How 'FF7 Remake's updated visuals give Cloud more nuance

He can do a whole lot more than shrug or fall over.

Square Enix

The initial batch of trailers and gameplay previews for Final Fantasy VII Remake have sparked numerous visual comparisons to the maligned animated sequel film, Advent Children, something that could be a source of concern for tentative fans. A challenge of any remake is honoring the story that came before and keeping the experience fresh for fans of the original, and some inspiring new comments from the Square Enix development team show a holistic approach that sounds totally unlike Advent Children in every way.

In a lengthy post published Monday to the company’s official blog, various members of the Final Fantasy VII Remake team wrote about their approach to making the new game. Some comments from scenario writer Kazushige Nojima in particular about the first time he saw protagonist Cloud Strife’s redesign have me even more excited for a gaming experience that sounds familiar yet totally refreshing.

“It wasn’t post-Advent Children Cloud, with kindness brimming from within,” Nojima wrote. “Rather, here was a young man with fiery features, looking straight at me through the screen with aggression in his eyes. I knew right then: “Oh, this is it.”

Cloud begins 'Final Fantasy VII Remake' as a badass and total jerk.

Square Enix

More than 20 years after the release of the original game, we’ll all have to reckon with who Cloud became through the course of Final Fantasy VII, but many of us will also be haunted by the version from Advent Children, which takes place two years after the original game.

While most of the major characters have more or less retired from fighting at this point in time, Cloud remained sharp and restless, picking heroic fights and working constantly. The deaths of Zack and Aerith from the original game weigh heavily on him, making him more sensitive and kind. He’s become more human after all the trauma he’s experienced, adding a touch of gravitas to the character.

For Nojima to describe him as “fiery” with “aggression in his eyes” perfectly captures who Cloud is supposed to be at this point in time — a superhuman badass plagued by amnesia, who literally thinks he’s someone else — rather than the more sensitive hero we all see him as. Remake will capture Cloud, Tifa, Barret, and the rest of their group as who they were rather than who they are. This subtle, nostalgic difference is incredibly important. Most adaptations and remakes are plagued by these kinds of nuanced distinctions, but if these and other comments from the development team are any indication, then we have every right to stay excited for Remake.

When the story begins, Cloud is in the midst of an identity crisis that not even he recognizes. He misremembers his own past and later gradually uncovers the tragic truth of his life, and this character’s journey is a big part of what makes Final Fantasy VII’s story so great.

In these early sections of the story, however, he presents himself as a self-assured, uncaring badass. He doesn’t care about helping the planet. He just wants his paycheck. Because we’re dealing in modern graphics, developers need to actually think about Cloud’s facial expression and how to project an air about him that communicates this complexity. In a way, this will be something nobody has ever truly seen before.

Even the body language here communicates the nature of their lifelong friendship.

Square Enix

“I revisited the experiences that he’d had in his life so far, thinking of the effect that each individual event would have had on him,” Nojima said. “His attitude toward his childhood friend Tifa. How would he act toward Barret? What sort of distance would he keep while interacting with passers-by on the street?”

The subtleties to the interactions Cloud has with other people is also central to the narrative of Final Fantasy VII. Nojima notes that because of the “cartoon-like, stylized art” of the original, players had to use “their imagination to supplement portions that couldn’t be depicted” — like Cloud’s facial expressions. Because of the drastic shift in mediums from polygonal graphics with text-based dialogue to fully rendered character models with voice acting, the story has to change drastically.

“In Final Fantasy VII Remake, there will be much less room for player imagination,” Nojima explained.

That might be a troubling thing to hear for some of the devoted Final Fantasy VII fans out there, but it has this one genuinely excited.

Final Fantasy VII Remake will be released for the Sony PlayStation 4 March 3, 2020.

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