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Right Place, Wrong Time – Games Worthy of a Remake

Kotaku has an article up this week about one of my favorite games:  Xenogears. In it, the journalist, Jason Schreir, was able to ask director Tetsuya Takahashi about that infamous second disc and why the game went to a narrator instead of letting the player experience the moments the narrator discussed. Fans have mostly assumed that they ran out of money, and that’s still mostly true. Naturally, Squaresoft being a big company could have easily injected more cash into the project, but they were holding the development team to a 2 year development cycle. When the team, and Takahashi attributes it to being a young team, couldn’t make the deadline they were either going to have to release the game in an abridged format, or do something drastic like cut content from the second disc, which is the way they went. Back in 1998, there was no releasing a bare-bones version of a game and adding to it down the road via downloadable content.

Given the two options, Takahashi probably picked the lesser of two evils, but it doesn’t change the fact that he basically didn’t get to make the game he wanted to. For that reason, I’ve always felt that Xenogears is a game worthy of a remake. It likely never will be remade since Takahashi and Square-Enix are no longer affiliated so Square-Enix would have to do it without him. And I don’t know how much you pay attention to the current goings on at Square-Enix, but they’re pretty tied up with another big re-make in Final Fantasy VII with no end in sight on development there, so remaking a lesser title (in terms of sales potential) is out of the question. Nintendo, after doing remakes for its two N64 Zelda titles, just announced at E3 that a remake of Metroid II is coming this September to 3DS. Sony also announced a remake to Shadow of the Colossus for PS4. So yes, remakes are very much “a thing” and there are many games that are deserving of them. Since Xenogears is on record as being one of my favorite games of all time, I want to start there:

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Some improved visuals would be welcomed as well.

 

Xenogears

Orignal Release: Playstation 1998

As I said in the intro to this post, the second disc of Xenogears was essentially a half-measure. An excuse for a remake is right there – just “make” the second disc. In addition to that though, the game’s visuals have aged rather poorly, and the abundance of text begs for some voice overs. I enjoy the modern 2D sprite look embodied by DuckTales Remasterd or the recently announced Dragon Ball Fighter Z. Keeping the sprites would be fine by me. Refining the combat would be welcomed as well and making the “magic” attacks more integral would add some strategy to the non-mech combat. In addition to that, adding more complexity to the mech combat would also be fun as I always felt piloting those mechs should have felt like a blast. Instead, the combat is simplified to a degree with an added resource management tacked on in terms of fuel. Other obvious enhancements would be eliminating random battles and streamlining the interface, though the current one is actually fine. Xenogears is already a good game, so it doesn’t require a lot of refinement, it just needs to be officially “finished.”

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Just Yoshi, no babies. Thank you.

 

Yoshi’s Island

Original Release:  Super Nintendo 1995

There’s some unknown aspect to Super Mariod World 2:  Yoshi’s Island that prevents it from being re-released. Sure, it was ported to the Gamboy Advance but some effects were lost in translation, and yet that’s the version that has appeared on the Virtual Console. The original SNES version has never been made available again, and I have to believe it’s due to some technological limitation since it’s clearly not a licensing issue for Nintendo. Nonetheless, a re-release would be appreciated, but a remake would be better. Aesthetically, the game still looks nice because of its art direction. It’s not as syrupy as more recent Yoshi titles and balances the cute aspects of the franchise well against the typical Mario backdrop. So visually, a remake isn’t really needed, but anyone who has ever played the game would welcome a remake that does one thing differently from the original:  get rid of the crying baby! I’ve read some studies that say an infant’s cry is designed to unnerve its father and I totally buy that. When one of my kids cries it creates a certain anxiety that’s different from what I’m used to experiencing. Mario’s screams bother me in a similar way and I really can’t stand that game sometimes as a result. So Nintendo, how about a remake that just removed Mario? I don’t care if you even adjust the story to explain it, just get rid of him. For whatever reason, all of the Yoshi games that have followed this one have been significantly worse than the original, to the point where I honestly can’t recommend a single one, so a remake of the first one would be more than welcomed now.

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The original Seiken Densetsu has been remade more than once, but the much better sequel has not.

 

 Secret of Mana

Original Release:  Super Nintendo 1993

Like Yoshi’s Island, Secret of Mana is still quite playable in its current form. Also like Yoshi’s Island, the sequels to it that have made it west have not been nearly as good as the original, making a remake feel more desirable from that point alone. Mostly though, a remake for this title would be welcomed because, like Xenogears, it was kind of released in an incomplete state. Secret of Mana was being developed to take advantage of the Super Nintendo CD, when that deal fell through, Squaresoft had to scrap some content and change development so that it would play without the peripheral. As a result, there’s some buggy portions in the game and the audio is most likely not realized as it was intended. A remake, with a more modern combat approach, would probably be a lot of fun. Just don’t make it a Kingdom Hearts clone.

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One of the first SNES titles, ActRaiser tried to be many things and was good at them all, but great at none.

 

ActRaiser

Original Release:  Super Nintendo 1990

ActRaiser was an ambitious title. It attempted to combine the godlike properties of a Sim City styled game with an action-platformer that also had some RPG elements. Naturally, being really the first of its kind, it came up short in some respects though it was still a really cool game in its own right. The platform sections could stand to be refined with more combat maneuvers for our avatar, meanwhile, the god mode portions could really use an injection of excitement as they’re definitely a bit tedious as-is. The foundation is in place, but decades of new concepts and ideas being integrated could create an incredible gaming experience.

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We just weren’t ready for this in 1997.

 

Mega Man Legends

Original Release:  Playstation 1997

For some reason, I was really excited by the concept of Mega Man Legends, an action RPG starring everyone’s favorite 2D action star. The problem was, no one really knew how to make that game in 1997 and no one really would until 2001’s Devil May Cry, interestingly enough, also a game created by Capcom. Even so, DMC is not a great comparison since it’s more focused on melee combat while Mega Man is a shooter. The original Legends is a visually ugly game with poor controls. Capcom really struggled with 3D controls (see Resident Evil) on the Playstation and it took awhile for them to figure it out. More modern titles like Resident Evil 4 (which even that is over ten years old now) refined that over-the-shoulder camera which would work really well for a modern Mega Man Legends. There would still be a challenge to introducing Mega Man styled platforming, but that’s where the DMC experience would pay-off. In short, Capcom wanted to make this game in 1997, but it didn’t know how. In 2017, I think that’s changed and a truly great game in this franchise could finally be realized, and why not just start over rather than try to make Legends 3 (again)?

 

There are obviously plenty of other games that could stand to be remade, and most of them would come from the 16 bit to 64 bit era. I’ll stop here with this post, but feel free to share some of your own. Other games I considered were X-Men (the arcade game), Rocket Knight Adventures, Baldur’s Gate, Bushido Blade, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, and Final Fantasy VI.


Final Fantasy XV – Platinum Demo Impressions

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Final Fantasy XV – Platinum Demo

This is going to be a rare quick one from me. Square-Enix on Wednesday night released a ton of information about its upcoming game, Final Fantasy XV, including a release date, collector’s edition stuff, and so on. Along with that was a demo release dubbed the Platinum Demo. You may be aware, but last year a more traditional demo was released for FFXV as a pre-order bonus for PS4 versions of Final Fantasy Type-0, an upscaled PSP game previously unreleased outside of Japan. I did not play that demo as I really didn’t have much interest in a PS4 version of a PSP game, but I did download this new one.

The Platinum Demo is a non-traditional demo, unlike the first demo released. Instead of being dropped into a sequence from the upcoming game, the demo has you play through a  dream sequence starring a child version of the game’s main character, Noctis. This dream sequence is not going to be included with the full-version of the game, which gives it a unique experience, but it’s also fairly traditional in the sense that it gives the player an understanding of how the game will play.

Tetsuya Nomura was the original director of Final Fantasy Versus XIII, which has since become Final Fantasy XV. Nomura is best known as the mind behind Square’s Kingdom Hearts series. As such, it should come as no surprise that elements from that series have found their way into FFXV, and yet it still does come as a shock to find that FFXV essentially is a Kingdom Hearts game. What I mean by that is that the game is a true action RPG and the feeling of just about everything gameplay-wise is Kingdom Hearts. Be it the combat, the camera, the way Noctis even jumps, it all feels like Kingdom Hearts. This is not really a good thing, in the opinion of this writer. The strength of Kingdom Hearts has always been less on the gameplay and more on the fan-service combing Disney and Square products. I’ve always found the gameplay to be adequate, and it’s improved, but it’s also always been flawed. Sora felt stiff, floaty, and the camera is just a constant battle. The series has improved since the original, but the criticism still remains. The FFXV demo has all of that, just no Mickey Mouse.

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The Platinum Demo places the player in the role of a child version of Noctis and explores some fantastic settings.

The demo itself guides you through it in a pretty tame way. Death is apparently impossible and the enemies, aside from the boss at the end, are pretty inept. A familiar friend serves as the guide for Noctis, Carbuncle, who’s appeared as a summon in multiple Final Fantasy games. He’s been redesigned only slightly, appearing as a fox/kitten hybrid that would feel right at home in a Pokemon game. I cannot deny, he’s pretty cute, and he also looks pretty believable. Easily the demo’s strongest point is the presentation, as the game looks great. There are a few moments of self-indulgence that serve it well, though also a couple of hiccup moments where the frame-rate seems to chug. We’ll have to wait and see how the main game holds up. Supposedly completing the game will allow Carbuncle to be used in the main game so there’s incentive to not only finish the demo, but keep it installed on your PS4/Xbox One.

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A familiar foe is waiting at the end.

The demo is fairly linear, though it does give the player some time to just mess around. It offers a few locations, one of which sees Noctis miniaturized in a home which is quite a bit of fun to explore. There’s also some “plates” on the floor that serve as triggers. Most of these speed up time to show-off the day/night cycle and some give Noctis a new weapon to try out. A select few transform Noctis into either a car, crocodile-like monster, or a deer-like monster. They’re kind of neat, and I have no idea (aside from the car) if these transformations are indicative of anything in the main game, but they’re a fun diversion here. The final boss encounter of the demo seems to be the only moment where the combat is opened up a bit and we get a better idea of how the game will eventually play out. Like Kingdom Hearts 3D, Noctis is able to warp around the battlefield and utilize attacks from advantageous positions. These attacks consume MP, which is constantly regenerating, and seem like they’ll be necessary components of future battles in the game. The game presents button prompts for counters and attacks, which I assume is part of the learning process. I didn’t feel like I got a good grasp of what was going on, and there’s definitely going to be a learning curve to combat even though it’s fairly simple at its base.

The Platinum Demo for Final Fantasy XV left me unconvinced. Immediately when it ends the demo asks if you would like to pre-order the full game and I did not have to think long about how to answer that. I’m still holding out hope that the full game will turn out well, but I’m struggling to understand the creative direction of this title. I know it started off as a spin-off, and the decision to make it the next proper title in the series was probably more of a financial decision than anything, but the game just feels unnecessary. It’s way too similar to Kingdom Hearts right now. Fans of that series who have thought to themselves “I really want Final Fantasy to play more like this” should be happy. Others will probably just wonder what happened to one of gaming’s most iconic franchises. Final Fantasy has a real identity crisis on its hands. I don’t know where the series needs to go, but I feel like this isn’t the best destination for it.


Final Fantasy X-2 HD Remaster

Final Fantasy X-2 HD Remaster (2014)

Final Fantasy X-2 HD Remaster (2014)

It was way back in July that I posted about the remastered Final Fantasy X which was released in March on both the Playstation 3 and Playstation Vita. It is now the end of January and I’m just getting around to talking about the companion game with that release:  Final Fantasy X-2. It’s not because I’m lazy, though I have neglected this blog some during that timeframe, but because I actually just recently finished Final Fantasy X-2 even though it was the only game I played on my Vita in that span of time. I didn’t split time between my Vita and 3DS, I actually haven’t touched that system in nearly a year, it’s that I just had enough content to keep myself busy. Now, my handheld gaming is basically confined to my work commute, which became a 3 day commute over the summer thanks to the wonders of telecommuting. Those three days total about 4 hours of gaming per week so maybe it’s not that crazy a game could last me nearly six months but it is pretty cool that between March 2014 and January 2015 I only played one release on my Vita and was perfectly satisfied. That’s getting the most out of forty dollars.

Final Fantasy X-2 has the distinction of being the first true sequel for the Final Fantasy franchise. That seems crazy considering this is an ongoing series stretching back to the late 1980’s, but every longtime fan knows that all of the Final Fantasy games were self-contained games with only thematic and gameplay similarities making them all one franchise. The characters, settings, plots were all different. While some were certainly similar in setting, especially the first five games, they all differentiated themselves quite distinctly. There have been some mega-popular games in the series and ones that fans probably wanted a sequel to more than Final Fantasy X, but be it for creative reasons or economic ones, it was Final Fantasy X that received the first sequel. Final Fantasy X ended on a pretty final note. There certainly were questions about what the characters would do following the events of that game, but not really more than any other title. It wasn’t exactly an “everyone lived happily ever after” ending, but it was far from being a cliffhanger. The direction of the sequel wasn’t obvious, but Square-Enix rightly chose which character to center the sequel around.

The main cast (left to right): Rikku, Yuna, Paine.

The main cast (left to right): Rikku, Yuna, Paine.

Yuna was the pseudo-protagonist of Final Fantasy X. While the main character, Tidus, often reminded the player that this was his story, it would be more appropriate to say it was their story when referencing both Tidus and Yuna. For much of the game, Yuna was Sherlock Holmes to Tidus’ Watson and we were experiencing her journey as a summoner through the eyes of a different character. In Final Fantasy X, Yuna was reserved, somewhat shy, and lacking in confidence. She grew throughout her journey, but the events at the end would lead one to wonder just how she would adjust to her new life. Final Fantasy X-2 picks up two years after the first game’s conclusion and we find a Yuna bursting with energy and a sense of adventure. Together with Final Fantasy X hold-over (and her cousin) Rikku, plus new-comer Paine, she travels Spira in search of lost spheres which are essentially records of Spira’s past. There’s a market for such spheres as Spira comes to grips with the loss of its center, the Yevon religion, which was exposed as fraudulent during the events of Final Fantasy X.

When Final Fantasy X-2 was originally unveiled, the thing most gamers and press seemed to key in on were the three main characters:  Yuna, Rikku, and Paine. It might not be obvious based on their names, but all three characters are female. And all three were the only playable characters (sort of, more on that later) in the game. This was pretty significant for the time as Final Fantasy had never really had a female lead, let alone an all female party. It was a pretty bold move, especially in the West where the video game fanbase is almost exclusively male. Not surprisingly, there was some backlash and amongst my friends I came upon those who had no interest in playing a “girl” or “gay” game (we were in high school and certainly still growing up). It didn’t help things that the game essentially opens up with the characters attending a J-Pop concert where Yuna is the apparent performer. The game makes the declaration that it isn’t going to shy away from the fact that the main characters are women. They could have portrayed them in a masculine or more subtle way but chose not to. The only thing I would criticize the game designers for is the overly sexualized nature of the characters. Some of the battle attire the girls where is just not at all practical and pretty ridiculous.

If you're going into battle against knives, guns, and who knows what else, this doesn't seem like the best choice of attire.

If you’re going into battle against knives, guns, and who knows what else, this doesn’t seem like the best choice of attire.

Because of some of the design choices, the game alienated people from the start and it has often felt like an overlooked title in the Final Fantasy series. I played the Playstation 2 version and enjoyed some aspects of it while I didn’t others. At the time, I think I was suffering from some RPG fatigue because I remember the game being a slog for me. I finished it, but it was sort of a joyless experience. I wasn’t thrilled to play the HD version as a result, but fortunately for me I enjoyed the game a lot more the second time around.

The foundation of the game is fundamentally solid. It’s essentially Final Fantasy V complete with the return of the Active-Time Battle System and the job class system, with some tweaks. The job system is now known as the dress sphere system, but it works the same. Characters are free to choose between any dress sphere which includes staples such as the warrior, white mage, black mage, thief, and so on along with a few unique to the game. The major twist for X-2 is that characters can switch between dress spheres during battle, providing they equipped them to their character’s Garment Grid. The Garment Grid is like a mini Sphere Grid from Final Fantasy X that features open nodes that can be equipped with any dress sphere. The character can move from one node to another during one turn in battle, but must move to adjacent nodes. The grids also bestow other special abilities like certain spells or stat buffs. It’s pretty customizable and a lot of fun to mix and match dress spheres among the three characters. Each girl is obviously better suited for certain spheres, Rikku is the speed character while Paine is the strongest attacker, but all three girls can make any dress sphere work. The lone weakness of the system is that some dress spheres are far superior to others, which lessens the enjoyment of mixing things up, but I found it pretty addicting to keep mastering different dress spheres by unlocking all of their abilities.

The rest of the game functions a little different from traditional Final Fantasy titles as well by going with a mission based approach. The game is separated into five chapters with each one containing a few story-line based missions that must be completed. The rest are ancillary but strongly encouraged. Just plowing through the game, I suspect someone could beat it in around twenty hours but it wouldn’t be as much fun. There are plenty of dull missions but most add something either in the form of humor or challenge. Particularly at the end of the game, there are several challenging missions that will definitely consume a lot of time. Completing tasks contribute to the completion percentage of the game, with the obvious goal being to achieve 100% and getting the “best” ending. It’s possible to do so on the first play-through, but there’s a lot of junk you would never hit on without a guide. Silly things like talking to certain characters in a specific order can ruin your shot at 100%. It can be frustrating to be forty hours into the game and find out you have no shot at 100% on one play through, but that’s what Square-Enix was going for as they wanted gamers to play the game a second time as your completion percentage will carry over.

The J-Pop stuff is pretty silly, but it is by no means a game-breaker if it's not your cup of tea.

The J-Pop stuff is pretty silly, but it is by no means a game-breaker if it’s not your cup of tea.

Thematically, Final Fantasy X-2 is a much lighter experience compared with its predecessor. Final Fantasy X wasn’t exactly a melodrama, but it had some weightier tones. X-2 somewhat embodies that J-Pop intro in that it’s mostly a game featuring three women having the time of their lives. There is some tragedy to the story, especially in the wake of the events of Final Fantasy X, but it’s mostly a fun experience. The music, even with a couple of J-Pop tracks I could do without, is quite good and on par with the rest of the franchise. Changes made going from the PS2 original and the HD version are minimal from a visual standpoint, but the game received additional content not previously available to western audiences. There are two new dress spheres, one of which is actually very useful, and a new monster capturing mechanic that actually expands the playable battle party. It wasn’t something I took advantage of, but it’s cool for those who want it.

The major addition to the game is the inclusion of The Last Mission scenario. The Last Mission takes place after the events of the main game and sees Yuna, Rikku, and Paine reunite for one final mission. It’s almost a completely different game as it’s basically a rogue-like, dungeon-crawler instead of a typical JRPG like the main game. I personally found it to be a real drag, and getting through it for the additional storyline content was not an enjoyable experience for me. The storyline was also pretty trivial and the lesson in it felt forced like it was coming from a completely different voice than from those behind X-2’s plot. I would suggest that if you do not enjoy the gameplay, as I did, then save yourself the time and just watch the cut scenes from it on youtube. They’re everywhere.

The Last Mission is a very different experience and one I didn't care for, but maybe I'm in the minority.

The Last Mission is a very different experience and one I didn’t care for, but maybe I’m in the minority.

The last piece of new content is the Bonus Audio which is being referred to as an audio drama on the internet. It’s basically a story that takes place after X-2 and centers on a new character (if you do not want spoilers, then skip ahead to the next paragraph). The new character is actually the daughter of Auron, and she wants to meet up with those who knew her father. To make a long-story short, the end result is that Yuna is once more a summoner for a Yevon-like organization, Sin returns, and she and Tidus break-up over some really silly stuff. I know some people did not like that Tidus died, or ceased to exist, at the conclusion of Final Fantasy X and the perfect ending of X-2 basically remedies this. I was fine and happy with how FFX concluded, not because I hated Tidus, but because I respected the story it told. I actually wish they never brought him back since I prefer death be treated as permanent in pretty much any story I experience. To bring him back though and then have Yuna break-up with him over some silly insecurities such as the ones presented in the audio drama just seemed like bad story-telling. I do not know if this audio was meant to be a spring-board for a Final Fantasy X-3, I doubt Square-Enix has any interest in going back to Spira, but if it was I hope they soundly rejected it. Listen to it only if you’re absolutely curious because the story sucks, to put it bluntly.

Final Fantasy X-2 is a perfectly acceptable Final Fantasy title, and a damn good game. I do not think it is better than Final Fantasy X and it’s not in my top five Final Fantasy titles, but it’s probably right in the middle somewhere. If you’re like me and either felt you short-changed it back when it was originally released or ignored it all together, I would suggest giving it another go. If you didn’t like Final Fantasy X then don’t bother, but if you loved Final Fantasy III and V because of the job system then maybe you should take a look regardless of your thoughts on Final Fantasy X. It’s a fun game and it stands out among other Final Fantasy titles, and given how many there are, that’s an accomplishment worth celebrating.


Final Fantasy VII – To Remake, or Not to Remake?

images-190In the gaming community, a popular topic of conversation seems to always stem around remakes.  They’re fairly popular and have become more so due in large part to the rising price of game development and the profitable business known as nostalgia.  Games cost a ton of money these days to develop, and with little change in the pricing structure of games once they hit retail, profit margins aren’t what they used to be.  I haven’t seen any hard studies on the matter, but I would assume that publishers make less per game sold today than they did twenty years ago.  Just look at the credits for a game developed in 1994 and compare that to a modern game.  I recently completed Assassin’s Creed 4 on the PS4 and the end credits ran as long, if not longer, than most films.  All of those people have to be paid, so either they’re getting paid peanuts (and many probably are) or the take-home is much smaller than it used to be.  Remakes allow developers and publishers to take existing software, sink little resources into the remaking of it, and release it at a comparable price to a new game.  Square-Enix is one such company that has made a habit out of this strategy with its Final Fantasy franchise, but one game has yet to be remade in any sort of way despite being arguably the most popular game every put out by Square:  Final Fantasy VII.

Whenever remakes are discussed, the potential for a Final Fantasy VII remake coming up is inevitable.  Part of that is due to the game’s immense popularity, and part of it is due to the fact that Square-Enix used the game’s likeness to create a Playstation 3 tech demo years ago.  Such a strategy was a huge tease to fans of the game seeking a remake.  Square-Enix will even bring it up seemingly on an annual basis and offer reasons for why it hasn’t happened while leaving the door open to the possibility just a crack, giving fans legitimate or false hope, depending only on one’s perspective.  The supporters for the game are vast in numbers, though there is a contingent that has risen up over the years downplaying the impact of Final Fantasy VII.  That’s mostly due to the fact that Final Fantasy VII was the jumping-on point for many fans.  Much like when a band gets popular with a specific record, the old fans tend to want to keep a part of that band for themselves and look down upon fans of the newer material.  Final Fantasy VII is a great game, and many of its detractors exist just to downplay it in comparison with a prior game, or just never liked Japanese RPGs to begin with.

Many fans feel like Square could do a better job with FFVII if given another shot, mostly because Cloud looks like this in the original game.

Many fans feel like Square could do a better job with FFVII if given another shot, mostly because Cloud looks like this in the original game.

Many Final Fantasy games have received either a port or a remake over the years, with the most recent being the HD release of the PS2 games Final Fantasy X and and X-2, set for release next month on the PS3 and Vita.  Final Fantasy X is a popular and well-received entry in the series, but for some its remake is a source of frustration considering it’s a more recent release when compared to Final Fantasy VII, so why is it getting an HD release first?  Well, as most can probably deduce, it comes down to money.  Being a PS2 game, Final Fantasy X can be upscaled to HD and touched up here and there with minimal effort, and more importantly, minimal cost.  The game will still look old, but still mostly pleasing to the eye.  Playstation 2 games as a whole have aged pretty well.  Early generation Playstation One games on the other hand, have not.  An HD version of FFVII would likely not improve the look of the title any, and may even harm it.  Even when it was released, FFVII was not considered a tour de force when it came to graphics.  Certain aspects of the game were praised, such as the FMV summons and cut scenes, but the general look of the game was mostly just passable with its blocky characters and pre-rendered backgrounds.  For a re-make, FFVII would require a new game engine and would need to be recreated from the ground up.  Square-Enix could use an existing engine and could probably farm a lot of the textures and models needed from other games, but the cost would be considerable making it more like a brand new game in terms of production, as opposed to a remake.

As a result, none of the Playstation-era Final Fantasy games have received a make-over since release.  Final Fantasy VIII isn’t looked on fondly, so that fact makes it unlikely for re-release, but Final Fantasy IX was mostly well-received by fans and critics and that too has not been re-done.  As a later era title, an HD remake would suit the game far more than one would for Final Fantasy VII.  If anything, it’s surprising none of these titles were ported to the PSP, but availability on the Playstation Network has made it so that they can be purchased and downloaded to Sony’s portables, as well as the PS3, and enjoyed as they were originally released.

If Square-Enix is growing tired of this topic, it only has itself to blame after inviting this kind of attention with a PS3 tech demo of FFVII.

If Square-Enix is growing tired of this topic, it only has itself to blame after inviting this kind of attention with a PS3 tech demo of FFVII.

The lack of a physical re-release for Final Fantasy VII likely irritates fans almost as much as the lack of a re-make, and that’s mostly due to the fact that so many other titles have been released in its place.  The NES era games have all been re-released, and in some cases, remade all together.  The SNES games have also all been re-released or remade on other platforms, most notably Final Fantasy IV which has been re-released multiple times and also completely redone for the PSP.  A sequel was also commissioned and released in installments before being released as a physical game.  If supporters for a FFVII re-make are looking for companions in misery, they at least can turn to the group looking for a Final Fantasy VI re-make.  Final Fantasy VI and VII are often considered the best in the series.  I blogged years back on the subject and selected VII as my favorite, but in truth my opinion changes with the wind.  FFVI has had the benefit of re-release on the Gameboy Advance and Playstation, but outside of those two it really hasn’t been touched much.  Working against both games is their reputation as all-time greats, which probably does intimidate, to some degree, Square-Enix as they know any attempt at a reimagining for both games will be held to considerably high standards.  Square-Enix likely could have remade VI instead of IV with the Final Fantasy III engine crafted for the DS, but maybe felt like fans would be less willing to accept a half-way attempt at a remake of such a beloved game.

Whichever game you would prefer to see remade, it’s undeniable that supporters for a Final Fantasy VII remake have been teased far more than those holding out hope for a VI remake.  Square-Enix, and the gaming press, have kept the topic alive over the years and I sense that fans are starting to tire of it.  Most seem to have the attitude of “just announce a final decision already or don’t talk about it at all.”  I suppose I share that sentiment, as I don’t care to read about Square-Enix or one of its producers musing on the subject and offering no substance.  Part of the reason why the subject seems to be coming up more and more is due to the fact that a lot of gamers aren’t satisfied with the current Final Fantasy XIII themed games.  Ultimately, the question is simply should Square-Enix take the time (and money) to re-make Final Fantasy VII?

There may never be a remake, by the film sequel Advent Children did offer fans a glimpse of what their favorite characters might look like in a modern game.

There may never be a remake, by the film sequel Advent Children did offer fans a glimpse of what their favorite characters might look like in a modern game.

In short, the answer is “Yes.”  Square-Enix could approach a remake in two ways: build it form the ground up, or just attempt a better looking game from the original.  The ground-up approach wouldn’t necessarily mean a brand new engine.  Square-Enix could opt to use the same engine currently in use for Final Fantasy XV which is being developed for the Playstation 4 and Xbox One.  They’re also developing numerous other “next-gen” games they could utilize.  Going in the other, less-ambitious, direction, Square-Enix could opt for a remake more on par with the Final Fantasy IV ones, which aimed to improve the look of the original but not up to current home console standards.  That engine was crafted for the old portables and obviously would not be suitable for a FFVII remake now, but Square-Enix could use the FFXIII engine, or if aiming to be even less ambitious, a PS2 era engine.  Upgrading FFVII to resemble a game like FFXII would be a huge improvement over the original and something fans may even accept if released for a modest price.

Considering how big the game is and how beloved by its fan-base it’s become, Square-Enix probably feels like a Final Fantasy VII remake can’t be done on a conservative scale.  This is likely the biggest obstacle standing in its way.  That means if Square-Enix decided to green-light the project today, it would have to do so as a PS4/Xbox One game for retail release at the standard price of $60.  In addition to re-crafting the look of the game, Square-Enix would also be faced with the decision of whether or not to dub the game.  When FFVII was originally released, the characters didn’t speak and would not do so until FFX.  A sequel movie for FFVII was made a few years back, so Square-Enix has already given a voice to the main characters, but it’s still a large undertaking to dub an old game for multiple audiences.  Such an undertaking means Square-Enix is basically faced with the choice of remaking FFVII or making a new game such as a potential FFXVI.  Square-Enix’s strategy with the previous generation of consoles was to make a new game, FFXIII, and then reuse the resources to create multiple sequels.  Square-Enix never used to make direct sequels to its Final Fantasy games but I suspect it started to because of the rising cost of game development.  A sequel to FFXIII was a lot cheaper to make than a brand new game, primarily because development time was shortened with gameplay mechanics that could just be carried over as well as textures and character models.  I would propose this time around, Square-Enix opt to not make a direct sequel to FFXV and instead remake VII.  XV already started off as Final Fantasy Versus XIII, a would-be spin-off/sequel for the original FFXIII that never made it out of development Hell.  It’s likely not going to happen, but if FFVII is ever to be remade then this seems like the now or never point.

Even if a remake never happens, at least we'll always have the original to fall back on.

Even if a remake never happens, at least we’ll always have the original to fall back on.

At the end of the day, I find myself asking do we even need a remake for Final Fantasy VII?  It’s only being discussed as much and as often as it is because it was such a well-received game in the first place.  If it’s already a classic, does it need a new version?  After all, nobody is asking for remakes to Casablanca or The Wizard of Oz even though technology has advanced monumentally since those films came out.  I would argue it is different with video games as opposed to film.  Classic films are restored and re-released on new formats all the time, Final Fantasy VII hasn’t even received that much attention.  The game is somewhat crude looking by today’s standards, more so than even the game that preceded it.  The sprites of Final Fantasy VI have aged much better than the polygons of Final Fantasy VII, and a fresh take on the game could make the world even more expansive than before (just go ahead and look at the world map of FFVII, there isn’t much going on that makes it feel “alive”).  Fans want a remake because they honestly believe the game can be improved, which isn’t something you hear when discussing remakes for famous films.  It feels like it’s worth doing because it is, and there’s little question a remake will sell extremely well for Square-Enix, and that’s the biggest reason why fans are still holding out hope.


Dreaming of Kingdom Hearts 3

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UPDATE 3/8/2014: Square-Enix has posted a survey for Kingdom Hearts, and if there is something you want to see in Kingdom Hearts 3 (Gargoyles!), this is the best way to make your voice heard!

Watching Gargoyles these past few weeks has got me thinking about the upcoming PS4/Xbox One game Kingdom Hearts 3.  So far, little information, aside from confirmation the title has been in development, has been released regarding the next entry in the Kingdom Hearts series.  For those unaware, the Kingdom Hearts games were initially conceived as a marriage between Disney and Square’s Final Fantasy.  Several games have been released in the series and, for the most part, they all follow a pattern of having the main character visit various different worlds based on classic and current Disney films.  Gargoyles has got me thinking about how cool it would be to see that world brought to the series as it would seemingly lend itself well to the video game form.  There was a game based on the series created for the Sega Genesis.  It was a late arrival on the Genesis and while it boasted some rather slick animation it was bogged down by poor gameplay mechanics and a repetitive design.  It is my understanding that the only rules for selecting worlds for Kingdom Hearts are that they be from Disney films, but not Disney owned films.  This would eliminate the various Marvel films produced by Disney as well as any future Star Wars ones.  It also appears to apply to Pixar films as well as so far no worlds from a Pixar film have shown up.  It also excludes any worlds from Disney television, but in the case of Gargoyles, this rule could be circumvented by the existence of Gargoyles The Movie:  The Heroes Awaken.  It’s kind of cheating as the direct-to-video movie is just the first five episodes edited into a 90 minute film but lets not get too technical.

Using my own memory, and with help from Wikipedia, I’ve come up with the below list of Disney films to appear as worlds in the Kingdom Hearts series:

  • Sleeping Beauty
  • The Little Mermaid
  • Aladdin
  • The Nightmare Before Christmas
  • Winnie the Pooh
  • Peter Pan
  • Hercules
  • Tarzan
  • Pinocchio
  • The Lion King
  • Steamboat Willie
  • Pirates of the Caribbean
  • Alice in Wonderland
  • Cinderella
  • Snow White
  • Beauty and the Beast
  • Mulan
  • Tron
  • Lilo & Stitch
  • The Hunchback of Notre Dame
  • The Three Musketeers
  • Fantasia

This list may not be exhaustive, and does contain some unusual selections.  “Steamboat Willie” stands out as it’s not a feature-length film, but as Mickey’s most recognizable short, it’s not surprising to see it included.  It also, like pretty much all of Disney’s classic shorts, was originally released to theaters.  The Three Musketeers also stands out as it was a direct-to-video release so it appears their self-inflicted rule does not mean the film needed to be theatrically released.  Square has done a good job of hitting most of Disney’s biggest properties.  There is also a good balance of old and new, but there’s still plenty of room for more.  Below are some thoughts of mine regarding where the franchise could go for its next outing:

Bambi – Bambi the character has already appeared as a summon in the KH series but he’s never had his own world.  As one of the few classic pictures to not have a world, it makes sense for Bambi to step into a larger role.  His world is not particularly unique considering it’s just a forest, but a world created around the forest fire scene from the film’s climax could have some interesting gameplay mechanics.  For one, it would make the world visually interesting and the fire could be the result of one of the film’s antagonists.  Bambi could be an assist character and, together with Sora, they would be tasked with extinguishing the blaze.  The world could either be full of peril due to the fire, or there could be a time limit in place.  Considering Bambi is one of Walt’s greatest achievements, it just makes too much sense to include it eventually.

And to think, some at Disney felt The Horned King would be too scary for kids...

And to think, some at Disney felt The Horned King would be too scary for kids…

The Black Cauldron –   The Black Cauldron is, unofficially of course, Disney’s black sheep.  It differs quite a bit in tone from the works that preceded it in that there’s a distinct absence of humor throughout.  A lot of critics disliked the film, and while it appears to have spawned a cult following, it’s still one of the lesser films put out by Disney.  It’s inclusion here is not a defense of the film, I haven’t it seen it in so long that I really can’t offer much of an opinion on it, but it’s world would actually appear to fit in quite well with the KH universe.  The Horned King would make a natural complement for Maleficent and the Fairfolk could be incorporated as well.  The film almost makes too much sense for inclusion, leading me to believe the only reason it has not been is because the film is so obscure.  It’s also possible that Disney doesn’t own any of the characters outright and legal issues may not make it worthwhile to include.

Toy Tinkers – I am an unabashed Donald Duck fan so I wanted to include one of his shorts on this list.  I initially thought “Trick or Treat” would work well because of the Witch Hazel and her special potion that brings inanimate objects to life, but such a world would have a lot in common with Fantasia and Halloweentown.  I settled on “Toy Tinkers” because it would allow the inclusion of a Christmas themed world and a unique gameplay opportunity.  I conceive it as a world in which Sora has been shrunk somehow and is caught in between the fire-fight between Donald and Chip and Dale.  There would be debris raining down and perhaps Sora would help Chip and Dale thwart Donald somehow.  It would be a bit of comedic relief and a fun bit of level design.

This would seem to be a natural conflict for a video game.

This would seem to be a natural conflict for a video game.

The Brave Little Tailor – My thought process for this level is similar to the above for “Toy Tinkers,” so I consider this an either/or arrangement.  In the short, “The Brave Little Tailor,” Mickey is tasked with defeating a giant.  For KH, the scenario seems obvious and Sora would either replace Mickey or assist him in taking down a giant.  It would feel similar to my “Toy Tinkers” scenario because Sora would be taking on a foe much larger than he, so the two would perhaps feel too alike if they both appeared in the same game.  Nonetheless, it would be fun to challenge the giant and a tailor themed Mickey could be an interesting assist character.  This could also easily be swapped out in favor of a Mickey and the Beanstalk themed level.

Duck TalesDuck Tales would appear to not be eligible due to the fact that it was a television property, but it sneaks in because it did have a feature-length release, Treasure of the Lost Lamp.  If the level had to be based on that film, then no matter, it could be a pseudo Indiana Jones type of deal with cave exploring with Uncle Scrooge, the nephews, and maybe even Launch Pad.  Classic Duck Tales villains could still be included as well.  Ultimately, I just want to see Scrooge’s giant vault of gold coins included complete with diving board.

Toy Story – Yes, I know and covered it already, it would appear that Pixar films are a no-go when it comes to KH.  However, Pixar’s films have become as much a part of the Disney brand as Mickey and Snow White and their presence is felt throughout Walt Disney World and Disney Land.  And if there is to be one exception made for Pixar, why it has to be Toy Story, no?  It makes too much sense for inclusion as Sora could be transformed into a toy of some kind and have to team-up with Woody and the gang to foil Sid.  The level basically designs itself and there are so many action sequences from the three films that the designers could look to for inspiration.  Come on Square/Disney, it’s time to invite Pixar to the party.  Do it!

I'd be delighted to see any of the films/shorts from this list incorporated into KH3, but mostly I just want to kick some ass with Goliath by my side.

I’d be delighted to see any of the films/shorts from this list incorporated into KH3, but mostly I just want to kick some ass with Goliath by my side.

Gargoyles – We’ll end this with what started it in the first place, Gargoyles!  Gargoyles, as primarily an action-adventure cartoon, makes a lot of sense for a video game.  Goliath would be a pretty bad-ass support character and Demona seems like a perfect villain for KH (though MacBeth and Xanatos would work as well).  There would be some fun music to source, and most of the voice cast has maintained a relationship with Disney to this day including Keith David (voice of Goliath) who recently voiced the villain for Disney’s The Princess and the Frog.  Gargoyles would also allow Square to set a level in New York, specifically the skies above New York.  The castle would make for both a great visual and fun setting for an all out battle with Demona or the Steel Clan.  Someone send the developers of Kingdom Hearts 3 a copy of the first season (or the movie, but they would need a VCR on hand to watch it) and then try to stop them from making use of it!

There’s actually plenty of other films Square could source for Kingdom Hearts 3 that I didn’t even bring up.  The Sword in the Stone or Robin Hood seem like natural fits, or perhaps because they’re too conventional they’ve been ignored.  101 Dalmatians also seems like an easy film to incorporate and Cruella De Vil would be a natural as a villain for the series.  And considering it drew inspiration from video games, I feel like I have to mention Wreck-It Ralph.  I actually fully expect a Wreck-It Ralph scenario of some kind to appear in KH3, either as the game world Fix-It Felix Jr. or maybe a Sugar Rush style mini game.  I consider all of my selections as long shots and I’d be surprised to see most of them.  It actually wouldn’t shock me if Disney lifted the embargo on Pixar films and allowed a Toy Story level, just because the property is so popular, and the giant sequence I described (most likely to occur in the form of Mickey and the Beanstalk) also strikes me as a legit possibility for a KH world.  The others are merely dreams or wishes, and as much as it would delight me to see Goliath and crew in Kingdom Hearts 3, I also acknowledge it’s mostly a pipe dream.  Perhaps if I wish upon a star…


The E3 Fallout: The Next Generation Gets Less Scary

DownloadedFile-21Prior to E3 2013, I made an entry on how the future of console gaming was looking.  To summarize, it was starting to look pretty bleak.  Even though it was only a couple of week ago, a lot was different.  We had the Wii U already on the market and failing commercially and creatively, the Xbox One was set on controlling all games distributed for it, and the PS4 was still a shadowy figure with unclear motives.  E3 2013 was shaping up to be a heavyweight bout between Microsoft and Sony as both looked to generate positive hype for their debuting machines in the fall.  Microsoft had a lot to answer for following the announcements regarding the policies surrounding the Xbox One and many wondered if Sony was willing to maintain the status quo or go along with Microsoft.  If both companies decided to severely restrict used games then gamers would be forced to accept this new model or give up on console gaming, something that seemed unlikely.  It was a strange feeling heading into E3 which is usually all about debuting new titles and consoles but the focus was squarely on one aspect of the PS4 and Xbox One.

Kind of lost in the shuffle was Nintendo, and with good reason.  The Wii U has done little to captivate the hardcore crowd and heading into E3 Nintendo chose to announce that it wouldn’t be holding a standard E3 press conference.  Nintendo still had a presence, and the company’s diehards were probably content to get a peak at the new Smash Bros. game and a new Mario title for the Wii U.  The recently announced A Link to the Past sequel for the 3DS, A Link Between Worlds, was playable and looks good, but there wasn’t much excitement coming from Nintendo.  The unique features of the Wii U have been all but ignored by Nintendo itself and third party publishers seem indifferent to the console.  I had no idea what Nintendo’s strategy for the Wii U was heading into E3, and yet, I feel like I know even less coming out of it.

Despite being announced by Sony back in February, E3 was actually the fist time the PS4 console was shown.

Despite being announced by Sony back in February, E3 was actually the fist time the PS4 console was shown.

Microsoft came out and confirmed what gamers did not want to hear, that sharing and reselling games on the Xbox One was going to be difficult and the console required a dedicated internet connection to play offline games.  It really didn’t matter what Microsoft showed for games after that, because people were just plain pissed.  The pricing for the console was revealed ($499) and Microsoft showed some games, but the damage was done.  Sony’s conference was basically a confirmation that the freedoms gamers have today will be maintained with the PS4.  Publishers can still place DRM on their games, but any restrictions beyond that are out.  They too showed off some games and even brought a bunch of indie developers out, but it didn’t matter.  The biggest cheers were reserved for simple announcement regarding game sharing.  It was kind of surreal.  The PS4 price was also revealed to be $399, and the console itself was shown for the first time as well (surprise, it’s black!), but gamers were too giddy over the used game policies to notice.

The fallout has been swift and to the point.  Microsoft had egg all over its face and videos from Sony mocking the Xbox One’s policies further drove the point home.  Microsoft made it incredibly easy for Sony to win gamers over, and the company was forced to suck it up and change its approach to give the Xbox One a fighting chance.  Last week Microsoft began to repair the damage that’s been done by basically pushing the reset button on the Xbox One.  There will now be no required internet connect, no stupid one-time sharing rules for games, and no used game fees.  They’re putting the console back on the same level as Sony’s.  Since so much of the emphasis of the Xbox One was placed on the cloud storage feature, it makes me wonder if most games will still require an internet connection, but at least if gamers are getting some benefit out of the feature it may make it more acceptable.

The game formerly known as Final Fantasy Versus XIII is now simply Final Fantasy XV and will be released on PS4 and Xbox One.

The game formerly known as Final Fantasy Versus XIII is now simply Final Fantasy XV and will be released on PS4 and Xbox One.

In a way, we’re right back where we started.  So much of E3 was dominated by the pricing structure of these new consoles that the games were kind of glossed over.  In looking back, there really wasn’t a whole lot to be excited about.  I’ll probably get a PS4 at some point, but I’m looking at the games shown by Sony and I’m kind of at a loss as to what it is I really want to play.  It was cool to learn that Final Fantasy XV is on the way, as well as Kingdom Hearts 3, but not enough was shown of either to get me excited.  I just didn’t see anything, for any of the major consoles, that made me jump up and say “I want to play that!”  As the launch dates for the Xbox One and PS4 approach perhaps I’ll find some games to get excited over.  At least now I know that if I find some of the launch games to be lacking I can always resell them.