Geek Review: Final Fantasy VII Remake

Warning: This review contains mild spoilers for Final Fantasy VII Remake. This review is written with a review copy of the game.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Or do they? In 1997, the gaming industry was forever changed by a curious game known as Final Fantasy VII. Upon its release, it not only wowed gamers and critics alike, but it also single-handedly encouraged then-developer Squaresoft to make the jump from 2D game engines to 3D ones. FFVII made such a lasting impression that it became a pop culture icon that has lasted through time. 

After spawning several spin-off games, a movie, books, and tons of merchandise in the last 20+ years, Square Enix has decided it was time to bring their most beloved entry in the long-running JRPG franchise back for the current gaming generation. While Final Fantasy VII Remake is a reimagining of the adventures of Cloud Strife and his comrades, this game is also a love letter to fans of the game, and serves as the perfect entry point for those looking to begin their maiden Final Fantasy voyage. 

For those who played through the original, it will serve you well to set aside any preconceived notions you might have for the remake, as it packs enough to throw multiple narrative curveballs your way. 

In essence, it’s like an old friend who has come back to visit after many years of not seeing them and making up for lost time. Very much like players who had the privilege of going through it over 20 years ago, the game has grown up, and rightly so. For new players, it doesn’t bite, and will hold your hand (almost) every step of the way.

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Though Square Enix had the choice to simply remake the entirety of the game as it is, it took the liberty and made the bold decision to expand the entire narrative and split it into multiple episodes. This first installment takes place wholly in Midgar, the first major area in the original game. Where the original only took a mere 8 to 10 hours to clear, the length of the Midgar segment here has been expanded to match the length of a full-sized game, with a new host of content for players to indulge in. As such, it wouldn’t be giving the development team their due recognition by constantly comparing all aspects of the remake to the original, hence our advice on setting expectations aside for this one. 

But long story short: this is one heck of a remake, and Tetsuya Nomura and his team have delivered the original justice.

The story follows Cloud Strife, a former SOLDIER (basically a Captain America-esque figure) turned mercenary on the hunt for some quick gil (the franchise’s currency), who finds himself swept up in a full-blown civil war in the city of Midgar, between the eco-friendly freedom fighting group, Avalanche, and the eco-draining megacorporation known as Shinra Electric Power Company. He then forms a tenuous allegiance with Avalanche’s figurehead, Barret Wallace, and his comrades, which includes his childhood friend Tifa Lockhart, as they try to take the fight to Shinra. Later on, he meets with a flower girl named Aerith Gainsborough, who also joins the cause.

While the main plot points of FFVII Remake remain largely unchanged, there are a couple of significant surprises along the way that will keep veteran fans guessing, which actually adds a fresh spin on the tale as the worldbuilding has been expanded quite well. Even supporting characters such as Biggs, Wedge and Jessie have been fleshed out, with backstories that will make players even more engaged and attached. This is a significant improvement in making the story and these fan-favourites a lot more relatable and ultimately making the game so much more enjoyable as a whole. 

The new characters are also given some time to shine. Roche, the new Third Class SOLDIER, provides an interesting take on a bold and brash version of Cloud, who strikes up an interesting rivalry with his fellow sword-wielding counterpart in a very interesting set-piece. The Corneo Trio of Chocobo Sam, Madam M and Andrea Rhodea are also starkly different in their own ways. Though they have yet to leave a significant mark on the story at large, the inclusion of new characters – significant enough ones at that – does add a refreshing new lens on the story’s subject matter at hand with their own unique perspectives.

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That said, the story isn’t without its hiccups. Final Fantasy VII was all about building up to a massive conflict at a large scale, which meant a lot of foreshadowing. But for the actual event itself to make an impact, the foreshadowing must be done at a timely and frequent enough manner. Unfortunately, the remake seems to have crammed in a boatload of hype, too much that it seems to dilute the ominous nature of what’s to come. It seems to scream for your attention as it puts the main scenario to a screeching halt, which can be frustrating at times. Despite this, however, the payoff at the end is quite satisfying, and will leave you wanting more.

While the story has been only slightly modified and expanded upon, it is actually the gameplay where Final Fantasy VII Remake truly shines. The devs have reworked the combat mechanics from the ground up, eschewing the generally slow turn-based system of yore to the more snappy real-time combat similar to that of traditional action games such as God of War. As such, it plays a lot more like Final Fantasy XV, but with significant improvements to control and input. Characters zip across the battlefield, slicing their way through foes and crushing them with magic. Players take control of one character, while two others are controlled by well-programmed AI, guarding or dodging out of the way when enemies queue up heavy-hitting attacks. Players can also freely switch between characters, or even control their actions by simply tapping the left or right triggers, which adds a nice layer of strategic depth to the mix.

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Since the different party members wield different weapons and adopt different fighting styles, it’s imperative for them to feel and play differently from one another. Thankfully, with over three decades’ worth of experience, the development team has managed to hit the sweet spot with this one. Every character feels distinct from one another, with their own series of light and strong attacks, as well as special abilities and Limit Breaks to lay waste to enemies. Whether you’re cutting swathes of enemies down with Cloud and his Buster Sword, darting in and out to deliver a flurry of punches and kicks as Tifa, taking tons of punishment while being able to bring on the pain at range as Barret, or blasting foes to smithereens with magic as Aerith, you’ll certainly be in for a dazzling treat.

Players can certainly finish the game by simply mashing the Square and Triangle buttons, but there will be times where smacking face just won’t cut it, especially for boss fights. As such, abilities such as Spells, Summons and Limit Breaks will come in handy, especially for the boss fights. Certain enemies will even force players to switch up their tactics on the fly, as they are immune to certain abilities, or can even constantly switch between being vulnerable to physical or magical attacks, so players are always on their toes. 

Due to the added complexities, players would need to constantly be examining the party’s equipped gear and Materia in the menu quite often if they want to always come out on top. Thankfully, the menu system is extremely easy to follow for both number-crunchers and casual players alike. The various pages such as weapons and Materia aren’t clunky and aren’t hammed in with too much information, yet it provides enough for power gamers to optimise character loadouts to their heart’s content. This makes preparing for fights, especially in the second half of the game, so much more paramount, as charging right in without a plan is a surefire way of ending up in a Game Over screen.

That said, the difficulty in FFVII Remake is actually quite accessible, even on Normal mode. The beginning of the game is simple enough that it allows newcomers who are still coming to grips with the combat system. The difficulty only really spikes towards the second third of the game, by which players would have grasped a great deal of the combat system. But of course, if it’s still too hard, there’s always the option of choosing Easy mode, which significantly dials down the difficulty in favour of letting players focus on the story.

With Square Enix now opting for an action-oriented approach for combat, it has also done away with random encounters, and instead filling areas with monsters that will engage players who run anywhere near them. While, on paper, it allows players to technically maneuver away from them, the areas are so narrow that you’ll trigger a combat encounter 90% of the time, even if it’s the last thing on your agenda. Thankfully, the game includes various breakable boxes that usually provide much-needed potions, especially when running low on gil. Furthermore, there are benches with potion vending machines that can be found throughout each area, the former of which provides a free instant heal. Usually, these are found right at the end of a long, winding trek, or before a punishing boss fight.

While combat is cathartic, highly-stylised and flashy in typical Square Enix fashion, it goes without saying that the number one enemy, from our experience at least, is the camera. It’s bizarre that players don’t get the option to manually swivel the camera when locked in on enemies, especially when trying to reposition characters, or get a better look at fast-moving enemies. And speaking of fast-moving enemies, locking on to them can be an absolute nightmare at times, as they might suddenly dart in behind characters, making the camera go haywire on the odd occasion. This could end up in an unwarranted defeat, and is certainly a head-scratcher. Fortunately, we’ve only encountered this one or two times, but Square Enix could’ve done much better by simply letting players manually move the camera as and when they please.

While FFVII Remake plays more like an action game compared to its original, Square Enix certainly hasn’t forgotten its roots as a turn-based JRPG. This is evident in the inclusion of a Classic difficulty mode, which lets players choose abilities while waiting for turns and moving characters around. It’s a nice way of honouring the game as it was over twenty years ago, while not compromising on the game’s overall quality.

And for players who want a true challenge, fret not as a Hard mode will be unlocked after completing the game for the first time. We’re certain it will put everything players have learned to the test, and then some.

What is a Final Fantasy game without its wealth of side content? FFVII Remake is no exception, as it offers a slew of minigames and side quests for players to take a nice distraction from the main campaign, or to add to their completionist to-do list. Minigames such as Darts, Whack-A-Box and the all-time-favourite Squat Challenge are available for players to pursue. While these minigames do provide a nice bit of goofy fun, winning them completely will yield some juicy rewards that will aid players in future combat encounters. The same goes for side quests, which will, more often than not, reward players with more gear and Materia to power characters up with.

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There are also a few collectibles to look out for, as well as new Materia to be developed with a new NPC called Chadley, who will issue Battle Intel assignments for players to pursue. Completing these assignments will result in the development (and subsequent purchase) of new Materia never before seen in the original game, which does shake up combat in interesting ways.

While the dev and story teams did a number for FFVII Remake, it wouldn’t be complete without the superb animation, voice cast and music. 

From blocky polygonal sprites in the original PlayStation, to fully-realised models in the remake, there is something massively satisfying to see this beloved cast of characters coming to life via the technological advancements in animation today.  The various areas are visual treats, teeming with detail from head to floor. This is especially true with set-piece moments and establishing shots of the various locations.

Though the world of FFVII Remake itself is big, don’t expect to treat it like a typical open-world game, as is the case with typical current-gen game trends. It is ultimately still a remake of the 1997 original, so areas are still generally boxed-in, with little to no deviation of sorts. This is by design, and is meant to let players focus on the story. That said, with the expansion of the story comes a couple of new areas to traverse, with interesting Legend of Zelda-like puzzle elements integrated into the mix, which makes going through these typically linear levels a bit more enjoyable.

For all the vistas the game offers, however, we’ve found that quite a lot of scenes using the in-game engine contain quite a lot of textures that haven’t been rendered properly. Even for a game in 2020, such a dip in graphical quality can be jarring andimmersion-breaking and, at times, even makes a game from a few years ago, like The Witcher 3, seem more graphically advanced. Hopefully, a future patch will rectify this, but at present, it does feel like a wet noodle in terms of animation.

The voice cast is superb (yes, both English and Japanese), which breathes even more life to these originally silent protagonists, as they frequently exchange lighthearted and goofy banter, filling up the void that players once had to do themselves back in 1997. Conversely, this also makes the sad moments truly heartbreaking, as the voice lines are delivered so gut-punchingly well. It makes the game all the more immersive, and thus your experience will be all the richer for it. The motion-capture is definitely on the money, especially with major characters. However, the mo-cap quality sadly tapers off when voicing minor NPCs, such as shopkeepers and side quest givers, which might put off some.

And of course, we’re definitely not forgetting the superb music composed by Final Fantasy icon Nobuo Uematsu and his team. Returning to the fray as the remake’s music director and composer, Uematsu-san has delivered yet again with FFVII Remake, with timeless music that, like the game itself, feels familiar yet fresh. We’re just hoping that the new original score will find its way to Spotify, because some of the new tunes are just too catchy.

Completing Final Fantasy VII Remake will take a good 30 hours, give or take, with about another 10 hours of side content. That’s about the average amount of game time one can spend on other AAA titles, which, in our eyes, justifies the full pricing of this game. Though you can certainly put the game down after completing it the first time, there is indeed some replay value, especially for completionists, such as finishing the game on Hard mode, or replaying select chapters to pick up items that you’ve missed out on.

With a game and story this engaging, it’s wild to think that this is just the first of many installments of Final Fantasy VII Remake. If this first episode is already this good, then we’re already raring to go on the next episode. It’s, then, a matter of when, not if, as Square Enix is already working on it.

Till then, take all the time you need to savour every second of this superb, if slightly imperfect, remake.

GEEK REVIEW SCORE

Summary

Even after 23 years, the same magic can be felt when playing through Final Fantasy VII Remake for the first time, even if it ultimately plays like a very different game. Whether for better or worse, the remake is here to stay.

Overall
9.3/10
9.3/10
  • Gameplay - 9/10
    9/10
  • Story - 9.5/10
    9.5/10
  • Presentation - 9/10
    9/10
  • Value - 9/10
    9/10
  • Geek Satisfaction - 10/10
    10/10
Sending
User Review
2.57 (7 votes)


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