After years of fan clamour, Square Enix is recreating Final Fantasy 7. This is not a drill. This isn't a HD upgrade. It's is a "remake". That implies a modern engine, new character models, rebuilt environments, and more. The debut trailer revealed little, except that Midgar is somewhere you still probably don't want to live, but we're promised more details this winter.
Square Enix has also been cagey about release plans, but more and more Final Fantasy games have been coming to PC of late, including a 2013 digital release and a 2014 Steam release of the original game itself. But what would a remake of this vast RPG entail? Here's what we'd like to see them keep and expand in a fully featured from-the-ground-up recreation of Final Fantasy 7.
The world we love on a massive scale
Final Fantasy 7 sends you to space and back. You visit the tallest mountains, dig into ancient craters, explore the seabed, poke about in ancient ruins, explore forests, fight in deserts and chat to locals in 15 different towns across multiple continents. The world is huge, and the remake will have to be too if it's going to capture the magic of the original.
Evidently, remaking such a beast is no easy task. Final Fantasy 7 was an expensive project at the time, but now audiences demand a far higher fidelity from environments and characters. FF7's little lego men aren't going to cut it, and the low-fi, heavily abstracted world map looks increasingly outmoded in this era of luscious open wold games. A direct remake detailed enough to meet modern trends seems like a staggeringly difficult task, so the big question is: what will the remake keep, and what will it throw out? Would you play a truncated version of the game if it looked like the CGI shot above?
A quirky sense of humour
Final Fantasy 7 has a reputation for being gloomier than its siblings. Cloud is always sad; Midgar is grim; and your spend the first phase of the adventure examining the aftermath of Sephiroth's brutal killing spree. Taken as a whole, however, Final Fantasy 7's world is bright and colourful, and full of quirky NPCs. Everyone remembers doing squat thrusts to earn the best wig in Wall Market's cross dressing quest. The gold saucer is a glittering monument to the cartoon silliness that FF7 secretly loves. One of the most dangerous enemies in the game is a small tortoise with a knife; it's joyously bonkers.
I hope all that makes it into the remake. The 2005 CGI film sequel, Advent Children, opted for a washed-out, gritty vibe to match Cloud's brooding mindset. There are echoes of that in the E3 2015 CGI teaser. Hopefully things brighten up once you leave Midgar.
A remastered score
Nobuo Uematsu's terrific MIDI score was hampered by shoddy implementation on PC. Parts of the soundtrack received a makeover for Advent Children, but a grungy guitar-heavy slant smothered Uematsu's melodies. A faithful rendition could sound incredible: One Winged Angel deserves a beastly orchestra and the eerie bleeps and whirrs of Mako reactor could sound even stranger on modern synths. It'd pay not to throw out the guitars entirely, however. Paired with a Hammond organ and a live drum kit they could make good work of FF7's boss fight theme.
It's impossible to get rid of materia entirely without significantly altering the story, but I hope it's still a major part of the combat system. Materia is a crystalline substance that you can slot into armour and weapons to channel spells. Linked slots create reactive combinations between crystals, allowing a single-target lightning bolt to strike everyone on the field, for example. Materia also grows as you used it, and even births a second identical chunk of materia if nurtured to max level. It's a neat system that encourages experimentation and exploration—the best materia can only be found in hidden corners of the world. Hopefully Square Enix can rejig the meta so Quad Slash -> Mime -> Mime isn't one of the fastest ways to deal damage.
You needn't ditch Final Fantasy 7's turn-based system entirely, but the old static facing rows setup looks silly today—remember how individual characters would rush off to strike a target, and then politely return to rank to await further orders? As Final Fantasy games have dallied with realtime/turn-based hybrid systems the dynamism of fights has improved dramatically. In FF13 Lightninig flips, thrusts and backsteps between enemies and companions, casting spells and attacking with her blade as she moves. There must be a way to emulate that dance and still keep Cloud's cool sword-spinning casting animation.
There are a lot of minigames in Final Fantasy 7—and not all of them good. There's that snowboarding section (which surely deserves to be reborn as an SSX Tricky analogue), and the minigame that has you marshaling forces to rescue a phoenix, and that pants Midgar motorway chase sequence which seemed amazing at the time.
Chocobo breeding was great, however. It provided a calming distraction from the rigours of combat, and doubled as an elegant way to unlock secrets. A blue Chocobo could get you across rivers, a green could sprint over mountains and the coveted gold Chocobo could get you almost anywhere. Limit breaks, incredible summons and materia could only be reached on the back of a pedigree bird. FF7's chocobos are a great example of an RPG feature that enriches all aspects of the game. You breed them in a sidequest, which unlocks new exploration options, which in turn unlocks more combat options. AND you can race them at the Gold Saucer.
A new script
Or at least a grammatically correct script. The original english translation was full of errors, and people kept saying "..." at each other like they'd run out of things to say but couldn't leave the room because manners and the plot required them to stay. And Barret, well, let's not get into Barret's dialogue. A total rewrite is probably in order, which means the plot will probably make an awful lot more sense in the remake than it did first time round. Full voice acting will be expected as well but by Sephiroth that is a lot of lines to record, and who are they going to cast for the big red lion, Red XIII? Or Cait Sith, the robot cat that rides a big robot teddy bear?
The return of Hell House
In the wretched slag of Midgar's darkest slums, unwary travellers are set upon by robotic dwellings that slash at them with metal claws and bombard them with homing missiles. It wouldn't be Final Fantasy 7 without the return of the game's strangest villain: Hell House. It will be tempting to finally answer the main question about Hell House, which is "what the hell is Hell House?". Is it an ordinary house that went bad? Is it the robotic creation of a mad property magnate? Let the enigma go unresolved; it's more fun that way.
Naturally Tonberries, Cactuars and the Demon Gate—which is just a giant wall with a face on it—also deserve a prime spot in the remake.
Final Fantasy 7's massive endgame monsters loiter ostentatiously on the world map, tempting you face them down. Beware! These beasts will wipe your party in an attack or two if you're not prepared. These (mostly) optional boss fights provide a spectacular incentive to reach the end of Final Fantasy 7's combat progression curve, which extends well beyond the point at which you're able to beat the final boss. The Weapons are the reason you breed a gold Chocobo and grab Knights of the Round. They're the reason you max-level materia. Reshuffled and retooled, they should still be the greatest challenges the remake has to offer.
It wouldn't be Final Fantasy 7 without these supernatural monsters. Ifrit, Shiva, Titan, Ramuh, Bahamut Vanilla, Bahamut Strawberry, Bahamut Chocolate—I love them all. Summoning sequences provided FF7's most extravagant moments. At the time, in-engine sequence that could fly into space and show a dragon launching an orbital bombardment was a tour de force accomplishment. Sephiroth's summon, which destroys the entire solar system, is as memorable as it was insanely long.
And that brings us to our problem. Watching regularly repeated 90 second cutscenes gets boring after a while. Final Fantasy 8 added a button-mashing mechanic to try and introduce some interactivity to summons, but that was annoying. In modern games you transform into the monster and gain their moveset for a short time. That's fun, but you lose FF7's theatricality. If Square Enix decides to go for FF7's cutscene attacks, they must be skippable—an option the original game still desperately needs.
That's a few suggestions to get started with. What would you like to see from the Final Fantasy 7 remake?