Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Final Fantasy VII Remake

CONTENT WARNING: KEY SPOILERS FOR THE ORIGINAL AND REMAKE AHEAD

Sporadic posting lately? It's not coronavirus (not totally anyway), it's because last week Final Fantasy VII Remake arrived at my door. Now I've finished it, and I need to blog out all my feelings about it, so get the fuck ready.

First I need to express just how important the game of Final Fantasy VII is to me. I was first introduced to this game as a pretty young kid. It was my big brother's game, and I started out just watching him play it, fascinated by a new kind of video game like I'd never seen before. Final Fantasy VII was my introduction to the JRPG and the turn-based battle system. Everything about it was different, especially the story. It's hard to remember for sure, but I think FFVII was my introduction to the idea that video games could contain compelling story that could move me and characters that fascinated me.

I think it also contained the first fictional characters I ever had a crush on, which for me remains a rare thing. But that's less important.

I played FFVII over the course of years, periodically getting stuck on certain parts and then going back months later to try again, finally figuring it out and progressing until I was finally treated to an incredible final battle and satisfying ending. I'll never forget when I first witnessed Aeris/Aerith (I still often pronounce it with the "s" at the end because that's how I learned it) die, how I threw the controller in outrage and cried in grief. I could hardly believe that any video game company would have the nerve to kill off a playable character, and to this day, as far as I know, this bold as fuck move has very rarely been repeated.

I realize that the novelty of the game is likely a large part of the reason I loved it, whereas every other Final Fantasy game other than Tactics has been a baffling disappointment to me. No other Final Fantasy villain has been nearly so intriguing and terrifying to me as Sephiroth, as embarrassed as I am to admit that. And again, maybe it was just the novelty of seeing a man with ridiculously pretty eyes and long as fuck hair, but whatever the reason, that fascination has lingered over all these years.

He's sexy, what can I do?

Over the years, I've gone back to replay FFVII periodically. I couldn't tell you how many times. I know this game better than any other video game in existence.

Final Fantasy VII Remake has given me a new appreciation for the original while at the same time renewing my love for the story and the characters. In short, I liked it, and I'm glad it exists. It would not surprise me at all if some people hated it. Personally, I was one of the people who for many years was like "why haven't you remade this iconic game with updated graphics?" They could have done a shot-for-shot remake like that and it would have been guaranteed money.

But for some reason, they waited. And waited. And every now and then it would come up and they'd be like "nah if we're gonna do that then we're gonna DO THAT."

I never understood what they meant until now. Final Fantasy VII Remake is an attempt to give us so much more. It attempts to take a well-known story and beloved characters and go deeper, let us get to know them more, and I think to reconcile some plot holes.

One of the really interesting things about the original game is that it was actually a low-budget thing. It was the first 3D (as it was thought of at the time) Final Fantasy game. Square (as it was called at the time) didn't know if people outside of Japan would like it or if it would be worth the investment. As a result, the localization department was pretty under-funded, which is why there are those bits of text every now and then that are clearly not right or confusing. It's because it's literally not translated very well.

But oddly, I think that parts of the game being a little off like that really only served it, largely because the protagonist is an unreliable narrator. Somehow it manages to create more intrigue in what is a very slow-burning story for a video game.

That is one thing that Final Fantasy VII Remake lacks. Subtlety. This is not surprising considering what Square Enix now is. They don't do subtle. But I'll always be impressed by how the original has you spend 5-10 hours in a big city environment making you think that the game is about defeating Shinra, dropping the occasional little hint that there's something bigger at work, before kicking you out of the city and into a big world with an entirely new objective armed with limited and partially incorrect knowledge about the real antagonist and why he needs to be defeated.

And yet somehow this wild turn in story works. Maybe it's because of those subtle hints, or some accidental or genius pacing, but it doesn't leave you without an actual figure to be your antagonist like when they tried to do the same in VIII, or without hardly any understanding of what's going on like in IX and X. Also, the characters are cool and interesting instead of annoying and/or boring, so that helps.

I've always felt like my disappointment in the other Final Fantasy games is largely a result of comparing them to VII and expecting or at least longing for more of the same. So for the remake, especially after learning that it would be a multi-game experience and the first would be all in Midgar, I tried to go in with an open mind. And I think that helped.

I almost decided to cancel my pre-order when I found out the game would be all in Midgar and therefore have to be quite a bit different from the original to last as long as a full game. I'm glad I didn't. I feel like the remake was something of a love letter to the original, almost like if some really good fan fiction was added to it. It gave me a greater appreciation for the people of the slums and the cruelty of Shinra, and added a delicious layer of class consciousness that I was of course going to love.

As the game started, I wasn't sure about the characters. A lot of them seemed to lack much authentic personality. But maybe in some ways Square Enix still manages to be subtle, because they all grew on me. Biggs started out sounding like stubbled handsome guy #3 but by the falling of the Sector 7 plate, I had come to love him. I wasn't initially a fan of what seemed like an epic level of thirst from Jessie for Cloud but grew to like her as I realized she was messing with him.

I always loved Wedge, though. Wedge is amazing.

I wasn't even sure about Tifa's character at first, but it felt like more of her came out as time went on, like we were getting to know each other.

The remake also made me realize what it is I like about Cloud. People who like Final Fantasy games like VIII or X best will often describe him as "emo," but I never felt that was right. Squall is fucking emo, and in a completely unlikable way. But Cloud is not that at all. He's not sad. He's not depressed. He doesn't act as though his life is terrible.

Cloud is like an adorable puppy who really wants to be seen as a big tough guard dog and everyone sees right through it and the results are fantastic. And yet as his companions make fun of him for it all day long, he only becomes more attached to them because he is a good loyal puppy and I love him. He just wants to protect people, haunted by the moment he felt that he failed to do so as a kid.

But he doesn't want anyone to know how vulnerable he is and so he tried to act tough and aloof and like he only cares about money but he keeps helping people and it just becomes a running joke that he's in on himself and it's great. I just want him to be okay.

Anyway.

I didn't love everything about the game. I'm not sure about the "whispers" that manifest as dementor-looking fuckers. I feel as though what they really are is a plot device and attempt to explain some of the more unbelievable parts of the game. I don't know that it's necessary. I'm also a little confused by the injection of the "fate" narrative that wasn't in the original. Maybe they're going somewhere with it that I don't see yet.

Jim Sterling seemed to suggest in his video on the game that these new elements mean that it's not a real remake, but that there's something like a time loop going on and the whispers are trying to keep everything on track but the new Cloud and new friends are breaking out of that loop and shit's going to be different? But I didn't get that at all. Yeah, there's some time shit going on. Cloud seems to be having visions of the future. But that doesn't mean it's not going to be the same story going forward.

I'll need to play the remake again. I was definitely going to anyway. I apparently even missed some odd jobs in my first run.

The lack of subtlety is a little disappointing but I understand. I mean, who doesn't know that the game is really about fighting Sephiroth? It's a little pointless to try and sneak up on people with that now. And I have to say, I was glad to see so much of Sephiroth in the game, because how was I going to wait for the next one for fucking Sephiroth to show up?

Maybe my biggest complaint about the game is that Square Enix didn't have the courage to kill off the characters who were supposed to die. I mean, okay, keep Wedge alive because I love him, but Biggs survives? Come the fuck on.

Killing off characters raises the stakes. And don't tell me only Jessie is dead. Don't kill off one of the few female characters if you're only going to kill one, huh?

My significant other also put the fear in me that maybe this is going to be some kind of timeline-changing thing in which you're going to find some way to save Aerith from her fate, because she keeps so heavily hinting that she has to die and knows it. I know it's fridging but if Aeris doesn't die it's not Final Fantasy VII.

At the end of the day, Final Fantasy VII made me feel things I hadn't felt in a very long time. It made me feel strange feelings that I'm still feeling now and I like them. And it was a blessed distraction from how ffffffffffffffffUCKED UP everything in the real world is right now. There was some weird stuff in it, and I really, REALLY did not need to see Cloud get a very obvious metaphor for a hand job (good lord my inner child is dead now thanks Squenix), but I feel like people who love the game took some creative license with something they love and that's fine. Like, good for them. I'm not one to say that people who poured a shit ton of time and money into a creative venture should make it exactly how I say they should, as long as it's not harmful in some way to real people. They sold it back to us at $60 and that's not a small amount, but for 40 hours of entertainment and the results of years of incredible amounts of work, I really don't feel like I'm owed anything here.

That being said, I can't believe I'm going to have to wait probably years for the next one. Damn you, Square Enix. Damn you to hell.

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