Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Final Fantasy VII Remake - My Thoughts On The Episodic Format

I wrote an article about my thoughts on the episodic format of the Final Fantasy VII remake, but also decided to make a video about it.

Over the course of the weekend, the internet lost it's shit over the Final Fantasy VII remake after seeing some pretty tasty gameplay, but then they lost their shit all over again after the less popular reveal of the game's 'episodic' style release. I don't think I've ever seen such a massive 180 in fan reaction in such a short space of time. Ok so why are people mad? Well, the nostalgia-hit with FFVII is pretty potent and many people are over-dosing on their own childhood memories. People want to play FFVII again, and how it used to be - wait what? You can already do that, in fact it's just been released again on PlayStation 4. I think some people are perhaps getting a little blinded by their instinctive reaction to change generally.

We don't like change! Until we give that change a go and then we begin to tolerate it, and then kinda dig it. There are a couple points to highlight here, firstly let's focus on the format of the game itself. Final Fantasy, despite feeling similar, has come a long way in many regards since the first 3D outing on the original PlayStation. The Active Time Battle system used in FFVII through FFIX changed into a turn based system in FFX. Combat in FFXII Felt like a pseudo real-time MMO in single player form, and FFXIII was the polar opposite of FFX, focusing on a more simplistic yet ΓΌber-fast paced, auto-battle, class-change system. I'm just going to point out that FFXIII-2 is where I stopped playing, and I'm not going to refer much to the MMOs but they too are examples of change within the series.

Change is inevitable and I think necessary in a series which constantly re-uses character and creature designs as well as themes and story elements. With this in mind, do we want a re-skinned version of the same game? Well, we're definitely not getting that as the new battle system likens to a more action based game such as Kingdom Hearts. This isn't a problem for people however, in fact I've not seen anyone complain about that so we obviously aren't totally against the idea of this game being something new, and different.

So what is everyone angry about? Could it all boil down to the monies. We're in an interesting (although some may not call it that) time in the gaming economy. Nothing has changed too radically when it comes to the recommended retail pricing structure for triple-A games. As an example - you remember N64 games being £50 right? In some ways games are cheaper now than they ever were. But things are relative in the short term, and I'm not going to go into a financial study of current gaming trends, but I will point out that some people feel burned. Burned by the corporations who some see to be taking advantage of their insatiable appetite for nostalgia. We live in an age of nostalgia, services such as Good Old Games ( allow us to re-buy those games you played as a kid, games that I used to run in DOS. Yes, of course I've bought some of the classics of my childhood. The first game I bought on my PS3 from the PSN store was Crash Team Racing for the original PlayStation plus Final Fantasy VIII (which was the game which got me into the series to begin with).

An appropriate and more recent example has to be Star Wars: Battlefront. Christ, I'm a massive Star Wars fan, and literally cannot believe I'll be going to the cinema in 8 days from writing this to see the brand new bloody film. The game, panders to people like me. "Hey, come be Luke or Vader and force push some dudes on Endor, or fly a snow speeder on Hoth. What, no battles on Naboo or Geonosis? Great! Who gives a shit about the prequel trilogy am I right?" (As a side note, I do actually like all of the films). The point is: we are high on nostalgia and Disney and EA know it. Which is not necessarily a bad thing - you want a awesome Star Wars game right? Well in many ways Battlefront is everything a nerd could ask for.

The problem with it however, is the apparent void of content. If you get 50 hours out of that game and you can say you had fun, then great. £50 well spend, $60 - worth it. The value of a product like this for a lot of people is largely subjective. Is there an objective element though? Many people, critics and reviews do seem to say outright that there just isn't much to this game, and despite Dice being able to 100% focus on the multiplayer aspect since there wasn't a campaign to develop, people are pretty disappointed by the end product. I'm not going to start reviewing it, I'm just pointing out that people are already feeling a little taken advantage of. 

Another fairly current example, is one of Square-Enix's other Franchises - Deus Ex. Mankind Divided. Let's just begin by saying in my opinion Human Revolution was a pretty awesome remake of Deus Ex, and again appealed to our nostalgia whilst trying brand new things, in a well polished package. The latest game caused major controversy with the reward tiers for pre-orders - who thought THAT would be well received? If more people pre-order the game we'll release 4 days early? Seriously? I'm not totally against pre-order, pre-purchase and crowd-fund culture in principle, but I'm not going hide my disgust at the things that some developers and publishers practice. This discussion is also for another time. My point is people don't like it when they feel like companies take them for fools, and I'm not saying this is happening or anyone is wrong or right - but that's just the way it is.

There are so many questions yet to be answered about the Final Fantasy VII remake, how many episodes will there be? Will it be an episode per disc? I imagine most of you will remember, the point of changing a disc in an FF game generally signified the end of an 'act' of sorts. A natural pause in the story. You know, as well as the need to load more of the game. If the story progression is significantly different, then could the episodes be short experiences - think Metal Gear Sold V: Ground Zeroes short. Do we need to rethink our concept of standard Final Fantasy RPG progression altogether? We haven't had a Final Fantasy world map like FFVII, FFVIII, FFIX since, well FFVII, FFVIII, FFIX - how would an open-world map work in an episodic format anyway? Also - and I think this is the important part - how much will each game be? A full price stand alone game? If each episode has the content to justify that price point then Christ yes, you mean we don't just get one FFVII game we get, what 5 or something? Awesome. Or will they be short experiences, TellTale-esque - easily finished in a few hours for an appropriate cost? We just don't know.

Until we do know, all I can say is as a big fan of the Final Fantasy series I'm still pretty optimistic, at least until I have more information to base an opinion on. I will say that personally I'm looking forward to playing a brand new experience, and whilst familiar characters and set pieces are absolutely what I want and expect for nostalgia's sake - a new twist on the story, subtle changes in the environment along with new ideas and themes are not unwelcome either - and this includes the format in which the games are presented to me. They have given reason, and stated that if it was made into one game it would be a condensed experience with many cuts and elements removed - basically it wouldn't be a complete package.

I'm not blindly defending Square-Enix and I'm certainly not trying to diminish anyone's emotional attachment to this game (hey I'm emotionally attached too), but let's try to remain positive until we have confirmation that bullshit is definitely happening. It wasn't long ago that this remake wasn't even a thing to us - it didn't exist as far as we were concerned - and we were happy. We didn't need it. We still don't NEED it. But I for one and very happy that I will have the opportunity to experience it all over again, much like the new Star Wars-oP

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