Not long after the Final Fantasy VII remake was formally announced, Jeremy and I speculated on whether it would bring with it substantial changes to its battle system. If an Official PlayStation Magazine interview is to be believed, that answer is looking more and more like it will be "yes."
In an interview with the magazine, director Tetsuya Nomura said that the team plans to make "dramatic changes" to the game's fights," though he clarified, "We're not going to be changing it into a shooter or something like that. We are going to be bringing dramatic changes, but we want to make sure it’s still recognizable."
Nomura also refered Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, the 2005 film that served as a sequel to the original game, saying that the team will be looking at it for "visual references and inspiration," meaning that you can probably look forward to moments like this one. Nomura said they won't be pulling models directly from the film, though, since it's now a decade old (terrifying, right?)
Jeremy has said from the beginning that the Final Fantasy VII remake will be receiving major changes, possibly utilizing something akin to the Crisis Core battle system. I had been hopeful that it would be much the same mechanically while receiving a fresh coat of paint. Nomura's comments would seem to suggest that Jeremy is the one who will end up being right, but don't give up hope on Final Fantasy VII's classic turn-based battles quite yet. As Nomura said, the goal is for it to still be recognizable, and getting too far from the old battle system seems like a recipe for making people really unhappy (including myself, it should be said).
It's possible that Nomura's "dramatic changes" will boil down to an overhauled Materia system (which is needed) and a new system to further differentiate the characters (something else that is needed) with some Advent Children-style visual flair. Certainly, there is room for improvement on the original game, and the best remakes are the ones that make smart changes without compromising the original vision.
It's not even entirely clear how involved Nomura is with the project. There are persistent rumors that he's more a figurehead than anything else, a familiar name meant to further legitimize the project. When the remake was announced, Nomura was reportedly surprised to see that he had been named the director, assuming that Yoshinori Kitase would be reprising the role.
One more thing worth nothing is that it still appears to be early days for the development of the Final Fantasy VII remake. It will be a surprise if it makes it out next year since it appears that the development team is just getting started. A more realistic release window is sometime in 2017, which coincides with the 20th anniversary of the original game. A lot can change in that time. The dramatic changes may be spitballing on the part of the team.
That said, if the hand-wringing over these comments prove anything, it's that the Final Fantasy VII remake is Square Enix's Kobayashi Maru scenario. The original's reputation is so overblown at this point that there's no way that the remake can measure up. The best we can do is sit back and enjoy the ride while hoping a good RPG comes out of it.