Why The Legend of Dragoon isn’t being remade

Let it never be said that fans of The Legend of Dragoon aren’t a tenacious bunch, with them having just jumped on yet another remake project asking for this one-hit wonder to get some love instead.

I mean, that’s evergreen, but this specific time it’s Horizon Zero Dawn, which they have a valid point came out like a minute ago in the first place and just got a sequel. It really doesn’t need a remake; you can still play it on the PS4, which means you can play it on the PS5 if you’re really hankering for it. This isn’t rocket science.

That said, Sony has always avoided any kind of tease for the game because it takes zero effort to stir up the fans. The Legend of Dragoon is a game that’s been pushed aside in many ways, with online petitions having run for decades and a Dart DLC for PlayStation All Stars having been scrapped, though given the game he was supposed to be in, that could have been a kindness for all of the ones they included, too. That said, it’s also a game that, while it did justify a Greatest Hits release, has never been one not beholden to the market.

Let me be clear: the best time for a remake would have been in the PS3 era after Final Fantasy X proved it could be successful, but on the PS3 there was the PS1 game on PSN, so there was at least availability. That time came to a hard stop as soon as Final Fantasy VII Remake was announced. The second best time is whenever Square Enix has a dull moment to work with.

Let’s start at the beginning…

The year is 1999. Final Fantasy VII became THE definitive JRPG to the Western world 2 years ago. You have a game with a decent story, a cinematic presentation, a unique battle system, decent graphics due to heavy optimization, voice acting, and the brand spanking new technology of motion capture. You have a demo in kiosks of major retailers. Your biggest competition is Final Fantasy VIII and people don’t know what to make of the overt central love story in that thing much less the Junction system. It’s basically flying under the radar. Life is pretty good, no?

Not really, no. As soon as someone utters the title of your product, without fail, someone pipes up with, "Isn’t that that movie you play like a game?" It could be an empty room and a Federation contact crew would beam in, a ghost would poke their head through the wall, or the Kool-Aid Man would smash his way in with the only difference being adding his signature "OH, YEAH" as a prefix. People have one and only one idea of what a JRPG looks like and as far as they’re concerned, yours has too much animation. Not necessarily too many cutscenes; the beginning does take a bit longer to start up and there are plenty of story beats, but there aren’t objectively more than anyone else has; you’ve just presented them better and done more to mix little scenes into other sequences not unlike Final Fantasy VI. Only almost nobody has played Final Fantasy VI because it was on the SNES as Final Fantasy III and gaming was a niche thing on the SNES where suddenly it’s gone mainstream on the PS1 specifically in part due to the utter phenomenon that was Final Fantasy VII. Fans of Final Fantasy III on the SNES are probably your biggest defenders, but it’s also been properly numbered and dumped on the same market the same year as a PS1 remake and people are sleeping on it, in part because it’s an older game, in part due to lack of marketing, in part because it’s in a 2-pack with Final Fantasy V on a mere single disc each and looks for all the world like bargain bin material because of it. Anyone who knows differently already played it on SNES. Final Fantasy VII introduced millions to JRPGs and they want more of exactly that because they literally have never experienced another one and nothing measures up to the hype. As far as those millions are concerned, they have seen the perfect game and are chasing a high they will never get again: their first. Their unreachable standards have invalidated the entire genre Final Fantasy VII introduced them to.

Final Fantasy VII isn’t even objectively better than your game. It’s full of translation issues (yours at least aren’t as hilariously bad), it looks demonstrably worse, the soundtrack is maaaybe a little better (but yours is no slouch and varies it up more), gameplay is solid (but then so is yours) and the story has a shocking twist that nobody has seen before (because they’ve never played any of the ones that came before it where similar happened) that yours happens to have, too. On the surface, your effort pretty much balances out. It’s not apples to apples, but you’ve made improvements in many areas and your story even has some nuance and some extra surprises for those who stick with it. The problem, put simply, is that yours is not and cannot be everyone and their dog’s first. You’re two years and an unprecedented marketing blitz late to that party. Sade wrote a whole song about how you’ll never have the same magic as your first kiss. People will never have the same magic as their first anything. The first will always burn itself into your mind no matter how crappy it is and there will always be a soft spot for it despite its shortcomings. Everyone and their dog has had their first and it’s not your game. Even the maker of that one is struggling to sell other games to that audience. You are in an unwinnable position. Literally everyone is.

But hey, at least everyone’s heard of it! They know yours is the movie you play like a game. That sort of maybe counts for something? Like, at least they’re not crapping on your love story. They don’t hate your game; they’re even sort of buying it a lot! But you really can’t fill the air with anything about it because that broken record of an interjection shuts down any further discussion. Everyone’s heard of your game; they just don’t know anything about it other than that all those scenes you put so much effort into make for an easy joke. And this is still the ’90s, where every conversation is a contest to offend someone without crossing a line and getting into actual trouble. They don’t even have to swear on this one; they just repeat the same line everyone else does and suck all the joy out of the air and that mostly ends the conversation. Chalk up one point.

Time passes, seasons change, and interest moves elsewhere. The sales have been made – enough to even briefly consider a sequel – and people start a petition on that silly novelty they call the Internet. It gets a lot of signatures, but you probably don’t even know it exists because it’s in English and Sony is run like all Japanese companies by less than tech-savvy old people who only speak Japanese who have little use for anything the English-speaking side of the world might have to say.

Only they never stop saying it.

And that effectively summarizes where we are today. That one line. It’s evergreen. The game got a Greatest Hits release and was put on PSN, but the fans have been tireless in their pursuit of more and Sony has, at every turn, tried to kill the idea that more would ever come in subtle ways. They don’t talk about it. Ever. There are no plans. That doesn’t stop the constant barrage, though, and social media has allowed fan interest to turn on the firehose full blast on whatever poor unsuspecting intern is manning the account that day.

So why not?

Because in the intervening years, people have largely forgotten about it being "the movie you play like a game" and have fallen back to the secondary argument, "it’s just ripping off Final Fantasy VII." And, I mean, yes, they share some of the broad strokes, but so does every JRPG of that era. Games don’t happen in a bubble, they’re made under the influence of the politics, social issues, and society of the day. Final Fantasy VII changed the entire market in one fell swoop. There are only so many games that can claim that, others including Mortal Kombat and Grand Theft Auto III. Games always represent the culmination of things that came before, whether that’s fulfillment or defiance, and some of them strike like lightning, a flash out of nowhere that sends a shock wave booming across the whole industry. That’s not something you go out of your way to make; it just happens. Back in the day, Final Fantasy VII was that game and everything remotely like it was going to be directly compared to it, almost certainly unfavorably. The whole PS1 era was a total wash for JRPGs despite housing some of the best of them. It wasn’t until Final Fantasy X rolled around that everyone was largely over it and willing to accept that there was a whole genre, not just one game. Incidentally, Final Fantasy X became quite popular in its own right. Final Fantasy IX was greatly appreciated by the very few people who bothered playing it and has gotten some retroactive love and even Final Fantasy VIII has finally overcome the direct comparison to its predecessor with a fanbase crawling out of the woodwork that even I hadn’t anticipated. JRPGs needed time for Final Fantasy VII to start looking extremely dated before the larger market was able to appreciate anything else.

As far as Sony is concerned, The Legend of Dragoon has a small, but very vocal fanbase and a lot of detractors who only know of it as a knock-off because they’ve never played it to understand how different it is. Gaming is bigger than it’s ever been and makes the PS1 era look small in comparison, but Final Fantasy VII still retains a legendary status tinted by nostalgia goggles and gained an audience that no JRPG ever has before or since. The fact of the matter is Final Fantasy VII essentially gained more fans than there were fans to gain. Anything else in that era is constrained by the smaller market of the day of actual JRPG fans, and even smaller subset of those fans who played it and latched onto it during an era where everyone was spoiled for choice. Point being, the number of people who want it doesn’t seem financially viable and the comparisons to Final Fantasy VII have been haunting it for over 20 years.

It’s honestly that second part that’s the sticking point. Sony owns the IP and the last thing they want to do is compete against Final Fantasy VII when that’s a major cash cow for both them and one of their closest partners. Moreover, there’s no financial incentive to compete and lose.

Is there hope?

In a word, no. I mean hope springs eternal, especially in the LoD fandom, but hope is at the very least on hiatus for the next 3 years or so as Final Fantasy VII R-Whatever continues to come out. We’ve got Crisis Core -Final Fantasy VII- Reunion this holiday season and Final Fantasy VII Rebirth the holiday season after that; it stands to reason Final Fantasy VII Resolution (take that one for free, Square Enix) or whatever they call the last one is going to come out a year after that since plans seem to have solidified and it’s already in production. That brings us close to the end of the traditional 7-year console generation assuming this one hasn’t been lengthened by extended lack of availability. It’s no secret that craptocurrency mining has effectively halted technological advancement in home computing or that COVID added logistical issues to hasten a chip shortage or that scalper bots effectively robbed us of nearly 2 years of both the PS5 and Xbox Series X or that game developers saw the writing on the wall and all but ignored this generation until fairly recently because the install base just wasn’t there. These past couple years have been a craptastic time to be a console manufacturer and it’s entirely reasonable that they’d want to restart the clock on the generation now since the machines are just so powerful and people actually can finally get them. But even so, Final Fantasy VII is going to absolutely dominate this console generation. And that’s assuming they’re not going to try to salvage Dirge of Cerberus in all its uncomfortable, cringeworthy glory. Which they just might given they already have so much of the setup there with the villains. Long story short, Square Enix has made bringing out The Legend of Dragoon effectively impossible for the next few years.

But, really, Sony has been so avoidant of it that I honestly don’t think there are or ever were plans to revive the property, and I’m not really hopeful there ever will be. Something like The Legend of Dragoon is far beyond any point where the assets are salvageable, maybe beyond the skeletal animations, and the graphics are completely beyond hope except for the cutscenes, which absolutely need updated voice work, because voice acting back in the day wasn’t taken nearly as seriously as it is now. What I’m saying is this isn’t like the Chrono Cross remaster where you were already working with one of the most beautiful games on the platform that largely took advantage of modern 3D techniques, and even that just plain murdered the backgrounds with an A.I. upscale worth 57 stab wounds in the back. And also the 3D is literally the old PS1 rendering engine on steroids with all of its characteristic clipping and transparency handling with high-resolution textures streamed in and a pixel grid bump to reduce, but not eliminate shimmering. That’s not a bad thing, but unfortunately, The Legend of Dragoon optimized its models largely using older techniques. It took a distinctly different route than Squaresoft’s games and that route means models break a lot, like all the time, and it’s only mostly hidden by the limited resolution. There is no "HD remaster" of that because changing that so the models don’t break is going to fundamentally change how the animation has to be handled. Even if you salvage the skeletal animation, you need to reapply it to models that are redone from the ground up, so no, you’re not actually saving anything. It’s effectively the same issue that Final Fantasy VII itself presented in that the way those models were built makes them effectively unusable for modern techniques.

Which is to say that if Sony is going to need to fundamentally redesign the graphics engine to meet modern expectations, they may as well do it right and redo all the graphics from the ground up, saving nothing. Skeletal animation, inasmuch as we know it’s skeletal animation based on how character models explode when someone tries to use Shana’s scrapped Additions and how Shana explodes less when using Dart’s stuff, may as well be best used as suggestions when they redo the whole thing in Unity like Square Enix has done for Final Fantasy VIII and Final Fantasy IX, and similarly to the latter use the opportunity to add flourishes to the details, because ultimately that’s what any HD remaster of these things is most likely to be without usable assets. The question basically becomes whether Sony is going to dedicate an entire studio to doing a whole new game based on something that, at this point in time, would be pitted against the fully reimagined game it’s been compared to since day 1.

And the answer to that is almost certainly "no." Until Final Fantasy VII is out of the pipeline and its coattails out of sight, there’s really no space for The Legend of Dragoon in whatever form it might appear in. As much as I’d love for it to get the same treatment, it’s unlikely there’s any kind of money to blow on that kind of risk. And if they do it like Square Enix did its own games, well, people are just going to ask for a full version. People are already asking for full treatment versions of everything older than Final Fantasy X at this point; can anyone really expect the LoD fans to not be similarly dissatisfied and ask for the same? Is it reasonable? Well, no, but then fan demand never is unless it’s profitable. I’d expect a smaller game to be released first and then if it would prove profitable, something else might pan out. But none of that is going to happen with FF7R rendering any effort whatsoever a footnote.

The worst thing you can be is the right thing at the wrong time, and it’s absolutely the wrong time for The Legend of Dragoon. There has been a right time in the past and there will be again in the future, but now and the next few years are entirely the wrong time.