It’s evident in one of the very early scenes, a flashback where two children (the central character, Cloud, and another main character, Tifa) sit by their village well at night and make a promise together as stars shine overhead. A woman named Elmyra cries at her kitchen table, reading a letter that tells her that her husband has died in a war. Two former friends, Barret and Dyne, try to talk over the trauma of their loss in a prison. A serene gondola ride during a date, fireworks exploding outside while Cloud and a flower girl, Aerith, peer out through the window. ‘I want to meet…you,’ she tells him, even though they have already travelled together for a while. He doesn’t understand, and he won’t until it’s too late.

There’s the death of a main character too, one that resonated to the point of almost defining the legacy of the entire game in itself. Tetsuya Nomura (the character and battle visual director, and the person who made the call to kill said character) explained that he wanted to convey how it feels to hurt, to suffer loss. As a nine-year old watching the scene at night while my older sister played the game, I don’t think I really grasped that hurt completely, even though I still found it saddening. Perhaps, like Cloud on the gondola, I wasn’t ready to understand.

Final Fantasy 7, which was made by Square before their merge with Enix, is still a masterpiece. The surprisingly deft storytelling contains one of the best examples of unreliable narration in the video game medium. The music resounds with character, tender and soft in ‘Flowers Blooming in the Church’, exhilarating in ‘Still More Fighting’, while ‘You Can Hear the Cry of the Planet’ is somehow both ominous and soothing. The pre-rendered backgrounds have a real sense of atmosphere and character; there is the honeycomb warmth of Costa del Sol, for example, and Cosmo Canyon is the colour of autumn leaves.

Let’s Play Final Fantasy 7 Episode 1: ROAD TO THE REMAKE, MY DUDE!

The Eurogamer video team playes Final Fantasy 7.

The main characters are particularly compelling and convincing. Cloud has a dark inner turmoil, Tifa is sweet but secretive, Aerith charming and reckless. James Ohlen, a creative director and lead designer at BioWare at the time — a company that would go on to become just as well-known for storytelling in games as Square — even felt that BioWare’s Baldur’s Gate characters were like ‘cardboard cutouts‘ in comparison to those in FF7, and it pushed him to improve this aspect in Baldur’s Gate 2.

When Square Enix announced a remake of FF7 in 2015, I wasn’t as pleased as others seemed to be. I’d never wanted a remake; in my eyes, the game was already peerless. Why bother to remake it? I guess it was more than this, though. I was also a little afraid. What if the remake project surpassed the original game? What impact would that have on the older game that made me fall in love with the entire medium, the game that I treasured?

Kazushige Nojima, the scenario writer for both the original game and remake, also felt fear, but of another form. He worried about how players would accept a version of FFVII which left less to the imagination and thus potentially hampered the joy of differing interpretations. (The original game’s style “might be considered a narrative form of storytelling these days,” he noted.) Much like reading a novel, the original game let the player imagine how characters sounded when they spoke, and the lack of a fleshed out context to certain scenes also gave us the freedom to create our own characterisation touches. I’ve had more than one conversation with fans where our interpretations have clashed over basic character details. In the original, for example, I found the introduction of the character Reno (one of the antagonists) menacing, while someone I spoke to thought Reno always came across as a comical figure. Some people have praised the remake for ‘improving’ Aerith’s character by showing her with a mischievous side, while I had always thought that this was something that came through very clearly in the original already.

Cover image for YouTube videoFinal Fantasy 7 Rebirth Review – FF7 Rebirth Spoiler free review new gameplay

Eurogamer Video’s spoiler-free review of Final Fantasy 7: Rebirth.

The original game also offered numerous moments of important material that some players would never even see, thereby changing their interpretations and understanding of the story. Some of the backstory behind Aerith’s parents is completely optional, as is an emotional flashback between Cloud and his acquaintance, Zack. The dialogue on the date I mentioned at the start of this piece didn’t happen for any player who ended up on the gondola with Tifa instead of Aerith. Two characters (Vincent and Yuffie), who have since become very popular, are in fact entirely optional in the original game.

You can tell that the developers are daring with the remake; they are trying to do new things at the same time as replicating the old. In the original FFV7, Yoshinori Kitase, the director, wanted the now famous antagonist Sephiroth to feel like a slowly building menace, someone that you only hear mentioned but don’t see until later, a clever approach that Kitase picked up from Steven Spielberg’s Jaws. The remake, alternatively, has him show up more than once from very early on and even includes a battle with him at an oddly early point. Aerith seems to possesses knowledge of the future, which inevitably changes the feel of her character in some ways. Strange (and now infamous amongst fans) wraiths appear at points, determined to try and control events. Most startlingly, an important character that was dead for the entirety of the original game seems to return in some form.

While I’m not the biggest fan of some of these changes, the remake also adds things that enhance the original. There is more interaction between characters like Cloud and Tifa, a relationship that will become more and more important in the story. The side character Johnny, who makes barely any impression in the original, feels endearing and entertaining in the remake. The crude looking figures in the original game (outside of combat, that is) are no more, and now everyone looks wonderfully detailed. (I have seen more than one person comment, with surprise, on how warm Barret’s eyes are when you see him without his sunglasses.)

It’s 25 years since that night my sister and I played the original game and watched as one of the main characters was murdered by Sephiroth. (When we went to bed that night our mother teased us about Sephiroth as if he were a bogeyman.) That era was another world. Now, in my mid-30s, seeing turn-based gameplay in Final Fantasy (and PSX games in general) being regarded as old fashioned, I’m starting to feel like Steve Rogers, ‘a man out of time’. Even the message boards I grew up visiting every day have faded away. Is that the fate of the original FF7 too, to fade away? Recent comments from Naoki Hamaguchi, the director of the second game in the remake trilogy (‘Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth’), haven’t helped to set my mind at ease, as he has called the original game “a difficult title to get into today“, in contrast to the remake.

Despite my worrying, I don’t think the original FF7 will fade away for modern gamers. It’s too significant. But even if it did fade away for them, would it matter to me? My memories and appreciation for the game are in me, and in these words. I think that’s enough.

There is a moment late in the original FF7 where Cloud, immersed in fear, is refusing to continue his journey. Barret, with customary bluntness, tells him very simply that there’s no getting off the metaphorical train that they’re on; they have to see things through until the end of the line.

I don’t know what awaits us all at the end of the line for this remake project. When I look past my fear, though, I’m excited to find out.

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