Final Fantasy VII Remake Review: A Great Remake, But Not Perfect

A remake 23 years in the making. It helped to make Final Fantasy one of the most instantly-recognizable franchises in the world. In many respects, this stunning game does things even better than anticipated, but a few mis-steps along the way cause it to slip up.

Sephiroth Staring

The original Final Fantasy VII, in 1997, was the definition of a childhood game for me personally. Even as young child who couldn’t grasp most of what he was playing, I was still captivated by it. It was far too adult for me, yet I loved it. So needless to say I was ecstatic when the remake was first teased at E3 2015. Eighteen years was a long time to wait for a remake announcement, but the following five years felt like an entirety. Now we’re here with our Final Fantasy VII Remake Review.

So here we are, part one – taking place in the Midgar portion of the game. You could typically be out of the Midgar section within five hours, easily, on the PS1. The remake can take upwards of 40 hours. Square Enix has placed a greater emphasis on developing characters who played a bit-part role in the original and expanding Midgar. More missions, and of course, the story. This is most definitely a remake of Final Fantasy VII, but is the remake we wanted? Let’s dive into it without Final Fantasy VII Remake Review.

The Final Fantasy VII Remake is available on the Playstation Store.

Final Fantasy VII - E3 2015 Trailer | PS4

Story – A Divisive Decision

Let’s get down to brass tacks – the story is…a lot different. 

The begins with the iconic scene of Cloud Strife, an “Ex-SOLDIER”, disembarking from a train and battling his way through his former employer’s, The Shinra Corporation, forces. He is accompanying members of an Eco-terrorist organisation known as Avalanche; for a fee of course – as Cloud is now a mercenary. He’s helping them in their fight for justice against a corporation hellbent on exploiting the planet’s natural resource, Mako, for profit. Mako is a natural energy, equivalent to coal or oil, that powers everything; especially Shinra’s ever-increasing bank account figures.

The journey is flowing along nicely…and then we come to our first hurdle.

FF7 Opening

FF7 Opening

Naturally, a remake is just that – a remake. It’s taking the original source material and putting a new spin on it to either make it better, or to modernize it. It’s 2020 now, and every man and his dog, and his dog’s dog has heard of Sephiroth. This is why two of the remake’s main creative forces, Naoki Hamaguchi and Yoshinori Kitase, decided to preemptively let people know that they’d be seeing a lot more of the silver-haired destroyer. 

One of the greatest mysteries of FF7 was the slow, methodical unveiling of the legendary SOLDIER, Sephiroth. Like any great superhero film origin story, the fun part is the learning, the understanding of what fuels this character. First-time around, Sephiroth barely featured in the Midgar section at all, whereas the remake doesn’t stand on ceremony. Sephiroth is thrown at you straightaway and features a more prominent role.

This is the game’s first storytelling mistake. Generally, less is more. Even if you know who he is, this change doesn’t really benefit the game and just enforces the law of diminishing returns. If anything, it just confuses the reworked plot even more; and boy does it get confusing.

There were obvious elements of this game to be excited and worried about, the story changing being one. These doubts were confirmed with the narrative shift towards “fate”. Regardless of which franchise or characters you use: time travel, fate, predeterminism etc, are always touchy and controversial subjects. It generally means that what you’re watching is generally inconsequential. It’s already happened. It’s already GOING to happen, or can be altered anyway.

Bike Fight

Bike Fight

I understand the idea, the makers want people to buy into the idea that part one, and any subsequent parts, are not set in stone. The status-quo is susceptible to a meteoric disruption that will disregard everything we thought we knew. However, if you’ve played the original already, chances are you just want to ride that same dark journey again, in HD, and without horribly deformed character models.

If that wasn’t confusing enough, the final couple of chapters really go hard on the Kingdom Hearts III motif of everything being outrageously over-the-top and equally confusing. It pains me to say that I just didn’t feel satisfied upon the conclusion of the game. Some people will disagree, and that’s fine.  

On the plus side, the aforementioned character models leads on to one of the glowing standouts of this game. The original gang. The posse. Each and every one them have been brought to life in a credible way that makes them all hugely likable – even Barret. I can’t imagine how difficult it was in 1997 trying to make the characters come across a certain way. All we had was a couple of blinking pixels for eyes and some weird animations were the characters would start shaking. You would often wonder if Plate Tectonics were specifically targeting the Midgar region.

Technological advancements have thankfully allowed these characters to become a lot more fleshed out and exaggerated, in that way that JRPGs make so charming. Cloud is the lovechild of a depressed, angsty teen and a monk – internal, foreboding, and vocally reserved. But as his backstory unwinds, it all becomes clear. His story ties in with his childhood best-friend, Tifa Lockhart, and you see how the two, and Avalanche, mesh together. Tifa is strong, tough, but has an obvious sweet side, especially for cloud.

Aerith

Aerith

Barret is a rampaging inferno of brute force that will let NOTHING stand in his way of rectifying Shinra’s obvious abuse of the planet’s Mako. Barret could easily be a spokesperson for Green Peace, but he’s also an adorable father to his daughter Marlene. Her well-being is paramount and he’s naturally very protective.

On the plus side, Avalanche’s supporting cast: Jessie, Biggs and Wedge play a substantial part in the remake. I was always enjoyed them, despite their brief appearances in FF7, and have wanted their stories to be explored upon further. They get upgraded from afterthoughts to being a central part of the narrative with some real deep exploration of character – in particular Jessie. She’s a quirky, eccentric bundle of fun that…becomes enamored with Cloud.

Aerith Gainsborough is just a sweetheart. The innocent “flower lady” is so good-natured that it makes you question yourself and wonder if you could be better yourself. She also becomes enamored with Cloud (Cloud is apparently the Zac Efron of the JRPG world). He becomes her bodyguard, and it’s there that we really get to bond with her.

On the whole, the story mixes a lot of the old with a lot of the new; especially the new harbingers of fate – The Whispers. Almost phantom-like, ethereal conduits for exposition. A brand new inclusion for the Final Fantasy VII Remake. Their role is a mystery for much of the game and I tried to distance myself from much of the pre-release material so I could experience such differences naturally. They were certainly a shock and again, I feel they hampered my experience more than added to it.

Gameplay – Omni-Hack n’ Slash Bliss

Cloud Performing Cross-Slash

Cloud Performing Cross-Slash

Refined Combat

The early details of the Final Fantasy VII Remake suggested that the combat was being overhauled. Leaning more towards the real-time combat featured in Final Fantasy XV, and not the turn-based strategy we were used to. This has turned out to be a masterstroke as the seamless blend of the two has created a rich and rewarding experience. You’re offered a choice of Classic or Normal difficulty from the outset. Classic makes your party attack for you and Normal puts you in full control.

Each mode features the Active Time Battle meter – ATB for short – and this will fill up a couple of segments underneath your character’s name bar. Once one of these are full, you can perform special actions such as using magic, items, or abilities. Classic means you can chime in with magic when necessary, whilst the characters perform standard attacks and block, Normal requires proper strategy, trying to balance everything. 

Once you press to bring up the command menu, time still passes, but so slowly that you could fly from London to Tokyo and still have thinking time to run a marathon. So there’s plenty of room to manoeuvre and it allows you to weigh up your options in a heated battle.

The various party members you’ll use have their own respective arsenal of fun for you to use, ranging from game-changing abilities to super-powerful summons that can be called-upon in a pretty blockbuster battle. You will have plenty of time to use each of the five main characters for combat, but the game’s narrative will automatically dictate which ones you use.

Look at that glimmer!

Look at that glimmer!

Plenty of Customization

Thankfully the upgrade system is very generous. Each character earns Skill Points (SP) and every weapon they can wield has accumulating SP for each. For instance, if you have 20 SP for one of Cloud’s swords, his other swords would have their own SP, meaning you don’t have to evenly distribute them. It’s surprisingly forgiving and allows for a lot more experimentation.

The materia system makes a welcome return, adding in a whole host of new materia too. From elemental spells to restorative spells to more passive materia; there’s a lot of variety here and should cater for everyone’s idiosyncrasies where combat is concerned. Plus, most materia can be upgraded through use.

The gameplay generally feels fair, although there were a couple of times when I went into a battle completely unprepared for a boss and suffered as a result. You can’t chop and change materia mid-battle; so if you’re not adequately prepared for a boss – then things can go pear-shaped. On the other hand, the result of modernization means that if you do die, you won’t be catapulted back to your last save. Auto-saving and checkpoints can cover for you. It will put you just before that battle and you can mercifully head to the equipment screen and perfect your load-outs before take two.

To justify having part one be confined to the city of Midgar, the game has been injected with a wealth of side quests and extra gameplay – perhaps too much. The first few chapters of the game are a lot of fun, and the idea of a vaster Midgar to explore sounds like fun. Recognizable landmarks bring a smile to the face. However the game really does start to feel bloated midway through as there’s three of four lengthy chapters that can take you hours of just completing pretty much meaningless side quests. Some of them are fun, like box smashing, one-off battles and the infamous squatting competition.

Fighting A Boss

Fighting A Boss

Quests With No Substance?

This is sadly juxtaposed by a former Ex-SOLDIER running around a village…hording cats. I’m not even making that up, Cloud literally has to find some cats – arguably the most beautiful and detailed cats ever seen in a game I might add – and return them to increase his reputation. Hmm. Some generic fetch quests and monster quests leave a lot to be desired, and this is where it become very evident that Square Enix wanted to pad out the playtime.

Further still, special battles against summon bosses can be beaten to earn their materia, there’s an arena with plenty of battles to test your skill, songs to collect and more. I also have to give a special mention to Chadley too, another new character, an intern for Shinra that also supports the Eco-agenda. He will give you many combat tasks throughout the game, completing them will net you some tasty rewards that can help you immensely. 

Graphics – Pixel Perfect

FF7 Cloud Comparison

FF7 Cloud Comparison

On the plus side, the aforementioned character models lead on to one of the glowing standouts of this game. The original gang – the posse. Each and every one them look incredible with their beauty salon makeovers. Cloud’s blank, stoic face is now lit up by his Mako-infused SOLDIER eyes. Barret looks like the annual winner of the World’s Strongest, Angriest Man competition with his popping veins; both bicep and the one in his forehead. Tifa and Aerith look like living, breathing goddesses brimming with personality and likability; and my boy, Red XIII looks like a war-torn specimen.

The world of Midgar is genuinely breathtaking though, it really is. The early slums of Midgar feel dry, dusty and wreak of poverty and isolation compared to the rich, corporate neighborhoods you will come to. Battles are a spectacular explosion of colors, sparks and flashes that take a paint brush and dip it into every part of the palette. Playing this on my PS4 Pro with a 4K, HDR-ready TV,  really feels like this is a game that has maximized the graphical capabilities of the console. 

The only minor blip were a few textures that didn’t load, it wasn’t anything too damaging and I’m sure will be ironed out in a future patch.

Cloud and Barret Looking On

Cloud and Barret Looking On

In addition to this, the sound deserves its own special mention. My favourite OST of all-time is the original game, I could listen to its wonderfully constructed sounds forever. It’s so well-liked that it’s even getting a world tour orchestra. The remake does a good job of taking many of those songs and putting a modern spin on them. The infectious techno version of the battle music is addictive and a new version of the iconic “One-Winged Angel” is cool.

Also, a special mention to Barret who tries to keep the original victory fanfare alive every now and again!

Summary
The Final Fantasy VII Remake was a long-time coming and, for the most part, is a stellar game. The exquisite gameplay, graphics and sound design are let-down by some very iffy narrative devices and the game definitely suffers from some bloated sections that feel like complete filler - although your first playthrough will definitely keep you going for a while. All in all, part one is a success; let's hope the second installment doesn't take as long.
Good
  • Refined combat that offers the best of both worlds
  • Stunning graphics, particularly character models
  • A superb homage to the original soundtrack
  • Great cast of varied and interesting characters
Bad
  • Some cliched storytelling mechanics
  • Bloated and repetitive side content
  • Underwhelming finale
8
Great

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