Warning Plot Spoilers Ahead:
For starters, this isn’t a review of FFVIIR, I fear that a review of that particular title from myself, would end up being more like EGM’s review of the title in terms of its low score, than of some of other positive reviews on the net.
Instead, this is an analysis as to why the game has been very divisive amongst fans, and how Nomura’s erratic way of directing ( and storytelling) has brought the once ‘untouchable’ FFVII into the realm of Kingdom Hearts absurdity. I consider myself a purist, and this take on FFVIIR is mainly from a purist point of view.
The Original Final Fantasy VII, Kazushige Nojima, Tetsuya Nomura, and Kingdom Hearts
FFVII was considered at the time of its release; a masterpiece in storytelling. Yeah, the translation was awful at times, but the storytelling was coherent; it made sense. The story left some smart gaps in the characters past, which would be filled by thousands of Fan Fictions across the net in the late 90s. Some of the FanFics were actually much superior to Crisis Core’s (PSP) pre-FFVII story.
The FanFics for the most part did what Square/Enix failed to do in its post Sakaguchi era treatment of FFVII related media. The Fanfics actually respected the original canon.
Now, it is easy for most of us to blame Nomura for FFVIIR’s ‘destruction’ of FFVII’s canon. We are accustomed (if not conditioned) to point fingers at film directors when a beloved film franchise either bombs at the box office, or tanks in its fans eyes. Perhaps the truth goes a bit deeper than just Nomura, and the blame spills into Nojima’s (who is the actual main story writer) territory, but more on him later.
I will use a catch phrase from senior editor Mont Cessna, when I say that Nomura is “no innocent little lamb”, the man for all of his brilliance as a character designer, remains as of yet, a serviceable game director whose most notable work in terms of critical reception is the original Kingdom Hearts and its main numbered sequel Kingdom Hearts 2. Yet none of those titles ever got beyond an 87 Metacritic rating. So, when some people hear the name “Tetsuya Nomura”, the word “Legend” comes to their minds. When I hear “Nomura” however, the word “Overrated” springs up instead.
Chief amongst Nomura’s biggest sins is the ‘plot ruination’ of his own project: The Kingdom Hearts Series. While the series has been commercially successful, it never reached the high critical levels of reception that Sakaguchi’s FF series attained in its first ten installments. Quite simply, after the second main installment, the story became very difficult to follow as Nomura expanded said tale in many game iterations (taking place at different timelines, and handheld systems), that were connected to the two main console installments.
The nearly 15 years that it took for Kingdom Hearts 3 to make an appearance didn’t help the series either. I speak for myself (or maybe for many) when I say, that I had to go online to search for a plot summary of the events that took place prior to the last game, so that I could ‘catchup’ in order to boot up KH3, and not feel utterly confused.
See, the problem is not the time lines in between the games, but the absurdity of some of the stuff that I had to keep track of in order to understand the characters themselves.
The villain in the game has 4 or 5 iterations of himself, and even Sora (the protagonist) has a few iterations of his own self. Scientifically speaking it makes no sense that any being would have that many iterations of his or herself. Equally mistifying, is the reasoning behind a physical Heartless, and a physical Nobody being created when your Heart is lost to darkness.
Of course Kingdom Hearts is a work of fiction, and because it is such a work, ridiculous, and nonsensical plot elements can be forgiven. After all, what can be more absurd than a bunch of ‘Final Fantasy like’ characters running around in popular Disney worlds fighting the forces of darkness side by side with Donald Duck, and ‘Warrior King’ Mickey Mouse?
Given the logical implications of the previous paragraph; we forgave KH. In fact we enjoyed meddling in Mulan’s, and the Little Mermaid’s universes. Perhaps, even more shocking than the previous statement is the fact that I enjoyed my time hacking away at the heartless in KH3, even if half of the time I didn’t really know what the heck was going on plot wise.
Nomura’s absurdity worked in Kingdom Hearts, mainly because the original premise itself was absurd to begin with. But Nomura who has described himself as “Not director material” might be onto something, because we know of at least one other high profile project that he had to be pulled out from in order to save said project.
Nomura is, or at least was beloved universally as he designed the most iconic JRPG characters in existence in FFVII’s legendary cast. So I will not question the man’s acumen as an artist, however, his involvement in FFVII was carefully overseen by both Kitase, and FF mastermind Hinorobu Sakaguchi. Every time Nomura worked on a FF project that ended up being a major critical success, he was always working under the careful guidance of Sakaguchi.
The one time prior to FFVIIR that he was tasked with directing anything other than Kingdom Hearts, he failed massively in the form of the now defunct Final Fantasy VS XIII/XV.
FFvsXIII would eventually be resurrected as Final Fantasy XV with Hajime Tabata at the helm.
What We Learned From FFXV
Apart from Nomura having trouble adhering to normal development schedules (as also evidenced by KH3), perhaps the most troubling thing that we learned, is that he wasn’t trusted to direct his own conceptual creation in FFVs13. After 6 years in development hell, all Nomura had to show for it (the work done in the game) were some cool looking CG scenes, and nothing else.
Stories on how the pulling of Tetsuya from the project went down vary, and we might never get the entire gist of it. The one thing that we can infer from interviews with Nomura himself, and various leaks, is that the acclaimed character designer wasn’t happy about being pulled out from the project.
As recently as 2013, Nomura talked about the grand aspirations he had for FFXV, including the game being split into 3 parts because of the sheer amount of content that it would have. In a 2013 interview with Famitsu, Nomura seemed extremely excited about the project:
When I confirmed the shift to Final Fantasy XV, I said that I was concerned since it was different from previous numbered titles. It has action battles, not command battles, so even though it is going to do what is impossible in a numbered title, would that be alright? Since it was said that it wouldn’t be a problem, the objective hasn’t changed at all. But in the trailer it says, “A World of the Versus Epic”… implying that it was a piece of a larger epic. Final Fantasy XV will come to a single climax, but as for the story, I plan to continue it. — Tetsuya Nomura (Source Gametsu.com)
Nomura “Leaving” the FFXV project would become official in 2014 when Square/Enix announced that he was leaving that particular directing task in order to focus his efforts on Kingdom Hearts 3. It seemed like a perfectly reasonable excuse at the time.
However, there is firm evidence to dispel the notion that Nomura was pulled out of the project purely for KH3’s sake, and not in order to save FFXV from an inevitable doom under his vision as its director.
Never mind that all that Nomura had to show after 7 years at the helm – of what became FFXV – were some cool looking CG scenes (apparently Film Making might be Nomura’s true calling), and some gameplay trailers showing Noctis battling foes.
The final straw went much deeper than that. Seven years without a concise product is enough for any director to be placed on the proverbial “Hot Seat”, and yet, in my opinion, the one drop that spilled the glass over at SquareEnix was one of Nomura’s profound ‘artistic’ visions.
Enter Les Miserables
If I told you that nearly 7 years after beginning the development of the game that at that point was to be FF’s 15thentry, Nomura went one day straight to SquareEnix’s offices, and blatantly told the executives that he wanted to turn the game into a Musical. Would you call me a Liar? Would you laugh at the mere suggestion? The answer is probably a resounding ‘YES’ for both questions. The scary thing is that the former statement is exactly what took place in late 2012, or early 2013 as Nomura admitted as much to IGN.com in an interview.
Nomura is an artist, he uses his imagination, and he draws. His talent is such that he probably created (physical appearance at least ) some of, if not the most iconic RPG characters in history during his late 90s run under Sakaguchi.
Men like Nomura, are creative forces that need proper steering, and restraint by a wiser – more level headed – creative individual like the aforementioned Sakaguchi. Or else, they might go overboard and do something extremely -Eh- Intense!
2012’s Les Miserables was a critically acclaimed musical film. The film had such an impact on Nomura’s creative mind, that the very next day after watching it, he went to Square’s executives to pitch his seemly infallible (in his own deluded mind) idea of turning Final Fantasy XV into a musical JRPG.
That’s the kind of ridiculous pitch that gets people laughed out of offices even when pitched as an idea for an original game, as opposed – to an out of the blue ridiculous pitch – for a game 7 years into development as the next main numbered entry in a venerable, and long running series. A series that was also looking to resurrect itself from the ashes of FFXIII, and its sequels.
That’s the kind of pitch that probably scared SquareEnix’s executives into dismissing Nomura from the project altogether. The executives (thankfully) promptly shut Nomura’s pitch down. Eventually FFXV’s direction was handed to a more seasoned, and level headed director in Hajime Tabata.
The issue in all of this is that I understand keeping Nomura on top of the Kingdom Hearts series. The setting for the games themselves is absurd. Nomura and Nojime have, in their nonsensical way of storytelling, thrived in the chaotic, and convoluted messes that those games have become. The thing that I find puzzling, is that Nomura obviously botched his time with FFXV, and clearly the higher ups at SquareEnix weren’t confident in his ability to get that 10 year, multimillion dollar development nightmare done. And yet, they trusted the man to direct the remake of Square’s most legendary property in FFVII.
The only explanation that I can fathom, is that well, technically speaking; Nomura did deserve to be on the Remake team. Tetsuya is one of the older members on the staff who worked on the original, and he had a big hand on the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII works along with his partner in crime: Scenario and Story writer Kazushigue Nojima.
Those works were commercially successful and while some of the material was divisive for the FFVII fanbase, most fans seemed happy with their work.
Still considering that Nomura never showed much respect for the canon of the original game, as demonstrated by how he ran things with Nojima in Advent Children. It was a surprise to see him direct the remake, but perhaps this is what Square Enix wanted.
The company wanted a Remake rooted in the lore of the Compilation of FFVII, rather than on the work done in the original game. So they handed down to the reigns of the remake to a man who could sell the public anything with his wonderful CG cutscenes, but in reality couldn’t even get a numbered entry of the series done, even with a ridiculously forgiving 8+ year deadline.
The only other two big missing pieces in the Final Fantasy VII puzzle were Hinorobu Sakaguchi and Yoshinori Kitase. Kitase remains on board, but judging on how FFVIIR ended up plot wise, perhaps he was just labeled Producer as a figure head of sorts, and was just there to go along with ride.
Kitase’s career as a director, and as a story writer destroys both Nomura and Nojima’s combined resumes with only three titles that any JRPG fan would recognize today as the holy grail of that particular genre: Chrono Trigger, FFVII, and FFVI.
Combined, those games are probably the three greatest JRPGs ever made, and Mr. Kitase Directed and Wrote (and supervised the writing) in the three titles.
If I could ever interview one man in order to ask “What the heck happened to the canon of the original FFVII?” that man would be Kitase.
When Sakaguchi was forced to resign from Square he left Kitase (perhaps sensing he was the only one who could fill his shoes) as his successor in the handling of the FF series. For some reason though, while he has been a producer in pretty much every big FFVII project that has been made since; it is Nomura and Nojima’s influence that has surfaced in each entry. We can include the film FFVII: Advent Children in said media works.
Nojima and Nomura never respected the original FFVII canon as evidenced by Crisis Core and Advent Children
I won’t go into detail on every glaring offense committed by the two most popular pieces in the Compilation of FFVII. However, I will point out some of the more glaring offenses.
Crisis Core, chronicles the events prior to the original Final Fantasy VII…except that it greatly exaggerates a key moment that had already been chronicled in the original game, and adds (in a phrase that has been used to describe FFVIIR’s ending by Forum Posters everywhere )“Some Kingdom Hearts BS” to the plot in form of main antagonist: Genesis.
Nojima complemented Genesis’s unnecessary existence with Angeal’s ( who would fuse with his own clones turning into a monster) absurd character arch. I don’t want to spoil much, but Genesis according to Crisis Core, is almost as important in the setup story to the original game as Sephiroth himself is.
The problem that Nojima, and his creation in Genesis have, is that Crisis Core’s famous villain is never mentioned, not once, in the original game.
The ironic thing is that one of the aspects that made FFVII’s story so enjoyable was the detailed back stories shown in flashbacks for each main character in the game. Events that took place during Crisis Core’s timeline were revealed in detail in the original FFVII, and Genesis didn’t exist in any of them.
The other insult to the original Canon is Zack Fair himself, or rather how he is handled in both Crisis Core and Advent Children. In Crisis Core, Zack is given much more importance than he ever had in the original game. Granted, CC is telling Zack’s story, but the original game already had given us an outline of his tale.
He was a SOLDIER First Class native of Gongaga. He fell in love with Aeris, and was presumably her first boyfriend. When Sephiroth goes mad at Nibelheim, Zack, as the only other SOLDIER in the party has to take it upon himself to bring him down.
Zack tries, and gets his rear end kicked rather easily. Cloud (a Shinra infantry grunt) takes on Sephiroth, and proves to be the superior Warrior (in relation to Zack) as he does manage to take down the silver haired icon.
Both Zack and Cloud are then captured by the Shinra, and experimented on. Zack escapes with a comatose Cloud, and on his way to Midgar is intercepted by a few Shinra soldiers. Zack is unceremoniously gunned down by two infantry soldiers, and an officer.
Cloud wakes up from his comatose state, and finds that Zack is dead and takes his sword and presumably some of his memories and traits fusing them with his own, and proceeds to Midgar.
Zack the character had an unjust, gritty, but realistic end. Final Fantasy VII was a gritty game. When people get shot, they die, there is no grace to it, it is a terrible way to go, and there is nothing glorious about it.
Nojima and Nomura would change everything in Crisis Core. The most abhorrent of changes actually took place in Zack’s newly reimagined last moments.
In CC Zack fights, and defeats an entire Army in glorious Dragon Ball Z fashion before succumbing. More insulting to the canon is that he gets to say his final words to Cloud. Words in which he literally tells his blonde haired (true hero of the story) comrade that from now on, he would be his avatar (live for us both). Then Zack is welcomed into the afterlife by none other than Angeal himself!
If you have no idea how badly Nomura and Nojima destroyed the canon of the original game in that scene, then you never really played the original game to its conclusion. Angeal isn’t supposed to exist, and Zack shouldn’t be able to keep his consciousness in the after life because according to canon only the Cetra (Aeris’s race) can.
And so… we get to Advent Children
Let’s forget about how cool the movie looked, and how ridiculously stupid Kadaj and his gang were as plot additions to the series ( never mind Sephiroth’s own mind-boggling appearance in the final battle) for a moment. The most fascinating, and non-sensical part of the film is Zack Fair’s afterlife reunion with Aeris.
First, Aeris clear fell for Cloud in FFVII, and she even admitted as much in said game. She was over Zack.
Second, even if that wasn’t the case there is no way Zack can keep his consciousness in the lifestream because he is not a Cetra. If Advent Children were true to the original’s canon, Zack would be a tree at that juncture, or perhaps an ant. The Lifestream, and reincarnation in FFVII work that way.
Nojima and Nomura come full circle in FFVIIR
The history lesson (and ranting) was necessary in order to understand why FFVIIR is so divisive, and why I disliked it. FFVIIR is not so much a remake, but an ill conceived sequel of a game that didn’t need one. It is a sequel built not on the original masterpiece crafted under Sakaguchi, but a game built on the Compilation of FFVII crafted under Nomura’s wilder vision.
Perhaps I am just a purist. I disliked the The Last Jedi, I felt it was disrespectful to Star Wars even when its infractions – to its respective canon – were minuscule in comparison to FFVIIR’s.
I honestly felt that FFVIIR would face a lot issues years ago, way before I knew of the episodic plan, and certainly way before experiencing the ridiculous changes made to the plot line. Perhaps my issue lies on Square Enix preying on our nostalgia promising a “Remake” in their marketing of the game.
The word “Remake” is open to interpretation, but as far as gaming goes, the word is attached to faithful recreations of original works. The Playstation 4 ‘Remake’ of the Shadow of the Colossus, is an exact recreation of the original game but with modern graphics. Ocarina of Time 3D was faithful to OoT, it only looked prettier.
The recent RE2 Remake changed some core gameplay mechanics in order to modernize the game, but remained true to the original game’s story.
FFVIIR feels like it should have been named FFVII-2, because that’s what it is. To be fair, even if the game had remained loyal to the original canon some would have complained. Perhaps the blame is on me, as I did fear that plot ‘trends’ in the compilation would take precedence over the original work due to Nomura, and Nojima’s influence. So, the blame is on me for being angry and somewhat shocked at how the game turned into “Some Kingdom Hearts like Bulls*&^” because the signs had been there for more than a decade.
FFVIIR’s ending crushes the original canon, and opens the door for SquareEnix to milk the established FFVII franchise. The possibilities are endless. After all, the game ends with the creation of least three different possible timelines once the Whispers are defeated. The original timeline, the one that FFVIIR creates for the present cast, and the one it creates where (surprise!) Zack Fair lives by surviving his DBZ ordeal/battle before the start of the game.
It is unclear what implications Zack’s survival will have in FFVIIR’s main timeline. What is clear however, is that according to ‘Nomura and Nojima logic’ killing the Whisper Harbinger in one timeline eliminates the ‘arbiters of fate’ from ever existing. So that means that my original estimate of 3 different timeless is off, and by quite an infinite number of possibilities, and divergences that were created with as a consequence of their demise.
Such is the magic of the “Kingdom Hearts like Bulls*&^” stunts that Nomura is so fond of in his works.
The saving grace of FFVIIR is that for the most part it looks, and sounds fantastic. As a stand alone game, it is a fairly good one, even if doesn’t touch the greatness of the Witcher 3, or the satisfying Sci-Fi tale of Horizon Zero Dawn.
I assume new comers to the series will find enjoyment in the game as it is a fairly good one 7-8/10 if I were to score it. Some old timers might want to experience the “new” take on the story, however nonsensical it might be, but as for me; I will treat FFVIIR as work of Fan Fiction and I will try not to cringe as Nomura and Nojima’s new story implodes on itself. Some would say that it already has.
For what is worth the game has earned an 88 Meteoritic rating, perhaps as an effect of Nomura’s direction in cut scenes, and CG movies, which is very good indeed.
Basically his CG movies can make a lot of people forget about how the story took a turn for the worse because “Wow Cloud and Aeris look so awesome now!”. That’s the general feeling in this corner. Over the years Nomura and Nojima have crafted FFVII media that is full of style, but there is not much substance behind it.
Perhaps most of us 90’s kids did want an opportunity to bring Aeris back, and perhaps this was one of the driving forces behind the “Whispers” concept. In that case, Nomura should have stuck with the main FFVIIR time line, and maybe – just maybe – I would have been a bit more understanding of the changes that were made.
Zack surviving however, is something that just cannot be reconciled with the original canon. Zack is dead, Cloud was always meant to be the hero. His, was the story of an underdog, maybe even an anti hero, who suffered terrible losses on his way towards becoming a real one in a gritty, and harsh Sci/Fi world that mirrored our own in many of its socio/political themes.
FFVII was that special. It is unfortunate that in 20 years the story has been turned into a silly vehicle for Nomura’s fascination with the non-sensical. Because of this, I will never be able to reconcile with FFVIIR, and accept it as canon. In my opinion the canon was completed in the first game. Any chance of it being expanded while staying true to the original story ended with Sakaguchi’s departure. FFVIIR will forever in my mind live as another piece amongst the sea of Fan Fictions that I have read about FFVII over the years, and I feel at peace with that.