You can’t pet the cats in FF7R.
A couple of months ago, I replied to a forum thread about the games I was looking forward to in 2020. After I listed said games, I realised something – everything I’d put down was a remake or remaster of a game that already existed. I consulted with my brother to see what he thought, and we came up with the following list:
- Trials of Mana remake
- Rune Factory 4 special
- Xenoblade Definitive Edition
- Persona 5 Royal
The only new title we could add to that was Animal Crossing New Horizons, and even that isn’t vastly different from early Animal Crossing titles.
But this isn’t meant to be a rant about the sheer number of remakes and rereleases around these days. I don’t actually mind that – if a game is languishing in obscurity on an old system that hardly anyone owns any more, by all means make it more accessible to old and new fans. And if I enjoyed a game first time round, chances are I’ll like an expanded and hopefully improved edition.
However, I do want to narrow my focus a bit, to two occasions where a remake or follow-up to a much beloved franchise hasn’t quite hit the spot for me. One of those is the recently released Final Fantasy VII Remake. The other isn’t even a video game at all – it’s Star Trek Picard.
Star Trek: The Next Generation is widely regarded as the best of all the Star Trek series. True, the original cast were pretty much done with the show after Nemesis (Jonathan Frakes and Marina Sirtis cameos aside), and no one was actively clamouring for more, but all subsequent series did seem to get criticised for not being enough like TNG. Seth MacFarlane even went so far as to try to recapture the magic of TNG by writing and starring in his own homage TV show, The Orville. With that in mind, it hardly seems surprising that when it was decided to revive the Star Trek franchise from its slumber, a Star Trek Picard was lined up as one of the possibilities.
Naturally, there was a general feeling of excitement. Patrick Stewart is an excellent actor, and despite all the occasionally inconsistent writing and ropey plots, Jean-Luc Picard was and is a beloved starship captain. When you threw in the possibilities of appearances from Brent Spiner, Jonathan Frakes and Marina Sirtis, fans got pretty excited.
After a whole lot of trailers and teasing, Star Trek Picard landed with us in January 2020. By this point, even I – ever the cautious pessimist – was looking forward to it. The first episode had a few tropes, to be sure, but overall it was a strong opening. I felt eager for more.
As the series aired, two main groups of fans emerged. The first group fully embraced the new series, enjoying the blend of new characters and storylines with references and callbacks to other Star Trek series. The second group denounced the show as “not Star Trek”, claiming it was too blunt and heavy-handed in its politics, and not at all like their rose-tinted memories of the series of the 1990s.
And yet, in between those two extremes, there is a quieter third group – those of us who desperately wanted to share in the love and enjoyment of the series, but just couldn’t quite manage it. I very much wanted to be at the forefront of the hype, enjoyment and love for Picard, but ultimately neither the characters or the plot gelled with me. You can read my detailed reviews for each episode here, but the overall feeling was that the series did not deliver on its initial promise.
Now we come to the remake of Final Fantasy VII. Unlike Picard, this was something fans had wanted for a long time. For many of them, FFVII was their first and most beloved JRPG, a game whose flaws could be overlooked in the general haze of nostalgia. The NES and SNES era FFs had all received either a port, a remake, or both, and fans were keen for FFVII to get the same treatment.
It hardly seemed like too much to ask. For years after its release, Square Enix had been cashing in on the popularity of FFVII. First there was the sequel movie, Advent Children, followed up by a slew of spin-off games for different platforms. And yet, initially they seemed oddly reluctant to remake the game, claiming it would be so technically complex that it could take decades to achieve. For those of us in our twenties or early thirties at the time, an FFVII remake felt like a distant dream that we might get to sit down with around the time of our retirement.
After an early trailer showed a pale, sickly-looking Cloud, enthusiasm for FFVIIR waned. Like Kingdom Hearts 3 and Final Fantasy Versus XIII, it seemed like nothing more than vaporware. But then, slowly but surely, time started moving forward again at Square Enix Headquarters. Versus XIII was rebranded as FFXV, and was actually released – albeit in an unfinished state that needed extensive patching. Kingdom Hearts 3 saw the light of day. And new trailers for FFVIIR started appearing. What’s more, both the character designs and battle menu looked to have been completely overhauled and radically improved.
With trailers and gameplay demos all looking strong, the hype train was back in force. Although I retained some caution at the back of my mind, I must admit that I let myself get excited too. I avidly studied trailers and videos, looking for familiar sights and hints as to how the new battle system worked. I spent ages thinking about all the different types of materia in the original, and how they might work in the remake. I looked forward to seeing what the expanded Midgar would feel like to play in. I even did something I rarely do these days – I pre-ordered a copy of the game instead of picking it up cheaply months later.
Having played and enjoyed the demo, I was looking forward to getting into the game proper and finally seeing more than just the interior of Mako Reactor Number 1 and the Guard Scorpion boss fight. As the full version of the game began, I got a thrill from seeing little familiar touches – in particular, a faithful recreation of the Mog slide from a Midgar playground. I was ready to be fully immersed.
Unfortunately, by Chapter 3, the game’s sheen was already starting to wear off. By this point, I had made it back to the slums and met Tifa – I was ready to follow the path of the original and tackle my second reactor. Instead, Tifa insisted that I take a tour of the slums and then engage in some sidequests. Was it the case that this much vaunted expanded content was just filler of the “defeat monsters, fetch items for NPCs” variety that has padded out JRPGs since expanding disc space allowed it? Could it be that I wasn’t feeling energised and impressed by this content, but instead a little bit bored?
Add into that that this is in many ways not a remake of the existing story, but rather a reboot. I don’t want to spoil the details here, but having read details of these changes, I can’t say I’m a fan. I wouldn’t have minded some tweaking of the original storyline, but the addition of what seems to be an entire meta-narrative feels unnecessary. With Nomura at the helm, it definitely seems as if some of his desire to make convoluted narratives has bled over from Kingdom Hearts into this game.
As with Picard, I really wanted to like the FFVII remake. I want to be able to enthuse about it with all of the people who are dubbing it their game of the year for 2020. But for me, the feelings it’s inspiring are simply to go and play the original again. I’m happy for the people who have been able to derive such enjoyment from these two titles. And yet, I must reluctantly conclude that, while there are elements of both that I do enjoy, neither of them is going to make it into my favourites any time soon.