Design Concept: Final Fantasy Nexus

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6 years 10 months
Submitted by SuperSayu on Fri, 05/17/2019 - 13:21

I have had nothing but bad things to say about the Final Fantasy VII remake since it was announced. There is a simple reason for that: the project is being treated as though the new game will be better than the old, when it takes many of the things that were good about the old game and scraps them. For contrast, I offer this suggestion, which I will codename "Nexus".

I envision Final Fantasy Nexus as being (in brief) Mario Maker for Final Fantasy VII, VIII, and IX. One engine, with included tools for modding, which runs modified versions of the scripts for those games (probably without minigames). One specific feature: You can play the script for each of those games using the battle engine for any of them. That is to say, in Nexus, you could play a game that uses 7's story and assets with 9's battle engine, or 8's story and assets with 7's engine, etc.

And that's it. That's the concept. That's the game. An engine that can run three very similar games, is moddable, and proves that it's moddable by letting us play a new and interesting spin on the old games by just changing out one part of the engine for another that already exists.

This is not a trivial project; I'm sure that the scripts and assets from those three games are anything but compatible with each other, and the tools are very different. However, putting together an engine that replicates those three games is less difficult than, say, putting together a whole new FF7 remake project. That said, I literally cannot imagine any fan of those three games turning down the option to play through the games again in new and interesting ways, and official modding support would be a boon to the hardworking people who are hacking together mods for closed-source games today; there are active communities and have been for a very long time.

Let's talk a bit about why I would prefer this to the Remake Project.

First, while I don't mind that the remake project exists, it won't be the game that I love. They have thrown out too much of the existing game: the art, the pacing, the music, etc. In fact, by introducing mod support, Square retains the ability to release high resolution assets for those games without doing literally anything else, where if they tried to release a specific HD version of the game while changing nothing else, fans would balk and they would lose face--for good reason. With mods, Square could put out versions of 7, 8, and 9 with such detail in their 3D models and backgrounds that they won't look out of place on a 4k display, and also include the original models and original backgrounds if that's how you feel like you want to play the game. Because, for fans of the original, some days you might want to take a nostalgia trip, and that's okay. Similarly, they could release a pack with new animations and new scripting while still keeping the old ones.

Second, it creates genuinely new content that also feels familiar. I watch a FF7 Let's Player who likes to run through various mods and challenges of the game, including things I would never try and never succeed at. Modders try very interesting, sometimes very unsubtle changes to the game, such as the Necrosis Mod, where the characters start at maximum health (four nines) and magic, and must get through the entire game without being able to heal, recharge, or resurrect anyone. People are itching to play the game they love new ways, and this doesn't just provide them one or two new challenges, but opens up decades' worth of experimentation; not only can you play each game with a new battle engine, but you can modify all three games, and possibly create whole new battle engines, and play through the game over and over again.

Third, mods are the definitive version of "having cake and eating it too"; for instance, you can include scripts that fix bugs and typos alongside the originals, add reams of extra content but let it be disabled, adding voice work that isn't mandatory, add accessibility options and difficulty options and even cheats, etc. Any given player might have a set of mods that they consider "canon", which they prefer to play with and show off to others, and no two players are required to play the same way.

Fourth, building the new engine from scratch to allows a lot of exciting features, not the least of which is making the game expandable and portable; it can be built platform-agnostic, and hopefully designed so that patches in the future can improve performance on new hardware, all the while the game mods themselves remain the same even if the game continues to exist in ten or twenty years in the future (but really, who would be obsessing over a twenty year old game, right?). They could, for instance, consolidate a lot of enemy models, so that certain enemies or NPCs that are basically the same between games... are the same between games. This might not work when playing playing each game with vanilla graphics, and the style of 9 (for example) might be out of place in 7... but it presents an option that connects the worlds together, which is fitting when they all come in the same box. Similarly, music could be mixed and matched, and you could add variety by making battle music (for instance) pick from a playlist instead of always playing the same song for a fight. The engine could also support things the originals never did, like speech, or character portraits, or it might give new customization options to every game.

Fifth... and arguably most important to some, but not to me, the Nexus with its mod support allows people who love these games to be creative and share their creativity with other people, eventually creating whole new games with whole new scripts in the engine for others to enjoy. I myself am picky, and would probably find less enjoyment here than many, but I would also fight for their right to be able to do it. Mods are something that people turn to when a game has really caught their imagination on fire, and they just have to poke at it to make their dreams a reality. Supporting the people who enjoy your product the most can only do good things for a company's image.

And sixth... one of the things that I dislike about the Remake project and 3D games in general is that it takes a lot of staff a lot of time to put in a lot of details that are, conservatively speaking, relatively obscure and only stick out if they are done wrong. To put it differently, you can get those details wrong, but rarely can you get them right. This introduces a lot of stress and makes it difficult to focus on just making the game fun. Sandbox-style games (which I love) tend to focus on the parts of the game that are fun to play, and constantly tweak those things until they are the best they can be. Tweaking something in Terraria or Starbound can still be a lot of work, but tweaking things in a big complicated 3D game may involve bringing in a department full of 3D modellers, only to find when the change is implemented that it was a waste of time and you really wanted to do something else, or do nothing at all. The easier it is to change details, the more polish you can bring to a game without racking up enormous development costs. (Big studios do get around this, but their attempts to get around the costs prove the point: every change is a commitment, and the more details you have, the larger the commitment on each change.)

Seventh? I just honestly want the product. I want to play FF7 with 9's engine, and FF9 with 7's engine. I want to play through the story of FF8 without drawing magic from everyone. But at the same time, I do kind of like 8's engine and would play the other games with it just to see how it goes. I love all of the games, and I would really enjoy a new product that celebrated what was great about them. The Remake will be an interesting thing all on its own, but I want to celebrate the old games, not replace them, and not necessarily add to them or modify them.

I guarantee that FF:Nexus, if it were developed by Square, would be a hit, and for a lot less money than the Remake is taking. I don't know for certain that it would make them a fortune, but it would certainly do a lot to give Square a good reputation again--and I don't know what everyone else thinks, but several of their moves lately have given me pause. And I think that if they saw that, saw it being a success when more expensive projects aren't, then maybe... maybe they would start taking a closer look at things, and maybe make some changes.