The words “remake” or “remaster” always lead to a chorus of exacerbated sighs from the gaming community, as well it should. It smacks as somewhat disingenuous when a company resigns itself to representing a product that worked well and re-release it on a new console with a fresh lick of paint. It seems lately that companies are relishing in the process of late, though – not only accepting that they are bringing out something that is guaranteed to sell, but openly talking up the improvements over the original, be they cosmetic, mechanic, or a complete overhaul of the original project by taking the story in a similar, albeit tangential direction. Some of them have been worth the undertaking, such as the reimagining of Ratchet And Clank to coincide with its cinematic debut, or the release of a game that has previously been unavailable to an audience such as Zone Of The Enders. Others, for lack of a better turn of phrase, wanked themselves off too early. GTA V and The Last Of Us immediately spring to mind.
There has always been one popular title that has been crowed as the premier remake target: Final Fantasy VII. It was the seminal RPG for an entire console generation, the crown jewel of a company and paved the way towards the more modern fantasy RPG, shifting away from traditional fantasy to a more technologically driven environment, with deeper questions stemming from this shift in tone. Despite these accolades, FFVII has not aged well. Cloud looks like he’s made out of craft paper, the Aerith spoiler has become the Rosebud of the video game world and the combat – probably my least favourite part of the whole affair – has about as much excitement going for it as a farming simulator. But the fans wanted their star player back, so what better game to get Squeenix’s creative juices flowing again by re-releasing its self-described magnum opus? Year after year, they teased, they hinted, and they shyed away from the prospect, and the fans got thirstier and thirstier.
Finally, at long last, the impossible happened. Square Enix stepped up to the plate and dropped the first official announcement trailer of a high-definition remake of Final Fantasy VII. And lo did the entire franchise scramble for new underwear. Then they said that the remake would feature “dramatic changes” to the combat system. Everybody sharpened their pitchforks.
OH YOU MOTHERFU-
It is a fine line between a reinterpretation of a game and a warts-and-all remake of the original product. The issue with this fine line is, no matter what happens, the fans are going to be mad. You reimagine the game and the criticisms fly out that it’s “not the same”, or the immortal stigma of “you changed it, now it’s sucks, boo you whore”. Alas, you keep everything the same, and the same purists will still hate you, saying that “the graphics suck”, or “if I wanted the same thing, I would’ve played the original, boo you whore”. That is when the company should step in and say “well then, let’s work little by little and see where we go, yeah?”. It doesn’t work. There is always something about the original that doesn’t work, and the voices moan “x isn’t y, boo you whore”.
The end game of remakes is that fans don’t want remakes, not really. Fans want a remake of a game in the same way any reasonable human being wants a colonoscopy. Sure, it would be good for you and your health in the long run, but then you just end up being butthurt and complaining about it later. To look a little closer, what fans want the most, in their heart of hearts, is the experience of their favourite game again, repackaged to be almost identical and recreate that same wonder that they felt when they were playing the original. This unicorn of a product does not exist, and if it does, it is not in the form of a regurgitation of the same thing again. Unfortunately, this is where the current definition of remakes resides: in the grey space of nostalgia and the insurmountable march of time.
I would like to propose something incredibly harsh. The remake is not for the fans. Final Fantasy VII is not for the Squeenix fanboys, because they have their seminal product already in the form of 1997’s Final Fantasy VII. They don’t need another one in the form of 20XX’s Final Fantasy VII remaster because they want something that simply cannot be replicated. So who is a remake for, you ask, if not the fans that want it the most? As stated previously, the original games have not aged well at all, and the reason a remake is done is to recreate and improve upon a once completed final product. That is why I propose that remakes should be for the people that have never had experience with the source material.
Yes. Hear me out.
The remake of a video game is a form of historical revisionism in reverse. Where a revisionist take a seminal event and revise the circumstances that led up its occurrence, the remake of a video game attempts to recreate the event, in this case a video game experience, under the current conditions of the video game landscape. 1997 and 2015 are two very different places in video game history, and the Final Fantasy of 1997 is completely different than the Final Fantasy of 2015. Whether this is a good thing or not is irrelevant, but it changes the scope of the process of remaking a game. It gives the creators more freedom to overhaul a video game and bring it into the modern era, rather than cement themselves to outdated mechanics, even adhering to and keeping flaws in the original product that diminished the experience of the game in the first place. The porting of the first Ratchet And Clank game is a premier example of what not to do – despite every game after the first having the boon of strafing open from the get-go, and being integral to the combat, it was left out of the port, and the game ultimately suffered because of it.
The act of remaking is an opportunity for video game developers to showcase their very best works to people that have never had experience with them, while allowing them to adapt their works to better suit the audience they are presenting it to. The aforementioned change to the combat system is one of the most tedious parts of Final Fantasy VII; it is a relic of its previous games that inhibits the game’s ability to tell its story to the best of its ability. The Active Turn Battle system is the most ham-fisted RPG battle system ever conceived, because what system finds itself so annoyingly stupid that it forcibly rushes you through its usage by making the monsters kick your shit in while you’re stuck talking tactics? Contrast Final Fantasy VII to that of its prequel, Crisis Core: the combat of the latter did not interrupt the forward movement of the game, so when something stopped and forced you to focus on it, you did, and the impact of the game increased tenfold because of it. In a game with a story as rich and nuanced as Final Fantasy VII, the vehicle that takes you through the game should pave the way to giving you this story unhindered.
I want to clarify: I am not a fan of Final Fantasy VII, not in the slightest. In fact, JRPGs as a whole annoy me, purely because their mechanics often put me to sleep with their simplistic ways of going about things. At the same time, if Final Fantasy VII can give me a system that intellectually challenges me, while giving me the same emotional drive that JRPGs are want to provide their fans, I would happily give it a chance to change my mind. What drives me up the wall are the puritans that demand that things stay the way they were because that is how it worked. Those same boring bastards were probably the same people that demanded that say that the original Five Nights At Freddy’s was the best of the four hint hint name drop the Breaking Backlog is coming soon I promise.
Remakes are an opportunity to be inclusive, not an opportunity to prove that you are the biggest fan of the game by turning into an unflinching pariah of “why would you touch something I love?”. In a perfect world, we would have enough seminal texts for every generation to love and cherish and have fanboy wars over, but sometimes the best way of re-experiencing what made something great is to analyse, reinterpret and sometimes eliminate its flaws. It is the archetypal snooty fan that disparages something simply because it made the effort to change, or to put it another way, if a cult JRPG dropped in a forest, and no one was around to play it, would they still boycott the re-release?