Over the weekend, Square Enix released the first look at gameplay from their upcoming remake of Final Fantasy VII. This included a look at part of Midgar as well as the opening assault on a Mako reactor. Not surprisingly, the whole of the internet was excited about it though there were some concerned with some of the changes that SquEnix has already shown off for FF7 Remake.
What didn’t sit well with gamers were some of the quieter announcements that Square Enix made about the game in a press release that seems to have gone to selected outlets. Square Enix quietly announced that Final Fantasy VII Remake will be a “multi-part series.”
No details have been released about the new distribution model for Final Fantasy VII Remake (that’s its official name, by the way). Square Enix hasn’t released any information about when the parts will be released, how many there will be, how long they will be, how frequently they’ll be released, what will be contained in an episode, if the episodes will be standalone or more like an expansion pack (that will allow you to backtrack rather than confining you in one area), how much each episode will cost. and if there will be an option to purchase the whole game Basically, SquEnix has told you that they have a business plan foor FF7R without telling you what the business plan actually is.
It’s funny that you would think that the die-hard fans of Final Fantasy VII would be arguing about the new battle system that more closely resembles Kingdom Hearts than FF7 or how the voice actors from Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children haven’t returned for FF7R. Instead, we’re going to be spending the next little bit airing concerns over this business model.
There are several problems with taking what was previously 40-hour (or much longer for completionists) game on three discs and spreading it over an unspecified number of episodes at an unspecified price. My personal worst case scenario would be a series of standalone episodes that don’t allow for the world map exploring and side quest completion at our own pace like we had in FF7 released a year apart over five episodes at $20 per shot.
What scares me is that Square Enix could get away with all sorts of tricks because sales of this game will be largely driven by nostalgia for Final Fantasy VII. Whether it’s people who actually played FF7 on PS1 (or PC) or people who have heard how great FF7, nostalgia will drive the sales of this game. Well, it will drive sales of the first episode and early purchase/pre-order season passes. While I think it’s likely the people will jump on the option of buying the full game at a discount relative to the a la carte price, there is always the outside chance that a number of gamers will take the cautious approach to buying FF7R given the business model.
While a big company like Square Enix shouldn’t have problems actually completing Final Fantasy VII Remake, episodically or not, there is still a lot of room for trouble. I’ve already stated my concerns over the business model and value proposition especially if this creeps its way above $60 for the whole package. What concerns me is whether the game will drag on for years and suffer in quality as a result. We’ve seen other episodic games drag as other projects got in the way. Just look at Telltale’s inconsistent release schedule, Broken Age’s 15 months between part releases or Kentucky Route Zero which has gone 19 months since Episode 3 of 5 was released.
The potential effect of FF7R long-term could be the most troubling. While I don’t think that episodically released games will become the norm regardless of FF7R’s success, there’s always a risk that a company could see this as a viable release method for a big game. I grew up with triple-A RPGs being released as these sweeping epics that would take dozens of hours to complete even if you weren’t a completionist.
We’re already seeing Square Enix go quasi-episodic with next year’s Hitman game. Half of the game will be released in March with the remaining three levels released over the next three months. What’s to stop this same episodic or staggered release from happening to Kingdom Hearts III or another Final Fantasy game or some other massive endeavor, especially when it means being able to release a game and recognize revenue shortly before the end of your fiscal year.
Sure, Square Enix can tell the press that “each entry will have the volume of content equal to a full-sized game” but that means nothing in today’s gaming environment. With some so-called triple-A games having campaigns around four hours long, what’s a full-sized game and does that mean that they’ll be charging full-sized prices for every part? A Final Fantasy game is well over 30 hours. Is that the full-sized game that the amount of content that we’ll see with every part?
The problem is that Square Enix has already charted this course and we’re just guessing where we are being guided to. I highly doubt that we’ll see the whole of FF7R released together until sometime after the final part is released. How many of us will hold out that long to play it? Our only hope is that Square Enix does the game justice. Woe betide them if they screw it up.