Charlie loves her video games as much as she loves dumb, charming JRPG protagonists: probably way too much. You can often catch her spending too much time being emotional over LGBT stories in games. She also thinks Yakuza 6 is the best one.
April 10, 2020
Years and years after its original first teasing, many questioned whether Final Fantasy VII Remake was still going to be a thing. Was it cancelled? Were those trailers we saw back in 2015 even real or did fans simply imagine it? Sure enough, five years later, near the end of the PlayStation 4’s life cycle, the game is here. There’s caveats such as the game being broken into parts sure, but Final Fantasy VII Remake is here. Believe it.
It’s clear right at the very top of the game that Square Enix have gone all in on this project. A gorgeous opening cinematic plays that immediately sets you straight on where the world is at. Panning shots of Midgar’s slums and streets show its inhabitants in their everyday life. Children are riding their bikes through the dry streets. Stray dogs and cats are rifling through garbage. Where there isn’t various steampunk looking generator supplies and industrial buildings are little dingy houses for the locals to live in. High up above all this rests a great big plate, often likened to the pie in the sky. It’s fancy and vivid, littered with light pollution. The wealthy and the ever evil corporation Shinra live here, controlling Midgar’s resources. From the get-go the power imbalance is clear. It leaves you angry at the powerful and rich. Thankfully our heroes are in the same boat.
For those not familiar with the story of the original Final Fantasy VII (or only vaguely familiar like I), this remake follows about the first several hours of the 1997 game. You play as Cloud, a pretty doe eyed individual that’s joined the fight against Shinra. This is more interesting in context given our hero is an ex-SOLDIER, a faction for the very same corporation. Cloud, despite the brave face and best attempt to remain emotionally distant, is fed up with the injustice. He’s joined Avalanche, a rebellion force which features the likes of Barret, a man with a gattling gun for arms, and Tifa who’s a tough as nails barmaid in her off hours. In rebelling against Shinra you’re bombing reactors that pump Mako, the precious magical fuel the corporation uses to not only power their city but using as a stranglehold against the weak. Money may be power but so is Mako. Essentially, you’re working to take down Shinra inch by inch. There’s other story beats along the way, including some very fun anime-esque tropes and great backstory, but as the story goes, that’s the gist.
Throughout your journey through slums, cities, sewers and the like, you’ll be thrust into combat against various different enemies. As staple with the Final Fantasy series, combat is a party system that you aim to use to your advantage. I think most appealing in this is ringing out every drip of each party member’s strength and using this to exploit the weakness of your enemies. Often you’ll face enemies that look so tough in nature you just gawk at them and think “how?” Whether it’s the Scorpion Sentinel in the opening mission or the cocky baton master Reno, the idea is the same: stagger your opponent. Ninety percent of the time the way to achieve this is quite intuitive.
Big, robotic enemies are susceptible to my electric Thunder spell. Say I cast a few of these spells with Aerith. I watch the foe’s stagger bar build up. Then I switch to Cloud on the fly and hammer at them with my Buster sword for some added damage. All this fills the stagger bar and, at max, your foe falls temporarily crippled, susceptible to bonus damage. This is where you wreak havoc and go to town. Also present is the ability to assign commands to your party members. This slows time to just shy of a complete halt and adds for fun and more strategic matters. It allows you to inch in that extra blow on an enemy, and heal party members when things get hairy. All of this combined allows for a fun mechanic that is easy to learn but takes some time to master. It reminded me of parts of Final Fantasy XV’s combat that gelled with me.
A lot of Final Fantasy VII Remake also feels like this vehicle for a character piece. As it’s a 30-40+ hour affair of a game, set in a portion that was previously only six or so hours, Square Enix had a lot of work put in. Due to this, the remake seems to have an ensemble cast more than ever before. Sure, Cloud, Barret, Tifa and Aerith were already beloved characters. Now we have side characters Jessie, Biggs and Wedge as more interesting, evolved personalities. Jessie in particular at long last has more of a personality and is more involved and welcome to the story. It really allows for one of the most monumental stories in gaming to just become that little bit more breathtaking in current times.
“It’s clear right at the very tippy top of the game that Square Enix have gone all in on this project.”
There’s new, more intense conflicts going on for our main hero too. In a later chapter that sees you fighting and overcoming ghosts and spirits in a train graveyard, he utters the words “Ghosts aren’t my thing.” In other contexts this could seem like a throwaway line. However, throughout the game prior we’re exposed to some hallucinations and flashbacks of the ever threatening Sephiroth. This is done a bit in the original but it’s not as heavy to watch as this. Watching these cutscenes helps you be a fly on the wall to a unique exploration of the trauma and horrible events Cloud has faced in his life prior. This offers some of the most interesting moments and dynamics of the game, and even provides nods to spin off prequel PSP game Crisis Core.
Of course, with all these new story beats and exploration of characters, it doesn’t come without a cost. Pacing in a handful of the chapters really isn’t great at times and even occasionally drags. I’m left sometimes wondering whether some parts of the game needed to be as expanded as they were. Side quests, offered only during specific chapters, aren’t often that interesting and feel unnecessary, especially when the stakes feel so much higher for the rest of the narrative. While some of them prove to be entertaining, others drag on and feel like a waste of time, like searching for cats or trying to find children in the streets who are late to class.
When it comes to the main story, often some of the beats and the back and forth nature of some locations could’ve been shortened or even cut entirely. The second last chapter of the game, that can potentially see you manually walking up a long flights of stairs to reach a building’s fifty ninth level, was especially egregious in this. It’s not a huge knock against the game, I love spending time with everyone and can appreciate the wild JRPG sensibilities. Still, unlike some other JRPGs, the game actually felt as long as it was, and not always in a great way.
It’s unbelievable that Final Fantasy VII Remake exists. What once felt like a pipe dream for long time fans is now here, and bursting with gorgeous imagery. Due to the ambitious nature of the game, my launch PlayStation 4 that I reviewed the game on definitely felt the weight. Often scenic textures in the game around characters would struggle to load to their full potential and would come across blurry. It’s a bit of a bummer when you’re meant to be taking in the gorgeous flowery scenery of Aerith’s home in Sector 5. Oh the woes of buying into an early version of a console.
A lot of this is likely due to the fact that so much of the game’s budget, processing power and more went into the character design. Aerith stares deep into the camera. Tifa smiles. Cloud flutters his pretty eyelashes. Your heart swells. The budget and focus shows. The main characters in this game look just about the best they do in any game I’ve ever played. It’s a worthy trade off for the sometimes blurred smaller environment.
If I’m honest, due to its wild anime style cutscenes and at times (fun) ridiculous story beats, I don’t think Final Fantasy VII Remake is a game that’ll sway JRPG naysayers. At the end of the day, despite being a fully fledged remake, it’s still a Final Fantasy game at its heart and core.
However, if you’ve played a Final Fantasy before or are just keen on experiencing something monumental in gaming history, then by all means this will satisfy you. By the time credits roll, events happen that look to not only shape the future of the remake, but what the original game stands for. It’s exciting stuff. Just maybe ask the more informed friend if you’re left a bit confused at the end.
Like I did.
In short, Final Fantasy VII Remake allowed for me to fall in love with a new and improved version of the original. I found myself falling for Cloud, the blonde ex-SOLDIER boy with Mako in his eyes, and stayed for the sweet and passionate nature of the rest of the main cast. There’s lots of bombastic scenes to experience, and even some very queer in nature ones too. Something for ever gamer and gaymer!
There’s a lot to love and adore in Final Fantasy VII Remake and I’m grateful for all of it, the good and the bad. There’s so many small but just as important details I didn’t even get the chance to cover in full. I can see myself talking about this game for a long time to come. With Final Fantasy VII Remake, a 23 year old video game world has been at long last realised in HD. I can’t wait to see where Square Enix go from here.