Before I proceed with this article, let me take off my game journalist’s hat and replace it with a comfortable tinfoil one.
Square Enix, you brilliant magnificent bastards! You planned this all along didn’t you? You tricked us all, jangled shiny keys in front of our faces, all while you worked your schemes in the background and now you have us eating out of your hand. This whole time, this whole time, Final Fantasy XV was never meant to be a “Final Fantasy for fans and first timers alike.” This whole time, Final Fantasy XV was a proof of concept! An experiment! A tech demo! A tech demo for the Final Fantasy VII remake!
Big spoilers for Final Fantasy XV and VII ahead!
It’s All Starting To Make Sense
I should have seen the signs. No game that has a ten-year development cycle can be a true blockbuster. The Last Guardian and Duke Nukem Forever taught us that well. If you really put all your hopes and dreams into Final Fantasy XV, you were inevitably going to find that Nomura’s original vision for Versus XIII and Tabata’s new vision would clash. We can even see it in how Lunafreya dies randomly at the end of one chapter, but rescuing Prompto is a huge multi-chapter affair. And in how major events, like Ignis going blind and the emperor turning into a demon, happen off-screen with no foreshadowing.
But that’s why Square Enix didn’t focus on the plot. They rushed it and stuffed important details between chapters and into the rest of the mixed media experience. They gave us all payoff and no-setup – and that’s because they were practicing payoff!
They were practicing how to make a gigantic world feel alive and vibrant and organic. They were practicing how to make inter-party banter feel realistic and not forced. They were focusing on how to make things seem larger than life and Earth-threatening in scale. They were focusing on the experience. Not the story, not the journey, not the destination.
And that makes total sense! I was going through the dreaded Chapter 13 when I thought, “Man, this would be much more interesting if, say, this same setup was used for the infiltration of Midgard Tower in Final Fantasy 7.”
Of course it would be! They were practicing for Final Fantasy 7!
An Experiment in Game Design
Literally the exact same situations could be transposed into the FF7 framework and they would impact us with a nostalgia truck. Put Sephiroth into Ardyn’s place murdering Aeris instead of Lunafreya. That would be devastating! Spouting banter between Yuffie, Cait Sith, and Barrett would be hilarious.
Even the battle system has tellings of Final Fantasy VII in it. Noctis’ four weapon slots altered his stats and altered the way he fights. These could be very easily changed to Materia slots. Or perhaps the Materia system will be something of a spin-off of the elemancy system.
Either way, the ability to see Cloud perform acrobatic sword maneuvers in real time is exactly what we want, and the FFXV battle system will allow him to do that. While Cloud only has his Buster Sword and Noctis has a whole bunch of weapons to choose from, he could easily mix in attacks based on the materia he was using. Imagine equipping Materia created something of a custom combo. Cloud could slash, steal, cast thunder, and heal the party all through holding the circle button.
Granted, this is a crazy theory, but it’s one that is compelling because I am genuinely excited for the FF7 remake now. I was skeptical at first, because I didn’t want my memories of one of the most historically relevant JRPGs of all time to be tainted. But now, I’m far more optimistic.
But throughout my entire time playing FFXV I kept thinking, “Man, if only this had a better story.” I was enjoying everything I was doing, from random monster hunts to finding five red frogs in the swamp. The problem was, nothing I did had any impact on the greater state of the world. I knew very little of Noctis, his backstory, his friends, his family, or the land I was in, and so when I tired of hunting things I just mainlined the game until the end and wondered, “Why was any of this happening?”
But, Square Enix, you sneaky devils, you already have a plot for Final Fantasy VII. You know all the important locations and characters. You know what you need to show and what you can omit. You know that we need to see Sephiroth burn down Niffleheim. You know we need to see Aeris’s death. You know we need to see Meteor streaking toward the planet as a terrifying countdown to oblivion, and it’s that sort of larger-than-life cinematography that you honed to perfection in Final Fantasy XV.
So, kudos, Square Enix. You threw everything you had at us and saw what stuck, and it’s going to make the Final Fantasy VII remake one hell of a game. It’s only a shame that Final Fantasy XV couldn’t really stand on its own merits, but I’m totally willing to let it be your experiment as you attempt to remake what is arguably the most important Final Fantasy in all of gaming history.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to take off my tin-foil hat and get back to analyzing e-sports statistics.