The Final Fantasy 7 Remake trailer at PSX 2015 has a lot of fans excited, but not everyone. Here’s why the combat system has one writer concerned about the game’s development.
There’s no question that the Final Fantasy 7 Remake stole the show at PSX 2015 this year, and it wasn’t even close. Fans have been clamoring for a fresh look at Midgar for over a decade at this point, and Square Enix realistically could’ve brought up a cardboard cut-out of what Cloud will look like in the remake and gotten a million YouTube hits just the same. Luckily for gamers, the developers brought a lot more than just a cheap decoration to PSX 2015, and we were treated to the first real look at what combat might look like in the remake.
I’ll admit, watching Cloud and Barret duke it out with Shinra soldiers in real-time, action-based combat was a pleasure to behold. Square Enix has clearly learned from its past takes on innovative new RPG combat, and the result has been a dynamic combat system that looks fresh, intuitive, and exciting. That is, of course, if we ignore everything we’ve seen about Final Fantasy 15. Looking at the games side-by-side, I think there’s a very real problem with Final Fantasy 7 Remake‘s combat, and it’s this: it’s almost identical to the combat system in Final Fantasy 15.
It was always going to be foolish to expect Square Enix to perfectly preserve the exact gameplay mechanics that were featured in the original Final Fantasy 7, a game that released almost 20 years ago and is available on the PS4 for those who want to relive it anyways. Square Enix’s intent with the Final Fantasy 7 Remake has always been to upgrade more than just graphics, and the battle system is an integral piece of the puzzle the developers will have to solve in order to make the game stand out in 2015. It is, however, a mistake to have the Final Fantasy 7 Remake combat so blatantly resemble the battles in the upcoming Final Fantasy 15, despite how promising it might look.
Games in the Final Fantasy series have always been more than the sum of their parts. When fans reminisce about their favorite titles in the long-running franchise, they don’t just praise combat, job systems, or even story exclusively. It’s about identity. Each truly successful game in the series has felt very different from its predecessors, whether it be as a result of changes to combat or an entirely different world with new character designs.
While Final Fantasy 7‘s narrative and world are wholly unique to the series, the fact remains that they’ve been done before, and then done again in the film Final Fantasy Advent Children, and then once more in Final Fantasy: Dirge of Cerberus – although I’m sure most gamers would rather forget the latter one ever happened. The Gaia of Final Fantasy 7 has been explored more than any other unique universe in Final Fantasy history, and on a grander scale at that, spanning several mediums and platforms. People know what they are getting out of the remake, and though the story will likely change some in order to make it fresh and interesting, the main selling point is nostalgia, so altering too much might upset too many fans.
If Square Enix can’t alter the narrative enough to set Final Fantasy 7 Remake apart, then it logically follows that the next most important thing, the combat system and gameplay, should change instead. Except it isn’t changing, not really – it’s simply adapting the newest model that Final Fantasy 15 has been selling over the course of a year’s worth of development videos and trailers. Final Fantasy 15 is very likely to hit the shelves before Final Fantasy 7 Remake, as Square Enix recently announced they have a version of the game that is playable from start to finish. By the time Final Fantasy 7 Remake hits, RPG fans everywhere will have explored, to varying degrees, everything the new combat system has to offer.
So here’s the rub: Square Enix has found the most success with Final Fantasy games that have offered something that set them apart and defined them in terms of identity, and yet Final Fantasy 7 Remake as it currently stands appears to be the same story told with better graphics and a combat system that everyone will already associate with Noctis and his road trip buddies. It’s been well-documented that Final Fantasy 15 is the standard-bearer for the last stand of console gaming in Japan, and if it is successful and revitalizes that market, it will be because it has innovated the genre past the stagnancy that jeopardized its existence in the first place. If Final Fantasy 7 Remake debuts with the same combat, it will be an immediate step backward towards a dangerous complacency.
The fact that Final Fantasy 7 Remake will be released as episodic content is a good start towards establishing a place for the game within the storied franchise, as it offers Square Enix the chance to tell the stories of characters like Yuffie and Red XIII in a more compelling, complex way than they might have had before should they choose to focus episodes around different party members. However, Final Fantasy 7 Remake will be defined not by the content we already expected from it, but the innovations we didn’t. If Square Enix truly wants to offer gamers an updated look at a nostalgic old favorite, the studio should start by making it feel like its own game, combat included.