Thought Bubble: The Final Fantasy VII Remake is a Fucking Disaster

When Square Enix announced the long-awaited HD remake of Final Fantasy VII earlier this year, I really didn’t give the news a second thought. Fans have been begging for the remake for years and it’s virtually guaranteed to generate large truckloads of money, so at a certain point it began to feel inevitable. The announcement was merely the culmination of a long courtship that will be consummated in an unremarkable whirlwind of cash, summons, and materia.

That was before we saw the gameplay trailer that debuted over the weekend. Now I’ve got plenty of second thoughts because the Final Fantasy VII remake looks like a fucking disaster, and everything we’ve heard about the game in the days since makes it sound even worse. The remake went from a mild-yet-lucrative curiosity to the embodiment of the most cynical trends in gaming with one miserable trailer, and it suddenly seems like we’re all hanging onto the tail of a meteor as it rockets towards catastrophe.

OK, fine. I might be using a bit of hyperbole. The trailer isn’t that bad. The gameplay looks fine, and visually there’s not too much to complain about. My biggest gripe is the voice acting, which is legitimately atrocious. Cloud sounds like he’s going to spend the game throwing a sulky self-pity party, while Wedge sounds like he’s going through puberty after accidentally replacing his vocal chords with a kazoo.

That’s not a big deal in and of itself. Final Fantasy X had bad voiceovers and that hasn’t made it any less beloved. But nobody has fond memories of a non-verbal FFX because that version doesn’t exist. The FFVII remake inserts a bad voiceover where none previously existed, which is the single worst thing you add to a game that used to be silent because the miserable line readings are too obnoxious to ignore. It invites comparison, and the remake is doomed to come out worse when measured against nostalgia.

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Here’s the thing. Fans have been asking for a remake of Final Fantasy VII because they rightly love Final Fantasy VII and the thinking is that more realism will make the characters more human and therefore more relatable or more epic. But people want to see a glossier version of the story that they remember, and there’s simply no way to satisfy all of those expectations because different people played different versions of FFVII. I’ve recently been playing Final Fantasy VI, and I’ve argued that the older Final Fantasy games were more widely beloved precisely because they left more to the imagination. Without a canonical vocal performance, players could read the dialogue in whatever voice they preferred to allow the characters to resonate in whatever way the player needed them to resonate. Cloud could be emotional, stoic, or brash, and any and all of those traits could coexist within the same cluster of polygons.

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The new trailer removes that ambiguity. It offers up a definitive, singular interpretation of the characters, which de facto eliminates any version that is not explicitly represented in the new trailer. Square Enix is basically telling millions of fans that their understanding of Cloud is wrong, as are their memories of FFVII. If your Cloud isn’t a tortured Emo McBroodypants, than Square Enix doesn’t seem to be interested in retaining you as a fan.

That’s not to say that everyone will hate the remake, but – as with the upcoming Final Fantasy XV – the tone does limit the appeal. Square’s ‘official’ version likely will match some people’s vision of FFVII, and that take is not any more or less valid than any other. The point is that the original game was not exclusionary, which made it easier for more people to relate to the cast because more people could see themselves reflected in the characters. They were more flexible, and could therefore respond to more situations and invite a wider array of interpretations.

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That process also made the game a lot more fun. When I first played FFVII, I had to use my imagination to construct a more detailed, nuanced world. The game merely suggested what that world would look like. The remake, meanwhile, is decidedly less spectacular than what I could come up with in my head. It’s showing me something smaller instead of letting me envision something bigger, and it makes the flaws in the source material far more apparent.

That’s always the inherent danger with remakes. It’s nearly impossible to get lightning to strike twice, which is why note-for-note remakes usually leave people feeling cold. The remakes that work tend to be deliberate reimaginings that can stand on their own merits, which is probably the best-case scenario for FFVII HD. The combat seems to have been radically reinvented and the game will reportedly be fleshed out with new content and opportunities for exploration. If there’s enough to distinguish it, it’s possible that people will enjoy the remake for what it is without comparing it to its predecessor.

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Sadly, I can’t be that optimistic. The added material only makes the whole endeavor seem like more of a cash grab than it already is, a way to add ‘value’ to milk nostalgia for as much money as possible before everyone realizes that the emperor isn’t wearing any clothes. Knowing that the remake will be released in multiple installments does nothing to alleviate those concerns. The Final Fantasy VII remake increasingly seems like a lazy attempt to monetize the past with a slate of mediocre Blu-Ray extras that remind you why they were left on the cutting room floor in the first place. If you want to remember what makes FFVII so great, I’d say you’re better off revisiting the original.

 

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