The release date on Final Fantasy VII Remake is now under two months away, and Sony has decided to release the opening movie early, to build buzz around the title. It’s working. I’m feeling rather buzzed.
As befits a remake (as a reminder, a remaster is usually the exact same game with updated graphics, while a remake has more freedom to depart from the original source), there’s some additional material in the video that sketches out what Midgar is, how it works, and what type of world we’ll be adventuring in. Since some of you might like to refresh yourselves with the original opening, I’ve included it below. If you don’t want to be spoiled, stop reading this story:
The first 40 seconds of the OG opening are absolutely nothing special. You’re looking at blurry, jerkily-animated stars. We don’t actually see Aeris(th) until the 45 second mark. The Midgar pull-away that showcases the city is meant to emphasize the fact that this is a much more modern world than any Final Fantasy had explored before. Earlier FF titles had included various high-tech machines, including airships, the submerging castle of Figaro, or the Drill and Chainsaw Edward could use in the game, but these were presented more like steampunk technology built by mad inventors. FFVI explicitly states there are only two airships in the world, and you own both of them over the course of the game.
The establishing shot of Midgar is intended to emphasize that this entry in the game world is like nothing before. Once that’s done, we zoom in on the train, the Bombing Mission theme kicks in (with clear recalls to the Red Wings theme of FFIV), and Cloud Strife makes his appearance, leaping from the top of the train. Total time elapsed: About 2:30, 45 seconds of which is an ambient starfield.
Now, for comparison, here’s the remake:
No more starfield — we open in the rocky environs outside Midgar, with a narrow canyon to our right and a birds-eye view of the terrain. The land is sere and sterile. We follow a hawk as it glides into and over Midgar, catching a glimpse of a passing train and panning over the city architecture. The first two minutes of the video show us people going about their daily lives — and then, ominiously, a withered patch of dead grass. When you see it, you realize you haven’t seen any living vegetation yet.
We see children playing on some jungle gym equipment as the day wanes. A Mako reactor catches fire, spewing green flame into the darkling sky. This additional few minutes of footage establishes Midgar as a large city much more effectively than the 1997 game, though part of that can be chalked up to the tremendous increase in storage capacity and processing power available to game designers now. At roughly the two minute mark, the remake’s version of the original intro — starfield and all — comes into play. Aerith doesn’t just turn and walk out into the street — she gets a few moments of character building, when we see her gathering her flowers after dropping some. When a busy man walks past and tramples one of her dropped flowers, Aerith pauses, pulling back her hand, before gathering the blossom tenderly, as opposed to leaving the trampled flower where it fell. In the OG intro, the camera sweeps out independently. In the remake, we specifically depart the scene along Aerith’s field of view.
The Bombing Mission intro is more-or-less the same, but once the train arrives on the platform we follow the view of one guard, who hears his opponent being taken out, goes to investigate, and winds up waylaid himself. Jessie, Wedge, and Biggs have never looked better. The intro ends in the same place the original did — with Cloud leaping off the train and on to the platform.
If I’m being honest, everything I’ve seen of the remake thus far has made it look amazing. The question is whether the revamped gameplay, story expansion, and Sony’s decision to focus the first game entirely on Midgar will leave this version of the title feeling like the expanded, authoritative look at FFVII that fans always wanted, or if it’s going to turn the already hard-to-follow story into a turgid trainwreck.
“Turgid trainwreck” seems like a fair description for a lot of the post-FFVII that SquareEnix tried to create around FFVII once upon a time. Generally speaking, none of the various efforts made to expand the FFVII story around side characters and prequels were considered to match the main game. Think of it as the difference between Aladdin, and Aladdin II. There’s an argument, therefore, that FFVII could be exactly what the game community has long wanted — an expanded, extended version of Final Fantasy VII that clarifies the story and improves the gameplay. Making a little bigger and making it more focused is a difficult trick to pull off, but SquareEnix has had years to work on this project — and splitting the game into multiple segments may have given them more room to fill out the backstory without turning the entire thing into an encyclopedia you read as opposed to a game you play.
The flip side to this, of course, is the risk that FF7 will be enormously expanded, but not to any clear purpose or point, or in ways that fans flatly don’t like. The Star Wars prequels are an excellent example of how this desire can backfire. Fans wanted to learn more about the Jedi and their role in the Old Republic before its fall, but they didn’t like the answers George Lucas actually came up with. Whether FFVII will deliver what fans have wanted or be the latest disappointment, I don’t know. But I know which one I’m hoping it is.
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