Last night, I was happily holding off barbarians with my Western Roman Empire in Total War: Attila, when my email lit up. It was a press release from Square Enix, announcing almost off-handedly that Final Fantasy VII‘s massively anticipated remake would be released in multiple parts.
I freaked out.
For the first couple of minutes before I started writing about it, my mind was full of questions, the most prominent of which was: “What the hell, Square Enix?”
As I wrote the news piece, I did it with a heavy heart. I knew that, alongside its little brothers on basically every site that received the same press release, it would have caused a massive controversy. Contrary to popular belief, that’s not something I enjoy all that much. Reading comment upon comment full of rage and hate normally makes me feel a bit sick in my stomach.
As predicted, the internet exploded, then imploded, then turned into a dark and heavy mess, like a star turning into a supernova, then shrinking into a white dwarf and finally collapsing into a black hole that swallows everything. I don’t think I saw such a big collective freak out in the last few years.
After the news piece was posted, I finally sat back, closed Attila because the mood was gone, locked the “freaking out” part of myself firmly in that dark and silent corner of my brain, and started thinking.
There’s no doubt that the news was shocking. I’m not easily shocked myself and in seventeen years in the industry I saw pretty much everything there’s to see, but I was doubtlessly shaken for a little while.
The press release’s wording pushed everyone to think about an episodic release, and while episodic games have been generally quite successful, with great titles like The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones and Life is Strange, many also associated them with smaller adventure games providing just a few hours of bite-sized fun at a time. The episodic publishing model is seen almost with a bit of a stigma, similar to free to play. Associated with a bit AAA classic like Final Fantasy VII, it created an explosive mix that resulted in the collective freak out that we saw today.
Let’s put that stigma out of the way. A multi-part release does not necessarily mean that Final Fantasy VII‘s remake will come in a large number of episodes lasting two hours each. As a matter of fact, every element we have so far points to the opposite.
A multi-part release can involve a number of positive outcomes as well, and I suspect that those are what the folks Square Enix are aiming for.
First of all, it’ll let them get the game into our hands faster. Not having to develop the whole thing before releasing it, simply means that instead of waiting for 2018 or something on that range, we’ll get our hands on Cloud’s buster sword earlier. The adoption of Unreal Engine 4, with its ease of use and flexibility, also seems to indicate that this is the intention that drives the development team.
Splitting the game into multiple parts means that the development team will have to work hard to make sure that each part is nice and beefy in terms of content and narrative pace, making the whole saga more consistently solid and enjoyable. Final Fantasy VII is a majestic game, but it has its weak links, with parts of the narration and gameplay spread a little thin, pretty much like one of those 52 episode-long anime series that were common by then.
The development team mentioned that they’re going to add elements that they weren’t able to include in the original game, like the ability to explore Midgar. I don’t know about you, but I can definitely live with that.
I don’t think I’m against getting at least a portion of the game faster, with a more consistent and higher density within each of the parts in which it’ll be split.
Ultimately, the thought that allowed me to snuff that freaking out part that was still rampaging in that dark corner of my mind, is that looking back at Final Fantasy VII, there really is nothing in the game that conflicts with a multi-part release. The story is pretty much linear, and those elements that need to be present in every part, can easily be made redundant and included in each package. The original game was split into three disks to begin with, after all.
If we think about it realistically, and keep our preconceptions firmly at bay, there’s absolutely nothing inherent to a multi-part release that can automatically damage Final Fantasy VII. If the development team and Square Enix do things the right way, the game has no less potential to run on our consoles without suffering in any way in its narrative structure and gameplay flow.
Of course, there’s no guarantee that they’ll do things the right way, but there would be no guarantee of that even if the game was released in a single package. Due to how Final Fantasy VII is structured, the multi-part release can easily be made into a non-factor.
Square Enix could definitely release the game in twenty bite-sized chunks costing $50 each, and that’s certainly a frightening thought, but I’d say that it’s also a quite unrealistic thought. From what we’ve heard from the publisher and the development team, it seems that we’re looking for at a limited number of releases with a very sizable amount of content each. Considering that the original game is enormous, and that more elements will be added, there’s plenty of room for that.
Square Enix even mentioned to Kotaku that each part will have “the volume of content equal to a full-sized game,” and while nowadays that statement is a bit vague, it’s certainly encouraging.
The ratio between pricing and content (both quantity and quality) will definitely be an important factor, but Final Fantasy VII‘s own nature and the fact that the developers will add to it, mean that there’s a very solid possibility that we’ll get plenty of bang for our buck. All Square Enix has to do is to price each part honestly according to what it’ll offer, and we’ll all be fine.
If you really hate playing the game in multiple chunks, you can simply wait for the nearly inevitable bundle release that will most probably come with the last part.
Again, we have no guarantee that they’ll keep the price/content ratio reasonable, but we have no indication of the opposite either. That’s why it’s way too early to freak out, or more precisely, we freaked out enough to get the message across. Now it’s time to sit tight and hope for the best.
I can almost certainly guarantee that Square Enix got the message loud and clear today. I doubt that there’s a single PR representative, developer and executive whose ears aren’t ringing under the massive outrage.
Especially considering what we heard about the gameplay, I’m (a bit cautiously) optimistic, and I think you have reason to be as well.