Review: Final Fantasy VII Remake

An exciting and beautiful reimagining of fan favorite classic.

It’s hard to communicate just how massive of an impact Square Enix’s (at the time Squaresoft) PS1 JRPG titan and instant classic, Final Fantasy VII, had on gaming culture across the world when it originally released in 1997. The original game sold over 13 million units, more than any other Final Fantasy game in the franchise to this day, and it produced a prequel, a sequel, books, and a movie that all expanded that universe. For many, FFVII was their first introduction to JRPGs and turn based battles, myself included. I remember my first time playing it and panicking to hit buttons as the ATB gauge filled. FFVII changed gaming for me and as the game grew old, I longed for a remake and I finally got my wish granted in the form of Final Fantasy VII: Remake. As beloved as the original FFVII was, this remake had a lot to live up to and it was a tall task to improve on what already seemed like a perfect game. However, FFVII Remake surpassed my expectations, which were so high, in a thoughtful, emotional, and meaningful way that made me crave more. 

FFVII:R was announced as an episodic series that would cover only a portion of the original game in the city of Midgar. This took roughly five hours of the original game and there was a lot of controversy surrounding the multi-episode release. I finished the game just shy of 40 hours, which was roughly the length of the original game’s main story. There is still so much to do in the game and I can confidently say that this game IS a full game and well worth the $60 price tag. FFVII:R begins and finishes an entire story, expands on existing lore, and causes massive anticipation for another entry. 

Story

The story begins as it did in the in the PS1 classic, with Cloud leaping from a steampunk train to destroy a mako reactor in the futuristic and dejected city of Midgar. The Shinra Electric Power Company uses its Mako Reactors to drain the planet of its life force (mako) and Avalanche, an eco-terrorist group, is on a mission to save the planet using any means necessary. The Avalanche cell we follow is led by Barret Wallace, who has hired Cloud Strife, the aloof, ex-SOLDIER turned mercenary and main protagonist. Cloud is a childhood friend of Tifa Lockhart, a member of Barret’s Avalanche cell. After being separated in a later mission, Cloud befriends a local flower girl named Aerith Gainsbourgh who is targeted by Shinra’s espionage group, the Turks. These four playable characters make up the core of the story which revolves around Shinra and the mysterious Sephiroth, a silver-haired former SOLDIER 1st class who was believed dead. The new encounters with the infamous SOLDIER 1st class turned madman add a gravity to him as a villain that will only thrust the narrative further in the future. On their crusade, Avalanche learns that the world is in greater danger than they thought by a risk far greater than Shinra.   

The core cast is given additional time to progress as individuals and in relationships with one another in FFVII:R. Side characters like Biggs, Wedge, and Jessie are given substantial back stories and you care for these characters as much as your main characters. The voice acting and dialogue are masterfully executed and add depth to every character. Some characters, like the goofy SOLDIER 3rd class Roche, feel shoehorned in but are still fun and interesting. We are able to see the damage and the effects of this war on the people of Midgar in a much more substantive way this time around because of the extra time spent on the locations and characters in Midgar. Moments that I didn’t realize were rushed in the FFVII are given moments to breathe in FFVII:R, making those plot points hit so much harder this time.

As much as I love FFVII:R; it is not perfect. Like the original FFVII, while in the Wall Market section of the game, Cloud is forced to dress as a woman in order to infiltrate a mob boss’s mansion and save an ally. To get parts of his disguise, Cloud must enter a club called the Honey Bee Inn that is filled with oddly dressed female and male dancers. These areas made for some cringe filled moments. The suggestive elements in this area were not overly explicit and were even comical at times. These areas are brief and the cutscenes that make you uncomfortable can be skipped with minimal impact to the story. On my second playthrough I noticed more blemishes. For example, almost every area required slow moving crawl sequences that sometimes make sense in the aftermath of an explosion but others that felt pointless and frustrating. Of the 18 chapters, I felt there was one chapter that could have been skipped all together with no impact on the story aside from developing relationships between Aerith and Tifa that were relatively nonexistent in the original FFVII. The flaws are minor at best and I’d crawl through those spaces over and over again to play more of this game.

Gameplay

The combat feels so similar and so different at the same time. Each of the four characters have different strengths and weakness like power, range, speed, or magic. The ATB (Active Time Battle) gauge returns but is filled by attacking and defending rather than the passage of time making the battles more engaging. You are able to switch between characters and those that you are not in control of will attack and defend automatically. There is also a classic mode that is similar to original FFVII where you are only managing your ATB, skills, and magic while your characters automatically attack, move, and defend. With each mode, you should prioritize how much challenge or engagement you want in combat. Normal mode has both challenge and engagement were classic mode is probably the easiest mode with neither challenge or engagement. If you’d like engaging combat with minimal challenge, easy mode may be for you.

Your instinct will be to hack and slash but as your opponents grow in number and difficulty it will become more important to use your ATB gauge wisely to heal, buff, and attack. You will need to exploit the weakness of your opponents to stagger them, which will knock them down temporarily and allow for bonus damage. Materia, orbs of mako energy, can be used to bestow various buffs, abilities, or spells. It will be important to use your slotted materia and the abilities learned from weapons to cover multiple weaknesses. You will need to learn how to manage your MP (Magic Points) and ATB gauge in order to survive hordes of enemies or massive boss battles. The hard mode is unlocked after your normal playthrough and it earns that title in challenging way that does not like lazy buffing of enemies. Sure, enemies have new moves and deal more damage but the biggest challenge in hard mode is that MP is not recovered at resting points and items cannot be used. This makes MP management essential to surviving battle to battle. Skill materia like Pray and Chakra that heal using the ATB gauge, but without MP, are invaluable as well as stats boosting materia like HP Up and MP Up materia.

The weapons in this game have been massively overhauled with each having different strengths such as extra materia slots, attack, magic, or critical hit damage. Each character has six weapons, each with its own skill tree that levels up with the character. Each weapon is a reasonably viable endgame weapon including Cloud’s most recognizable weapon, the Buster Sword. Weapons have specific abilities that can mastered if the ability is used enough in combat. Weapon skill trees are important but so is the particular materia that is equipped to the weapon. Materia level up by receiving AP in combat and can be combined with other materia to give weapons elemental damage or to give armor elemental resistances, HP or MP bonus to a character, or just learn some powerful spells and abilities. I really enjoyed making different combinations and the amount of detail that can be put into different loadouts.

Summons like Ifirit and Shiva return and fight alongside you in addition to using their signature final moves. Very few summons are acquired through the main game but some really powerful ones are acquired through difficult VR challenges. Each character has two different ultimate moves called limit breaks that do incredible damage, or heal, with their own brief, intense cutscenes. All of these factors create a combat system that is smooth, exhilarating, and complex. 

Audio/Visuals

The visuals in FFVII:R are as breathtaking as Keanu Reeves, with Midgar being brought to life in a stunning way. The world is not an open world like many had hoped but this does not mean the world is not large. Similar to Final Fantasy X, the game is linear but does not feel limited because the world brimming with life. The detail in these set pieces makes Midgar itself a character that you care about making the events that transpire more meaningful to the player. The dreary slums are home to people and scrap, Wall Market shines with Vegas-like neon, and Shinra HQ is like walking into a futuristic utopia. My favorite set piece was Sector 7 Church, which was given the proper reverence and charm that it deserves with it’s beautiful stained glass and flowers. The only noticeable visual issues are some occasional texture and rendering issues, most notably with side quest NPCs looking a little sloppy. There are sections of the game that felt too long, while others felt too short. However the city of Midgar, and Cloud’s pointy anime hair, has never looked so good. 

FFVII:R soundtrack is one of the best I have ever heard in a game. Square Enix knew fans would love the music and incorporated a new collectible in the game, music discs.  These music discs can be found through out Midgar and can be played on various jukeboxes . Each disc has a colorful, unique cover art and allows you to revisit some of your favorite tracks throughout the game, though not all of them. Some of my favorite, emotionally stirring songs return like “Aerith’s Theme” when you see her for the first time in the abandoned Sector 7 church. Sephiroth’s orchestral “One Winged Angel” track gets the heart racing just as it did over two decades ago but in a crisp, new modern way. Interestingly, you only hear the victory music that is so iconic to the Final Fantasy franchise, in certain battles or when Barrett sings it himself, which I found hilarious and really enjoyed. 

Conclusion

I was both excited and anxious to finally see FFVII:R but all of my fears were quenched and I can confidently say the cliche, “This game is a love letter to the fans.” I adore this game and all of the departures taken from its source material were gambles that paid off tenfold. This game will be appreciated more deeply by a fan of the original game but would also be a great entry point for a gamer new to the franchise. FFVII:R has received very positive reviews and is going to be the start of something magnificent as this new series takes us out of Midgar and on the rest of Avalanche’s adventures. Overall, FFVII:R is a masterpiece and I have already started revisiting in hard mode because I cannot get enough. It has paid proper homage to its source material.

A Note to Parents

FFVII Remake is rated “T” for language, suggestive themes, the use of alcohol and tobacco, and
violence. FFVII:R suggestive content includes some some brief moments of women with excessive cleavage, a couple of characters that cross dress, and a small section that has a Vegas-like vibe to it. The violence in FFVII:R is not gory or bloody but still revolves around the use of swords, guns, and magic. Some of the boss monsters may be scary for a younger audience.

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