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Second Impressions: FF7R

I didn’t think it was possible, but I like Final Fantasy 7 Remake even more.

One aspect that I didn’t like initially has really grown on me: uninterrupted dialog. Basically, there are no RPG-esques pauses whenever someone is talking. Conversations just flow with zero button inputs. It was initially kind of frustrating, because some of the banter is hilarious and it goes by too quick for me to take a screenshot (I always have subtitles up in games precisely for screenshot purposes).

But do you know what it all reminds me of? Mass Effect.

Over ten (!?) years ago now, I was writing about how the winks in Mass Effect were blowing my mind. There is a lot more than winks going on in FF7R, but that’s not really the point. The point is that these are genuinely interesting characters with personalities and mannerisms. They wink, nod, pose, strut, and otherwise behave in consistent ways. Some of those mannerisms are very anime-ish, but hey, Japan. At least these land miles better than in FF14.

Anyway, I just got to the point where I party up with Aerith and I’ve been smiling the whole goddamn time. I’ve always historically been Team Tifa, even before Disc 1, but Aerith is the biggest dork in the Remake and I love it. Just the little things like Cloud saying “The wererats pray on the weak” and Aerith replying “Well, you better be careful then.” Typing this out seems so dumb but there’s just this whole vibe going on in the game, and I’m feeling it.

Oh, and there’s this moment when Cloud and Aerith reach a pipe and have to slide down to get to the next area. Aerith goes first… and says “Wheee!” with her hands raised in the air as she goes down.

It was almost over before I could take a screenshot.

Guys. Guys. Again, feel super-dumb typing it out. But when was the last time you played a game where you were able to vicariously feel the joy and care of the designers through the screen? Whoever scripted that moment loved their job. It didn’t have to exist. It was over in literally two seconds – I couldn’t even hit the screenshot key fast enough – and it has no bearing on anything other than to flavor the experience and convey that which is Aerith.

It made me smile. When was the last time a game did that for you?

In closing, let me reiterate the disclaimer that the original Final Fantasy 7 has been in my top 5 game list for 25 (!?!) years. So FF7R is basically intravenous nostalgia from the word GO. Will you appreciate the “personalities and mannerisms” of these characters in the same way I do? Probably not. In a vacuum, they might just be cliché.

Nevertheless, these devs have taken a formative experience of my childhood and brought it to life in a way that has exceeded all my wildest expectations. A breath I never knew I was holding has been released as a cathartic sigh, blowing away my whole jaded gamer schtick. For the time being, at least.

So there it is. Hopefully the rest of the game holds up, but it doesn’t even matter. I’m happy right now.

First Impressions: FF7R

Oh, man. OH. MAN.

I know the game is a remake and the devs have had decades of modern game design experience to leverage… but, guys. I’m home. I haven’t been this giddy and excited since… I don’t even remember. Every single part of game so far is like finally finding someone who shares the same passion as you and catching up for hours. Walking around Sector 7 Slums and looking up (looking up!) just pulls the FF7 memories of my high school imagination straight out of my head and serves them right back in high definition.

And it really reinforces, to me, how groundbreaking FF7 originally was. For you see, FF7 was not my first Final Fantasy game – that was actually FF6. So this is not a “always remember your first love” situation. This instead is a recognition of how novel the pseudo-sci-fi setting was, the mind-blowing scale of Midgar, and that first time you leave the city and see it as just another town on the world map. Blew my fucking mind. That experience is right up there with first leaving the Vault in Fallout 3.

There are some other things I like. An extremely flirty Jessie. The random NPCs commenting on Cloud. The aftereffects of the reactor explosion. The extra cutscene on what really caused the reactor explosion. The well-stitched narrative in which I felt it difficult to stop playing. Not that I was going to stop playing until I reached Tifa for the first time. Tifa.

Welcome home.

The one negative so far, and it’s kind of important: the combat system.

Basically I’m not quite sure what’s going on yet. Like obviously I’m reading the tutorial prompts and successfully navigating the fights. But it seems like I’m taking a lot of damage and I don’t know if that is expected, or if I’m supposed to not, or what. It’s “action gamey” but not in the same way as, say, Nier Automata. Controlling Barret feels even worse as none of his attacks feel particularly satisfying. Hold X to rapid-fire for some amount of time, or press Y to… speed up the charging of a special attack. But that attack can be stopped by random terrain if you aren’t careful.

Anyway, not going to let a little thing like a combat system interrupt my JRPG nostalgerbation. I am going to assume it gets better, or that I can change things around enough to make it so, or that it will not diminish the rest of the experience. Which would be quite the feat considering how much I am enjoying myself already just walking around.

The Wishlist, part Welp

I was expecting the Epic Sale to be weeks away still, but apparently it started today. Also, apparently inflation (or lawsuit fees?) come for us all:

Instead of getting a flat $10 off any game at $14.99 and above, you get 25% extra off.

This is technically a better deal when the baseline game you are buying is more than $40. Everything else is a worse deal. For example, Rogue Lords is on sale for $16.24. With the historical coupon scheme, it would be $6.24, but this new scheme means it is $12.18. The one extra nuance though is apparently the new scheme will allow you to get the 25% discount as long as your entire cart is above $14.99 rather than individual items. Risk of Rain 2 is discounted to $12.49, for example, which normally would not receive any extra discount. In the same cart as Rogue Lords, you save… $3.12.

Hey, I’ve done dumber shit for, well, not less but not much more than that.

In any case, it’s extremely disappointing that basically every game on my wishlist is $2.49 more expensive than it was six months ago during the Winter version of this sale. Two-fiddy many not seem like a lot, and perhaps it isn’t in the grand scheme of things, but in my head I turn those numbers into other games I could have bought.

Anyway, this is how my wishlist breaks down in this sale:

  • [$37.26] Final Fantasy 7: Remake Intergrade
  • [$22.49] Cyberpunk 2077
  • [$22.49] Red Dead Redemption 2
  • [$18.74] Horizon: Zero Dawn Complete
  • [$15.74] Satisfactory
  • [$9.37] Risk of Rain 2
  • [$37.49*] God of War
  • [$40.49*] Dying Light 2
  • [$18.74*] Wildermyth
  • [not listed] Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
  • [not listed] Elden Ring
  • [not listed] NeiR: Replicant

The prices with an asterisk are games not on sale aside from the bonus 25% (Dying Light 2 is 10% off, I guess). I’m actually rather surprised about the bottom three games simply not existing on Epic. I’m not aware of any exclusivity agreements with Steam, and part of Epic’s whole deal was supposed to be a better dev cut of the action, so… what? How is something like Elden Ring not on here?

After some sticker shock at the “buy all the things” total, I pared it down to the four horsemen:

So, Final Fantasy 7 Remake, Cyberpunk 2077, Red Dead Redemption 2, and Horizon: Zero Dawn.

I had things like Risk of Rain 2 and Satisfactory in there and some other off-wishlist games like Days Gone and Far Cry 6, but I had to face reality a bit. Given those main four games (and nevermind my existing library), when would I have the time to be playing anything else? I suppose it’s possible that Epic’s next sale is an even worse deal than this one, but that is a risk I am just going to take. This way, I can see where things stand by the end of quad-AAA production experiences, not feel guilty for occasionally tooling around in random indie games, and see what ends up popping up in Game Pass.

And that’s it. See you in six months.

Inflation

Amidst all the gaming sales this holiday season was a surprise. A most unwelcome one.

First was the surprise that the PC version of the Final Fantasy 7 Remake (FF7R) even came out. I was so giddy when the original news came out in 2015, but that giddiness has been tempered by years of self-restraint from not purchasing a PS4 to play just that game, and the constant endeavor to avoid spoilers. Somehow that avoidance must have led me to disregard news articles that the PC version was coming out. The fact that FF7R is an Epic exclusive also didn’t even register. But that’s because…

Secondly, seventy what-the-fuck dollars?!

I understand that FF7R is by no means the first to try to raise the hitherto $60 price ceiling of games. Many games of this new console generation are trying the same, including major franchises. It does seem a little weird that the PC port of a game that came out 1.5 years ago is trying to sell at a premium price though. Especially since one could purchase the PS5 version of the same PC bundle (main game + DLC) for $39.19 straight from the Playstation Store. That’s the winter sale price, of course, but there are cheaper options at GameStop and presumably other retailers.

I also understand that gaming companies have technically been raising prices this whole time via DLC and microtransactions and battle passes and deluxe editions and so on and so forth. Some have made the argument that it is because of the $60 price ceiling that game companies have employed black hat econ-psychologists to invent ever more pernicious means of eroding consumer surplus. That argument is, of course, ridiculous: they would simply do both, as they do today.

What I do not understand is gaming apologists suggesting inflation is the reason for $70 games.

Sometimes the apologists make the argument that games have not kept pace with inflation for years. One apt example is how Final Fantasy 6 (or 3 at the time) on the SNES retailed for $79.99 back in 1994. That is literally $150 in 2021 money. Thing is… gaming was NOT mainstream back in 1994; the market was tiny, and dominated by Japan. When you are comparable in size to model train enthusiasts, you pay model train enthusiast prices.

Gaming has been mainstream for decades now. Despite ever-increasing budgets and marketing costs, games remain a high-margin product. FF6 may have sold for $150 in today’s dollars, but FF7 sold three times as many copies for the equivalent of $100 by 2003*. So how does an “inflation” argument make sense there?

“The costs for making games have increased!” I mean… yes, but also no? Developers like to pretend that they need bleeding-edge graphics in order to sell games, but that is clearly not the case everywhere. For one thing, indie developers have been killing it with some of the best titles this decade with pixel graphics and small-group passion projects. Stardew Valley sold how many copies? Remember when Minecraft sold for $2 billion? Not everyone is a big winner, but the costs of game making has only increased in specific genres with specific designs. Do we really need individually articulated and dynamically moving ass-hair on our protagonists?

And that’s where the “iT’s iNfLaTiOn” folks really lose me: who gives a shit about these corporations? I wrote about this 8 years ago:

As a consumer, you are not responsible for a company’s business model. It is perfectly fine to want the developers to be paid for their work, or to wish the company continued success. But presuming some sort of moral imperative on the part of the consumer is not only impossible, it’s also intellectually dishonest. You and I have no control over how a game company is run, how much they pay their staff, what business terms they ink, or how they run their company. Nobody asked EA to spend $300+ million on SWTOR. Nobody told Curt Schilling to run 38 Studios into the ground. Literally nobody wanted THQ to make the tablet that bankrupted the studio.

Why should we take it as a given that PlayStation 5 games cost more to develop? A lot of things in the economy actually get cheaper over time, regardless of inflation. Things like… computers and software. Personnel costs may usually only trend upwards, but again, someone else made the decision to assign 300 people to a specific game instead of 250. Or to scrap everything and start over halfway through the project. And somehow these companies continue making money hand over fist without $70 default pricing. So I find it far more likely that the price increase is a literal cash grab in the same way the airline industry added billions in miscellaneous fees after their bailouts and “forgot” to remove them after they recovered. Basically, because they could. Some informal industry collusion helps.

In summation: fuck the move towards legitimizing $70 MSRP. That 14% price hike is not going to result in 14% better games with 14% deeper stories and 14% more fun. In fact, it’s probably the opposite in that you will just afford 14% fewer games. And unless you got a 6% raise in 2021, you are already eating a pay cut on top of that.

Oh well. Waited this long for FF7R, so I may as well wait some more.