Unreal Engine 4, voiced characters, flashy, classic Final Fantasy styled action. What could possibly go wrong? Final Fantasy VII Remake had a good showing at the PlayStation Experience event, but the hype was more or less short-lived, quickly being substituted by anger and distrust towards the path Square Enix was taking the much-adored classic JRPG.
The reason: a controversial declaration that Final Fantasy VII Remake would be multi-part or episodic. Gasps and confusion rippled across the videogaming world with this reveal. If anything is to take from history, it’s that episodic/multi-part titles never truly make a lasting impact on the market.
Sure, the likes of Telltale Games have made a living from episodic games, but even they very much admit that their titles are more or less ‘interactive stories’ instead of proper, full-fledged immersive videogaming experiences, and that is true for the most case.
The much revered Hideo Kojima tried a pseudo-episodic approach to Metal Gear Solid V, with a super-small prologue launch in Ground Zeroes nearly one year prior to the main game, The Phantom Pain.
Yet, I know of dozens of hardcore Metal Gear fans who entirely skipped Ground Zeroes, or simply watched it on YouTube (this watching games on YouTube trend is probably an episodic/multi-part videogame slayer). It just never works well enough.
Square Enix attempted to justify their decision with reasoning that the game was way too big for a single release, and the developers would be forced to cut parts to deliver a concise story.
A few years ago, I’d understand and sympathize with this problem, but in an era where massive games like The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt can exist despite giving more depth and non-linear gameplay with an insanely open world, I find myself hard to swallow Square Enix’s justification.
Yes, Final Fantasy VII was a large game, and perhaps there indeed is too much content in the original one for a remake of the game on Unreal Engine 4 to meet the deadlines, but the developers have failed to weigh in what the players actually want and balance it with Square Enix’s own desire: profit.
This entire project obviously isn’t a fan service, and there’s money to be made by Square Enix from it, but the problem is, the firm has decided to go into no man’s land with this approach. Fans of the original won’t be treated to a seamless release, and those new to the series will automatically be turned off by the episodic nature of the game. Episodic/multi-part structures fit games with a narrative, not with RPGs, especially when open-world exploration is a part of the game.
After all, the entire point of a role-playing game is to become immersed in a single, vast experience that feels streamlined and seamless, giving players the sense of progression as well as sense of detail and depth. Final Fantasy VII’s massive world map and possibility of open exploration will definitely take a huge hit due to this decision.
The real underlying issue is, I feel, being kept close to the chest by Square Enix and Sony. With lackluster 2015 first party releases, Final Fantasy VII’s announcement during E3 2015 and its hasty development was Sony’s Excalibur, which it had to pull out of the ground one way or the other.
This means that they desperately want a PS4 release for Final Fantasy VIII Remake next year to join the likes of Uncharted 4, The Last Guardian, No Man’s Sky, and others. If it means cutting down the game into multiple releases in order to meet the initial deadline, then so be it.
The masses however, think otherwise. We’d rather have to wait an entire additional year if it means a complete, absolute experience, even if it meant some of the less intense parts of FFVII being sacrificed. Delays aren’t exactly met with applause, but they aren’t met with frowns either, and a release date of even 2017 would’ve been acceptable as long as we were getting a full product that was complete from the get-go.
All of the above however, is eclipsed by the biggest question mark that comes from this episodic/multi-part nature of the game: pricing.
At the time of writing this, we’re not even sure of the release and pricing structure of FFVII Remake. Will we see an entire package that is worth the standard $60, which has to be paid once after which you’d be able to enjoy the entire game? Will we have to cash out $20 for each part if say, there are three episodes? Or the worse: will each part behave like a standalone title, costing $60 each?
Fortunately, all of the above, including the last nightmarish pricing structure, is just mere speculation, but the fact that Square Enix managed to provoke such thought in the minds of Final Fantasy aficionados is a worrying sign.
They shouldn’t be surprised if a rather underwhelming amount of preorders come their way. I know I’m not dedicating any part of my hard-earned money towards this controversial release structure until I’ve been satisfied with both the financial and gaming aspects of the title.
And we haven’t even begun talking about the worryingly hack-and-slash styled combat that was shown in the trailer yet. Let’s just leave that for another day.