the way you speak about rm2k3, like “modules, arrays, pointers” sounds likeGutts
you’re some badass c++ programmer stuck in the past and only has rm2k3 to
Final Fantasy VII is probably the most responsible for the enthusiasm many had in the RPG Maker community as a whole. Even RM2K’s default menu resembles a menu eerily familiar to anyone who’s ever played a Final Fantasy game. While the gameplay template was more akin to Dragon Quest, it was very clear users wanted to make their own Final Fantasies. Fan games, fan sequels, fan remakes, you know it. But even if you weren’t interested, no matter how original a game in RPG Maker was, FF7’s influence and DNA could be felt in all of them.
The idea of remaking a Final Fantasy game was always brought up in idea feedback forum threads. Of course, anything past FF6 would be more considered a “demake” because RPG Maker is 2D. Questions would arise at the dilemma of remaking something so close to or above the capabilities of the engine you’re doing it in. Remaking the NES Final Fantasy games made sense, but that had already been done before by Square themselves, multiple times. Doing the SNES games was about on par what RM2K3 was designed for, but even that still has its issues. As we get further out into demake territory the purpose of remaking starts to evaporate. What’s the point? What is the logic in doing this?
Let’s assume for a moment that the question has been answered. Then there’s the problem of the RPG Maker community often being very amateur. There are a lot of choices to be made on what exactly your goal is. Is it to pretend that Squaresoft had actually made a 7th game on the SNES? Or is it to render everything FF6 styled as a substitute instead? Would you use the character sprites that look like RTP? Would the goal then be to do whatever is humanly possible in RPG Maker? There are a lot of directions and intentions to go in, and very few would realize a consistent process. But one such game got very close to being consistent, and that is Vanit’s Final Fantasy VII 2D Remake.
The goal is pretty straight forward: What if FF7 was 2D and created in some kind of alternate reality? The author’s intentions are documented pretty well in the game-page description. Reading through this, it’s easy to realize how subjective this can all get. Vanit is very clear about preserving even the flaws of FF7, however those flaws may be interpreted. For instance, do you fix the typos of the game? Or would the typos still exist in the proposed alternate reality? Vanit recreated all of the UI as best he could, while the over world graphics had to be completely different. Animations, however, were timed out in-sync with the original game as much as possible. Simple details like Cloud popping back into position after attacking were implemented.
Liberties still had to be made though. The angle of the pre-rendered backgrounds means that everything had to be locked at a top-down angle that worked well with the grid-like movement RPG Maker came with, a default characteristic. Speaking of RPG Maker defaults, what is most notable about this project is the solution to forgo the default battle system and remake it from scratch with event programming. This means using the point and click tools RPG Maker gives you with no proper coding. It’s one of the more bizarre instances as CBSes were often rare, let alone used for a fan project. Most people who were capable of making CBSes were computer science students who made you wonder why they weren’t just making their own engine with C++ or curing cancer.
Probably more impressive than the CBS is the custom menu. The menu has been fully recreated and is the closest thing to the real game. Visually, the menu does bring out some very specific nuances in how PS1 displays video to the TV screen. As most know, RPG Maker is rendered at 320×240. FF7 actually has 3 different resolution modes, 320×240 for the battles, 320×224 for the maps, and 364×240 for the menus. This makes it difficult to recreate everything pixel per pixel as there has to be choices in how to best to constrain the widths as faithfully as possible. Not only that but the way you would copy the colors based on the original console is up for interpretation.
As I compare the two screens, small things start to crop up. Why is Cloud’s MP at 54/56 at the very start of the game? What about the 240 gil? He’s also about to level up, likely intended for the first incoming battle. Many of these choices are probably arbitrary, but maybe not, it’s hard to say. You’ll notice that Cloud is named instead of being the mysterious Ex-Soldier. It’s mainly due to Vanit running into limitations and deciding to just name Cloud by default, which he details in the best way to own someone online over CMSes. The auto-scrolling is another detail that’s been studied. The CMS was even known for some breakthroughs. If FF7 was only its menu, the 2D Remake would technically be feature complete. The only thing left to do is to actually build the scenes, the story and the battle sequences to support it. Which is the hardest part.
Loading up the game, it’s surreal to hear the bombing mission midi (ripped straight from the PC version) play as Cloud hops out of the train like old times. The chibi-fied nature of the RTP charasets blends pretty well with how you’d remember the pop-eye 3D models. Though, it is hilarious to see some of the stiff 3D animations faithfully recreated in sprite form. Even the way the AVALANCHE NPCs moves on ahead of you demonstrates the nuances behind FF7’s direction. There’s also the text boxes being displayed in a custom fashion that lets them appear anywhere on the screen, and where and when they pop up is faithfully recreated. There are some slight differences if you’re paying attention, like the steam coming out of the train right before Biggs jumps out. Barret voices his distrust for you, and that’s about as far as the demo gets. You can wander around a bit and fight some battles and mess around with the menu, but sadly you aren’t able to blow up the reactor. Vanit eventually gave up on completing the bombing mission and the project as a whole.
I think it does answer the question of why to “demake” a game, though. It strips away the technological/professional differences between RPG Maker games and the games they’re inspired by. It highlights the vision FF7 had and what it meant to so many people. It’s also a craft, in that there have been many many many many attempts at demaking or remaking FF7, but I would say Vanit’s attention to detail highlights that there is an eye for noticing even the most arbitrary of things. However incidental or slapped together a lot of choices in FF7 may have been, there is plenty that can go wrong even in recreating many of these things. That by itself, I think, is interesting. It makes you question the fabric of any creative choice. When things get more subjective on how best to interpret and handle things, a back and forth conversation tends to happen. You see, FF7 was made by humans, for humans, and you can’t really “port” that.
However, being on the frontier of remaking a beloved franchise without any money or credit for originality might not be too liberating for most people. It’s a very arduous task with very little pay-off. There might even be a DMCA in it for you when you do complete it all, and your hard work has to be hosted on torrent sites. Assuming, that is, you don’t get a C&D letter before the project even finishes. There’s also the fact that maybe only the people in the RPG Maker community would appreciate it, and even then as a novelty. It’s a weird curiosity niche that satisfies the what-ifs but not really an entertainment product. As detailed in his blog posts, Vanit moved onto other things and decided to release the source code for all to see. People are welcome to expand on the project or use his findings to further their game development endeavors but it’s pretty much a closed chapter.
It’s easy to look down on fan efforts and wonder why anyone would take it seriously, but that applies to most things that aren’t necessary to your survival. It’s only because an endeavor is accepted by communities that they seem more valid. Even the commercial FF7 Remake could be considered a fan effort, just an officially endorsed one. At the end of day, just go after what you think is cool, after all that’s how Final Fantasy VII was made right?