E3 2021 Hype-rule Warrior (it me)

E3 is back, baby! Well, almost. Kind of. Sort of. Not really, but there are a bunch of exciting videos and streams from most of the big industry publishers coming up, so that’s good enough for me. It’s been a while since I’ve written out a wish list, but I just published the latest podcast episode, all about this very subject, so I thought I’d revisit my old wish lists and put the power of my desire for these games into the universe on the off chance that it somehow reaches the hearts of these publishers many months in the past and they begin working on these games with enough time to produce and show something for this event. Did that make sense? Probably not, but let’s move on.

Like many gamers, I have that nasty habit of getting my hopes way up for E3. I can usually keep my expectations in check, but there are always those little embers of hope that will burn eternally for some new, exciting entry in a long-loved series, or maybe some shocking new IP from a favorite developer. There are things we know we can reasonably expect, but it’s the things that seem farfetched that are the most tantalizing to dare wish for. My previous wish lists have been a mix of the two, and while I’m usually slightly disappointed when most of my hopes are dashed by any given E3 showing, my track record isn’t a complete disaster. From the two lists above, we did end up getting a new Animal Crossing game on Switch, Final Fantasy VII Remake, Dragon Quest XI, a new Tomb Raider game, Soulcalibur VI, plus announcements of new Fable and Perfect Dark games. And I want more? Yes. Always. Here are some things I want from some of the big publishers and platform holders.

Ubisoft

Sure, I want to see a teaser for a new Assassin’s Creed game, and I’d be pretty hyped for a new Splinter Cell even though I never played through any of the previous entries. What I really want from Ubisoft this year is info on Skull and Bones, though. I know they went back to the drawing board in terms of the game’s direction, and that set them back a bit, but they have to have something by now, right? Right? If I’m really being sassy, I don’t just want a new teaser, either. I want a full reveal. I want more than just ship-to-ship combat. I want exploration. I want to hunt for an old wooden treasure chest buried deep in the sand. I want to swim away from a cute fifteen foot great white shark who wants nothing more than to chomp my widdle feets. I want to sail under the stars, riding the wind and singing shanties with me maties. I want to pirate, not just fire cannonballs at another ship. And I want the option to do it offline, please. Give it to me, Ubisoft.

Microsoft/Bethesda

I don’t really know what I want from Microsoft, to be honest. They’ve heard my prayers for a new Fable game and even a new Perfect Dark game, so what else could a boy ask for? Well, mostly more of the same. Meaning, just show me the things I already know you’re working on. Give me a big ol’ substantial Starfield reveal. Show me multiple planets I can visit, show me a better and more fleshed out romance system (than the Elder Scrolls or Fallout games), show me a release window. Show me a better and more impressive Halo Infinite trailer. And, if you really want to be generous, actually show me something from the aforementioned Fable and Perfect Dark games. I get the sense that the latter is probably still very early in development, but even a flashy, brief teaser would be good. Even though I mostly want to see what I already know exists, I am pretty excited for Microsoft’s presentation, because they’ve done a good job of dropping big surprises in recent shows. They might even give me something I don’t even know I want yet!

Square Enix

Square Enix is a big one for me, due in no small part to the fact that they have made some of my favorite games and series of all time. They are one of the shows where my hopes are always way off the charts. Yes, I want to see more of Final Fantasy XVI and am hoping for a new Tomb Raider game, but what I really want I very much doubt I’ll get. Well, I’ll get Dragon Quest XII, because they just recently announced that at the Dragon Quest 35th Anniversary event. It’s probably also too early to see anything from the follow-up to Final Fantasy VII Remake, but boy howdy do I want to. And it would be perfect timing, given that the next gen version of the first game and a new DLC episode is dropping this month. If they do show it, I’d love for confirmation that there will some kind of overworld or open world for us to explore. I also want confirmation that Jesse is still alive. *teary-eyed emoji* The things I really, really want are probably not going to happen, but every year I cross my fingers and pray to the ancient gaming gods for Square Enix to do something with the Chrono franchise. The original game seems to get more and more love with each passing year, yet Square has done virtually nothing with it. I think many of us would love something dramatic, like a remake or a sequel, but at this point I would settle for a remastered version or a remake/remaster of Chrono Cross. Just some sign that they are aware that they have control over one of the most revered and highly regarded games of all time. I would also love a new Parasite Eve game, even if it’s just remasters of the two original games. Lastly, and this is a new one, with the reveal of an HD-2D remake of Dragon Quest III, I would love to see some classic Final Fantasy games done in the same engine/style. That one seems more plausible than my other two impossible wishes, but it also seems like something that we wouldn’t see until next year at the earliest.

Take-Two/Rockstar

There are rumors of a Red Dead Redemption remake/remaster, and of course we’re all curious about the state of Grand Theft Auto VI at this point, but who knows if/when we’ll see that. No, what I want is something I’ve been dreaming about for a very long time: Bully 2. Rumors of a sequel to the first game have kind of ebbed and flowed over the years, with pockets of certainty followed by some interview snippet that seems to completely shut it down. At a recent investor call, a rep for Take-Two said that “new iterations” of existing Rockstar IP were on their projected development table, and while that might very well just mean new GTA and Red Dead games, there is a silly little part of my brain that is hoping beyond hope that they mean the long-awaited Bully 2. Even a remake of the first game in the new engine with added content would be fine.

Capcom

Okay, so when I hear “Capcom” I automatically think “Resident Evil.” I haven’t played a Monster Hunter game yet, and Street Fighter VI is just a given, right? So, aside from a surprise new Marvel vs Capcom or Street Fighter Alpha announcement (doubtful), what I most want is, well, more Resident Evil. I know, I know, they just released one of my favorite RE games of all time, but it’s not just that I’m a greedy glutton for more (though, to be fair, I am). Capcom has released four mainline Resident Evil games in the last four years: Resident Evil 7 (2017), Resident Evil 2 (2019), Resident Evil 3 (2020), and Resident Evil Village (2021). All of those games are excellent, and if I remember correctly at some point they stated that they intended to stagger new entries with remakes. If that’s true, it’s remake time, babyyyyyy. I get the sense that people want a Code: Veronica remake but expect a Resident Evil 4 remake. Either of those would be fine with me, but if I’m being honest, what I really want is a re-remake of the original Resident Evil, or maybe even a combination of Resident Evil 0 and that game, since their stories directly tie together and overlap. The original has already been remade, true, and maybe that will be what delays or prevents its consideration for the remake treatment. But that remake was released almost twenty years ago and was still using the pre-rendered backround/tank control-style of old school RE games. Imagine it remade in the new engine with an over-the-shoulder camera, like RE 2. *drools* Capcom did confirm that they’ll be talking about Resident Evil Village, and my hope is that we see actual DLC and not just more of Re:Verse. Resident Evil 7 had some excellent DLC, so I want to see more of that with Village. Maybe one pack that follows Chris’s exploits, and two packs dedicated to showing us more backstory for the four lords? Two lords per pack?

Nintendo

Nintendo seems to have a habit of either completely rocking people’s shit and being the talk of the show, or being the biggest disappointment. They can’t help it, though, if you think about it. They have the biggest, longest standing stable of classic characters and series. At every turn, people are asking when the next Mario or Zelda or Smash or Kart or Crossing or Paper or you name it. So it’s a given that there will always be a swath of Nintendo fans that will walk away sad that they didn’t see their favorite series or character represented. And Nintendo is in a very comfortable place right now in terms of both hardware and software sales, so it’s not exactly like they need to make a big splash. Still, I hope they not only show what’s become known as Breath of the Wild 2, but also give us a release date. Some people think it will be a 2022 game, but I have a hard time seeing it slipping from this year. If it really is using the same engine and assets as the first game, which it seems to be, I bet they’ve finished most of the core game by now and are in the polishing/testing phase. Mid-November to early December seems like a fair release window to me. Having said that, what do I want to see from a sequel to what’s become my favorite Zelda game? I not only want to see more Zelda, I want this to be a co-op adventure. If you had to switch back and forth between Link and Zelda for certain puzzles and if you could have a friend take the helm of one character, that would be pretty awesome.

Mario Kart 8 is one of my favorite games of all time, and with the original release being a full seven years ago, you’d think we were due for another entry. 8 has been selling like gangbusters month after month since the Switch version released, though, so I kind of doubt Nintendo is rushing the next version out the door. Still, it would be exciting to get a teaser, at least, as unlikely as it is. The reveal of new Smash characters is always fun, and rumors about which multiplatform character might show up next are always a good time. I said this in one of the previous wish list posts, but the time seems more right than ever for Master Chief. Would I love a character from Chrono Trigger? Magus, preferably? Sure. But that seems like a long, long, long shot. Nintendo’s already put two Microsoft fighters in (Minecraft Steve and Banjo & Kazooie), so the emerald-armored Spartan seems more and more likely, especially given the presumably close proximity of Halo Infinite’s release. Given my love for Fire Emblem: Three Houses, I also want a peek at the first true Switch Fire Emblem game. Three Houses started life as a 3DS game, and with how simplistic and muddy some of the environmental art is, it showed. I’d settle for a game that looked the same if the story and characters were just as good, but I’d love for them to wow us with a game that takes advantage of the rumored Switch Pro.

And, of course, the two games I will never stop wishing for until Nintendo delivers them to us: Mother 3 and a new Eternal Darkness game. I mean, I’d take anything from either franchise. The long-awaited English translation of Mother 3, an EarthBound remaster, a whole new game in the series. An Eternal Darkness remake, ala Resident Evil 2, a sequel that utilizes the HD rumble and other Switch features, whatever. Just do something with one or both of those series, damn it. I fear that the most likely window for some EarthBound news has passed, with the 30th anniversary of the first game in the series and the 25th anniversary of the second having passed. Sigh. It seems like an eventuality, because the call for a localization or port have only increased over the years, but when we’ll finally hear something seems a mystery. Also, where is our new Virtual Console, Nintendo? The current set-up can’t hold a candle to the previous catalog.

Bandai Namco

Bandai Namco have lots that they could show, put there are two pretty specific things that I want: remasters of the first two Tales games (Tales of Destiny and its sequel), and Ace Combat 8. Given the fact that Project Aces, Namco’s internal development team behind the AC games, had to reportedly fight for the chance to make AC 7, I have to wonder about the possibility for a sequel. Still, it was fairly successful both critically and commercially, so I’m holding out hope. Can you imagine a photorealistic flight sim that takes advantage of next gen processing power? As the kids say, “sheeeeeeesh.”

Sega

Persona 6. I want to just leave that here. No explanation. But I can’t. It’s probably my most anticipated game for the near future, but we’ve heard virtually zero about it. We know it’s in development, but at what stage is Atlus in? Persona 5 came out in Japan five years ago, so it sure feels like they must be pretty deep in development by now, even if P-Studio did help out with all of the bonus Persona games we’ve been treated to these five long years. Like Square Enix, Atlus/Sega has been targeting worldwide launches as of late, so my deep, deep hope is that we see a teaser at E3, get a trailer by the end of the year, and see the full game released next year. In the meantime, give us a remake or remaster of Persona 3, you cowards! You’ve already made new assets for the dancing game! Do it! Please!

And what about all of those Sega acquisition rumors? They’ve persisted for years, ever since Sega moved away from hardware, really, but they’ve always seemed kind of silly and star-gazey. It wasn’t until GamesIndustry.biz reported that Sega’s parent company had divided its assets, including its games division, in what could be preparation for a sale of some (but not all) assets. Sega has made some acquisitions of its own in recent years, including Atlus, and it may have been part of an effort to bolster its appeal for a sale. The rumors always seemed far-fetched to me until now. But who would they sell to? The name I keep hearing is Microsoft, and while that would make sense from Microsoft’s side, Sega is an old, storied Japanese company, so I have my doubts about that. That’s not to say I can’t see it, but it would surprise me more than if Sony or even Square Enix picked them up, even though those two don’t “need” it as much (and could Square Enix afford it?). Either way, if the rumors are true, and we learned about it at E3 – holy shit. What a historic year that would make this.

EA/BioWare

While EA is doing its own thing, as usual, I’m including my wishes for them here. They have a huge portfolio of games, but there are only a few I’m dying to hear more about or, dare I demand, see. New entries in both the Dragon Age and Mass Effect series have been teased, but only very recently. Do they have enough to show something substantial? Probably not, but I would love to see it, if they did. I do think they could probably have a short sizzle trailer for Dragon Age by this point, so that would be amazing to finally get a glimpse of. In terms of a surprise, though, I’d fall out of my proverbial chair if they showed anything from the long-rumored Knights of the Old Republic remake. I think I remember reading that BioWare is not working on it, but I assume EA still has the rights, so if it was going to be at a show, it would probably be this one, right? If we did see it, it would shoot to the top tier of my most-anticipated games list for sure.

Sony

Sony is also doing its own thing again, but unfortunately we don’t have any clue when that might be. Guerrilla Games recently said that they are still shooting for a 2021 release date for Horizon Forbidden West but are waiting until they’re more certain before announcing a date. Are they waiting for Sony’s event, or is Sony holding off on their event until they have a firm date that they can announce? That’s the last bit of info for Horizon that I’m interested in. I want it. Just give it to me this year. God of War: Ragnarok was originally slated to release this year but has since been pushed to 2022, but that means they are well into development at this point. Far enough along to share some actual footage, right? So I’m looking forward to that. I’d also love to see a new Uncharted game, but who knows if Naughty Dog will have had enough time to produce something showable, given that The Last of Us Part II came out just last year. The real thing I want to see at Sony’s show, though, is PlayStation VR 2. They’ve announced it and teased its features, but I want to see it in action. Well, as much as you can with a VR headset. I want to hear about the comfort, the convenience, the games – give me all the deets, damn it.

There are other things I’d love to see, of course, but these are the big ones. I listed more than I have in the past, so maybe now if only 20% of these hopes/dreams/predictions come true, I won’t be as sad because that will still be several games I’m getting. *wink* Who am I kidding? The moment the Nintendo showcase ends and we’re left with no Mother 3 again, the post-E3 depression will set in, regardless of the fact that we got surprise Metal Gear and Silent Hill announcements and the Resident Evil 4 remake looks rad. Just kidding. I would absolutely settle for that. Until then, I’m grabbing my nachos and Coke Zero and settling in for an exciting few days coming up!

2020

I have to be honest: I kept putting off writing my 2020 wrap-up post. As early as late November I thought about collecting my thoughts on last year’s games. It’s not that I didn’t want to write about all of the wonderful games I played in 2020. I love writing about video games more than almost anything. But 2020 was a weird year, as unsurprising as that may be for me to say. Though the year was filled with excellent and exciting games and gaming moments, the many global and national challenges facing most of us affected me, too, and impacted my gaming experiences and work more than I ever wanted to admit.

If I think about 2020 purely in gaming terms, what an amazing year. Although critical reception for it was tepid, I loved the Resident Evil 3 remake. It wasn’t quite as expansive as the remake for the second game, but I think both remakes were excellent renditions of their parent games. Capcom’s RE Engine produced beautiful graphics, I loved navigating the broken streets of Raccoon City once again, and I was ecstatic to get more time with Jill Valentine, my favorite Resident Evil character.

A new Animal Crossing game is always a welcome addition to any year, and New Horizons was released at perhaps the most welcoming time in history for any game. Everyone seemed to be playing it – Animal Crossing fans, celebrities, politicians, people who have never played a single AC game, and seemingly everyone on every social media platform. It made me happy to see the series get such love, especially since this was easily the entry with the most significant changes in both gameplay and presentation. With every single new AC game, I lamented the lack of new, exciting features. With older titles, Nintendo would add maybe one major new gimmick and a handful of minor tweaks, but I was always left wondering when a true, full sequel would come out. While New Horizons does retain some of the series’ core mechanics, it adds and expands on so many cool features, like crafting, travel, and multiplayer (even if it’s still imperfect). I had so much fun with New Horizons, and even when I sometimes feel sad for “abandoning” it, I still ended up putting over 300 hours into it. A point that I’ve heard repeatedly debated in conversations about the best games of the year is whether or not New Horizons would have been so popular or well-received if it weren’t for the global pandemic. I suppose the degree to which it would have been popular is debatable, but every mainline AC game has been popular without a mandatory quarantine to boost their prestige. Plus, I think people entertaining that idea are conveniently forgetting both the fact that a great many of us AC fans have been waiting years for this game and the persistent popularity of the Nintendo Switch means that the potential audience for this game was huge, regardless. The fact that many people were looking for a distraction from the pandemic may have notably nudged up hype for this game, but it’s a great game in its own right and surely would have found more success than its already-successful predecessors.

One of the things that made 2017 such a magical year in gaming for me was Persona 5, my long-anticipated introduction to the Persona series, which made 2020’s Persona 5 Royal an absolute day one purchase for me. I really wanted the Phantom Thieves special edition, and after finding it was sold out everywhere I was overjoyed to snag a pre-order from Best Buy. The problem? The release date was right when many non-essential stores went into lockdown from the pandemic. Not the most serious problem anyone’s had in these times, but I was worried the in-store pickup (the only option for pre-order) would be delayed or even canceled. Luckily it was not, and it was my first experience with a staple of pandemic consumer life: curbside pickup. Best Buy sent me an email instructing me to park in front of the store and call the customer service desk (later to become an automated process), and once they verified my order number, someone came outside and dropped the game in my backseat. It seemed like such a novel and bizarre process at that point in time, but I was excited to get home and unbox my new treasure. As with the base game, I absolutely loved my time with Royal, and got the platinum trophy for this entry, too.

Speaking of platinum trophies, I’ve been considering replaying Final Fantasy VII Remake to get the platinum trophy for that game, too, because I was so enamored with it but I feel like I could have spent more time with those characters. I was worried that it would slip from many critics’ minds when it came time for end-of-year award consideration, but it seems to have won a fair number of awards from various outlets. The game is beautiful, the music is so nostalgic and magical, and I really can’t wait to see what they do with the next installment, especially after that provocative ending.

I wasn’t quite as smitten with The Last of Us Part II, but part of that might have been the deafening discourse surrounding the game and its release. It seemed simultaneously the best game ever released and the most offensive artifact to soil consoles, and this was before it was even in most people’s hands. People seemed desperate to share their takes on social media, falling over themselves to take sides or point out some new observation. I specifically avoid hype for most games I play because I don’t want my experiences to be tainted by expectations shaded by the opinion of others, but in this case the hype was virtually unavoidable. I had a pre-order and had, once upon a time, been excited for the game, but I couldn’t get the ongoing conversations about the game out of my head as I played it. I got about fifteen hours in and just didn’t feel like finishing, so I quit. I’ve recently had the itch to go back to it, though, in part because I hate leaving games unfinished, so I installed it on my PS5 and will be starting it back up soon.

In almost an exact opposite situation, I had very little hype for Ghost of Tsushima and it ended up being one of my favorite games of the year, easily. The E3 2018 trailer looked beautiful, but the combat appeared to be in the vein of the Souls games, which didn’t seem up my alley. Tsushima was always on the fringes of my radar, and with little else to play mid-summer, I decided I’d give it a shot. If I didn’t like the combat, at least it had what looked like a beautiful open world I could explore. As it turns out, I really loved the combat. It allows for so many different approaches to battles, and I appreciated that switching stances wasn’t an absolute must to defeat most enemies. I also loved the beautiful open world. And the characters. And the acting and exploration and foxes and… well, you get the point.

I also had a great time with Star Wars Squadrons, which was a simple yet thrilling flight sim, and despite being a sloppy, buggy mess, I also had fun with Cyberpunk 2077.  I very recently wrote about my love of Spider-Man: Miles Morales and Phasmophobia, as well as my mostly-positive adventures in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, and I also had a warm and tingly stroll down memory lane with Astro’s Playroom. Paper Mario: The Origami King was a humorous, adorable trip, and The Dark Pictures Anthology: Little Hope was sufficiently spooky. I also used my quarantine months to catch up on some non-2020 games like Days Gone, Gris, I am Setsuna, Luigi’s Mansion 3 and Yakuza 0, and of course I wrote maybe too much about my giddiness over the new consoles. While I wrote specifically about the PlayStation 5, I did also manage to get an Xbox Series X for myself for Xmas. I set it up and… well… that’s about it for now, but I was excited to unbox it and I can’t wait for games like the next Perfect Dark and that Indiana Jones games that was announced today.

So, well, I guess I did end up revisiting games I’ve played this year. But before I started actually writing, the only thing I could think about was the general, difficult-to-describe affect the pandemic has had on me. The few years leading up to 2019 were incredibly hard for me, in terms of my mental health. I had gotten to some very dark places. In early 2019, I took steps to navigate myself out of those dark places, and by the end of the year I began to feel like I had regained control of my life. Then, well, you know. 2020. Many people have had a much worse 2020 than I have, no doubt. But it was something of a precarious year for me. I remained determined to maintain my mental health. I got into a solid workout routine, I walked my cat every day when it was warm, I kept a daily journal, and I did a fair job of transitioning to online teaching, if I do say so myself. The problem was that I felt like my mental and emotional energy had a limit. I could dedicate only so much to staying healthy, and teaching, and participating in hobbies, and parsing all of the negativity that came with the pandemic and the historically toxic presidential election, that anything above and beyond that felt… impossible? Maybe that seems dramatic, but I don’t feel like I had much time post-recovery to enjoy decent mental health before I was expected to write my dissertation, maintain a healthy routine, become an online teacher, and just deal with the overwhelming, flaming flood that was 2020.

So my dissertation went by the wayside. And it felt okay at first. The general consensus about the pandemic’s effect on workflow seemed to be that it was normal and that everyone should give themselves a break. And I did. For a while. I still am, I suppose. But now that it’s been a year and I’ve made almost no progress, the self-doubt and reality of having to secure more funding or work to hopefully try and finish this thing in 2021 is inescapable. Institutions and professionals urged us to be kind and give ourselves more time, but in reality the expectations and deadlines never really changed. And because my dissertation is on games, looking back and thinking of my experience with gaming in 2020 was… complicated. I’ve played so many great games, and I’m excited for the future of gaming, but my place as a gaming scholar always feels like it’s on tremulous ground. I have moments where the field of games studies feels exclusive and some of the most notable names seem out of touch or, frankly, full of shit. Dr. Emma Vossen, a gaming scholar I admire, recently tweeted that she was publishing her final games studies article in academia, and was leaving ten years of work in the field behind her. Why? Because the field is so filled with scholars who don’t seem to understand games and gaming culture. They are academics first, and many of them seem to have gotten into the field because they saw an emergent trend that held lots of publishing potential. Dr. Vossen and others have expressed the notion that some of the best work on games and gaming culture has been done outside of academia, and I agree. But where does that leave me? I have no idea, to be honest. Confused? Angry? Do I push on, hoping to carve a niche for myself and change the culture? Or do I get out and try and get into a seemingly equally exclusive game coverage industry?

Sorry for the rant. For how terrible 2020 was in almost every other regard, it was a great year for gaming. My future in my field of choice may be murky, but I am still in love with video games, and there are some exciting titles coming out this year and in the near-ish future. Persona 5 Strikers, Resident Evil Village, Gotham Knights, Mass Effect Legendary Edition, Breath of the Wild 2, Horizon Forbidden West, and who knows what else is to come. What will the Switch Pro be like? When is the PS5’s next-gen virtual reality headset coming? Wherever life takes me this year, at least I’ll have some amazing games to play along the way.

Whispers from a Forgotten Past: Final Fantasy VII Remake

There probably isn’t much that hasn’t been said about Final Fantasy VII Remake, but that’s okay. I’m not here to make some grand, unique contribution to the conversation. I have a lot of thoughts, though (and even more screenshots), and I want to start sharing as I often do – with a bit of personal history. This game, more than almost any other, requires it, I think. I should, of course, give a pretty explicit [SPOILER WARNING] for those who haven’t played it yet.

The original Final Fantasy VII came out in January of 1997 to much pre-release marketing and post-release fanfare. I wouldn’t get my PlayStation console until the end of that year, mainly for Resident Evil 2, so I was in a bit of a rough spot. In the year or two prior to FFVII’s release, I had fallen deeply in love with JRPGs. After Chrono Trigger sucked me in, I sought similar games, and Final Fantasy III (VI) had a similar art style (in my young mind, with not much to compare them to, anyway) and was made by the same company, so it was a logical follow-up for me. Like Chrono Trigger and EarthBound before it, it entranced me. I loved the characters, the story, the systems, and, of course, the music. The title sequence and opening scene is still one of my favorites of all time, and its score is a big part of that. I played all of these on the SNES, of course, and like a devoted Nintendo fan I dutifully pre-ordered and picked up an N64 on day one.

So when the hype for FFVII began to spread like wildfire, I was a little sad. A little bitter. A little without the ability to adequately convince my parents that I needed a second video game console (until later that year, as mentioned). I had to suffer through hearing how incredible and amazing and groundbreaking and massive this fantastic JRPG and follow-up to my beloved FFIII was. I wouldn’t play it until the following year, and to this day I have to wonder if playing it at launch would have allowed me to appreciate it more. Don’t get me wrong, I liked it. It really was massive, the cinematic cutscenes were rad, and the music, again, was top notch. I found such joy in seeing callbacks to previous games, like the moogles and chocobos. But I absolutely hated the character models, especially because the environments were so much more realistic and not bizarrely proportioned. Overall, I didn’t love it like so many others had, and since then it has occupied the middle of my list of favorite Final Fantasy titles.

How could I not be excited for a remake, though? Since playing VII I have played every mainline FF game, plus a few of the spinoffs and one of the MMOs, and I have loved most of them. Some of the elements shared between games – summons and chocobos and moogles and airships and such – have become woven tightly into the fabric of my gaming identity (and, in the case of moogles, inked right into my skin). So any new FF game is cause for celebration in my mind. But people have been asking for a FFVII remake for years, and I was always curious about how Square would pull off such a feat, so I did end up getting more hyped than expected for this game.

I’m sure if you’ve gotten this far you’re thinking something like “uh, okay, can you just get to the point?” or “why do we need all of this context? Just show me the pretty screenshots,” or “oatmeal raisin cookies are better than chocolate chip cookies,” and with that last thought you are absolutely out of line and have ruined any semblance of credibility you might have had so I will be dismissing any further criticism from you.

The reason I wanted to share so much of my backstory is that it mattered more to me and my experience with this game than I would have imagined. I’ve had strong emotional ties to FF games and characters and stories, but I wouldn’t have claimed the same for my time with the original FFVII. But as the game booted up and “The Prelude” played, I felt strange stirrings of nostalgia. With every familiar shot – Aerith on the street, a high view of Midgar, Cloud looking up at a Mako Reactor – I felt my eyes tingle with the threat of tears. The moment it really dawned on me that I was nearly choking on nostalgia was when I heard “Mako Reactor 1” play out as I made my way through the game’s first chapter. The previous cues, visual and audio, had prompted some nostalgic whispers, but this track really made everything swell forth. I remembered the small apartment in Chicago that my family lived in at the time. Just off Belmont and Laramie, right behind Jade Dragon Tattoo, where I told myself I’d get my first tattoo. It was the end of my freshman year at Lane Tech High School. An unusually warm spring. We didn’t have an air conditioner so we had the windows open and box fans puttering along. I played on one of those big, old, floor TVs. My family was falling apart. I was depressed but excited for summer. I thought I might get to go to summer camp and maybe, just maybe, have my first kiss with my first “real” girlfriend. I made nachos with too much cheap cheese and Kool-Aid with way too much sugar. We had an infestation of giant ants with wings near a window in our living room, so occasionally one would smack me in the face when I was playing late into the night. I had dreams of becoming a rock star.

It might seem dramatic, and maybe I’m expanding on what were much briefer flashes of memory and emotion, but all of this sprang from just the opening scenes of the game. These characters, this music, this story that I had once felt was just pretty okay and not nearly my favorite, suddenly they meant everything. They are and were a part of my life. A more important part than I’d realized, I guess. I’m not trying to overstate anything. I understand that this is just one of many, many games I’ve played, and it does mean less to me than, say, Final Fantasy III or VIII. But I don’t know that I’ve ever had such a strong nostalgic reaction to a game before. It might be because I haven’t played the original in, what, 22 years? Whereas with games like Chrono Trigger and EarthBound, I play them every so often so the nostalgia is tempered. One core reason for starting this blog was to chronicle some of my gaming memories, so I wanted to share this as well.

After all of that, you might be sleeping. Or you’re still fuming over my justified criticism of your taste in cookies, you absolute monster. So let’s get to the game itself. In short, nostalgic kick in the feels aside, I loved it. This is not a review so I won’t go through all of the systems and every facet of the story, but the combat was fun and pleasantly reminiscent of FFXV. And like FFXV, I wish there were more summons. The six that I have (and I think there might be one more?) are pretty great, but I miss the days of having a healthy number of dazzling magical beings to call to my side (yes, this is just the first installment, I know). I also wish there was a dedicated photo mode, but I was able to capture some decent shots. Like this little gem:

I mean look…

…at that face.

Speaking of faces: damn. The characters in this version look so good. It seems like they may have cut some corners on some other visual assets, because there were some less-than-crisp textures here and there, but the faces, eyes, hair, clothes, skin textures… all looked stellar. I was also impressed by the work they put into mouth movement, to make them match the English voices. I appreciated that even more after watching Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children (for the first time, despite owning the special edition DVD since the day it was released *nervously sweating emoji*), where a lack of regionalized facial animation meant some truly awkward looking and sounding lines.

One of my absolute favorite things about this version is how much they expand on the characters and really round them out. I haven’t played the original in a very long time, true, but I feel like I know these characters more and have a deeper connection with them after this game, compared with how I felt after the entirety of the original game. The writing, voice acting, and animation brought so much life and energy to the smallest of interactions. FFVIIR’s writer, Kazushige Nojima, recently said that he wanted to make Cloud a more complex character in this version, not so “lame.” I think they pulled that off. In the original, Cloud felt a little like a brat. He comes off as cold in this version, but not exactly bratty. More distant, jaded, hesitant to trust, maybe. I also love how they built out Barret, Tifa, Aerith, and even Biggs, Wedge, and Jessie. They are not only cool, full characters on their own, but their interactions with Cloud and the rest of the party are important and help to further develop those characters, too.

I probably won’t write much about this game in my dissertation because it takes place in a fantasy setting (and I’m looking at Japanese depictions of real places), but I did think there was a lot of cultural stuff ripe for analysis. This is already running long so I will just briefly discuss one: the controversial Honeybee Inn scene, where in the original, Cloud is dressed like a woman and some insensitive, homophobic remarks/suggestions are made. Japanese games have a complicated history with queer representation. They have, for a long time, been more willing than big Western developers to include women and queer characters in prominent roles in games, but this increase in inclusion has meant an increase in problematic representation as well. I think it’s important to note that much of the criticism of Japanese games and their portrayals of queer characters comes from a Western perspective, with a Western sense of what is “right and wrong,” or “good and bad.” Having said that, I am not defending every warped depiction of queerness in Japanese games. There are plenty of examples of (usually) gay male characters that are used to create fear in straight characters, or are made to be over-the-top, clownish caricatures that are problematic in any culture, I would argue, because regardless of audience they remove or lessen the humanity of these characters and create an unrealistic trope which real queer people are then unfairly expected to mirror.

That said, I have noticed a trend in Japanese games where queerness and queer characters are treated with increasing respect and realism. From the explicit statement of LGBTQ+ support in AI: The Somnium Files, to Atlus’s inclusion of a new, datable trans character in Catherine: Full Body, their acknowledgment of the issues with queer representation in Persona 5 and their edits in Persona 5 Royal to correct such issues, to overt discussions of gender and identity in Punch Line, to, well, the new Honeybee Inn scene in FFVIIR. In this scene, I was waiting for signs of Cloud’s refusal to participate in the dance or makeover, but he is all in and the entire scene is big, exciting, and fun. Cloud expresses a desire to not talk about it afterward, but given his stoic, guarded nature, they seem to have made it more about his discomfort with being in the spotlight and not his dressing as a woman. Andrea, a queer-appearing character, even makes a comment that “True beauty is an expression of the heart. A thing without shame, to which notions of gender don’t apply.” This echoes some of the remarks made about gender in Punch Line, and seem to align with a Japanese sense that gender is something that is, for lack of a better word at this point in my studies, spiritual, rather than cultural, psychological, or scientific. None of this is to say that any of the examples I’ve given are perfect in their representation of LGBTQ+ characters, and of course this is coming from the perspective of a straight man who is still learning much about queer representation in media, but I was happily surprised by how well they pulled this scene off.

Speaking of true beauty, however, you know I have to comment on the classic debate among old school FFVII fans: Tifa or Aerith? Who is more worthy of Cloud’s romantic attention (or the player’s, for that matter)? I never really had much of a horse in that race. I never really developed a crush on either when I played the original game, in part because their character models looked like plastic dolls that had been mostly melted and then put back together by a near-sighted Popeye fanatic. With the new character models and expanded personalities, though? A much more difficult choice.

I chose Aerith as my date in the Gold Saucer segment of the original game, and I figured I would probably go with her in this one as well, to stick with the choice the narrative seems to want me to make. But in the scene where I could choose to help either of them up after a fall, fully knowing that this choice was significant and would probably affect the story down the line, my gut instinct was to help Tifa. Don’t get me wrong, I love this version of Aerith. She is funny, kind, optimistic, powerful, and quite beautiful. I would 100% offer to be her bodyguard (even when she clearly doesn’t need it).

But Tifa… I don’t know. I guess I really connected with the indecision and sense of powerlessness that she so often seems to struggle with. She is clearly a badass and has some really kickass scenes where she’s, well, kicking ass. But from the beginning she’s dealing with the mixed emotions that come with seeing her childhood best friend (and crush) back from war, but seemingly different and with some pretty clear memory issues. Yet she doesn’t express this to Cloud. She represses it to focus on her role in this revolution against Shinra. Maybe not the healthiest approach, but I can relate. And, like Aerith, she too is gorgeous.

And so it seems in the next installment(s) Cloud will be forced to choose between the safe comfort of his childhood friend or the exuberant warmth of this bright new girl. As for me, I have a new crush: Jessie Rasberry.

I mean, no question. As with the other characters, she is fully developed with an interesting backstory, in which she came to the big city to be an actress but ended up joining a militant group trying to take down Shinra in order to enact justice for her father. So we see that, like Aerith, she has this cheerful, flirty persona that hides a serious side that fights for justice and is willing to sacrifice everything to help others. And, again, like everyone in this damn game, she is breathtakingly beautiful. Not to mention, she throws herself at Cloud! How was he able to resist! I mean, look:

Where is the “yes, absolutely, 100%, what time should I be there, I will do anything, please” option!? Look at how she’s looking at him! Sorry, I’m yelling. I just can’t understand how Cloud could so casually cast her aside. “But she’s so desperate!” I hear you shriek between disgusting mouthfuls of oatmeal raisin cookies. Well so am I! Even if I weren’t, though, come on. She is a catch. She’s cute. She’s tough. She’s talented. She’s dressed like a knight ninja. And:

I will hear no further arguments. Jessie for life. That headband in the ending cinematic better fucking mean she’s coming back in the next game.

Okay, this is approaching the length of a bad fantasy novel, so I need to end this. I have many more thoughts, but I just want to comment on one final thing: the Whispers, of which Barret says:

I took the Whispers to be symbolic of the struggle that must have come with remaking such an iconic game. Video game development is part business, part art, and I’ve heard many creative-minded developers (including some from Square) express no desire to revisit old ideas. They want to create new worlds, characters, and stories. So for them to return to such a venerable game, they must have faced immense pressure from within and without to both stick to the old formula and shake things up. These Whispers seem to represent that struggle. They, and maybe fans, want something new and exciting to happen in this familiar world, but they also kind of want what they know they already love. So, for most of FFVIIR, we get the safe, the recognizable. Prettied up, expanded, bulked out… but mostly the same. But when you defeat the Whispers at the end of the game, that would suggest that these safety nets, these shackles of the past, are no more, right? If so, and we’re looking forward to games that deviate in some ways from the original game (like Aerith surviving? Or Sepheroth joining your team to face a greater foe, à la Magus from Chrono Trigger? Or Cloud ending up with Jessie because she’s clearly the best choice, no more arguments?), I am so excited for what the future of this series might bring. I guess you can call me a FFVII convert.