Final Fantasy VII Remake Explained

History repeats! But not for these guys...

History repeats! But not for these guys…

Both Kotaku and IGN have released stories about the shareholders meeting over at Square Enix. And the reasoning they provide as to why they haven’t created a remake actually makes perfect sense: They have yet to make a Final Fantasy better than VII financially and critically anyway. Although in all fairness, the most financially successful Final Fantasy was the first MMORPG, XI.

I had to add financially and critically. There’s always that guy who is quick to say, “FF7 was not my favorite,” as though their opinion obviously meant all the difference in the world.

So the gist of what we’re told is that if they do a FF7 remake before topping the game, then the Final Fantasy series is finished. That would be admitting that they cannot do any better than their crown jewel of the past. So until Square Enix is in a dire financial situation or they finally do come out with a title that tops FF7, it’s not going to happen.

I, however, have a slightly different theory as to why Square Enix doesn’t want to do it. Pride.

Hironobu Sakaguchi left the company Squaresoft in 2004, after the colossal bomb that was Final Fantasy: The Spirit Within. Although he did not direct a game since FFV, his creative touches were felt in the well remembered VI and VII (and several others). To not make a game better than those Sakaguchi helped to create is to admit that they will never be as successful as they once were.

And that’s not a message of weakness Square Enix would want to send.

No 40k MMO

"Not an MMO? Then, who am I shooting at?! ... Eh, who cares."

Word has already circled the globe and back again that Warhammer 40k: Dark Millennium Online is no longer an MMORPG.

What was interesting to me is how many fans actually greeted this news with a smile instead of outrage. It wasn’t just the Shoutbox crew, I’ve read through comments by other players and fans who are just outright glad that it will be a regular single and multiplayer experience.

I personally have mixed feelings about this. Especially in light of my recent return to MMORPGs via Fallen Earth.

I remember when World of Warcraft first came out, how so many people announced it was changing how games would be produced in the future. More than few gamers worried about MMOs being the total wave of the future and just about every company was hard at work trying to make one.

But the fears were unfounded. WoW proved to be so successful that other companies began to fear the loss of investment from the sheer development and infrastructural costs of creating an MMORPG. The market proved that there is limited appetite for MMOs, and the real winners are those who create enough social gravity to stick around, not unlike Facebook. Even different and perhaps better features aren’t enough to matter when everyone’s friends have invested too much time and money in raids to give up. Blizzard just knew how to make people stick to their games better than anyone else.

Unable to really create a run away hit large enough to steal from WoW‘s honey pot, other game developers have stuck with impressive single player experiences and multiplayer features.

Sure, there are things about MMORPGs that really annoy me. Having to juggle multiple GUI windows can be very annoying at times. The combat interface is frequently pretty cluttered. And the game is developed around several thousand people playing at the same time, so those amazing-if-simple features from single player games won’t be there. For example, you wouldn’t find yourself in some interactive cutscene where you’re rapidly tapping a button to keep a necromorph from killing you. Or trying to evade a very elaborate security system to break into a compound. Another thing I don’t like about MMORPGs is the grind. When I’ve got to kill a hundred more of whatever monster, it stops being fun and starts being work. Why in the world would anyone want to do this?

You will also never hear a more foul mouthed bunch of people than with multiplayer. I’d say that MMOs might be bad about this, but competitive FPS are worse. Still, when the sheer numbers of people in Final Fantasy XI began to dwindle, I frequently found myself working alongside folks I did not like. Soloing was possible, but not easy. They have reached the highest tiers of the game and many had become quite arrogant and authoritative. While I doubt something like this will happen with WoW anytime soon, it will likely happen with any other game.

And then there’s the inevitable drama. I myself was a victim of it a few times. I caused it once myself and I wish I hadn’t. But you see stories like the following all the time:

  1. A girl joins the guild and she’s cool. But one guy just can’t leave her alone and offers her free stuff. He tries to buy her affection. He starts to get very stalkerish, and smothers her with unwelcome attention until she leaves.
  2. Someone makes some off-the-cuff comment about politics, but half the guild happens to be members of the other partisan group. The resulting debates go on for the rest of the day.
  3. Someone trusted to a position of power kicks someone out without the guild master’s permission, simply because they do not like them. Even though this person never actually violated any guild rules.
  4. Someone trusted as quartermaster gets into an argument with the guild master and decides to empty the guild vault. Or, after some big raid, violates an agreement between all their teammates and takes the goods.
  5. A guild master tries to create the biggest guild they can, mixing the wise cracking adult-joke tellers with the family types whose kids might be watching, or other non-compatible types of people. Hilarity does not ensue.
  6. The guild master makes ridiculously high requirements and rules because they have a vision of dominance over everything and everyone. Or commands what everyone does down to the tiniest detail like they were chess pieces.
  7. That one white kid who gets on Ventrillo and tries to lead. But when things go wrong, he becomes unforgiving and grows frustrated very quickly. It ends with him calling his team a bunch of idiots and cussing them out. Team work degrades. In certain games, the situation may grow so bad that people start fragging their ‘commander.’
  8. That one quintessential drama queen who makes up stories. The annoyance increases three fold if the drama queen has attracted a boy who believes her sob stories. The irritation increases ten fold if the attracted male just happens to be the guild master himself. (Although in all fairness, I was present through one reversed example of this.)

But there are things that MMORPGs do that other games don’t. They’re expansive. Not just the worlds, but the sheer number of items and ingredients and crafting recipes. Your achievements in MMOs are quite rewarding because you can show them off or help your guild or clan. The social aspect is a major draw, especially when you hit it off with some other players and become friends.

Still, I suspect that DMO saying no to MMOs is probably for the best.

MMORPGs, Part I

Somedays, I do miss my Ironbreaker Helmnir.

Somedays I do miss my Ironbreaker, Helmnir.

I used to play Final Fantasy XI, World of Warcraft and Warhammer Online. I thought I would miss them more than I do, but every once in a while nostalgia does rear its head.

One of the things that not only MMORPGs but games in general are doing more and more these days is coming out with additional content over time. When I got Final Fantasy XI, I was fortunate that it had been out in Japan for some time, so a lot of early bugs and new content was added long before I ever got the game in the first place. This made the experience much more enjoyable. World of Warcraft did a good job of coming out with just enough early content to occupy players before PvP really kicked in. Warhammer Online however, failed to do all this at first. They focused too heavily on fighting with very little PvE content. People need a break from smashing people, to really build up and discover the world, or create things.

In my opinion, the major features that make up a good MMORPG are as follows:

  • Combat – It should be fast pace with enough abilities to create interesting strategies. It should be reasonably balanced, so that one class has some abilities and tactics they can use to defeat other classes.
  • Environment – This should factor into everything. Cover should shield players from projectiles, sand should slow people down, as should rain. Snow should make climbing difficult. The environment should explain the monsters you face and the items you get and the local economies. It should make sense.
  • Crafting/Economics – People need to feel that nothing is unobtainable, but at the same time a careful balance of work and effort should be applied to earn anything. I’ll talk more about this in a moment.
  • Adventure – For some reason, a lot of MMORPGs don’t focus more on the actual adventure aspects as I feel they should. Exploring a world, facing traps and worldly dangers. Games like Fallout are big on this. They are an adventure!
  • Interaction – The proper extent to which people can communicate, trade, help or murder you.

I have to give a warning that I don’t mention World of Warcraft very much in the following entry. The thing about WoW is that it’s great, all around game. I feel that certain aspects of the game are better represented in other games, like WAR and FFXI, but in general WoW tends to be the superior game because it’s a complete package of all these things.

Combat is actually the easiest thing to talk about. So much time is spent trying to come up with an interesting and intuitive combat system that combines fast pace with a wide list of abilities. In this, I’d have to say that Warhammer Online actually does the best job, if for no other reason than the developers spent so much time developing an expansive set of abilities and techniques each class can use against one another.

Besides damage, the actual effects of the abilities can change the focus of combat. There was one combat instance with all these lava pits, and I loved using my Ironbreaker‘s shield bash to send opponents flying into them. Careful position could prevent this, but these abilities greatly figured into the strategies we would use to defend allies, survive, take down opponents and prevent them from accomplishing objectives. It was very much a thinking man’s game, at least until the sheer number of opponents mobbed it.

Environment however, is huge. Colossal even. My favorite gaming moments scenes have come from Final Fantasy XI, when I’m riding through a desert and I can’t help but stop and admire the moon in the distance or the mountain ranges. When I pass through the cities and I see these simple details like chairs and mugs of ale, food and bags of grain. The world really comes alive not when environments are clean and organized but when they’re dirty and messy. In some ways, we kind of owe it to World of Warcraft for adding things like swimming, which further expanded how large the world was.

Crafting and economics vary. I feel that Final Fantasy XI did the best job of this because of the requirements and ingredients, the work that had to go into it. There were recipes to learn and hidden underneath it all was a crazy feng-shui system, where the day, weather and direction you were facing actually chance the results of your effort. For better or worse, Final Fantasy XI operated on a free market system economy, which no one minded until the prices of goods were undercut by sellers desperate to offload their goods at the Auction Houses. Complaining about prices went both ways, but people could also go after the goods they wanted themselves in the world.

The downside was how often some of these things were not fun to do. For example, mining or logging wasn’t great because of the cost of getting fresh tools each time your existing tool broke and then finding a ore vein or tree to cut into. There was no mini-game involved, it was just a random chance as to whether you’d get the supplies you needed or not. Game developers struggle to find the perfect balance of incentive versus effort. Success should feel rewarding and hard earned, but at the same time shouldn’t feel time consuming or frustrating.

This system was a touch different from other MMORPGs. I didn’t feel like money mattered much in WAR or WoW. WAR focused more on kill based rewards and points you can earn. FFXI did something like this in a political sense but it was basically just icing on the cake. I honestly cannot say what the best approach is, but there are merits in both methods. If a player wants to work to earn better equipment through crafting and odd jobs, they should be allowed too. If they just want to have the basic gear given to them by the military, they should be allowed too.

To be continued…

Gaming

Just a fast update. A new trailer for Space Marine is out, which seems to confirm that the Chaos Legion will be the Iron Warriors. Eight pointed star, representin’!

Not much game play footage here, but it’s nice to see some jet pack action. I’m actually a little surprised at how many trailers there have been. THQ has done a great job generating buzz about this title. A few years back, fights would probably break out in front of game stores as fans rush to get a copy. Now thanks to Steam, the chances of that are probably reduced.

Also, in case you haven’t seen it, THQ unveiled a new trailer for Dark Millennium Online last month.

This trailer doesn’t mention anything new or any details of the game. Basically just takes some new game play footage and scratches it around with a sepia background to give it a horror film look. THQ is just stoking fan interest for a game that’s not due until 2013 at the earliest. But thus far, it looks like they’ve got a good amount of the game built while still trying to figure out some of the “game rules” and structure.

It’s way too early to claim with any certainty, but DMO could be the World of Warcraft game killer that has been due for sometime. Warhammer Online tried and made Blizzard push out the WoW expansion Wrath of the Lich King. But WAR ultimately sank back into a niche market of realm versus realm combat.

Still, given Warhammer 40,000’s huge fan following and the fact that WoW will be nearly 10 years old by the time DMO comes out, I suspect Blizzard will try countering with a new MMORPG. A Diablo one, maybe. Usurping WoW‘s throne is going to happen sometime!