Final Fantasy VII is a landmark title in video gaming, not just in terms of story telling or graphics but from a generational standpoint, a lot of people my age’s youngest gaming memories are of this title and to this day, Final Fantasy VII remains a classic in every sense of the word. One thing that everyone can basically universally agree on though is that the in-game graphics have aged about as well as a tattoo of Elizabeth Taylor, seeing as it’s an early 3D game and all. So, given that an update is something almost everyone would want, it was an exciting announcement for people who enjoyed the game. But does the Remake live up to the legacy of the original?
Right off the bat, I have to say, the presentation here is absolutely amazing. Graphically, this game is one of the best looking games I’ve played. Not just in the character models but in the details of the environments and the textures. The voice acting is great and really brings these characters to life like never before. The original game was riddled with bad translation errors that negatively effected the story. While the writing dips into the cheesecake a lot in the Remake, for the most part, it remains solid. There’s about 14 hours of cutscenes, although I think that would be trimmed down to about 5 if you removed all the anime grunts. Sound design-wise this game sounds like fucking god. The soundtrack is a masterpiece and just hearing orchestrated versions of the classic songs and themes will send chills down the spine of any FF VII fan.
Obviously, a huge alteration from the original to the remake was changing the combat from a traditional turn-based system to a real time one. Call me bitter or set in my ways, but turn-based games are my comfort zone. It’s a big comfy chair with my favorite blanket and a crumpled picture of a Russian super model stuffed to the side of the cushion. Sure, the combat in this game shines during boss fights, and it’s exciting and pretty to look at with all those particle effects that somebody had to no doubt perform a blood sacrifice to get to run smoothly on a base PS4, but it’s just too chaotic for my liking at times. It’s yet another modern JRPG that can’t decide if it wants to have real time or menu-based combat, which never manages to not be a clunky mess, especially when you also have to switch around to new characters every 5 seconds to make sure they aren’t standing around doing nothing.
The Materia system is deep and there’s tons of variety between characters in combat, but it’s the kind of thing where I never feel like my setup is as optimized as it could be. I do like that the game feels more tactical than your standard action game, as you switch between characters using their ATB bar when it’s full, and time slows down while you select spells and abilities. It’s not without its annoyances though, as whoever decided that being interrupted while casting a spell or using an item makes you lose ATB, the item and/or MP can get fucked and any enemy that flies can get double fucked like an Aerith body pillow. That being said, I do really like what they’ve done with the boss fights, specifically the Air Buster and Hell House fights which were underwhelming at best in the original, and the combat did grow on me quite a bit as I played. One thing I’m sure of going forward is that the boss fights aren’t going to be a complaint. I look forward to when we finally get to fight the WEAPONS, which should be around the time the fucking sun burns out.
Yes, we might as well address another elephant in the room which is that this installment is only up until the end of the Midgar section, which in the original was about five to six hours at most, and this is achieved with mixed results. I love how they’ve fleshed out some of the characters like Jessie and Wedge who in the original had like 3 lines between them before going to the big Mako Reactor in the sky. Here the side characters are massively improved and expanded upon as is Midgar itself as a whole which seems more like a living, breathing place. I also love what they did with the protagonist Cloud Strife, yes that’s his real name shut up mom, he’s actually super cool. He has a real arc that’s improved from the original. You can see him transitioning from a mercenary only in it for the payout to actually beginning to care for AVALANCHE’s group of misfits and Midgar as a place. Even the Shinra Corp. people that were one note moustache twirling Captain Planet villains in the original are improved character wise here.
That being said, there’s also sections of very blatant padding to get the game up to the 30-35 hour mark. Almost all the side quests are uninspired and worthless as you run around Midgar looking completely out of place because your characters are the only ones with dumb anime hair and high detail models. There are certain sections of the game that were like 10 minutes at most in the first iteration that are now entire chapters on their own in the remake that don’t really advance the plot forward. There’s two chapters in particular that are literally just running down linear corridors and I was starting to get severe Final Fantasy XIII PTSD. There’s an entire chapter where you just hang out with Jessie’s mom for absolutely no reason and random NPC’s get backstories that I don’t care about. As the game goes on, you begin to realize that the schism between what is good and what is not as good comes down to old vs new. When the game is hitting the heights of the original, it excels to the point of being damn near perfect, but a decent chunk of the new stuff feels tacked on and pointless. While it’s not deal breakingly bad, it’s pretty obvious when you’re transitioning from the stellar peaks of the original to the troughs of some of the newer content.
The story is essentially the same from a broad stroke perspective aside from a few new additions that I can’t much get into without spoilers, but the one element that really bugged me was how Sephiroth was handled. Any serious gamer knows Sephiroth, he’s one of the most iconic antagonists in the medium. In the PS1 version of the game, Sephiroth was barely even present for most of the story. All you saw of him was the trail of destruction he left in his wake for the first few portions of the game, so when you do get those moments of seeing how powerful he truly is first hand, you realize how hopelessly outmatched you are against him. You don’t fight him until the very end, and the way he is build up as a villain is masterfully done. In the remake, he shows up every five goddamn minutes like somebody at Square-Enix is afraid that they’re going to lose the rights to him in between chapters. I can understand why he wasn’t built up the same way as the original game because the older fans would already have known the twists, but the newer fans are also alienated because the game doesn’t show his motivations or character traits, you’re just expected to know what he’s about because he’s Sephiroth. I get that he kind of has to be in the game because the marketing team needs him to be in every trailer, but it shows how much he’s been milked to death as a villain that they can’t exhibit some restraint and at least wait until the end.
What really leaves me the most divided is the ending. Again, I won’t get into spoilers, but I just can’t decide if it’s a genius way of making the older players question how the story will go from here on out or if it’s just a license to make an already convoluted plot even more needlessly convoluted. The original game has some pretty emotional and resounding themes of environmentalism, classism, and moral grayness but without taking itself dead seriously, and for the majority of the remake, these themes are also very present. But then in the last hour, it just devolves into nonsense about defying fate and destiny and takes a very mature and relevant narrative and it starts sounding like an 8-year-old who watches too much Naruto wrote it. And that’s not to even bring up the fact that the pinnacle is already way over the top for a part 1. See, this is what fucking happens when you release essentially 1/5th of an established story. It feels like the narrative has already climaxed and I’m not sure where the games can even go from here to raise the dramatic stakes. It’s like if Sam and Frodo were already desperately climbing Mount Doom at the end of The Fellowship of the Ring. I have no idea what the hell is going to happen, which is no doubt making some social media people at Square-Enix jizz their pants when looking at engagement numbers, but I don’t care about Square’s bottom line. I care about fun games and good stories, and to me it just feels vague and incomplete. I can understand the need to release the game in segments from a financial standpoint, since a sand shop in the middle of the Gobi Desert would have a better chance of recouping their expenses than most AAA games these days, but it doesn’t make it any less annoying that the game abruptly stops. I just wish we got to see at least Kalm or something more that would give us a better ending point.
Overall, I would describe the Final Fantasy VII Remake as both fantastic and flawed. The highs are magical and while the new stuff is a mixed bag, when it’s good, it adds a lot to already great story and characters. The presentation alone is so stellar that it can make the entire game, even the slower parts gripping, especially the emotional and nostalgic soundtrack. The combat is weighty, tactical, deep and flashy enough that most people will really enjoy it, and the consistently fantastic boss fights are worth the price of admission alone. Despite my narrative concerns and frustration with the game being cut into small pieces, I would absolutely recommend this title for both old and newer players. I just have to feel sorry for the people that grew up having a crush on polygonal Tifa. They must be pretty jealous that a new generation of gamers is going to get to have a sexual awakening to a video game character with actual human shaped breasts.