Remember June 16, 2015? The day of the announcement that shocked the whole gaming world?
We do, like it was yesterday.
Here we are, after nearly 5 long years, witnessing the re-imagining of one of the defining titles in the history of gaming.
What started as a PS3 tech demo back in 2005 is now a full fledged remake for the PlayStation 4. After numerous spin-off games, a CG movie, and an anime OVA among others, the Final Fantasy VII Remake is here at last.
Well, at least a part of it.
Back in 1997, Final Fantasy 7 released for the PlayStation 1. Final Fantasy was a long running franchise from Squaresoft, now Square Enix, and this installment marked a massive leap into the mainstream for the series.
From a leap in graphics, gameplay, audio, and everything in between, Final Fantasy 7 was the first FF game for a LOT of people, prompting it to become their immediate favorite. And with good reason. It followed the story of Cloud Strife, a mercenary caught on the middle of an ongoing tussle between his current employers, the terrorist group Avalanche, and the Shinra Corporation.
In a series of events that is anything but unfortunate, a one time gig eventually led to a fateful meeting with an ordinary flower girl, a tale of conspiracy, tragedy, reunion, and even a confrontation with a long forgotten memory.
A simple 5 hour journey back in the PS1 is now, give or take, a 30-35 hour experience that we wouldn’t have any other way.
1997 is calling
The Final Fantasy 7 Remake (FF7R) starts off with a nostalgia bomb – a stunning recreation of the opening cinematic that leads to the first mission with Avalanche and your first look at Cloud 2020. It’s a drastic change but at the same time a fresh look into what you can expect with the remake. Photorealistic visuals, a revamped battle system, a rearranged soundtrack… Everything hits you at full speed that you spend the first few minutes reeling from the feeling of it all.
A part of us wishes that we had never played the original because if anything, FF7R is the sort of game that gives you an experience that you never forget. Having played the original, one thing FF7R does is faithfully recreate the feeling of nostalgia and balancing it perfectly with a fresh coat of paint.
One of the things FF7R changes up is the plot. While the overarching story remains the same, everything in between the first Mako reactor up until leaving Midgar is expanded and designed to flesh out the details. From relationships to backstories, everything was handled with care and respect to the source material. That said, you need not have played the original game to enjoy FF7R.
The story is interesting enough to newcomers and veterans alike since we never really know what was going to happen next and where the story changes will happen, thanks to the work of great writing.
Changing it up
The way things were narrated back in 1997, it was pretty clear cut who the heroes and villains were. Shinra bad, Avalanche good. Shinra Corporation is the so-called evil empire that’s exploiting Mako energy, the lifeblood of the planet and Avalanche, the so-called terrorist organization that’s trying to stop them from bleeding the planet dry.
FF7R adds a level of complexity in the writing that makes it more modern and dramatic, discussing more mature themes and insights in the process. How exactly do you argue against Shinra, whose technological advancements have benefited the lives of so many? Is Avalanche the bad guy in all of this? It was certainly a “Thanos” moment for sure.
This is one of the ways the writing and narrative has evolved from the original and it is something that will tug at you for the whole duration of the game. Sure there are some over the top moments and a few cringey pieces here and there, but overall the story is beautifully unfolded over fantastic writing and direction that never feels forced or out of place.
For something that is just part of a greater whole, FF7R shines in how the game manages to expand the roles of everyone, even adding in new characters that compliments the narrative. Characters like Jessie, Biggs, and Wedge have a ton of screentime making it feel like getting to know them again was just as fun as the first time around. Barret is the overly exuberant leader while Tifa is battling with her inner voices to justify everything. Everyone just has more character and personality this time around that makes you care about everyone right off the bat.
Blocky PS1 characters back then were considered revolutionary, feeling like it was so ahead of its time compared to the 16-bit graphics of the previous generation.
FF7R just blows everything out of the water with crisp and vivid visuals that are simply breathtaking, pushing the PS4 to its absolute limits. You can never tell when the cutscenes end and the gameplay begins as the game moves so seamlessly as if you were playing an interactive CG movie. Dare we say the Remake looks just as good, or even better, than Advent Children in terms of cinematics and choreography.
Midgar is also recreated in a way that leaves nothing to the imagination, with its industrial form interrupted by slums and areas that feel so alive in between it all. NPC’s have unique spoken lines and you casually overhear conversations as you make your way through its busy streets, giving life to the once drab and silent walkways.
One thing to note is that FF7R has a problem with drawing textures fast enough, leaving walls and backgrounds a blurry mess at certain points in the game. While it does not happen often enough to take away from the experience, it was indeed something that should be said. FF7R looks great most of the time, but it also looks bad during these occasions.
FF7R, by all accounts, is not only a treat visually, but aurally as well. There are certain games that deliver a better experience by switching the voice language to Japanese and while that could be the case here, we can argue that the English VA’s did an equally phenomenal job, adding the right amount of character and personality to the cast.
Most of the complaints point towards Barret sounding just a bit overzealous but when you think about the situation and what he is fighting for, his leadership qualities and concern for the team more than compensate for his sometimes overly dramatic acting.
Aerith has the biggest overhaul personality wise, now sporting a playful and sassy demeanor that will sweep you off your feet, which is a far cry from her very softspoken persona from way back.
Oh and did you know that Tyler Hoechlin voiced Sephiroth in the game? It was a Super performance, for sure.
Purists from the original game may not like some of the decisions FF7R took with regards to how most of the characters look and sound, but taken as a whole, everything fits in together perfectly like the sector plates from Midgar.
If there’s anything every Final Fantasy almost always gets right, you can bet your Gil that the music is going to be spot on. The rearranged soundtrack for FF7R does not only do justice to the original but elevates it in such a way that it’s like hearing it again for the first time, goosebumps and all.
You’re immediately greeted with tracks such as the prelude and even a tease of Aerith’s theme when you meet her and that familiarity brings such a weight to it that ties up the whole experience beautifully.
As you transition from one battle to the next, so does the audio in such seamless fashion. Tracks crossfading into one another is done so well that you hardly recognize a break in between the music, upping the immersion factor to great heights.
You’ll get a chance to listen to all of the tracks via collectible discs in the game, accessible throughout the various jukeboxes scattered around Midgar, something we did quite a lot of during the course of our playthrough.
The shining gem, Combat
Apart from the graphical overhaul, one of the most noticeable changes for FF7R is the combat system and trust us when we say that it is an absolute triumph.
Gone are the random battles paired with glass shattering, you’re now faced with real time enemies similar to Final Fantasy XV. That’s not the only thing FF7R takes from XV, in fact the battle system here is heavily inspired by XV, but also heavily improved. Battles take place on a cerebral level, as spamming Square will not lead you to victory for the tougher enemies and boss battles will be more of a deliberate dance that you’ll need to properly navigate.
Boss battles in FF7R are over the top and they are glorious. Each boss has unique phases that will require you to switch up your tactics and be thoughtful about your approach. What took a couple of minutes from the original game will easily take you 5, 10, maybe even 15 minutes in FF7R, with a frantic pace that will leave you breathless after the fight is over. They are exhilarating, for sure, but also deeply satisfying and rewarding.
Each character in your party has a special ability of their own, defining their playstyle. Cloud can switch between Operator and Punisher mode with the latter favoring offense, Barret has a charged shot that deals massive damage, while Tifa is a combo specialist that can charge up to unlock different moves.
Battles are crisp and clean, with hardly any slowdown whatsoever, even during the busiest of times but beware of the camera in tight spaces, as it can be that extra enemy to deal with when things get dicey.
You’ll get a chance to issue actions to members of your party or even opt to take full control of them, which is a stark departure from the original. Despite no longer being turn-based, there is still an ATB meter that constantly fills up that allows you to perform various commands. It at least retains the feel of the original but at the same time bringing a whole new level of strategy and resource management with it.
The Materia system is back as well, which many regard as one of the best systems across all titles in the Final Fantasy franchise. You can expect it to be mostly the same as with the original but there is also new Materia added to the mix which highly compliments the way battles are fought in the game, like Auto Cure and Deadly Dodge.
Summons also make a return but not in the way that you would think. In FF7R, Summons play the role of actual units in battles that you can issue special commands to until the timer runs out, which then prompts it to leave the battlefield via their trademark special attacks. It’s a visual spectacle all on its own, which makes you think as early as now as to how the hell the Knights of the Round are going to look like if it does return in the later parts of the game.
The Combat in FF7R borrows features from other titles in the franchise and also making an appearance here is the weapon upgrading system that is very similar to the Sphere Grid from FFX. You’ll get to boost certain stats and abilities depending on your equipped weapon, with each weapon having its own grid to fill up.
On the side
The game straddles the line between full on rails and an open world experience. Generic sidequests abound in the game which will give you a break from you main objective, adding to the expanded world of Midgar. Quests range from simple fetch quests to the typical battle based objectives and while the sidequests here are nothing of the likes of The Witcher 3, they are serviceable at the very least, offering a quick distraction, bumping up your total playtime by at least 5 hours more.
Speaking of distractions, there is quite a number of unnecessary fillers in the game, to the tune of Darts and Squats among others. These activities, while amusing, feel tacked on and don’t add any real value to the game. For the sole purpose of wasting your time, it does the job pretty well, although its probably something you’ll never go back to once you’re done with them.
At its core, FF7R is a game that is astounding, but not perfect. Expanding a 5 hour experience into 7 times the size is not an easy thing to do and while Square have mostly got it right, there are certain sections in the game that overstay its welcome, justifying its existence by giving the player something to do just because. Some of the missions also feel lengthened for no reason instead of giving a tighter experience, but a lot of the in between details that Square Enix handled with utmost care easily outweighs the nitpicks.
Being the first part of what we expect to be 3 or maybe even 4 installments, it wasn’t an easy task to end the game at a logical point without it feeling too short or too long. FF7R, for the most part, got it right, resulting in a title that closes this chapter out well but sets up the stage for the next in dramatic fashion. You’re left wanting more, but at the same time satisfied at what you had just experienced.
It’s anyone’s guess as to when the next title comes out but until it does, FF7R is surely something that is worthy of your time and all the hype it brought along with it.
What we liked:
- Great respect to the source material despite changes
- Impressive world building and character exposition
- Graphically stunning
- Nostalgic soundtrack
- Fantastic voice acting
- Crisp battle system
What we didn’t like:
- Generic Sidequests
- Some activities feel tacked on
- Certain missions drag out
- Lock on and battle camera issues
Verdict: Buy it!
FF7R was truly worth the wait after all this time. Despite knowing it wasn’t the complete experience, every hour spent in the game consisted of frantic battles and memorable storytelling, all wrapped up in a package that leads to an overly delightful experience from start to finish.
The recreation of the world is mindblowing and seeing the characters given life is like a burst of nostalgia that we cannot get enough of. The combat system is as polished as can be, satisfying and cerebral. Paired with a superb score, FF7R is just a brilliant recreation of the classic from way back.
It might be too early to tell, but expect this to be a shoo in candidate for Game of the Year.
*Final Fantasy 7 Remake was reviewed on a PS4 Pro via a review code provided by the publisher.