Final Fantasy VII – Remaking what it means to be nostalgic
Can you feel nostalgia for something you’ve never truly experienced?
I never played Final Fantasy VII when it landed. I was always a PC kid, hunched over my crummy Dell, nesting in ten-hour marathon sessions of Dark Forces 2: Jedi Knight, Interstate ‘76, Twinsen’s Odyssey and Noctropolis. But occasionally I’d go to a mate’s place and all they were talking about?
How was I supposed to dive in? Did I need to play the first six? Why was that guy’s sword so big? Why was his stupid hair so spiky and stupid?
I never bothered. I watched the opening hours, but perhaps because they never handed over the controller, I became bitter and never made the effort.
Final Fantasy VII: Remake
Over twenty years later, I’m a writer and a games journalist, and the long-awaited Final Fantasy VII: Remake has exploded into the world. Back when the early footage dropped years ago, Xavier Woods (the WWE wrestler) appeared on my podcast and told me I ought to wait for the remake. So that’s what I did. I avoided trawling through a port of the classic and held off. I was determined to try and recapture the apparently iconic property I’d missed out on the first time around.
FOMO is a potent motivator in our increasingly connected world. It makes us crave things we otherwise – if we’re honest – wouldn’t have craved. Why? Because nobody wants to be on the outside looking in, even if it’s a fictional world being enjoyed by your friends. There’s nothing worse than hearing stories of some grand adventures being obsessed over while you weren’t around.
With Final Fantasy VII, I never had FOMO. But when they announced the remake? WHAM. There it was, over twenty years late. And it had accrued some interest. Finally, the ship that sailed was about to trundle back into harbor, and someone had given it the mother of all upgrades.
Nostalgia has a certain melancholy to it. It’s that feeling you get where excitement mingles with loss. The past feels acutely distant, and you pine for it, but even as you relive that heady brew of yesteryear, you’re all too aware that you’ll have to snap back to the present soon. It makes you feel young again, and at the same time, twice as old as you ever have. Basically, nostalgia is a real kick in the teeth.
But as the titles rolled onto my screen for Remake, something potent happened. I felt it.
I was back in 1997, a fourteen-year-old kid. I was suddenly sitting in my mate’s loungeroom, watching as my scrawny friend Andre, wearing his favourite Dandy Warhol’s shirt, eyes glued to the screen, guided Cloud down a train platform.
Games date in a truly weird way. Movies might have bad CGI, black and white, cheesy effects, but they’re ostensibly still just narratives playing out linearly onscreen. Games, though, can become impossible to parse as the years roll by. Gameplay in games is hampered by technical limitations, and games are often difficult to revisit because of weird design cul-de-sacs.
And whilst the kid version of you was probably bored enough to parse an impenetrable, obtuse gameplay experience to bask in the story nestled deep within, adult you probably has no time for that. It turns out that kids grind for fun… adults grind for a living.
Final Fantasy VII: Remake turns this problem of dated, grindy gameplay on its head. It doesn’t just re-house the original inside a deeply playable, unbelievably polished and lusciously smooth package. It changes the contours of the story to comment on the nature of remakes. It’s a game about remaking things – hell, look at the title.
Avalanche, the ragtag crew of environmental terrorists who we follow as its heroes, want to change the world. But the story itself is about kicking fate in the teeth, nudging history away from where it’s determined to go.
I never played the original, clearly, so I have no idea where it went in the end. But Remake has an almost meta-textual drive to address choices made in the original from within. The story, and the characters in it, almost seem to know their tale has been told before, and are bucking against predetermined outcomes. It’s joyous and freeing, and audacious.
It’s like Avalanche wants to ride the same train of revisionist history Once Upon a Time in Hollywood did. They want another crack at the World Series. They want a do-over. Hell, it’s 2020. Could there be any more liberating a concept than seizing the reins of fate and pulling hard out of the nosedive you’re in?
Remake makes me feel like I was there the first time around. I got genuine goosebumps as the Sepiroth theme roared through my speakers. Every time the main crew bonded, even incrementally, I felt the significance of it.
Every moment felt real, felt earned.
I bounced off the fan service (Tifa’s… proportions undermined her superb arc and role as a strong, confident woman). But perhaps because I played this one with an open heart and a determination to jump onto the bandwagon, it made me feel like a kid trying it out for the very first time.
It was magical, really. It was like time travel.
Final Fantasy VII: Remake made me feel… hopeful, and young again. And sad, because who knows when I’ll be able to get into the next instalment?
And if that’s not nostalgia, I don’t know what is.