I don’t know if Square Enix has the guts to actually make this happen, but they should. It’s true that a lot of people held out hope that there was some secret way to bring Aerith back to life in the 90s, because she was such a great character and the resolution of her story was just so sad. But I don’t think they should keep Aerith around just because fans want her to stick around. I think they should do it because of the storytelling opportunities it presents.

If Aerith survives, I have no idea what’s coming next. The back half of the game would change significantly, and even if the central conflict remained the same, the road to reach its conclusion would be altered almost beyond recognition. That idea ignites my imagination. It would be a bold step, but I think the Final Fantasy VII community could handle it.

So, what do you think? Would you make different changes? Are any changes blasphemy to you? Let me know on Twitter (@brandenjohnson).