This week saw another comment from Square-Enix with regards to a potential Final Fantasy VII remake, with Tetsuya Nomura admitting that, although there is much demand for it, a remake would play second fiddle to the company’s new releases.

In an interview with Famitsu, FFVII character designer Nomura said: “There are a lot of people who want a remake of Final Fantasy VII. However, new titles take precedence. We work our hardest to make something that might be even better than Final Fantasy VII.”

Fans have been clamouring for a remake for years, and this desire reached fever pitch when Square-Enix showed a PS3 tech demo of the game’s opening at E3 2005. Since then, we’ve had a litany of comments from the company, some seemingly positive, some less so, such as Yoshinori Kitase’s comments in 2010 that suggested that such a project could take up to 12 years to complete.

“If it were possible that we had all the right facilities and the right environment to be able to make and prepare a Final Fantasy VII remake within a year, we’d very much like a go at it,” Kitase told TechDigest. “But even Final Fantasy XIII has taken over three and a half years to create. If we were to recreate Final Fantasy VII with the same level of graphical detail as you see in Final Fantasy XIII, we’d imagine that would take as much as three or four times longer than the three and a half years it has taken to put this Final Fantasy together! So it’s looking pretty unrealistic to happen!”

Many fans believe Square-Enix are sitting on a remake, to be used to make large profits if something terrible were to happen. An ace-in-the-hole, if you will. But with the company’s recent return to profit (albeit partially thanks to a Western-developed title), I wonder if this is now relevant? Moreover, is a remake even a good idea? I’m a big fan of FFVII, and even I’m not sure. So I decided to break it down into what I see as the most important constituent parts of the game, and find out how I really feel.

The battle system
This is the one most-likely to rile fans up. For the record, I love the existing battle system, but it could probably do with a bit of tweaking. Did anyone ever use Frog? Or Mini? Even if you did, did you use them enough to get the materia up to a decent level (let alone Master it)? When levelling in FFVII, you’ll get to a point where all you need to do is run around in circles until you hit a random encounter, then mash ‘X’ to select a standard attack for everyone. You might occasionally throw in a spell to fend off boredom, but that’s basically it.

Now let’s think about Final Fantasy X‘s system, where elemental affinities, piercing vs armour and enemy distances are very pronounced. This ensures that not only do you use the full spectrum of your abilities, but the full spread of your party characters, too. Obviously this is aimed more at a class/job-based levelling system (as each character has deliberate uses), but considering FFVII’s more open character-levelling system, if you don’t have a well-balanced party to cover all eventualities, you’re surely doing it wrong.

I have to confess to being a big fan of FFXIII’s cinematic battle system, as well as some of the refinements introduced in the sequel (such as the ability to switch Leaders), but even though it was created as an attempt to mimic the combat in FFVII ‘sequel’ Advent Children, I’d much prefer to see VII retain its turn-based ATB system. I’m all for a remake fine-tuning the battle system, but I think going too far would really change the flavour of the game too much.

Cloud’s personality
Many fans have expressed disappointment with the way Cloud has been portrayed in Square-Enix’s post-VII output. In Advent Children, he’s a far moodier, depressive character than the one we left at the conclusion of FFVII. Tetsuya Nomura explained his reasoning for this in the making-of, saying: “Cloud tried to lead his life positively after the end of FF7 but he cracked… The sin which Cloud thinks he owns is not anyone’s fault in particular. It is something Cloud has to overcome by himself”. He added that these changes were made to make Cloud more familiar to gamers.

Ok, so Cloud had a pretty huge breakdown in FFVII, but is that the only thing we remember about him? When we first meet him at the start of the game, he is confident, arrogant, and concerned only with himself (though we do get a glimpse of a more light-hearted side when he agrees to cross-dress to save Tifa from Don Corneo’s mansion). After his crisis of character, he comes to terms with his true past, as he pieces it together with Tifa’s help in the Lifestream. From this point on, he shows genuine care for both his friends and the planet’s fate.

It’s his character arc and development that makes us remember Cloud; the fact that he’s multi-faceted, not one-dimensional. Cloud is a more somber, downbeat character in his Kingdom Hearts and Dissidia appearances, and Square-Enix now seems to believe this representation is what gamers call to mind when they think of Cloud Strife. Maybe they do, and it’s me that’s out of touch? I don’t think it is, but Square-Enix seem to, and coupled with some comments made by FFVII director Yoshinori Kitase that he would find it difficult to resist making changes in a remake, I do worry about how our hero may turn out.

The soundtrack is such a huge part of my enjoyment of the Final Fantasy series, and I’m completely torn. First off, I love the Distant Worlds stuff: I listen to the CDs often; I own the Returning Home DVD recorded in Tokyo in 2010; I have tickets for the Royal Albert Hall performance this November. Many of the orchestral arrangements I actually prefer to the original compositions. But listening to music in bed at night with earphones on is an entirely different proposition to hearing it in-game and getting immersed in the world. Maybe I’m just too closed-minded to try, but I can’t imagine the orchestral arrangements replacing the original soundtrack. Just listen to ‘Anxious Heart’ and tell me you can.

It has such a strange, otherworldly and mysterious feel to it that completely embodies the way you feel when you first arrive in Nibelheim. I’m not sure this would be conveyed by an orchestral version. So I guess I would prefer it if the original soundtrack was to remain as-is; maybe clean it up a little, re-sample it at a higher bit-rate, but essentially, I want the same aural experience as the original.

I’ll also include voice-acting here, as it falls under the wider ‘audio’ umbrella. Unlike with the music, I’m pretty sure I don’t want any changes here. Sure, you could argue that having voiced characters would help ‘modernise’ the game, but can you imagine Cloud’s voice-actor Steve Burton speaking as a woman in Don Corneo’s mansion? Or having a fully-voiced Palmer greedily asking for lard in his tea? I can’t. Maybe I just don’t want to.

Many people will tell you that Final Fantasy VII looks like crap. Do not listen to these people. Well, okay, maybe listen to these people if they’re only talking about the character models. The backgrounds, though? They’re beautiful. Lovingly drawn, packed with detail and atmosphere, and incredibly evocative. Personally, I think the fixed camera angles necessitated by the pre-rendered art are a large part of the atmosphere, and I’m just not sure how well Final Fantasy VII would work in 3D with full camera control – I think it would lose something. Something that is perhaps indefinable. When I played Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII, I was initially very excited at the prospect of revisiting areas such as Nibelheim, Junon and Midgar in 3D. But something felt off, and I’m not entirely sure what. As much as I enjoyed the game, there was a slight but nagging disappointment at the back of my mind.

Now granted, with the horsepower of the PS3 behind it, a remake might be different. But this just creates another issue: The more ‘realistic’ and detailed you make the towns, the more jarring the transition to the world map will be. If you have a realistically proportioned, high-poly character model running around a detail-rich, full 3D town, will it not be faintly ridiculous to then exit to a geometrically basic world map where your character appears to be twenty feet tall? So then what is the solution? Create a huge, detailed world map to roam around in, à la Skyrim? Then it may well take the 12 years that Kitase-san (hopefully over-)estimated!

Oh, and re-do the cutscenes from scratch, too.

I think the best solution, for me at least, would be to re-draw the backgrounds in a higher resolution, create new, higher-poly character models and tidy up the world map somewhat – maybe create more complex geometry, paint them in nicer textures and maybe subtly increase the distances between destinations so as to help the world breathe a little. They could even add in some bonus areas to help give the world map a sense of being a world, rather than a simple means of getting from A to B.

So I guess I’d rather see a remaster than a remake. I’d like to see the game we all fell in love with cleaned up and allowed to fulfil its potential without having to sacrifice anything that made it so special in the first place. But as happy as this would make me as a huge fan of the original, it’s difficult to put aside the knowledge that Square-Enix are a business. The biggest risk is that they attempt to keep old fans happy while also bringing in new players, players who may not even have been born when the game first landed in our laps in 1997. Trying to straddle the divide could result in no one being happy with the end result.

So perhaps in the end it’s best Square-Enix leave us with the fantastic memories we already have, rather than risk tarnishing Final Fantasy VII’s legacy. What do you think?