by Preston Tolliver
On Sunday, Bethesda Softworks rolled out its plans for “Fallout 4” and “Doom,” and just like that, the 2015 Electronic Entertainment Expo was won. But then something weird happened.
Every year, as gamers, we've made it our responsibility to ask for the same gift from Square Enix, and every year we're left feeling a little scorned, like children whose parents buy them that nice sweater instead of the 10-speed bike that tops our annual wish list. You'd think it's a wish that would have been abandoned after two or three disappointing years, and after 10 it was one that we, as gamers, were finally coming to terms with.
But then, on Monday, something amazing happened.
Square Enix (or, The Artist Formerly Known as Squaresoft) caved, bringing to reality what we have dreamed of for a decade since they teased us (tauntingly, almost) with their HD test footage to show off graphics for the then-recently-released Playstation 3. Yes, on Monday, Square granted our wishes when they played the trailer for the upcoming (OK, to call two years "upcoming" might be a stretch) remake of its hallmark game, “Final Fantasy VII.”
It took me more than two years after Square's highest-received game released for me to play it. In fact, my first venture into the ‘Final Fantasy’ universe came in February 1999 with the release of “Final Fantasy VIII.” After discovering the fun of RPGs, I decided to give this new game's predecessor a shot, walking across the highway from my stepfather's furniture store to Wal-Mart, where I would purchase the green-labeled "Greatest Hits" version of what would quickly become my favorite game. Like any new ‘Final Fantasy’ game, it took a bit to adapt to the mechanics -- trading magic draws from its older brother to the Materia system, and convincing myself that those blocks attached to that purple cube with yellow spikes were actually arms. But for all its faults -- and there are a lot -- I not only fell in love with the game, but with everything about it. The cheesy dialogue, the wacky mini-games, the bizarre story -- all of it.
I've never fancied myself much a reader. I've tried getting into some select books, and have a couple novels I can still read cover-to-cover enjoyably without having to fight the temptation of dozing off or zoning out while trying to get to the end of each chapter. I've always wished to be the kind of person with an affinity for reading; a person who can transmute words on a page into an imaginary world in which to delve recklessly and freely. But a childhood spent palming Super Nintendo controllers left me not with a hunger for my own imagination, but someone else's -- and it's only recently that I've learned that's OK. Like people who turn to their favorite books over and over again, I've turned to my favorite games -- even now, I'm in my fourth or fifth run through ‘Final Fantasy VIII’; I recently finished ‘Final Fantasy IX’ for the third time; and I've played through ‘VII’ probably three times (a game I've beat less than others not because I favor it less, but rather a perfectionist attitude I adopted at an early age from my older brothers makes the game a long and tiring process). Of course, Square isn't the only author I revisit – “Fallout 3” rarely has enough time on my shelf to collect any dust, and games like “Red Dead Redemption” and “Mortal Kombat” find themselves revisited from time to time. Call me lazy -- and you'd be right to do so -- but the video games I grew up with are to me what books are to literary hobbyists.
Square Enix promised us three years ago that the HD remake its fleeting fans had been pleading for wouldn't be entertained until the company made an equally-received game -- an impossible feat given the legendary status ‘VII’ earned and the recent slope the company's found itself trying not to roll down since the series tenth installment (to me, the franchise redefined itself with “Final Fantasy VII,” but it peaked in 2000 with “Final Fantasy IX”). When other video game companies made a seamless transition to the Playstation 2, Square Enix faltered with its ‘Final Fantasy’ games -- perhaps because of an impossibility of working staple mechanics into its newer games, such as a world map in which the players could roam at will, or a fan base that seemed to want a more active battle system (I'd give anything to go back to the turn-based systems of old) -- while its new franchises, like “Kingdom Hearts,” all but buried the old ones. In recent years, Square Enix has established itself as a franchise seemingly incapable of building a new fan base; instead, its fans are primarily those who were with them 10 or 15 or 20 or 30 years ago. The problem, as I would think they've realized, is that fan base is dwindling and those dropping out aren't being replaced.
And so on Monday, Square Enix decided to reward those fans loyal enough to see the rough patches through.
Now, in two very, very long years from now, Square will have its 16 Revive Materia maxed out and will breathe new life into a game 20 years old -- a game whose biggest faults are poor graphics and an outdated story. Square Enix has also given itself the liberty of rewriting history -- where some parts of the game were fun and goofy 20 years ago, today they'll likely be awkward and out-of-place. It'll be interesting to see if we still throw a dress on Cloud and send him headlong into a brothel, or if Barrett is still a racial stereotype. But most of all, Square Enix will give its most loyal fans a chance to relive their childhood, one high-def Chocobo race at a time.
Five days ago, I was telling my girlfriend how I thought my favorite game, made in 1997, when I was 9 years old, had been eclipsed by “Fallout 3.” And now, just five days later, I already know my mind will change again. It already has. And that's because, again, on Monday, something weird happened. On Monday, Christmas came six months and 10 days early.