Final Fantasy VII Remake
Like trying to raise the dead
©2011 Nicholas Capozzoli
I found the debate popping back into my head recently, as talk about a Final Fantasy VII remake reaches another crescendo.
Though the words of John Ruskin and Viollet-le-Duc were couched in architectural terminology, the implications can be extended into other forms of art with ease.
So much so, in fact, that the points that each man made in their time are still being articulated today in reference to FFVII, whether knowingly or not.
‘Impossible to raise the dead’
Ruskin, a famous art and architecture critic, once famously remarked that the restoration of a building “…means the most total destruction which a building can suffer…a destruction accompanied with false description of the thing destroyed. Do not let us deceive ourselves in this important matter; it is impossible, as impossible as to raise the dead, to restore anything that has ever been great or beautiful in architecture.”
To be fair, Ruskin was still an advocate of preservation, of attempting to maintain a work of art (albeit, as non-invasively as possible) and extending its lifespan.
However, the idea of preservation doesn’t quite translate into video games. Not in a one-to-one relationship, at least. It’s not like the content of a game degrades over time. The maintenance and patches that are applied to a game after its release aren’t really equivalent, either.
No, when games lose their luster, it’s because technology has advanced beyond what was possible during their creation.
So is the better analogy (in the parlance of the SATs) ‘Original Game’ is to ‘Remake’ as ‘Cave Painting’ is to ‘Contemporary Painting’? Perhaps so.
Restore; but also remake
Viollet-le-Duc’s approach to restoration had something of that point of view. He felt that the restoration of a building should “re-establish it in a complete state that may never have existed at a particular moment.”
In his restoration of buildings like Notre Dame, he introduced new materials, contemporary construction methods, and entirely new structures, like towers, roofs, and gargoyles.
His methods were undoubtedly effective.
Armed with the technology of his time and the added knowledge of extensive research, his restorations methods helped stabilize the original works, adding years to their lifespan.
His additions to the original designs were more controversial of course, drawing the ire of many a critic for their invasive and presumptive nature.
Remake Final Fantasy VII, or leave it as unspoilt art?
In practicality, we tend to opt for a nuanced approach, balancing a desire to preserve historic accuracy and the original artist’s intentions with a work’s contemporary needs, conditions, and import.
There’s a similarly muddled and inconsistent approach the idea of the video game remake, and Final Fantasy VII looks to be its poster child.
Square-Enix has been fielding petitions for the game’s remake ever since releasing a tech demo for the PS3 showcasing the game’s iconic opening on the new technology.
No game has ever been called to be remade with such fervor, nor sparked such controversy.
Opinions vary widely. Some pine openly for the game to be re-released, others express concerns, or outright opposition to the idea.
As is often the case, the devil here is in the details. Square-Enix’s representatives have repeatedly noted their doubts about the feasibility of the idea, though it’s a bit unclear how much they themselves envision deviating from the original.
Director/producer Yoshinori Kitase is on record as being opposed to remaking the game, citing a likely desire to try to make improvements on the original.
It’s no surprise. As any designer can tell you, that’d be a strong urge.
Remakes can be better…
And obviously, remakes can be better received than their predecessors for exactly just that. I’m sure we can all think of a few remakes in film or music (covers) that we’ve enjoyed better than the originals.
But what about the art in question? Philosophically speaking, if Final Fantasy VII were to be remade would the original suffer some form of destruction, as Ruskin had posed about restored buildings?
A lot has changed since the Victorian Era.
For better or for worse, Postmodernity saw the decay of the sacrosanct status of artistic works.
Nobody decries that our annual iterations of Madden NFL are sullying the good name of 1993’s John Madden Football, after all.
Final Fantasy VII is different
Hitting in the sweet spot of a leap in technology and a formative time for gaming identity, the RPG struck a new chord for its audience. All games are art, but few before Final Fantasy VII asserted themselves as such with its level of confidence and decidedness.
It makes an objective view of a remake nigh-impossible.
I myself can’t really shed my nostalgia for the game…it arrived during my teens, at a time when my interest in games could best be described as trifling and unintellectual. Final Fantasy VII was a revelation that opened up the possibilities of an entire medium to me, and I poured hundreds of hours into it over near-annual play-throughs.
It’s often said that art is inherently subjective. If that’s the case, then could the destruction that Ruskin spoke of be a personal one?
Remakes: nostalgia killers?
I take “destruction” here to not necessarily be negative, rather, that it means replacing or conflating one idea with another.
Once we view a remake, our impressions of the original are changed. Now, it could affect them either positively or negatively, but what’s important is that it changes those impressions.
Is that necessarily a problem? That probably depends on whether or not you hold the original work as sacred or not.
When it comes to video games, considering that at least original product isn’t subsumed to create the remake, I’m inclined to say that it’s okay.
Establishing that it’s philosophically and ethically allowable for Square Enix to remake the game is one thing. Whether it’s the smart thing to do is another entirely. Let’s get into the hypothetical nitty-gritty:
So good idea or bad? Verdict
Each is undeniably strong, of course. But I believe that the game’s true strength lay in its environments, beautiful pre-rendered 2D images that struck a very particular balance between helping navigation and framing a dramatic view.
The manner in which they played with perspective and proportion, texture and lighting, were all quite unique.
It’s certainly something that I’d fear would be lost in a remake. You can’t really accomplish the same things in a 3D space. At the very least, I think that you can throw out the possibility of using many modern gaming conventions, such as a moveable camera, or seamless zones.
As an aside, it occurs to me that Square Enix seems to have always struggled with conventions. None of the navigable environments of Final Fantasy X, XII, or XIII come particularly close to the novelty of those found in VII, VIII, or IX. Moveable cameras and seamless zones don’t allow the same type of cinematic, deliberately framed views that were so integral to the game’s character. I wouldn’t be confident in SE making such a transition here.
Omitting the possibility of changing that aspect of the game leaves us with largely the same product. We’re down to making more cosmetic changes like upping resolution and enhancing detail.
Then there’s the question of the abstracted, polygonal characters. But if we’re committing to upping the graphical fidelity everywhere else, I don’t see a way to keep them without them being harmed by the contrast. The same goes for the audio.
That’s the most surefire way to remake Final Fantasy VII, best as I can tell.
It’s positively Viollet-le-Duc-ian in approach, introducing new technology to bolster the old. And I don’t doubt that a fair amount of interpolation and conjecture would be necessary to fill in some of the gaps that would be certain to result.
I think I’m okay with that. And I think that’s a game that would sell well, and please most fans, particularly those who never got a chance to play the original in its heyday. I’d be happy if it was remade and others could get some semblance of the game’s greatness.
Would you play it? Not me.
Because Final Fantasy VII is much more than a game to me now. It’s also a time period in my life: individual memories of being a twelve-year-old boy, of nights watching my friends play, of doodling the characters in class, of daydreaming about what it would be like to save the world.
If I want to trigger those memories, what better way than to play the original, which is inexorably tied to them in my mind?
A remake, even of something old, is still new. So too for the impressions that it creates.
Trying to reconstruct all of my old experiences with Final Fantasy VII would be, as Ruskin said, like trying to raise the dead.
[Ed: At least one of us thinks you will squeal like a child Nick if they do release the remake. :p ]
OXCGN’s Game of the Year Awards 2011, here.
©2011 Nicholas Capozzoli
Filed under: Blogbanter, Console gaming, Game Industry News, GameBanter, Industry News, New Xbox 360 Games, PS3 News, Xbox 360 Tagged: | FFVII, Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy 7, Final Fantasy VII, game remakes, games, Japanese Role Playing Game, John Ruskin, JRPG, Madden NFL, Square Enix, Yoshinori Kitase