Gamers party like it's 1997 as Final Fantasy VII 'reborn' 2
Visitors play the role playing game 'FINAL FANTASY VII REBIRTH' produced by Square Enix, on press and business day at the Tokyo Game Show 2023, held at Makuhari Messe in Chiba, Japan. Kimimasa Mayama,

Gamers party like it's 1997 as Final Fantasy VII 'reborn'

Japanese publisher Square Enix has reimagined its 1997 magnum opus as a trilogy, with 'rebirth' the second part, following on from 2020's 'remake,' a game that became a bestseller in its own right.
Agence France-Presse | Feb 28 2024

Gamers are anxiously awaiting the release on Thursday of "Final Fantasy VII Rebirth," a title based on a 1997 classic that is blurring the boundaries between remakes and reboots.

While makers of other blockbusters like Resident Evil, Zelda and Pokemon have tweaked and updated older versions of their games, Japanese publisher Square Enix had something more radical in mind for Final Fantasy VII.

The firm has reimagined its 1997 magnum opus as a trilogy, with "rebirth" the second part, following on from 2020's "remake," a game that became a bestseller in its own right.

Polish photographer Bartosz Glowacki told AFP he had spent an "insane amount of time" playing the original game and could not wait for the latest instalment.

"I'm super excited to enjoy this amazing story again," he said.

But experts point to the difficulties of bringing enough changes to reel in new players, while keeping enough of the DNA to provide fan service.

"To remake the actual original game is one thing, but to remake the legendary, romanticized version of a game that people think they remember is on a whole other level," said Nicky Heijmen, a video game researcher at the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences.

"Not only do you risk a weak reception of the new title but also the damaging of your franchise's legacy."

'It forged me' 

The original Final Fantasy VII was one of the biggest-selling games for the first PlayStation console, eventually selling more than 14 million copies.

It was the first edition of the saga to be released in Europe and the first to attract a global following, coming to be regarded as a classic title.

But the first part of the new trilogy drew a clear line in the sand -- the writers had no intention of sticking to the original storyline, instead demanding the heroes fight against their own fates.

"It doesn't go down well with some die-hard fans," said French gamer Alexandre Pichon, whose TikTok channel FinalFantasyGeek gets plenty of spicy debate on the subject.

"My generation grew up with it. For me, it's a story that has forged me," said the 37-year-old.

The role-playing game (RPG) follows Cloud Strife, a member of an eco-terrorist group trying to disrupt the plans of the Shinra corporation, which sucks energy from the planet to use as a power source.

Glowacki points out that the themes of the story -- the power of corporations, the risks of bio-engineering -- help the game stay relevant to today's audience.

Grassroots buzz 

Square Enix has been spurred on by sales of more than five million and positive reviews for the first part of the trilogy.

The firm has rolled out ads featuring the game's characters emerging from flames on giant screens at Tokyo's Shibuya Crossing.

And the online debate has only added fuel to the publicity campaign.

This kind of grassroots buzz allows studios to make massive savings on marketing, said Anna Bressan, co-founder of French firm Red Studio.

The built-in audience also takes the strain away from pre-production research, she said, meaning any kind of remake was often a worthwhile investment.

So far, the plan is working for Square Enix, which has received largely positive reactions to a pre-release trial version of the game.

But the debate still rages about a key plot point -- the death of one of the main characters.

For many fans, it was the driver of the original plot, and they are left asking: Will the character be killed off second time around?

"I want to be surprised, I want them to take risks," said Pichon. "No matter how much we love the game, it doesn't belong to us."

© Agence France-Presse