This week finds the gaming world in various stages of unrest. Outraged voices, calming personas, fence sitters, speculators and opinionists are flooding the forums, websites and social media to express a multitude of emotions and thoughts. One of the main culprits of this unrest is Final Fantasy VII Remake. A new trailer was released at PSX this week, causing varying amounts of uproar and/or excitement.
Showing off an amazingly detailed and pretty looking Midgar throughout a cinematic gameplay sequence, the trailer gave many of us more questions than answers. Seemingly taking a substantial, although expected, leap from the gameplay style of the original, the trailer has cause absolutely insane levels of speculation and discussion. Alongside the trailer, Square Enix have announced in a press release that “FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE will be told across a multi-part series, with each entry providing its own unique experience”. With the direct implications of that announcement worth a discussion in its very own article, I wanted to express separately my thoughts on something that is definitely impacted by it, along with various elements of the trailer. That is Final Fantasy VII’s overworld.
In 1997, Final Fantasy VII was released. It was an age of overworlds in RPG’s, or ‘world maps’ as everyone I know calls them. These world maps formed the graphical thread that connected the various locations the character and his/her party would visit. Oftentimes, these world maps were just a dull way to portray travelling. With frustrating random encounters, ‘lesser’ graphical representation, and grindy journeys; world maps generally weren’t any fun. As such, they slowly disappeared from games. Today, it is rare to find a game, RPG or otherwise, that has a world map as they were represented in the past (although they can be found if you look. Recently, Ni no Kuni had a nice one).
Occasionally, among the dross, was a game that just did it right. Final Fantasy VII was one of those. While it had its faults (frustrating random encounters definitely featured…), the world map in FF7 was one of its integral features.
The feeling of freedom is a fantastic one. It’s a feeling that is difficult to convey in a game with a linear story, a game with restrictive acts. Yet, FF7 achieved that feeling. Despite its restrictions between sections, areas, and continents, FF7 was one of (emphasis on ‘one of’) the first games to truly achieve that sense of exploration and travel over large distances, without pointlessness.
Many associate a sense of wonderment with Final Fantasy VII; a lot of which is directly influenced with various interactions with, and elements of, the world map. Moments like; the party’s first steps into the world after the initial, comparably restrictive Midgar segment; the first flight of the Highwind as the unforgettable ‘Highwind Takes to the Skies’ track launches itself into your brain; the discovery of secret areas with the different colored Chocobos; and exploring the ominous, hidden depths beneath the world in the submarine while trying to avoid the intimidating Emerald Weapon. All of these moments, all of these feelings; they are all impossible without the overworld in some form.
Furthermore, part of what made the story of Final Fantasy VII successful was the threat to the planet. The planet that the player could explore; the planet that could be traversed in its entirety. Over the course of the game, we came to love that little planet because we were allowed to. That is why we became so invested in saving it. Without an overworld, with only a variety of corridors, the world is essentially a graphically pretty flowchart with names attributed to each location. Final Fantasy X is a good example. I really enjoyed that game for a variety of different reasons. However, if you were to ask me about certain locations and their names, details, etc; I couldn’t answer with much enthusiasm. I grew to love the characters, but the world?, I cared much less than I did in FF7.
I am not a Final Fantasy VII purist. There are many, many faults with the original. I don’t want a straight up reskin (I can get a fairly nice HD version of the game with various mods if I want to). There was so much, however, that was great too. The overworld map is one of those things. I understand that many elements of the original just aren’t feasible if Square Enix are to make a ‘good’ game in today’s environment. I truly hope, though, that they don’t plan on completely scrapping one of the things that made Final Fantasy VII so full of wonder.
Please Square Enix, don’t take our planet away.