How Square Enix could pull off the Final Fantasy VII remake

There is little doubt that Final Fantasy VII is one of the most (if not the most) requested remakes of all time. But Square’s is in kind of a dilemma about it.

First, the production cost of this game would be huge. Sure, the developer would save (some) money on character design, story and art direction – but if you factor in that 95% of video game production cost nowadays go into graphics, and that creating a game while being forced to reproduced given environments instead of optimizing level design according to available technology inflates the cost, you might ask why Square would bother doing this instead of, say, Final Fantasy XV or XVI.

However, there could be a few advantages in remaking the legendary J-RPG. First and foremost, it would convey the feeling that Square listen to its fans, which, from a marketing standpoint, is essential. Second of all, it would bring the series into a more public view (one could easily imagine “most demanded game remake of all time costing 100m$ to produce” in mainstream newspapers). Third, Square could capitalize on the graphics engine and assets developed for the remake to produce a couple of sequels (VII-2 and VII-3) that would in turn probably cost much less to produce than the remake and sell better than XIII-2 and a potential XIII-3. Last but not least, Square could subcontract a significant part (albeit not all) of the remake’s production to a less costly team.

If things were not complicated enough from a financial standpoint, the dilemma really appears as soon as you starting thinking about how Square could handle the remake. If nothing is changed apart from the graphical upgrade, the game will show its age. If too much is changed, the fans will be disappointed.

Take a clue from Pokémon (and Nier)

The best selling RPG series of all time is Pokémon. Do you know what Pokémon does ? It spawns (at least) two versions of each games on Day one. Could Square pull of the Final Fantasy VII remake by making two versions of it ?

Final Fantasy VII – Old school version

The old school version of the remake would essentially be a graphical upgrade and a few gameplay tweaks here and there to make it more player friendly without touching any core mechanics (like an “heal all” option a la Dragon Quest, “suspend”, “fast forward combat” etc.) . The script would be left untouched, and a some gameplay options would be given to the player so that he could enjoy the combat system more to his liking (ATB or completely turn-based a la FFX – which is basically the same as the “wait mode” from the original – difficulty modes for veterans). But essentially, this version would allow Final Fantasy VII most hardcore nostalgic to relive the original game with HD graphics.

Final Fantasy VII – New school version

The new school version could be Square’s chance to show how they can implement new, more modern, gameplay mechanics that would be more fit to the newcomer. Although it has been shown that Japanese turn-based RPGs actually sell better than their action counterparts, this could be the time for Square to show off a new, refined, ultra-responsive gameplay, to edit the script . If Square is afraid that the game hasn’t aged well, this is the version that takes care of this problem.

Square could have its cake and eat it too by increasing the game’s production cost by 5%

Basically both game would share the same graphics and most of the script, which would mean that most of the production cost would serve both version. As I’m pretty sure that a lot of people would actually buy both version (if Nier ‘s and Pokémon‘s experience is to be believed) this could be a great way to pull off the remake.

thelastsavepoint recommandations – Resonance of Fate

I’d recommend Resonance of Fate to anyone looking for a solid turn-based RPG with great character development, a very unique world and precise, innovative combat.

2010 was a great year for J-RPGs,especially for the experimental kinds. Between Nier, FF XIII and Resonance of Fate everybody tried to do something different  with a genre that obviously still has a lot of untapped potential.

Resonance of Fate is made by Tri-Ace, the developper behind Radiata Stories and Valkyrie Profile, and it draws elements from both games. From Radiata Stories, it keeps the light-hearted humor, lovable characters, living (albeit small) world where each NPC has his own evolving routine around the different towns. From Valkyrie Profile 2 : Silmeria, it mainly keeps the strategic combat and the advanced character/weapon customization. Everything is thrown out in a gray postapocaliptic steampunk world to offer a very particular take on the gun-rpg genre.

The combat system may seem at first to contain a lot of action, but it is actually mainly turn-based and asks for very little reflexes. Much more complex than a mere Valkyrie Profile with guns, the game does unfortunately a pretty bad job at explaining the controls. While Radiata Stories introduced each feature of the combat system progressively as you advanced through the story, Resonance of Fate (like Star Ocean : the last hope) throws everything at you right from the beginning – just like the critics wanted – and it does not work at all. If you add to this that the game seems to boast no exploration and to have no story whatsoever (especially during the first chapters) , it would be easy to dismiss Resonance of Fate after a few hours of play. But as soon as you take the game on its own terms and understand how the combat really works you may just start to have the most fun you ever had in recent years during your random encounters.

One thing that is very unique about the battles in Resonance of Fate is that if played right most can be ended in a few turns (even against the biggest bosses) and, in turn, a single mistake will generally mean the battle’s over for you. Conveniently, there is a restart combat option (like FF XIII) that you will probably use a lot. While in Valkyrie Profile endgame battles could last forever with enemies boasting millions of HP, Resonance of Fate does a great job at representing, in turn-based form, fast action-paced gun battles. The fact that the combat system is very complex is now an upside, as it helps you not get bored by doing a hundred battles. The game is very challenging and demands nothing but perfect mastery – you will have a lot of “Eureka” moments when you find a new strategy that works particularly well against a new monster. And that sensation of learning and mastery is very rewarding.

Resonance of Fate also takes a very unique approach to storytelling.The story itself is pretty simple and could easily be summed up in a paragraph or two. It is not your typical “young hero saves the World from a gigantic power hungry demon”, and its casual, non-epic nature is refreshing. Don’t get me wrong, some pretty serious stuff happens (most of the time in flashbacks) but nobody becomes too emotional about it – and the overall plot is not really predictable.

The strength of Resonance of Fate‘s story lies in its characters. A small party of three, that you will learn to intimately know as they try to survive in the dystopian city-tower of Basel. Always laughing, never complaining even when faced with their tragic past, Vashyron, Zephyr and Leanne make for a lovable cast. Like in Deadly Premonition and Xenosaga, casual scenes such as eating breakfast and jaw dropping plot twists go hand in hand.

Now the game is far from being perfect, but in my experience the pros exceeded the cons. As a disclaimer, I’m not particularly bothered by reused assets and, like Nier (another great J-RPG of 2010), Resonance of Fate was obviously built on a budget and reuses a lot of enemies and environments. Reused assets are kind of a deal breaker for critics who would rather power through the twenty games they have to review each month, but for me that just means more way I can spend more time enjoying a game I enjoy. Granted, optional missions sometimes ask you to battle the same enemy three or four times in a row but if you like the combat system then you don’ t mind spending a lot of time in it – especially when battle is an opportunity to hear more dialog between the characters. It also helps that the game has a very non linear structure so you can keep a mission for later if you’re tired of a particular boss. Apart from the tutorial that could have been much better, one can also regret the game’s deemphasis on exploration – a part Valkyrie Profile had really nailed with its 2D dungeons. The unlocking system of the World Map (yes, there is a World Map !) is pretty addictive and replaces the traditional exploration of dungeons and other battle areas. But it’s certainly not the same. Finally, the postgame is pretty disappointing especially coming from Tri-Ace who practically invented post game dungeons.

If you like turn based, highly strategic and precise combat, and are not afraid of a 18 pages tutorial, Resonance of Fate could keep you entertained for 80+ hours easily. Tri-Ace made a really unique, inventive and experimental RPG that manages to create a very special atmosphere while leaving a lasting impression.

What are the biggest J-RPGs dev teams from the PS2 Era up to ?

This article is part of a series comparing Japan-made RPGs of the 7th generation to the ones of the PS2 era. Last time, we talked about what features were heavily introduced by 7th gen J-RPGs, such as auto-heal, the restart battle option and the progressive disappearance of random drops. In the future, I would like to compare 7th and 6th gen J-RPGs in terms of sales and of critical reception. But in the meantime, let’s see what the developers of the major RPGs of the PS2 era did in the HD era, and what they are doing right now. Of course, J-RPGs largely migrated from PS2 to portable systems, but our favorite teams still created a lot of great (and some not so great)  titles for HD systems. Next time, we’ll look at newcomers.

1. Square Enix First Production Department

6th generation titles

7th generation HD titles

Apart from the Final Fantasy X remake that the team is handling we know that the team is also starting the development of an UE3 A-RPG, for which only a few concept arts have been released :

2. Cavia

6th generation titles

7th generation HD titles

Nier is pretty different from Drakengard, as it plays more like Zelda than like Dynasty Warriors.  It’s an amazing J-RPG that did very well despite its ridiculously low budget. However, Cavia was disbanded and we have yet to hear from Yosuke Taro.

3. Tri-Ace

6th generation titles

7th generation HD titles

Tri-Ace recently showed off a powerful new graphic engine so it’s reasonable to believe  that, apart from their two new portable titles, a HD-RPG is in development. A partnership with Konami seems the most obvious choice, since the publisher of Suikoden is already bringing Frontier Gate and Beyond the Labyrinth to portable systems.

4. Monolith Soft.

6th generation titles

7th generation home console titles

While Xenoblade had a great reception in Europe, it is still being localized in the US. The team also has an unannounced Wii U title in the works, a title that wants to surprise us but will (unsurprisingly) star giant robots.

5. ATLUS Persona Team

6th generation titles

7th generation HD titles

Everybody knows Persona 5 is coming for HD consoles, the only question is when.

6. Tales Studio

6th generation titles

7th generation HD titles

Grace F is coming to the West in 2012, and there is little doubt Xillia will, at one time or another, be localized too.

7. From Software

6th generation titles

7th generation HD titles

The team is hopefully getting some well deserved RPG rest while polishing Armored Core V, although it has been rumored that Dark Souls DLC was being developed.

8. Sonic Team

6th generation titles

HD titles

With the success of Dark Souls on home consoles, could we expect a PS360 announcement regarding Japan’s other huge online dungeon crawler,  PSO 2 ?

9. Square Enix 2nd Production Department

6th generation titles

7th generation titles

10. Square Enix 3rd Production Department

6th generation titles

HD titles

The reformed team is actually working on Final Fantasy XIV 2.0, a reboot that will also constitute the PS3 version.

11. Square Enix 4th Production Department

6th generation titles

Even though the team as no HD titles announced, it has been speculated that Square Enix 4th Production Department is currently working on Final Fantasy XV.

12. Cyber Connect 2

7th generation HD titles

Yes, Asura’s Wrath probably does not qualify as an RPG but we have yet to play it to know. The unannounced games are Strelka Stories and a new .hack featuring Haseo,  (or a Haseo look alike) : let’s hope at least one of them is a HD title.

13. Level 5

6th generation titles

7th generation titles

14. Gust

6th generation titles

7th generation

After Meruru  that is currently being localized by NISA, GUST is currently working on a mysterious new RPG.

So that’s it, here is what the biggest J-RPGS dev teams of the PS2 era have been doing this generation, and what they are doing right now. Of course, many new teams appeared this gen, like Sakaguchi’s Mistwalker and Tri-crescendo (who collaborated on Baten Kaitos). Let’s tackle those some other time.

The 7 most defining features of 7th gen J-RPGs


During the 6th generation of consoles, J-RPGs  (in the boadest sense) changed a lot : random encounters practically disappeared, dialog became voiced, maps became more linear (with the notable disappearance of the World map), cutscenes skippable and Action-RPGs flourished. The 7th generation offered examples of defining new features and trends that show the genre still evolves probably more that it’s given credit for. Let’s have a look at the few, simple, features that are becoming the new “norm”  in 7th gen japan-made RPGs.

1. Auto-heal

Do you enjoy spending 30 seconds in your menu after each combat to use 8 potions on each of your three team members ? Do you feel that dying because you forgot to heal before the Boss enhances gameplay ? If so, you might not like the new “auto-heal” trend, but for the rest of us, that’s less busywork, more fun !

Best examples: FF XIII, Xenoblade, Resonance of Fate.

2. Talking while fighting

In a J-RPG, there is a lot of information to convey on the story and characters. You could do it while having a long drive a la Red Seeds Profile (Deadly Premonition) or during the most random of encounters, like Vashyron, Zephyr and Leanne… But nothing beats being introduced to a talking book while battling two possessed statues.

Best examples: Nier, Resonance of Fate, FF XIII.

3. No random rare drops (or at least much much less…)

Does fighting the same boss over and over until he finally drops his ultimate weapon sounds like even more fun than selecting your potions from your menu ? The idea of making drops dependent of your success in battle (like FF XIII) or of what part of the enemy you destroy (a la Dark Souls) is much more fun, challenging and less mindlessly time-consuming. We have yet to see an RPG where all rare drops are replaced by skill dependent drops, but the trend is at least in the right direction.

Best example : Demon’s souls, Dark souls, FF XIII, The World Ends With You.

4. “Suspend” or “Quick save” anywhere

Asking every game to boast a “save anywhere” feature (like a certain webzine notorious for its questionable lists) is a not such a brilliant idea, as the positioning of a game’s checkpoints are part of basic gameplay mechanics, and we don’t want all games to play the same. What works for Xenoblade might not work for Dark Souls. However, there is nothing to lose by offering players, in every RPG, an opportunity to “suspend” or, in the portable world “quick save”, their game when they want to quit : just delete the save when you boot back.

Best example : Demon’s souls, Dark souls,Dragon Quest IX, Resonance of Fate.

5. No more Game Over, and the “restart combat” option

Speaking of “saving”, Dragon Quest pioneered this long ago but the game over screen that asks you to reload your game seems outdated now. In the 7th generation, more and more RPGs auto-save your progress, let you restart from the beginning of the combat, and/or make death/K.O. a part of the gameplay mechanics. It’s smoother, more varied, and lets minor encounters be more interesting.

Best example : Souls games, Atelier games, FF XIII, Resonance of Fate.

6. Original voices

6th gen J-RPGs were criticized for their bad voice acting. In the 7th generation, gamers expect to have a choice between original voice overs and English voice overs. Even if you don’t have room on the 50 gig blu-ray, you can still make an Asia version with English subtitles like FF XIII, XIII-2 and hopefully Versus XIII ? Can’t you, Atlus ?

Best examples : Every Tri-Ace game, every NIS game,  Xenoblade, Final Fantasy, Lost Odyssey, and much more… come one ATLUS, why not you ?

7. More challenge

J-RPGs of the 6th generation were pretty easy – with the notable exception of Grandia Extreme and the SMT games. These last three years, things have changed in the RPG world. Without even mentioning the challenge of the Souls games, Final Fantasy managed to make each  encounter challenging (except of course if you don’t understand how it plays), plus Final Fantasy XIII presented boss fights unheard of Square’s PS2 era titles. Resonance of Fate‘s battle system was so difficult to grasp that many mistook it for a grindfest – when then probably didn’t get how precise and unforgiving the strategic gun combat was – especially compared to Valkyrie Profile 2 that was pretty straighforward. Radiant Historia is harder than Radiata Stories, Xenoblade more intense than Xenosaga, and even Atelier Totori is way more difficult than previous GUST titles.

Best example : About anything that came out since 2009 and doesn’t star a White Knight.

That’s it  ! These are the most defining features I see in the most recent 7th gen RPGs. Of course, one could have talked about the grand return of the World Map (Arc Rise Fantasia, Ni No Kuni, Versus XIII), the integrated online (WKC) and so on. Is there any other new trend in J-RPGs that I might have missed ?

Kitase is wrong: Turn based RPGs made in Japan outsell their Action counterpart

It has pretty much been “common wisdom” for a couple of years now that in the HD era, Action RPGs (A-RPG) sell better than their Turned Based counterparts (TB-RPG).  This preconceived notion has become so prominent that Mr. Kitase, producer of the Final Fantasy series, recently stated that the next mothership title “might be an action RPG”, as he sees the gamers’ shift in taste as a “trend you ignore at your own peril”. For this particular argument, we will include in the TB-RPG category all menu-based combat, whether it is classic turn based – like Dragon Quest IX or Atelier Rorona – or active time (ATB) – like Final Fantasy XIII or White Knight Chronicle.

Let us check the data to see if this assumption is correct. It turns out that contrary to popular wisdom, Japanese TB-RPGs have sold better than Japanese A-RPGs this gen. The difference is not astounding: for every Tales of Vesperia, there is a Lost Odyssey and for every Last Rebellion, there is a Trinity Souls of Zill’Oll. But on average, depending on how you do the math, TB-RPGs sell between 1% and 88% better than A-RPGs.

This statement holds true whether we look at total sales or sales per platform and whether or not we include the Final Fantasy and the Souls series in the data (and I’m pretty sure the latter should not be included in that argument, see why below).

All data were obtained through sales tracker Vgchartz (in particular sales data, Critic and User scores). I know that Vgchartz data is not entirely accurate – for instance it does not account for online sales. However, I do not see why inaccuracies would favor one or the other side. If anyone knows of a particular bias that Vgchartz could have towards TB-RPG, please let me know.

The first tests I conducted were pretty rough, but in the future I may pursue a deeper analysis including multiple statistical regressions, a look at portable systems, etc. Anyone interested in my data can get it here.

1. Raw data – average sales of all HD RPGs made in Japan

If we look at all 26 HD RPGs made in Japan that have been released this gen we see that A-RPGs have sold on average 0.63 million units while TB-RPGs sold on average 0.871 million units. The average TR-RPG sold 38% more than the average A-RPG.

If you only look at sales “per platform” so that multiplatform games are put on a more equal ground with exclusives, TR-BRPGs still sell 21% more than A-RPGs.

On PS3, TB-RPGSs sell 38% better than A-RPGs. On the XBOX360, TB-RPGs sell 20% better than A-RPGs.

2. Refined data – taking FF XIII and the Souls series out of the data

One might argue that 3 out of our 26 titles give too extreme results for a proper analysis. First of all, the Souls series is hardly comparable to the other games in the data, and its huge commercial success influences greatly our numbers. Souls games are online co-op RPGs, more akin to Monster Hunter and Phantasy Star Online than to Final Fantasy, and are not classified as J-RPGs, which is the case of every other game on the list. The Souls games barely have any cutscenes, dialog, or story – and even WKC, which also integrates a multiplayer component, has these elements. Hence it is pretty hard to compare Demon’s Souls sales number with, say, Tales of Vesperia or Resonance of Fate. Even if Demon’s Souls is actually very Japanese – although most of its competitors are on the PSP – it is not a J-RPG and it is not what Final Fantasy XV would become if it leaned towards Action combat.

If we take the Souls games out of the equation, the average TB-RPG furthermore outsell the average A-RPG by 88% in total sales and by 65% in sales per platform.

To be fair, Final Fantasy XIII, the bestselling Japanese RPG of this generation takes advantage of its huge fan base, its reputation, and its sales number are so phenomenal that it may distort our analysis. One could argue that Final Fantasy XIII proves that at least 6 million people enjoy menu-based combat (as it is what everyone who bought the game expected from it), but, for the fun of it, let’s take FF XIII out of the equation too.

With Final Fantasy XIII out of the data, the average TB-RPG still outsells the average A-RPG by 1% in total sales, and by 12% per platform.

3. Conclusion

Menu-based (or Turn-Based) RPGs made in Japan, be it J-RPGs or RPGs in general, sell at least as well, if not better, that Action-RPGs from the same developers on HD platforms. This first study is pretty rough, but I would argue that most objections I can think of are irrelevant to the original point: it seems at least very clear that Japanese RPGs do not sell better when combat is action-based, and that Mr. Kitase’s assumption is incorrect.

Three Japanese RPGs are million sellers this gen (If we do not count Valkyria Chronicle as we ignore Tactical RPGs in this study).  One is a mainline Final Fantasy which still sold very well in spite of hesitant reviews, and two are from the new Souls series. But Lost Odyssey and Blue Dragon, had they been launched on the right platform(s), would easily have been million sellers too: Japanese games sell much better on Japanese consoles. Moreover, the Souls series success has probably little to do with it being an Action-RPG. Demon’s Souls received more than 50 Game of the Year awards for its unique atmosphere, punishing difficulty, fresh structure and addictive and innovative online integration.  But it does not mean reviewers favor Action-RPG either, since TB-RPGs like Persona 4, for instance, have a higher metascore.

“Wait, Mr. Uzuki ! But your only looking at RPGs from Japan !”

Indeed, but the question that Mr. Kitase asks is “Do Japanese game developers have anything to gain by making Action RPGs instead of Turn Based RPGs ?” Even if Final Fantasy XV becomes an A-RPG, it will still be an A-RPG from Japan. If Western RPGs sell better than Japanese ones (For now let’s take this for granted, even though that may be the subject of another inquiry… maybe for every Hyperdimension Neptunia there is a Venetica), Action versus Turned Based is not the only thing that distinguishes Western and Japanese games, far from it. Hence, there is little Japan can do about the fact that Western RPGs may sell better, except developing Western RPGs which would be tantamount to starting back from scratch and abandoning their fanbase – wasting all trust they accumulated in the past in pursuit of a fictional smash hit while their most popular J-RPGs still sell millions.