We all knew that this was going to happen. As soon as the big Final Fantasy VII Remake reveal hit during E3, we were speculating on the changes that Square Enix would make. We figured that it would be a more action-based system; and based on the latest trailer, that will indeed be the case.
Square Enix unveiled a new trailer over the weekend that surprisingly featured gameplay - an encouraging sign for a game that some have predicted won't see the light of day until 2018. Set primarily in the raid on Midgar's Mako Reactor, it affords us our first look at the actual battle system, which bears some similarity to Kingdom Hearts, as well as more recent efforts like Crisis Core, Final Fantasy Type-0, and Dissidia. It is a far cry from the original battle system, which was completely turn-based.
Predictably, the changes have proven controversial among a certain segment of the fanbase. There are those who simply want a classic JRPG in high-definition; and I'll admit, I'm among them. I'll always prefer turn-based combat for the nuance and strategy that it offers. But Square Enix has mass market aspirations for the Final Fantasy VII Remake; and for better or worse, times have changed since 1997. A return to the original system was never on the table.
After some initial disappointment, I have come to grips with the reality that a modernized reimagining of Final Fantasy VII is preferable to a shot-by-shot remake of the original game. If you'll recall, the original combat system was actually somewhat lacking, its customization being based around attaching various types of materia to your equipment and leveling them up with experience, which would in turn grant spells and summon magic. There was some depth to be found in mixing and matching materia, but it came at the expense of making the main cast nearly interchangeable, and it reduced a lot of the combat to spamming attack and healing magic until an enemy was dead. Even back in 1997, a lot of long-time fans of the series rejected the system for its lack of nuance.
The remake is a chance to start with a clean slate and try something new while remaining faithful to the spirit of the original. In a promising development, Tetsuya Nomura said in a new interview with Famitsu that the battle system will be more tactical than action-based.
"Regarding the battle speed and tempo, for the sake of a stress-free battle, we want to do something on the level of Dissidia Final Fantasy," he said (translation via IGN). "As far as the degree of action goes, it's Dissidia Final Fantasy, then Kingdom Hearts, then Final Fantasy VII Remake. There won't be any actions that require a technique. By using the new system, we want to do action battles while also being able to fight while thinking strategically."
He also confirmed that your party will still consist of three characters, and that the Active Time Battle system will return in some form. So while it won't be strictly turn-based, it won't be a hack-and-slash action game ala Kingdom Hearts either - a relief given the direction that Square Enix could have taken this.
Of course any discussion about Final Fantasy VII is going to be charged with equal parts of nostalgia, passion, and cynicism. It's one of the most popular and polarizing games ever made, and every change is bound to be endlessly debated. I liked what I saw of the trailer, though, which bore the distinctive flair of the original Final Fantasy VII while also looking surprisingly modern, and the more tactics-based focus gives me hope that Square Enix hasn't completely lost the plot when it comes to RPG development. Mostly, I'm okay with letting go of how I felt about the original game and going in with an open mind. At the end of the day, I just want another good JRPG to play on my PlayStation 4.
A few more observations on the trailer and the interviews that have followed:
- I'm not sure how I feel about the recent revelation that Final Fantasy VII will be broken up into multiple parts, which strikes me as being akin to the video game version of trilogy creep. One of the charms of the original Final Fantasy VII was that you spent the first ten hours in the massive city of Midgar, then discovered that there was an even bigger world beyond. It seems like that aspect of it might get lost if Part 1 of the Remake ends, say, right after you fight Rufus Shinra on the roof of Shinra HQ. Mostly, this strikes me as a cynical attempt to milk the hype around the Final Fantasy VII Remake while spreading out the associated costs. If it comes at the expense of a coherent game, I'll be very disappointed.
- Speaking of which, it appears that some aspects of the original game will be cut, but the infamous crossdressing scene will remain intact. If I were a betting woman (and I am, actually), I would put money on the snowboarding and submarine mini-games getting the axe, as they were kind of ramshackle to begin with. But at the same time, Square Enix is also adding a bunch of content as well, possibly including a much larger and more explorable Midgar. I honestly don't know what to think about this, but I'm interested to hear what you would like to stay in versus what you would like to see left out.
- The voice-acting isn't too bad! Well, it's about what I expected to hear, anyway. I'm actually betting that these scenes were voiced specifically for the trailer, and that the final localization will end up being a bit different. Regardless, they need to figure out what to do with Wedge's voice-acting, which was amateurish at best.
- People have been commenting on how thin and sickly Cloud looks in the trailer. I take it as a hopeful sign that Square Enix plans to portray Cloud as the profoundly messed up figure from the original game, rather than the sullen badass who showed up in Advent Children and Kingdom Hearts. In any case, he didn't look all that different in the original game.
- I honestly wasn't expecting to see gameplay so soon. Given Square Enix's track record, I figured we wouldn't see anything until E3 at the earliest, with the actual game to be released sometime in 2018. But it seems to me that Square Enix is pushing hard to make sure that they strike before the hype fades, bringing in several outside studios including CyberConnect2 to help. That gives me hope that we'll actually see the first part sometime in 2017, which would be the 20th anniversary of the original game. Regardless, while looks can be deceiving, it's heartening to see some progress being made.