Final Fantasy VII FF7 Demake Blown up reactor
Screenshot by Destructoid

Final Fantasy 7 Demake for Famicom requires imagination, familiarity, and patience

Seems like a step backward for some reason.

Final Fantasy VII was released in 1997 on PlayStation. In those days, the NES, despite Nintendo only discontinuing it in 1995, was considered practically ancient. Things aged faster in the ‘90s.

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By the time the PlayStation had passed into antiquity in the aughts, the denizens of Web 2.0 became aware of a Famicom/NES demake of Final Fantasy VII. Since Final Fantasy VII was still fondly remembered and the retro gamer identity was reaching its maturity, this was a fascinating topic of conversation. Just hearing about it took your imagination to interesting places.

It was certainly fascinating to me. I didn’t know enough about the backend of video games to really have an idea for how this was possible; a 3-disc epic on a diminutive cartridge. What radical magic!

I never took the time to play it, however. At the time, I hadn’t spent much time with OG Final Fantasy VII, so I didn’t have any attachment to it. In the spirit of the coming Final Fantasy VII Rebirth, I felt it was time to finally try it. And try it, I did.

I tried what I could before it crashed.

Final Fantasy VII FF7 Aerith meeting
Screenshot by Destructoid

The Final Fantasy VII Demake wasn’t strictly some fan endeavor; it’s a Chinese bootleg. While the breadth and quality (compared to common Chinese bootlegs) suggest that its creator(s) had some affection for the PS1 title, they either didn’t have the time or didn’t care enough to really make a convincing 8-bit facsimile.

Final Fantasy VII Demake, like so many other knock-offs, is made from the parts of other games. Music, sprites, the battle system; they’ve all been taken from other games. Typically these come from other games in the NES Final Fantasy trilogy, but some are pulled from a variety of other sources. One thing I haven’t been able to identify is an actually unique asset.

The game itself supposedly covers much of the PS1 game’s story but is filled full of notable omissions. I wouldn’t know for sure because it won’t let me precede past the part when you arrive in the Sector 7 slums. I can make it to 7th Heaven, but then the game freezes, often throwing the NES’ typical garbage scramble into my face.

I thought this might be a one-off glitch, an issue with my hardware setup, or maybe just a corrupt version of the game, but no matter how I approached it, the result was always the same. I ran through the opening section three times, and it still refused to allow me past the bar. I blame Tifa.

In my troubleshooting, I found other people having the same issue, so I know it’s just not me. In 2013, fans hacked the bootleg and replaced all the stolen assets with ones that actually resemble the original game. 10 will get you 20 that the newer patch wouldn’t have the same problem with crashing, but I feel like that defeats the purpose. Fans spending four years to make something better isn’t as interesting as some developer cobbling together a vague facsimile of a popular title to sell in an inconsistent market.

Final Fantasy VII FF7 Demake Battle Screen
Screenshot by Destructoid

The Final Fantasy VII demake wasn’t technically for the Famicom. It was actually for a series of bootleg “Famiclones” that were produced under the Subor name. While Subor would start making clones of more powerful hardware, for a long time, they created different configurations of Nintendo’s famous 6502 console.

Final Fantasy VII wasn’t the only game to get demade for the bootleg market. The Legend of Zelda: Minish Cap, Harvest Moon, Resident Evil, and Chrono Trigger are among the titles to get backported to the system. Beyond that, they’d mash things together or make sequels to games that never received one. Before you get too excited, however, most of them are of extremely shaky quality. Most of the assets are just recycled from other games, and there wasn’t a whole lot of quality control.

Still, it’s quite the rabbit hole that isn’t well documented outside high-profile discoveries like the Final Fantasy VII bootleg. Most Chinese bootleg games are just copies of existing games released in massive compilations. It can be an adventure. Just because it says 50-in-1 doesn’t mean that you’re getting 50 unique games, as often they’d just be duplicates with, if you’re lucky, the difficulty tweaked a smidge. It might have Super Mario 64 on the cover, but it’s probably just Super Mario Bros. 3 on the PCB. Other times, it will just bafflingly mix up art by having, say, Little Nemo: Dream Master on the cover with Pokémon written over top of it. Wild stuff.

For that matter, the Final Fantasy VII demake came on a cartridge labeled Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, which, if you’re not savvy, was the game’s sequel movie. No, none of the movie’s story makes it into the game.

Final Fantasy VII FF7 Demake Make Reactor?
Screenshot by Destructoid

The part that I did play was a bizarre experience. The story, or at least the translation, is almost verbatim from the original. However, Midgar has a lot more brickwork than I remember. The environments are a mishmash of medieval fantasy tilesets. The Mako reactor that Avalanche blows up in the beginning is a dragon’s head. The slums look like an idyllic forest village rather than shanties cobbled together in a desolate, sun-deprived wasteland.

The monsters that show up in random battles are a similar mishmash. What’s worse is that the variety of them in just the first area is extensive and not balanced. One fight could be a group that goes down with a few swipes of Cloud’s large scimitar (the original bootleg had no buster sword), while the next could be a grueling battle against armored foes that have healing spells. The reactor boss itself isn’t much of an issue, but it’s all down to luck if you make it to them at all.

You need a combination of extreme patience, a good imagination, and extensive knowledge of the original to really appreciate the Final Fantasy VII Demake. With no real cutscenes, memorable moments are kind of glossed over or omitted entirely. This is something that only existing fans would really appreciate. That, and people who don’t have access to the PS1 version.

This is just how some children in China experienced video games growing up, so many have nostalgia for the bootleg games and consoles that they had access to. It’s a unique way to experience the industry; chewed up and provided in whatever way they could manage. I’m almost envious.

Final Fantasy VII FF7 Remake 7th Heaven
Screenshot by Destructoid

When the Final Fantasy VII bootleg was discovered and proliferated across the internet, some considered it an incredible achievement for the NES. On some parts of that, I disagree. The cartridge used a large PRG ROM to store everything, then moved CHR data to RAM. This is pretty much exactly how the Famicom version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, as well as some other titles, did it. The scale of the game is also not much more impressive than something like Dragon Quest IV.

However, what was impressive is that a bootleg developer known mostly for hack jobs went to the effort of such an extensive remake. Demakes are a bit more prevalent today, with games like Bloodborne and Dead Space getting the PS1 treatment. Even then, those efforts usually just stop after a small, reimagined portion. Shenzhen Nanjing Technology probably could have done Midgar and called it a day, but to actually go beyond that shows some dedication beyond just wanting to fill a cartridge with a recognizable knock-off. That’s a weird sort of respect to show when you’re cobbling something together from stolen assets.

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Author
Zoey Handley
Staff Writer - Zoey is a gaming gadabout. She got her start blogging with the community in 2018 and hit the front page soon after. Normally found exploring indie experiments and retro libraries, she does her best to remain chronically uncool.