When Final Fantasy 7 first came out out more than 20 years ago, RPGs were still struggling valiantly to break into the American console gaming consciousness. Reared on Super Mario Bros. and arcade games, the majority of western console games rejected RPGs in all their forms. Final Fantasy 7 famously broke through that barrier, helping to open the door for all manner of JRPGs.
The Final Fantasy 7 Remake would seem to be a tribute to that period. Midgar has been lovingly recreated in all of its Steampunk glory, and Cloud, Aeris, and Barrett look much as they did in the original artwork. By all appearances, it's just the game fans have been begging for all these years.
This is not the game we played back in 1997 though. The classic ATB gauge is gone. It focuses more on setpieces. It looks like... gulp... an action game. I noted as much in a tweet that wound up generating a bit of discussion among Final Fantasy 7 fans.
Look, I'm gonna play Final Fantasy 7 Remake, but I don't think I can ever forgive them for making it an action game. Mainstream audiences and target sales and marketing be damned. Give me my turn-based RPG but with really gorgeous graphics.— Kat Bailey (@The_Katbot) May 9, 2019
Okay, I was being a little dramatic. Still, the feelings of dismay are genuine. I've harbored them for close to four years now; ever since Square Enix revealed that Final Fantasy 7 Remake was dropping the old ATB system. The initial reveal confirmed what I had feared for years: Square Enix doesn't think traditional RPG mechanics are compatible with blockbuster games.
You can see it in Final Fantasy's drift toward action-based gameplay as a whole. As far back as Final Fantasy 13, producer Yoshinori Kitase was playing down its connections to the RPG genre, saying that Square Enix "didn't really intend to work in the RPG template." Sure, Final Fantasy 13 was technically turn-based, but its combat was pitched toward being kinetic rather than tactical.
In 2011, Kitase talked to Edge about what he preceived to be a growing shift toward action RPGs, "a trend... you ignore at your peril."
"[Final Fantasy 13] and [Final Fantasy 13-2]'s battle systems have those elements of speed and action that are the key words for us, though that doesn't necessarily mean we're going to stick to the same route in our next game," Kitase said. "That's something only time can tell."
As it turned out, Square Enix did indeed shift to an action-based system with Final Fantasy 15, and Final Fantasy 7 Remake is now following suit. It says a lot about how Square Enix perceives this remake. It's clear that Square Enix is investing a large amount of resources in this project, and that it wants to give it maximum opportunity to succeed. Hence Cloud hanging from ledges like Nathan Drake in Uncharted.
Fans seem more split on this decision than I was expecting. While hardly scientific, reaction to my tweet was roughly 50 percent in agreement with my position, and 50 percent in favor of letting Square Enix turn Final Fantasy 7 Remake into an action game. The general argument for the latter tended to boil down to, "It's better to let Square Enix experiment than to just remake a 20-year-old game."
Others responded more bluntly.
i loved the original FF7 but not really excited about a turn based game. Now that it’s twitch i'll actually buy a playstation just for this game.— Jamin (@jamin0) May 9, 2019
I think it's fine if some people prefer action games. I'm a little more puzzled by the notion that going back to the old command-based style is tantamount to a rigid 1:1 remake. There's plenty of room for Square Enix to innovate within the framework of an updated ATB system, whether it's in expanding on the Materia system, dropping the old battlefield transitions, or removing random encounters. And heaven knows the original story and localization could use a little work.
You could argue that Square Enix is basically doing what I'm suggesting, only a little more extreme. But in turning Final Fantasy 7 Remake into something resembling Kingdom Hearts, it can't help sacrificing some of the original's spirit. For many, Final Fantasy 7 was their first real taste of menu-based combat. It's sadly ironic that the game that popularized these types of RPGs in the U.S. is now running in the opposite direction.
Deep down, I knew from the beginning that Final Fantasy 7 Remake wouldn't be quite the classic RPG celebration I wanted. Square Enix tends to treat turn-based gameplay as something that belongs firmly in the realm of nostalgia these days, as evidenced by how it has positioned projects like Dragon Quest 11 and Octopath Traveler. Final Fantasy 7 make be referred to as a "remake," but it's clear that Square Enix regards it as a modern blockbuster as important as any game coming out this year (or 2020), and it firmly subscribes to the conventional wisdom that action games get sales.
Who knows, maybe it's right. Maybe this is a better way to get a new generation of mainstream gamers onboard for Final Fantasy 16, which is rumored to be in development as we speak. If Square Enix wants to sell Final Fantasy 7 Remake as an event, then perhaps it does need to be reimagined wholesale.
Then again, if any game could have transcended the supposed boundary between action games and turn-based RPGs, it was Final Fantasy 7. Its status is such that a lot of people would have picked it up through word-of-mouth alone. In doing so, maybe they would have realized that turn-based gameplay isn't inherently outdated by itself; that its more tactical approach can be welcome in this homogenized world of wannabe action RPGs (looking at you, Assassin's Creed Odyssey).
I suppose this could all be wishful thinking on my part, but I guess we'll never know. More's the pity.
Major Game Releases: May 13 to May 17
Here are the major releases for the week of May 13 to May 17. Want to see the complete list? Check out our full list of video game release dates for 2019.
- Rage 2 [May 14, PC, PS4, Xbox One]: Bethesda's tentpole release for the spring is here, and it seems like a decently fun mix of high-level first-person combat and open world gameplay. Mike seemed to like Rage 2 fairly well in his review, calling it a "synthesis between id Software's 2016 reboot of Doom and Avalanche Studios' Mad Max." Sounds good to me.
- Castlevania Anniversary Collection [May 16, PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch]: Konami may not really be in the business of making games anymore, but it seems perfectly content to bundle up its classics in cut-rate collections for hardcore fans. Its latest release will feature the first four Castlevania games for NES and SNES, as well as oddities like Castlevania: Bloodlines and... Kid Dracula? Actually, that last one may make this collection worth picking up after all.
This Week's News and Notes
- As mentioned earlier, Rage 2 is this week's biggest release (and frankly, the biggest release of the entire month). Like most of Bethesda's May releases, Rage 2 feels destined to pass in and out of the collective gaming consciousness without much comment. But then again, maybe it'll become a cult classic like Prey? The burden will be on Rage 2's gameplay, which seems to be its main selling point.
- Street Fighter 3: 3rd Strike's 20th anniversary was yesterday, and to celebrate we have this lengthy retrospective of one of the best-loved and most divisive fighting games ever made. If you're the kind of person who has watched EVO Moment 37 on loop (I have), maybe check it out.
- In the wake of the departure of Hideo Baba, Studio Istolia appears to be quietly disappearing. Certainly a disappointment for RPG fans excited to see what the former producer could offer outside of the confines of the Tales series.
- Dreams seems to allow for some truly incredible projects, including this rather remarkable HD remake of the original Metal Gear Solid. But will it be able to avoid copyright takedowns? That's an excellent question.
- A brief rant, if you'll allow me. With Game of Thrones in its final season, people seem increasingly comfortable taking to social media and immediately spoiling everything they've seen. This has made the internet a minefield for people like me, who have to wait an extra day to be able to catch up on the latest episode. I can't change Twitter, but I have a personal favor to ask you guys, my readers: please hold off on the spoilers for at least a couple days, or at least make sure they're clearly marked. I would really appreciate it. Thanks.
- Detective Pikachu may have been a social media juggernaut, but it's unclear if that momentum is translating to the box office. While its results are being trumpeted as a "box office record" in some quarters, its initial $58m domestic take might actually be a bit below expectations. It's currently in the unenviable position of being sandwiched between a still-strong Avengers: Endgame and the upcoming Aladdin adaptation, meaning that a steep dropoff could be in its future. Nevertheless, we liked it quite a bit, so you should see it in any case.
- Axe of the Blood God: Detective Pikachu is now out, and Nadia and Kat are here with their review! Listen as they talk about how well the Pokemon ultimately come out; Bill Nighy, and why it works as a video game movie. Plus, with Final Fantasy 7 Remake finally reemerging, Kat and Nadia share all of their reactions to the new teaser as well as the decision to drop the original battle system. And they welcome a new member to the USG team as well! Subscribe here!