Video games are different from other forms of pop culture because the underlying technology advances so much more quickly. Technology disrupts other arts too, sometimes dramatically—talkies, multitrack recording, the mathematics of perspective—but in 2019, a 20-year-old video game is much older than a 20-year-old movie or song or painting or book. That’s easy to forget for two reasons, both of which stem from planned obsolescence: It can be difficult and expensive to revisit older games, which inevitably improve in memory once the old console breaks down; and since the industry is built around continually wowing customers with new technology, memories of older video games are often about being amazed by beautiful graphics, smoothly responsive gameplay, or ever-more-convincing digital renditions of Keanu Reeves. And then you plug in an old Atari and it turns out Pitfall just isn’t as exciting today as it was back when Jack Black sold it to you:
And yet people want to revisit the games they loved growing up. The usual solution the gaming industry has settled on lies somewhere between Hollywood’s approach of rebooting the same movie with a different cast and creative team and Hollywood’s other approach of reissuing popular movies, exactly the way they appeared in theaters, every time a new home video format comes along: reissuing games with upgraded graphics but the same basic underlying gameplay. That approach is straightforward if you’re jumping one generation, as in the PS4 version of The Last of Us, and a viable option for a two-generation jump like Shadow of the Colossus. But to sell a game from 1997 on a modern console, you pretty much have to fully reboot it. And as the trailer for the Final Fantasy VII Remake that premiered Wednesday at the Tokyo Game Show demonstrates, that approach can make flaws in the original material painfully obvious:
The look of this remake feels right in that it resembles my memory of Final Fantasy VII rather than the thing itself. But the shift to spoken dialogue—and the wildly unconvincing voice acting that has come with it—seems like it’s going to be fatal. In a three minute trailer, there are three objectively terrible line readings—“Let’s lay down some rubber,” “Now it’s my turn!” and of course, “Don’t be shy, little kitten—shimmy on over and give daddy some sugar!”—and at that pace, if Final Fantasy VII Remake takes the same 40 hours or so to play that the original did, it will make gamers cringe 2,400 times. (It probably won’t take that long: The new game only covers the first part of Final Fantasy VII’s plot and is supposed to be the first in a series of new games.) It’s not like the writing in the original game wasn’t cringeworthy—it absolutely was—but the cartoonish dialogue was offset by the cartoonish visuals in a way that made the whole thing work as camp. And it’s a lot easier to ignore a terrible line if it shows up in a dialogue bubble than it is if an actor has to try to make it sound natural. Here’s a scene that was featured in the new trailer, which is not necessarily better in its original form, but undeniably a lot sillier:
… The idiosyncratic use … of ellipses … was Final Fantasy VII’s secret weapon … and the remake will be much diminished by their absence … Also, if Barret doesn’t shake his fist and stomp his feet like a wind-up toy whenever he’s mad, is it really Final Fantasy VII? We’ll find out on March 3, 2020, when Square Enix lets us know exactly how long it’s been since Sept. 7, 1997.