There’s been just as much discussion about the delivery of Final Fantasy 7 Remake as the game itself, with Square Enix deciding to split the 1997 original into multiple episodes instead of delivering a single cohesive package.
It’s been a subject of controversy for years now, with many questioning why the creators weren’t capable of delivering the entire narrative in one take.
It’s a valid perspective, but one I feel discounts the ambition of what’s been achieved with the remake itself. Square Enix has used this episodic approach as a way to expand upon the original, creating something that stands out as its own interpretation. Despite its flaws, it’s something really special (as you can read in my review) and spells an exciting future for not only Final Fantasy 7 Remake but the franchise as a whole.
Final Fantasy 7 Remake’s first episode takes place entirely in Midgar, a small yet narrative-heavy section of the 1997 classic. It’s a city in which we learn about all the heroes, villains and motivations they carry right up until the credits roll. In the grand scheme of things, it’s very similar to its predecessor but expands upon it in ways that wouldn’t be possible without an episode format.
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Knowing that the entire 30+ hour experience is set within the confines of Midgar, Square has used these self-imposed restrictions to analyse existing events and decide on where and when it can expand upon them. Side characters such as Wedge, Biggs and Jessie are given particular attention with their own stories that weren’t even in the original.
These are some of my favourite sequences in the entire game. One has you follow Cloud and the aforementioned trio as they journey to the Shinra Upper Estates, making an ill-fated visit to Jessie’s parents in search of a warehouse keycard. It’s an emotionally bittersweet moment, filled with genuine feelings clouded by our character’s true intentions. It’s sold with such conviction because it’s given time to breathe, as the player is left to ponder the moral quandaries on display.
We also learn more about the world itself, and the impact its dystopian themes have had on its inhabitants. Jessie’s father is crippled by Mako Poisoning, his life ruined by the very energy he dedicated his entire being to extracting. Knowing this, Jessie still chooses to take advantage of him for the greater good. The political landscape of Final Fantasy 7 is no longer black and white, with murky motivations existing on both sides.
Shinra and Sephiroth are still the undeniable big bads, but there’s minute components to the people around them that make you think, even if it’s still coated in a healthy dose of anime melodrama. Compared to the original, which honestly featured a messy translation and underdeveloped characters at points, the remake recognised those flaws and addressed them when such an opportunity arose.
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There’s countless examples of this throughout Final Fantasy 7 Remake, many of which are massive spoilers I won’t mention here. It retains the themes and characters of the original while expanding on them with greater detail, or even going in vastly different directions at times. It will undoubtedly be polarising to many, but I feel it’s far more compelling than a 100% accurate reconstruction.
I can’t imagine how rushed or overlong a single game chronicling the entire story would have been, let alone the toll it would’ve taken on the development team creating it to the obscene bar of quality seen in this first episode. From a graphical and mechanical standpoint, Final Fantasy 7 Remake sets a new benchmark for the franchise, and now Square Enix has foundations to build upon and create something even better.
Don’t get me wrong. I do have my concerns. There’s a big chance that future episodes will feel disjointed in both narrative and mechanics. After spending dozens of hours levelling up my party and outfitting them with rare gear, it’s likely all of this will be reset in the second entry. This is for the best as new characters are introduced alongside enhanced systems, but having that reset button pushed will certainly be disheartening.
Splitting up the narrative could serve similar problems if it’s not continued seamlessly, or if changes are made to designs and writing structure of characters. Once again – I’ve spent so much time with them that I’ve started to recognise their distinct idiosyncrasies and how they respond to all manner of situations. Change that, or diverge too far away from what we’re expecting, and you risk alienating a lot of people.
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Even with these risks floating around in my head, I still firmly believe the episodic approach works best for Final Fantasy 7 Remake. A single game simply doesn’t fit the 1997 classic’s blueprint (which itself launched across three discs at the time). Perhaps we’ll see the remake culminate its story with a total of two or three entries in a few years?
Either way, I’m willing to wait, and enough changes and expansions are being made that I’m still bound to be surprised.