Final Fantasy VII Remake
April 10, 2020
It has been a long and difficult wait for this. Ever since gamers were given a glimpse at a modern remake of the PlayStation 1 classic in 2005, rpg fans everywhere had hoped and dreamed that we would one day have the opportunity to control Cloud and company once again with all the flair and beauty of a modern big-budget video game. For some it seemed like it was inevitable, for others such as myself, we never thought it would be a reality. But here we are, nearly 15 years after that small teaser, stepping back into the shoes of Cloud Strife and ready to take on the Shinra Electric Power Company.
First and foremost, it has to be said that this is not your father’s Final Fantasy VII. Adding ‘Remake’ to the title is a bit misleading as this is not simply the PS1 game built with fancier graphics. FFVIIR is more of a reimagining of the original game. It takes many of the basic concepts established in the original, but then uses them to weave an entirely new experience that differs a great deal from the original. As such, if you go into the game expecting an exact beat-for-beat retread of the original game, you will be disappointed. But I think if you come in with an open mind and willing to be taken along this new ride, you will certainly walk away pleased.
Probably the biggest difference between FFVIIR and the original is that this game only covers about a third of the original. You start out at the first reactor bombing run, just like in the original, but then the game ends just as Cloud and company set out from Midgar to stop Sephiroth from destroying the world. Everything past that is set to appear in future installments. As such, in order to make sure that this game can stand up on it’s own as a fulfilling experience, much of Midgar has been expanded, with new areas, encounters, bosses and optional content to partake in. Midgar was already an extremely iconic location in the original, but the remake has fleshed the city out far beyond what we saw in the original. There is much more detail to the various slums you visit, as well as transforming the Wall Market into something akin to Vegas, where all manner of sin and vice is catered to. A much more suitable home for the insufferable Don Corneo. With many more NPCs inhabiting these areas, they feel much more like lived-in spaces than they did in the original. Add in a few new locations and Midgar is as much of a character in the game as Cloud, Barret or Tifa are. This is, of course, made possible with the impressive graphics that allowed for a massive amount of detail in the characters, monsters and the overall world. While there have been some complaints about poor textures in the game, I personally never saw anything that was any more significant than a few pop-ins. Maybe I’m simply lucky, or maybe it’s such a small thing I just never bothered to notice. Whatever the case may be, I personally found FFVIIR to be a feast for the eyes, one of the best looking games of this generation.
Of course, graphics are nothing without compelling gameplay. FFVIIR swaps out the original turn-based battle system for one that is more akin to Final Fantasy XV. You are given a regular attack, a short dodge and a block. These are the basic building blocks of the combat system, which are then augmented with abilities, spells, summons and Limited Breaks. The game utilizes an Active Time Battle (ATB) system similar to the original game, where you have two bars that slowly fill up and can be spent to use your abilities, items or spells once you have filled enough bars to satisfy the activation requirement for the spell or abilities you want to use. Using an item only requires one bar to be spent. Abilities can either be provided by Materia, or are initially tied to your weapon. Each weapon has a unique ability that can be unlocked for use with other weapons when you achieve mastery of the weapon. Spells are available based upon the particular Materia equipped to the character, either via their weapon or their armor and usually have several stronger versions you will unlock as you increase the level of the Materia. Summons are unfortunately only available for certain battles, so you won’t get to drop Ifrit out every single time you have to take down some random mooks. It’s not entirely clear what the requirements are, but you will pretty much always have them available for the boss fights. Just like the abilities, you have to wait for a bar to fill up before the summon can be activated, but the fights where you really need them will take long enough for it to fill. You also only get one summon per battle, when available, so choose wisely who you decide to activate. Finally, Limit Breaks work similar to the original game, a meter fills as you get hit by enemies and once full, you can unleash a devastating attack.
Combat isn’t a straightforward hack-and-slash, however, and trying to play it that way will make the game drag on. You are able to take control of each party member during combat and it is vital to coordinate spell and abilities to maximize the damage inflicted upon your enemies. Each monster, robot, boss and human enemy has a bar that slowly fills as they are attacked, with certain abilities able to increase it far more than a standard attack. One filled, an enemy is staggered, significantly increasing the damage they receive. In addition, enemies have weaknesses to particular elements, so it is crucial to set yourself up properly before facing off against a boss and it’s not unusual to have to restart a boss fight because you don’t have the proper Materia equipped to take advantage of their weakness. Sufficient to say, combat in FFVIIR takes a lot more thought and coordination than you might initially believe. While most of the random mooks can be taken out without much thought, bosses definitely require more tactical thinking in order to succeed without wasting too many resources. The game does include what’s called ‘Classic’ mode, which can be chosen at the start of the game. Supposedly it changes combat a bit to be more similar to the original, but I don’t have any personal experience with that mode, so I cannot say for certain how it actually works.
Tying all of this together is the story, which is likely going to be the one thing that either makes or breaks the game for you. As I mentioned, this isn’t a simple retread of the original game and FFVIIR makes some significant changes to the story that may leave veterans angry or disappointed. You start the game as the emotionless ex-SOLDIER Clourd Strife working as a mercenary for the resistance group Avalanche and over the course of the game you are joined by Avalanche members Barret Wallace and Tifa Lockhart, as well as flower-girl Aerith Gainsborough and mysterious canine/feline creature Red XIII. Many of the initial story beats are the same as in the original and will be familiar to those who have played through the PS1 classic before, but the further you progress, the more you get a sense that something else is going on, particularly once you reach the endgame. It does things that will have a significant effect on the rest of the Remake project, which can be both an exciting and terrifying prospect. Personally, while I love the story of the original FFVII, I feel like the path that Square Enix has chosen to go with the story is a lot more exciting than if they had decided to simply follow the same story beats as the original. I honestly have no idea how the rest of the story is going to play out and that is very exciting to me. There is far more room to speculate now than if it was just a straight-up remake. As happy as I would have been if the game had been a straight up remake, it’s a lot more exciting to me that Square Enix is going beyond our expectations and crafting something new using the same building blocks from the original game. Sufficient to say, I am quite excited to see where things go from here.
But for all of that said, I cannot deny that there do exist a few minor issues in the game that prevents me from completely loving it. While they are not significant enough to ruin the game for me, they are enough of an annoyance that it does prevent the game from reaching its full potential. First and foremost, it is extremely easy for an enemy to interrupt you when attempting to use a spell or ability. While by itself this isn’t a huge issue, it becomes one because you still spend your magic and ATB even if the moves aren’t successful and very rarely are you ever able to interrupt the abilities of your enemies. As such, it does feel like the combat is tilted slightly in the favor of the enemies, who are able to pull off their spells and abilities far more often than you are able to. It doesn’t completely ruin combat, and only once or twice did I ever completely lose a fight because an ability I activated was interrupted. But I can’t deny that it wasn’t an issue that made combat much more annoying than it could have been. My other issue is that during a few segments throughout the game, the padding out done in certain areas conflicts with the progress of the story. A good example is the train graveyard. You travel there with Aerith and Tifa after confronting Don Corneo and learning that Shinra plans to drop the Sector 7 plate to get rid of Avalanche. But despite the fact that the three of you are racing against the clock, you are forced into a diversion that doesn’t really add anything to the plot and feel extremely out of place when viewed in context with the rest of the story taking place at the time. Again, not necessarily a major issue, but it is something that you do notice a couple times across the game and can feel a bit jarring. I get what they were wanting to do, but I think it would have been better to expand some other areas of the story where the time pressure doesn’t exist.
As someone who never thought this game would ever exist, I have been delighted beyond measure with how the first part of the Remake project has turned out. Given the legacy of Final Fantasy VII in the gaming industry, Square Enix had massive expectations to meet. I can undoubtedly say that not only did they reach those expectations, but they surpassed them in every way. They have built a beautiful game that introduces a new generation to iconic characters like Cloud and Sephiroth, but have also brought something new to the table for veterans to sink their teeth into. We still have a long way to go before we see the end to the project, but I think that Square Enix has already gotten past the hardest part by releasing this game in the first place. I look forward to the day when we will be able to traverse the greater world beyond Midgar, and I don’t think Square Enix is going to disappoint.