Let me be the first to say that this piece is hypocritical. I am guilty of disparaging remakes. I’m guilty of dreading reboots. Maybe it was all the Spider-Man movies or those live-action Disney remakes, but the very thought left a bad taste in my mouth. Why would you mess with something, especially something that was so amazing? But I’ve come around. There have been a few pearls over the last few years that made me rethink my absolute stance on the practice, and chief among them is Final Fantasy 7 Remake.
Remasters and Remakes in Gaming
With the reveal of Final Fantasy Rebirth and its companion games recently, I got to thinking about the hubbub that surrounded Remake’s release. When it was first announced, I had friends all around me losing their minds with excitement. I, as a Nintendo child, had missed that beautiful game, but was curious as ever. Once it came out, though, there was an uproar. Purists demanding the heads of the developers for daring to alter their childhoods. Fanatics foaming at the mouth with a thousand fan theories about where the new plot would take their favorite characters. And me in the middle thinking, “Wow. This is a cool world.”
Obviously I’m being hyperbolic, but there’s something to be said about how a studio should treat IPs when they bring them out of the toy chest and plop them back in front of us. Was it right for Square-Enix to completely change the story, turning it less into a remaster and more into a sequel? Some properties become sacrosanct, untouchable masterpieces. But in an age where gaming has fundamentally changed, where the attitudes, the expectations, and habits of gamers have changed, how can you bring something back and not change it? Do you want to play a 100+ hour RPG but only be able to save at save points? Probably not. So clearly there’s a limit, the question is, where can we draw that line?
Gaming Has Changed… and So Have You
Gaming has changed. Players have changed. Any game released now, even if it’s considered part of sacred franchise, needs to conform to that. I came to that realization, funnily enough, by playing Final Fantasy 7 and 9 Switch ports. You see, these ports have some lovely little quality of life additions. Namely, you can triple the speed of the game for faster grinding, stop all fights completely, and even refill your health and magic with the push of a button. Are these cheats? Kinda yeah. But I’m also not 13 with all the time in the world to grind battle after battle so I can FINALLY BEAT THAT #$%#ING RUBY WEAPON! (Ahem.)
I guess what I’m saying is, gaming is different. We save where we please. We control our characters as we wish. Heck, we don’t even use the same camera controls (I’m looking at you, Resident Evil remakes.) I don’t think it’s wrong to want to have the modern conveniences of games implemented in remakes. Or to use control styles that are comfortable to modern games. Or to tell the story in ways that might be better than what the original was capable of doing.
That’s quality of life. It’s not hard to get people on board with those changes, save for the extreme purists that demand you only be able to move in ninety-degree angle turns because “that’s part of the experience.” But is it wrong when you fundamentally change a game’s story? After all, people usually hate when movies don’t follow the book (or video game, for that matter.) I mean, I’m certainly guilty of that very complaint myself, but I think I’ve come to realize something about adaptations and remakes: they don’t erase the original. If I want to play Final Fantasy 7 as it was originally made, I can do that. If I want it, but prettier, there are a ton of mods to upgrade the visuals. Why waste something as big as Remake’s debut on just making it look a little nicer?
A Chance to Spread Their Wings
Remake was an opportunity to do something interesting, something engaging, something entertaining. And now that we have Crisis Core Reunion on the horizon, there’s a chance to really explore this incredible world in ways the original games just weren’t capable of. These characters are ripe for new stories, but with the original Final Fantasy 7, the sequels, the prequels, the side games, and the freakin’ movie, this world is getting a bit bloated. There’s no room to breathe. Why not try something that lets you put all that aside?
Remake is probably better described as a sequel to Final Fantasy 7 disguised as a remaster. It’s chocked full of blatant divergences from the original, the characters even being aware of those differences! It’s ripe for theorizing. For arguing. For exploring. By the end of the game, which is only part one of three, even the veteran players had no idea what was going to happen next. And you know what that meant? It meant that both my wife, who was a lifelong fan, and I, who had just picked up the game, were sharing the same experience.
By changing things up, even just a little, Square-Enix gave us an opportunity to share something we otherwise couldn’t. Neither of us knew what was going to happen next. I was excited. She was excited. Sure, I had friends that were complaining “Why isn’t it turn based?” or “Why did they change the story?” But I didn’t care. I was enjoying this game alongside my Player 2. We were sharing the experience. And that, my friends, is interesting. It makes me excited to play more and it makes me excited for the future of the franchise.
So what do I think about changing a game’s story? About veering away from the established cannon? Go for it… if you can make it interesting. That’s my caveat. Make it interesting. I absolutely loved Breath of the Wild, so of course I jumped on Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity. But – le gasp – the story is… an alternate timeline? I think. It was a little unclear. But you know what was clear? I freakin’ loved it. I absolutely played the crap out of that game because the story they gave me was interesting. The game was fun. And in the end, I think that’s what matters most.
Is it wrong to use save states while playing Zelda or Castlevania on my Switch? I don’t think so. The experience of the original game isn’t tied to specific mechanics, especially those that have aged out of modern experiences. It was the fun, the story, and the characters that made these games memorable. So long as those things are present, even if they’re mixed around a bit, I think the game can still be good. So you know what? Bring on the remakes. Don’t be afraid to let new blood play with old properties. Best case scenario, you have a new thing to enjoy. Worst case? You still have the original.