Having had the privilege (by sheer luck) to play Final Fantasy VII Remake a full week ahead of the actual release date has been a thrill. Though the game itself is highly nostalgic to someone who played the game back in the late 90s, it has been an unexpected nostalgia trip – due to the way both the Internet and online journalism as well as games’ meta levels have shaped gaming since the release of Final Fantasy VII in 1997.
I was lucky enough to get a text on Friday 3 April saying I can collect my copy of Final Fantasy VII Remake Deluxe Edition from my local retailer. So, after I finished work I went to collect with the unbridled enthusiasm of a gamer in their early 30s who has been self-isolating for three weeks, and one who clocked in hundreds of hours on the original Final Fantasy VII on Playstation back in the day. Getting back home and unboxing the game I get my first rush of nostalgia – the case has two discs! It’s the first time since who knows when that a game is delivered on multiple discs. It’s just like the original game that was housed on three discs, although this time around one is labelled ‘Data Disc’ and the other ‘Game Disc’.
Firing up the game and getting immersed in the story beginning to unravel is the second wave of nostalgia washing over me, experiencing the familiar scenery and characters as scaled up versions of what they looked like in my head, with the all-too-recogniseable score reinterpreted sending shivers down the spine – this is (mostly) even better than I could’ve hoped for! These sentiments carry a long way, through both familiar scenes and completely new setpieces. And things are as they should be.
It isn’t until an unexpected dialogue choice comes up and I begin to wonder how impactful it is in the overall arc of the remake that I realise there is an unprecedented type of nostalgia at play – one that I would have been hard to anticipate. There isn’t anywhere (obvious, at least) to look for guidance! Playing what can easily be described as one of the major gaming events of the year pre-release leaves one completely devoid of the now-customary gaming website staple/nuissance (take your pick) ‘tips for playing game x’ guides. To me, a member of the regular public, playing a game pre-release is unheard of these days! Publishers guard their major releases’ street dates with laser focus, and in some cases even professional game journalists’ access to pre-release games is limited by embargos or not supplying review copies in advance.
This has not always been the case though. Prior to the release of Final Fantasy IX in 2000, my then-favourite local retailer since gone out of business, I was treated to the chance of purchasing my copy a week or so in advance of the street date. Only an established relationship made this possible, as I had pre-ordered and bought both Metal Gear Solid and Final Fantasy VIII on their respective release dates from the same retailer. As a courtesy, the retailer wanted to offer special service to a loyal customer who had – again – pre-ordered one of that year’s top gaming phenomena.
Even further, being a secondary schooler back then with limited access to resources and even more limited access to a much less content-rich internet than today, there wasn’t much guidance or help a young gamer could’ve turned to should the occasion rise. Thus, playing a new game was a much more innocent affair than it is today.
Nowadays, even though I tend to steer away from the kind of aforementioned guides and tip articles, having been exposed to the bombardment of useful-to-knows and I-wish-I-had-known-before-starting-the-games upon the release of a game leaves a mark and a lingering temptation to gain insight in handy strategies and good character building tips on a game of which you’ve merely scratched the surface. This issue is further exacerbated by trophies/achievements, which often give out details beforehand should one go perusing the trophy list. I didn’t even go through the list but having noticed the Biker Boy trophy upon unlocking the previous trophy, I just had to ho back and redo the scene before I could progress further in the game! As luck would have it though, since the release date is yet to arrive and there is no destination to which synchronise the trophy data, the trophy list is unaccessible through regular means and only by achieving trophies themselves. Thus, I made a point of not studying the list and to instead just enjoy the ride. It is actually a relief to be unburdened by trophies in a game as seemingly vast as VII Remake.
Altogether this time around, playing FF VII Remake prior to the official release and lifting of the review embargo has changed the nature of how I play and removed all temptation to even look for guidance, leaving me free to discover the games secrets and mechanics all by myself – like I used to in the times before the glory days of the Internet and online games journalism. It sure has been nostalgic and, take my word for it, refreshing. Like Final Fantasy VII, it harkens back to a more innocent time, and it may have made the experience all the better for it.
P.S. Remember to support your local game dealerships and local businesses in general – they need you in this disruptive time. If you don’t, you’ll miss them the next time you need them.