In 1998, Eidos Interactive published Final Fantasy VII on the Windows PC. Okay, that in itself wasn’t groundbreaking. What was groundbreaking was the effect of that release. By the late ‘90s, the Internet was well-settled and an aftermarket of software mods flourished. FF7 inadvertently became the object of a great deal of this unauthorized–yet very creative-–modding.
Initial mods focused on enhancing the look and sound of the game. Resolution was upped, soundtracks revamped, textures made smoother, pre-rendered backgrounds became clearer, and the patchy localization polished.
With the advent of, well, Advent Children, modders went to work updating character models to resemble the movie’s more realistic figures. The “super-deformed” character models used to explore the regular settings and world map were replaced by more detailed models. Text boxes, character profiles, menu layouts, and even enemy AI were also revamped.
The goal, as it gradually emerged by the mid-2000s, was to remake FF7. But there are limits to a fractious modder community compared to a centralized, well-funded corporation. The mods only tackled bits and pieces of FF7, never coming close to wholly reshaping it. One big example: Updated character models were limited to the main characters; 99% of Non-Player Characters (NPCs) and enemies were unaffected by design changes.
In the case of China, that curiosity bred a whole new level of creativity. An obscure company from Shenzhen, notable for pirate hacks of popular Japanese titles, went through the effort of recreating FF7 for the many 8-bit “Famiclones,” knockoff Nintendos, that were common throughout the county. Unlike the company’s other works, the FF7 “demake” garnered the attention of the international gaming press and modder community, which quickly went to work translating, polishing, and emulating the game for other audiences.
In 2008, an Australian programmer named Lucas Brown tried to bring the demake to another level when he started development on a 16-bit version of FF7. Brown used RPG Maker as the basis for the demake, but the one-man dev team was unable to complete the vast project. Brown has since joined WaterMelon Games, best-known for the Sega Genesis homebrew RPG Pier Solar.
The international mod effort yielded cool results, but it couldn’t truly remake Final Fantasy VII. It would fall back to Square to do just that.