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Why Final Fantasy VII Remake hasn't been released

At E3 2015 press event, Square Enix dropped a trailer that rocked Final Fantasy fans around the world: Final Fantasy VII is getting a shiny, modern remake. If you're not a Final Fantasy fan, just know that that's huge: as far as some gamers are concerned (especially those who grew up during the era of the original PlayStation), Final Fantasy VII is the video game equivalent of Star Wars. The Final Fantasy VII remake announcement trailer is less than two minutes long, doesn't show any gameplay footage, and doesn't carry a release date. It didn't matter. The mere fact that the game existed at all made members of the audience cry.

And since then? Almost nothing. Years after that big E3 reveal, we still don't know when the Final Fantasy VII remake will hit consoles. So, what's taking so long? Well, the Final Fantasy VII remake is a massive project, and Square Enix is moving very slowly. How massive, and how slow exactly? Go on and take a look.

More than your run-of-the-mill remake

We've seen Square Enix remake Final Fantasy games before. Aside from a few tweaks, however, the actual game mechanics didn't change. Final Fantasy III's characters might've gotten a little bit more personality (in the NES original, they're not even named), but the game's underlying structure is the same. This and the remastered Final Fantasy IV are the same games that people played in 1990 and 1991, respectively, with the same design quirks. They've just gotten a fresh coat of paint.

The Final Fantasy VII remake is different. This isn't going to be the Final Fantasy VII that you already know and love. In fact, it's less of a remake and more of a brand new game. As director Tetsuya Nomura tells Famitsu, "FFVII is special, and we cannot 'surpass it' just by making it look pretty." Instead, Nomura says, Square Enix is rebuilding Final Fantasy VII from the ground up. You'll recognize Final Fantasy VII's characters, settings, and scenarios, of course. At its core, though, almost everything else is new, and that takes a lot more work to put together than a simple visual update.

You want epic? Final Fantasy VII will give you epic

You might've heard that Final Fantasy VII is going to be released episodically, with the story broken down into multiple parts and doled out to players in pieces. That's true. In a since-deleted blog post, producer Yoshinori Kitase explains, "If we were to try to fit everything from the original into one remake installment, we would have to cut various parts and create a condensed version of Final Fantasy VII." He adds, "We knew none of you would have wanted that."

He's right. Still, that quote doesn't tell the whole story. Final Fantasy VII isn't going to be a single game chopped up into pieces: it's going to be a series of complete stand-alone games that, together, retell Final Fantasy VII's epic plot.

And when we say complete games, we mean it. According to Kitase, each Final Fantasy VII installment will be about the same size and length as Final Fantasy XIII. Yes, all of Final Fantasy XIII. That's huge. Even if the Final Fantasy VII remake only has a couple of installments (the total number of episodes hasn't been announced), that's still a couple of full-sized Final Fantasy adventures. That's a lot of content. No wonder it's taking so long to put together.

There's still story to be written

At this point, you might be wondering what kind of changes Square Enix is going to make to its classic RPG. In short: it looks like you're going to get a little more of everything. Final Fantasy VII isn't a short game, but if it's going to be stretched out to cover multiple full-length titles, Square Enix is going to need to add some new material — and some time to make all that new content a reality.

That means expanding the plot. The Final Fantasy VII remake won't add any new characters to game's already extensive cast, but there will be new story elements in its modern incarnation in addition to a bunch of revamped and fully-voiced dialogue. Thankfully, the transition between the old and new material should be fairly seamless. In the Japanese game magazine Dengeki, director Tetsuya Nomura reports that Kazushige Nojima, who co-wrote the original game, will be returning to help flesh out the plot.

If you're a Square Enix fan, that's great news. Further, if you're worried that these plot revisions mean that classic Final Fantasy VII moments will go missing, you can rest easy. Nomura says that Cloud Strife's goofy crossdressing adventure will stay intact, and if that's going to make the cut, chances are your favorite scene will too.

Rebuilding the battle system from the ground up

The story isn't the only part of Final Fantasy VII getting a major overhaul. Its battle system will be different in this incarnation, too. Final Fantasy VII's turn-based battle system is gone, with something more action-oriented taking its place.

At the time of writing, it's not entirely clear how battles will play out, but Yoshinori Kitase tells Game Informer that the Final Fantasy VII remake team is looking to Dissidia Final Fantasy, which lets characters move freely around a three-dimensional plane, for inspiration. In Dengeki, Nomura elaborates, claiming that command-based inputs have been replaced by actions. Maps will play a big role in the way that a fight unfolds, too. Depending on the environment, Cloud and his friends will have opportunities to perform situation-specific actions like diving for cover, while enemy attacks can change the battlefield, forcing players to change tactics.

It's all very, very different from what came before, and Nomura admits that the changes may not sit well with Final Fantasy VII's most dedicated fans. At the very least, however, the battle system changes show just how much design work the company has on its slate.

An updated sense of style

The Final Fantasy VII remake is more than just a visual update, but that doesn't mean that the game isn't getting a massive graphical upgrade. The cast is being redesigned from the ground up. All of them. Nomura is handling many of the redesigns himself. Roberto Ferrari, an Italian artist whose previous credits include Final Fantasy Type-0 and Final Fantasy XV, is lending a hand, too — and, from the looks of things, the entire process is taking a long, long time.

At an event celebrating Final Fantasy's 30th anniversary, Square Enix revealed four new screenshots from the upcoming remake, and eagle-eyed fans noticed that Final Fantasy VII's spikey-haired hero looked a little different than he did in the initial trailer and the Final Fantasy Mobius cross-promotion. Naoki Hamaguchi, Final Fantasy VII's development lead, explained exactly why. After years of work, Hamaguchi said, he "finally got the OK from Nomura" on the Cloud revamp. Cloud's fellow AVALANCHE members, Biggs, Wedge, and Jessie, looked totally different, too.

Now, Cloud is the game's hero. His look is important, and that it'd take a while to get right makes sense. Still, Final Fantasy VII has tons of characters. If it's taking this long to redesign all of them, the process could take Square Enix quite a while.

Out of sight, out of mind

The less that Square Enix talks about the Final Fantasy VII Remake, the antsier fans get to see something — heck, anything — from the game. These days, they're pretty darn antsy.

E3 2018 seemed like the perfect opportunity for Square Enix to share an update on how the game was going. Heck, we'd have been happy with a screenshot, or concept art, or at least an acknowledgement that Final Fantasy VII Remake exists. Instead, the game didn't make the show. After Square Enix's short press event came and went, people started to get worried. Maybe the publisher was simply saving FF7R for Sony's higher-profile conference, some said, foolishly holding out hope. But FF7R skipped Sony's presser, too.

It's hard to shake the feeling that, if Square Enix had something to show, they would've. After all, this is the company that announced Final Fantasy Versus XIII a full decade before the game came out. And yet, when it comes to Final Fantasy VII, Square Enix is staying mum. That implies that development has a long, long way to go.

Help (still) wanted

As we've seen, the Final Fantasy VII remake is a huge project. Still, Square Enix has been working on it for over three years, and it seems like they aren't all that far along. What gives? Well, for one, you can't make a game without people, and it looks like a few jobs are still open at Square Enix. As recently as April 2018 — nearly three years after Final Fantasy VII was announced — Square Enix added a few listings to its careers website, indicating that key positions still haven't been filled.

Specifically, Square Enix is looking for a "battle planner" to help come up with Final Fantasy VII's brand new battle system, and a "level planner" to construct "a workflow for location production," devise new designs for Final Fantasy VII's varied locations, and implement final designs using Unreal Engine 4. Those are pretty fundamental tasks, and that the positions haven't been filled yet indicates that there's still quite a lot of work to be done before Final Fantasy VII hits consoles.

The rest of the job listings support the notion that development on Final Fantasy VII is still getting started. Amid assurances that Final Fantasy VII will be "a new Final Fantasy creation," you'll find phrases like "a project to create 'a title that surpasses the original' is starting full-scale." If that awkward translation is at all accurate, then full development just started — and, if so, Final Fantasy VII is still years away.

Who's making this thing, again?

Now, there is a good reason why Square Enix might need to staff up three years into Final Fantasy VII's development process. It's not, however, a very encouraging one. In 2015, Square Enix confirmed that it had farmed out some of Final Fantasy VII's development to third-party contractors, including CyberConnect2, the studio behind the .hack series and various Naruto titles. In 2017, Square Enix changed course, giving control of the game to its in-house developers and putting Final Fantasy Mobius development head Naoki Hamaguchi in a key position.

"Development has been carried out mainly with the support of external partners," Hamaguchi explained. "However … the company has decided to shift the developmental system back to within the company." Hamaguchi cites the need for "a stable schedule" and better quality control as some of the reasons behind the switch.

On one hand, this shift shows that Square Enix is taking Final Fantasy VII seriously, and its loading the game's development team with some truly top-tier talent. On the other, it raises questions about how much, exactly, had gotten done before Square Enix took the reins. The company probably isn't starting everything over from scratch, but it sounds like there were some problems. For fans, that's going to mean an even longer wait.

Communication is key — and communicating Square Enix ain't

When Square Enix announced its partnership with CyberConnect2, it indicated that things weren't going smoothly. As Famitsu says it (by way of a Gematsu translation), Square Enix needed to keep a very close eye on the work that CyberConnect2 was doing, as the two companies had very different development styles and "production tastes."

That's just one indication that the various Final Fantasy VII teams haven't all been on the same page. Early on, nobody told Tetsua Nomura a small, minor detail: that he was directing the game. He only learned that while watching an internal presentation video about the project, when he was surprised to see his name listed as director.

As Nomura tells the story, he'd been advocating for a Final Fantasy VII remake for years but couldn't get the project off of the ground. Square Enix didn't commit to the project until Shinji Hashimoto, brand manager for both Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts, pitched the idea to both Nomura and Yoshinori Kitase, Final Fantasy VII's original director. Naturally, Nomura assumed that Kitase would helm the remake, and couldn't figure out why Kitase kept asking him for input. "Kitase thought I'd know without needing to be told," Nomura says, "and since Kitase had been so enthusiastic I just figured that he's be taking the director position again." Thankfully, the confusion was short-lived. "I'm well aware of my role now," Nomura adds, laughing.

The director has his hands full

Final Fantasy VII isn't the only game that Tetsuya Nomura has in development. He's also hard at work on a little something called Kingdom Hearts III. Maybe you've heard of it. The latest entry in Square Enix's complex and incredibly popular Final Fantasy-Disney mash-up series has been in the works since 2010. It's currently slated for a 2018 release, although, y'know. We'll see.

Before that, Nomura was tied up for years with the long-awaited Final Fantasy XIII spin-off Final Fantasy Versus XIII, which Square Enix announced in E3 2006, the same place where the PlayStation 3's $600 price tag and the Nintendo Wii made their big debuts. Nomura and his staff worked on the game for seven years, although they never got the game anywhere close to completion. Eventually, Final Fantasy Type-0 director Hajime Tabata took over, the game was rechristened Final Fantasy XV, and after a ten-year development cycle finally made its way into fans' eager hands.

There are a couple of takeaways here. For one, Nomura is a talented designer, but as both Kingdom Hearts III's and Final Fantasy Versus XIII's long and rocky histories show, he's not a particularly fast one.

A modern take on Final Fantasy VII is already out there (kind of)

While fans are very eager to get their hands on the Final Fantasy VII remake, it's clear that Square Enix isn't in any rush. Why would they be? If all you want is a version of Final Fantasy VII that runs on modern devices and doesn't look like complete garbage on HD screens, you can play one right now.

In 2012, Square Enix released a touched-up version of the original PlayStation and PC title. In 2014, the port made its way to the PlayStation 4, and it hit mobile devices a little while later. It is, in short, Final Fantasy VII exactly as you remember it, flaws and all.

And you know what? That's fine. In fact, for purists, it might even be better than a full-out remake. As director Yoshinori Kitase observed shortly before the 2012 edition of Final Fantasy VII launched, some people like Final Fantasy VII's lack of polish. If that sounds like you, don't bother with the remake: grab the version of Final Fantasy VII that's out now and start playing. You'll have a great time, especially compared to the rest of us, who are stuck waiting … and waiting … and waiting …