“The reunion at hand may bring joy. It may bring fear. But let us embrace whatever it brings. For they are coming back.” These ending words to Final Fantasy VII Remake‘s first trailer echoed in my mind for years. It wasn’t just a cryptic passage for the game’s story, but a message to longtime fans. Regarding the remake project, we’ve all had our worries. We’ve all had our hesitations. But fans were hopeful and excited for Final Fantasy VII Remake regardless.
Developer & Publisher // Square Enix
Platforms // PC, PlayStation 4|5
MSRP & Release Date // $59.99, Apr. 4, 2020
Reviewed On // PlayStation 4
The Memory of the Star
The biggest contention from the remake project was Square Enix’s decision to split the story into multiple parts. Some saw this as a greedy avenue to gouge fans while others understood why after an explanation. Remaking one of the most beloved games of all time is a daunting task. What do you change? What do you keep? How do you tackle certain scenarios and adapt them to the current era?
So when Square announced FF7R, the excitement was unfathomable, but so was the skepticism. Even then, the development team asked fans to trust the choices they were making, including splitting the overall story into parts and changing the gameplay to be more action-oriented. Given the past decade of their big title releases, Square had one hell of an uphill climb to endure. While the visual quality was there every step of the way, narrative and gameplay made those experiences feel hollow.
After playing through Final Fantasy VII Remake, have their decisions been justified? I’ll be the first to admit: It was questionable if Square could deliver another genre-defining JRPG. At least, until now.
After the Long Kalm
Here’s the short and sweet: Final Fantasy VII Remake is Square Enix’s best singleplayer game in years. Is it perfect? No, absolutely not. However, the game we got out of the box is them in their prime. This is a game made from extremely talented developers with a lot of love and care for the original game. While it follows the story we know pretty closely, there’s a lot that’s new and a lot that has been expanded or reworked. In essence, it’s like the developers reached into our minds on how we imagined Final Fantasy VII and delivered just that and added more.
Players follow ex-SOLDIER Cloud Strife as he and the eco-terrorist group AVALANCHE face off against the megacorporation known as Shinra, whose sucking the life essence of the planet and using it as an energy source. This first entry in the remake series takes place in Midgar, a double-layered city supported by a central pillar and eight reactors, which funnel the planet’s life source into a comfortable living for those on the top plate. Players join AVALANCHE and Cloud on their first mission together: destroying one of Shinra’s reactors.
In the remake, Square goes all out to retell this portion of the original game’s story in a new, yet familiar way. Veteran fans will be happy to know that a lot of the iconic moments from the Midgar section are recreated and made better than ever. The opening bombing run mission, for example, is a longer sequence with more dialogue and set pieces that makes it even more exciting than the original. And somehow, the game just kept getting better and better from there. Despite the one or two times where a chapter felt too long, I enjoyed what was offered.
Final Fantasy VII Remake’s Best Quality
The core strength in the remake’s writing lies in character dialogue. Thanks to the superb voice acting, we get to see our main cast have genuine, non-cheesy conversations. Even underdeveloped side characters from the original (Jessie, Biggs and Wedge) are given time in the spotlight and became instant favorites of mine. The game’s pacing can go from buck wild intensity to a slow crawl, but all of it felt like a natural turn of events that amounted to something truly memorable. Cloud meeting Aerith for the second time and escaping from the church via rooftops is one of my favorite moments from FF7 that lasts less than a few minutes. In the remake, this sequence lasts close to 10 minutes and gives more insight into the kind of person Aerith is. It’s touching to see her whimsical self chipping away at the hardened ex-SOLDIER mercenary.
Along with the writing, side quests were one of my initial worries when starting the game. As of late, games have been making side quests more narratively interesting than to just pad out gameplay hours. FF7R follows this trend, more or less. While a few were misses, like searching around for cats, most were wildly entertaining. I lost count on the amount of times I laughed out loud from the game’s shenanigans. FF7 always had a goofy nature to it and the remake goes all in on that sense of humor. Johnny’s quest-line, for example, is just full of laughs and silliness that creates comedy gold when matched with Cloud’s stoic personality. Other quests don’t have an immediate payoff, but they all serve an effective role in giving more personality to Midgar.
The Pizza in the Sky
I wasn’t fully sold on the idea of FF7R introducing new characters, but they’re actually a welcome addition. Opposed to my worries, they enhance the city’s diverse culture and social mindset. Midgar has always been an iconic setting, but I never felt as connected to it as I do now. If the new characters weren’t enough, the chatty NPCs completely immersed me into this world. Hearing them react to events or complain about their first-world problems brought a new level of world-building and atmosphere for the franchise. Before the remake, it was if we could only see Midgar’s persona from a distance. Now, we can live in its beautiful tragedy.
In the current console generation, we’ve seen only a handful of visually impressive games with a distinctive art style. FF7R is one of those games, sporting some of the best character models in any Final Fantasy. Whether in exploration or fights, Cloud, Barret, Tifa and Aerith look absolutely phenomenal and are given an incredible attention to detail in their animations. The same can be said for the varied, weird-looking enemies you’ll come across on the battlefield. Seeing sparks fly off of Cloud’s sword making contact with enemies is insanely gratifying and too cool to not mention. Square just knows how to make games look fun to play and gorgeous on top it.
One of FF7‘s signature qualities wasn’t just in its graphics (at the time), but in its art style. From the mardi gras ambiance of Wall Market to the eerie calm of Shinra headquarters, every location in the game is its own character. Unfortunately, not every technical detail is as polished. A regular amount of textures in the game are in an ugly, low-res quality that are noticeable. It’s unclear whether this was a developer choice or an odd engine bug. Texture loading was more or less the visual setback, but that was the only technical issue I came across.
Combat and Materia in Final Fantasy VII Remake
Final Fantasy VII Remake‘s battle system is not turn-based gameplay like its predecessor. Instead, it’s an action-oriented game with a mix of multiple mechanics. Each member of your party has an ATB gauge, their normal attack commands, and a variety of special attacks. Normal attacks build up the ATB gauge that, when filled, allows you to do specific actions like cast magic, use a special attack or use an item, like a potion. These commands can be accessed through a shortcut command menu or the original command menu itself. But here’s the cool part about opening the command menu mid-battle: it slows down-time. This allotted time gives you a chance to plan your next move or rethink your strategy.
Every playable character has an individual playstyle: Cloud is the all-around sword wielder; Barret is the long-range tank; Tifa is the quick-hit brawler; and Aerith is the magic queen. There’s some I prefer to play over others, but all are incredibly fun to play as. While the party has their obvious strengths, your creativity using the Materia system plays as big of a role as it did in the original game. Magic, stat enhancements, and specific abilities are tied to glowing orbs called Materia that you collect throughout the game and slot onto weapons and equipment.
Weapons have a more interesting role this time around than being just Materia placeholders. While they do effect stats, they also come equipped with special attacks to add to your arsenal. Additionally, every weapon has their own stat/skill tree. This on top of the flexibility of the Materia system lends itself to an endless amount of creative setups that the game will push you to think about.
Make Sure to Stagger!
It’s also imperative to pay attention to an enemy’s stagger bar. When their stagger bar is filled, they’re left open to attacks so the party can some serious damage. Certain special attacks will increase the stagger bar more, so fixing in combos to include those attacks will make tough boss fights a little easier.
While it can be overwhelming at first, it won’t take long to understand the balance of aggressive action and managing ATB multiple bars. With that said, combat is extremely synergetic. It has a natural stream of action and strategy unlike anything I’ve experienced. At the same time, it harbors the soul of the original’s gameplay.
Even then, air combat isn’t as good as it can be. The two that can leap into the air, Tifa and Cloud, don’t properly track the airborne enemy. You also can’t continue into another air combo unless you touch the ground. So the solution? Bring magic. But another fix would be having the two able to string into air combos, similar to Kingdom Hearts II.
Now onto one of the most impressive features of Final Fantasy VII Remake: the boss fights. I can undoubtedly say FF7R has the best boss fights in the entire franchise. Period. Even smaller, easier bosses from the original game are dialed up to 11 in their scale, having multiple phases and eye-candy presentations. They were challenging enough to keep me focused and locked into the fight, but not too difficult either. A few of them were great surprises that had me extremely excited to see as well. During these fights, you can also bring in Summons to fight alongside your party. Of course, in Final Fantasy fashion, Ifrit’s and Shiva’s exit are just as grand as their introduction.
Oh, Sweet Melodies of Final Fantasy VII Remake
Final Fantasy VII Remake has a dynamic soundtrack that adds a handful of new goodies and a whole lot of great adaptations. Just like its predecessor, the remake embraces the epic, the silly, the fun, the sad and the scary of its tale. Flower Blooming in the Church, one of my all-time favorite versions of Aerith’s theme, gets a wonderful rendition that instantly transports me back to the original game.
It’s not to anyone’s surprise the franchise has some of the best music in the industry, but FF7R elevates their already esteemed status. There’s also a masterful transition between exploring an area and diving into combat that created a deeper sense immersion I really loved. Frankly, it’s one of the best modern video game soundtracks in the past decade.
The Legend Returns
In Final Fantasy VII, the Midgar portion lasts less than 8 hours and isn’t as fleshed out. For its remake counterpart, I finished my first playthrough at 36 hours. Subsequent playtime can at least double that, plus more if you decide to go for all of the PSN trophies. Some dialogue and side quest choices will have a ripple effect on a few cutscenes later on too, so the game has a ton of replay value.
Many will ask, is the game worth the $60? Is paying full price for a portion of the story worth it? To that I say, yes, most definitely. There’s a lot to do and see, even for veteran fans. I was more than surprised to have enjoyed almost every bit of the game from beginning to end. The quality in storytelling, character dialogue, and presentation are top-notch. The gameplay is a revolutionary step for the franchise. It’s unreal how good this game is, but it’s that and better.
True to its roots, Final Fantasy VII Remake is a one-of-a-kind gaming experience. I had no idea what to expect, but I knew what I was looking forward to. Revisiting Midgar and some of my favorite characters was a wild rollercoaster full of fun and new thrills. Where Square Enix goes from here is anyone’s guess, but I’ll be along for the ride either way.