As the two posts (see here and here) I previously wrote on Final Fantasy VII this year alone can attest to, the adventures of Cloud and friends from Square-Enix have held a special place in my heart for over two decades. With an (at the time) absurd 50+ hours of side quests, monster battles, and world saving, this epic made quite the lasting impression on my former tween self. While I’ve loved many Final Fantasy games since then (special shout outs to VIII, X, and XV), none stands out quite as much in my game loving heart. For the past five years since it was initially announced way back in 2015, Final Fantasy VII Remake has oscillated in my brain between sky high expectations and trying to put my guard up to shield myself from the inevitable disappointment. So, did the remake gods manage to pull it off or were my hopes crushed like poor Sector 7 under the weight of Shinra’s greed?
By most standards, the combat in the original FFVII is fairly dated, but still quite fun. Turn-based battles have come a long way since 1997 with recent examples like Persona 5, Bravely Default, and Octopath Traveler breathing new life into turn-based combat. The series itself departed to a more real-time action oriented system back in 2016’s FFXV, and the combat here comes across as a more fully realized version of what Square Enix was trying to accomplish with that previous title. Everything felt just slightly off in FFXV with most battles seeming more like damage sponges and a sense of actual contact missing, but that has all been rectified in the beautiful battles of FFVIIR. Thanks to a staggering system, it’s important to formulate a strategy going into each battle then exploiting the weaknesses of the enemy for an efficient end. Each party member feels unique and learning to rapidly switch between them all in combat is an absolute thrill. Every massive swing of Cloud’s ludicrously long swords has a weight to it, and the ranged attacks of Barrett and Aerith provide much needed long distance support that can be converted into absolute world destroyers when properly charged. Most impressively, however, is the sheer depth and fun of Tifa’s hand-to-hand combat that feels like they managed to sneak in a mini-fighting game with its joyously wonderful chaining system. I even enjoyed the lack of random encounters. Being able to see foes in the distance and make your way to them helped keep the sense of immersion going strong.
We’ve already touched on the combat being fantastic, and it’s never more evident than when taking on one of the game’s many brilliantly designed bosses. This is where you really cut your teeth on all the battle systems and learn how to act as a strong, cohesive party. At times, the boss battles transport you into a slightly easier spin-off of a Soulsborne game as proper dodging, parrying, and weakness exploitation become all the more important. One of my biggest concerns going in to the remake was that they wouldn’t have a way to replicate some of the more epic encounters like Ruby and Emerald Weapon from the original given the disappointing bosses of FFXV, but, after having experienced countless masterfully executed encounters here, I’m confident the sequels will capture those moments perfectly and possibly even one up them.
Tifa and Aerith’s Friendship
The Tifa-Cloud-Aerith love triangle is central to the original game (for the record, Tifa > Aerith), and it often felt like they were merely competing for Cloud’s affection instead of being fully realized individuals. While the remake does play on the chemistry between Cloud and his two leading ladies, Tifa and Aerith are far more likely to be seen kicking ass together and praising one another than talking about the spikiest blonde around. Some of the best sequences are when the two of them are off on their own. It’s probably harder to find a conversation between the two of them that doesn’t pass the bechdel test than to find one that does.
Jessie and the Rest of Avalanche
Your fellow Avalanche eco-terrorists are some of the most basic JRPG red-shirts around in the original, but the remake takes the time to flesh them out. Not only does the remake give them additional screen time, but it also turns them into legitimate characters that you care deeply for. Perhaps the best chapter in the entire game is Chapter 4 where you join Jessie, Wedge, and Biggs on a secret mission involving Jessie’s life before joining the resistance. Not only does this provide interesting backstory, but it also adds a new level of heart and grassroots soul to your ragtag team’s humble origins.
Wall Market Redux
Back in the original, one of the lowlights of the game is the very dated trip through Wall Market that handles themes of queerness and cross-dressing extremely poorly. The remake, however, manages to completely turn this section around into one of the finest chapters the game has to offer. The market itself is beautiful to experience and features a wide variety of some of the most colorful and memorable characters around. The queer characters aren’t played for laughs or looked down on here but rather are fleshed out and celebrated. While Cloud still seems uncomfortable with having to cross-dress there is no animosity felt this time. Plus, it features some of the best mini-games around and one of the most well executed uses of the colosseum trope found in pretty much every video game.
Cloud’s Hair, Tifa’s Abs, and Twelve Year Old Me’s Imagination
Perhaps the two most iconic images in FFVII are Cloud’s wonderfully spikey blonde hairdo and his massive buster sword. The second our troubled hero first appears, you know they absolutely nailed those two things, and you’re buckled up for a faithful realization of Midgar. The first few hours of the game, especially when you finally enter the slums, are absolutely mesmerizing. I kept finding myself just walking around in awe of my surroundings. It truly felt like I was playing the hyper realistic game my 12 year-old self imagined the original to be. Just simple things like being able to have a drink in Seventh Heaven made me experience that same wonder from when I was a kid again.
FFVII features one of the most well-known scores around, and the remake absolutely crushes it. As soon as the opening chords of the main theme begin in the opening cinematic, you are instantly transported to whatever age you were when you first played the original. Throughout the game, you will come across increasingly complex and breathtaking orchestral renditions that raise the music to dizzying new heights. Even Barrett’s guttural performance of the battle victory theme stands out (mostly for the laughs).
Avalanche Album Covers
One of my favorite made up gimmicks throughout my time in FFVIIR was the fact that stopping and facing the camera seemed to always result in what looks like an angsty album cover for your band of eco-terrorists, Avalanche. Enjoy my 3 favorites below.
Weapons and Upgrades
The Remake does a really interesting thing with its weapons. Each has its own unique ability that you can unlock for any of the character’s weapons once you perform it enough times in combat. This leads to excitement every time you get a new weapon even if its stats aren’t as great to find out what it brings to the party. Additionally, each weapon has a deep skill tree that tends to emphasize certain aspects of combat over others meaning you can further customize the weapon of your choice to fit your style.
One of the greatest things in the original was all of the insane mini-games, and the remake features its fair share of incredible and weird offerings. It would have been easy for these to have ended up overly silly or simple, but they all managed to be surprisingly fun and offer fairly helpful rewards for mastery. From darts to box breaking and pull-up contests, each game required actual skill and multiple attempts to achieve a high score, but they also provided a great deal of replayability that never made them feel like a chore. I’m definitely ready to see what the Gold Saucer has in store in future releases.
I for one welcome our new feline overloads. Between last year’s incredible Astral Chain‘s cat collecting and the ubiquitous nature of adorable kitties in FFVIIR, I hope a trend has been firmly establish. Now, if only you could pet them on command and not just as part of specific side quests.
A stalwart of odd Final Fantasy battles for decades, it was a thrill to see the Tonberry in action in one of the later game side quests. The incredibly slow yet deadly plodding of the Tonberry was on full display, as I probably had more characters need to be revived in this single battle than in the rest of the game combined.
Time to Complete/Sticking to Midgar
In all, it took me approximately 40 hours to complete the main story and all of the side quests, which is pretty incredible considering this only covers the first 5 hours or so of the original. In these 40 hours, I felt like I had a complete experience, and while I can’t wait for the sequel, I also don’t feel cheated or like I had to wade through too much filler like you might get in a standard 70+ hour JRPG.
The Fact That the Game Can Be Spoiled
I won’t go too into details here, but it’s incredible that the remake of a 23 year old game with some of the most well-known moments in gaming history can manage to be spoiled. Even moments you know are coming seem uncertain as you become so invested that you are convinced you can stop them and make things different this time.
The Mixed Bag
Similar to Final Fantasy XV, summons are overly powerful helpers that can only be called upon when the stakes get extremely tough. They’re absolutely astonishing to behold and can dish out tremendous amounts of damage, but the fact that you have to worry about using your ability points to get them to perform their better attacks can overwhelm your squad when in the heat of some of the toughest battles.
The Living City
The latest iteration of Midgar is heavily lived in, and the consequences of your actions are felt in a way the original never came close to approaching. That being said, at times it almost feels like too much is happening. The conversations of NPCs you’re walking past can easily become too distracting and cause confusion with what’s going on between your party. Still, there are times like after the initial reactor explosion where this helps hammer home the consequences of your actions in a way never before explored.
All the Climbing
Multiple chapters involve seemingly never-ending stairmasters. At times, this is played to great effect and tension like in the fantastic plate attack of Chapter 12, but at others it just feels like an unnecessarily long chore, especially when that underlying tension isn’t there. At least, the 59-floor climb inside of the Shinra building played out even more humorously than it did the first time.
Until the late game, side quests are mainly fairly simple fetch or kill missions. They’re almost all linear, but they manage to pay off tremendously with story-telling rewards even if they don’t function well mechanically. Often, side quests play out with Cloud and one other character getting to know each other and interact like the fun buddy duos in the Uncharted series. Aside from building up this camaraderie, completing them all tends to yield additional little character moments and huge actual treasures.
Chadley the Weirdo
Chadley, the Shinra intern who is secretly on your side, comes off as a massive creep. Is he some sort of pre-pubescent wunderkind or just a stunted adult? Who knows? But at least his battle intel reports and VR Missions lead to some fun challenges and helpful materia.
Learning the Correct Pronunciation of Mako
Like most FFVII nerds, I was shocked to discover that I’ve been pronouncing the omnipresent Midgar-powering, materia-producing Mako for over twenty years. Naturally, I always saw it as may-ko like the shark and not ma-ko, but the addition of voice acting sadly confirmed my worst fears. At least by about halfway through the game I had gotten used to hearing it.
All the Hallways
When it comes time to get down to the nitty gritty and advance to a boss fight, all too often you end up in bland hallway after bland hallway. Really the only time the game suffers from being filler are during these periods especially during the inexplicably 2 chapter long sojourn to the Sector 5 reactor. Whereas climbing had drama, meandering through a hallway maze did not.
The Sense of All This Progress Being for Naught
By the time the credits roll, you’ve progressed your heroes 40+ levels, mastered dozens of abilities, and grown a wealth of materia. As a result, it’s going to be weird if the sequel makes you return to your humble, underpowered Level 1 beginnings. Given that part 2 won’t show up for several more years and will be on the next-gen of consoles, it’s hard to imagine that there’s going to be a way to transfer progress over. At least there are no Mass Effect-like consequential decisions you have to worry about.
The Lack of Photo Mode
I love taking screenshots and naturally took an absurd amount for this game, too. But aside from being able to rotate the camera around, not being able to control angles or levels of zoom to capture the perfect pic felt out of place since photo modes are pretty much a given in games today.
Texture Loading Issues
While seemingly everything in this game from the hyper-detailed characters to the sparks flying in combat is beautiful, you can tell this game is pushing the PS4 hardware to its absolute limits as textures will often take forever to load or appear as distractingly low-res. Every time you notice it, it momentarily takes you out of the otherwise complete immersion the game offers.
Aside from being absolutely flabbergasted that this long rumored and yearned for game actually exists, I am utterly shocked by how convincingly they pulled it off. They managed to bring fresh life into characters I have loved for decades and fleshed them out to make me love them even more. Somehow they managed to not get crushed by the expectations of remaking one of the most beloved games of all time, and I cannot wait to see where they take the sequels to complete the saga.