What a reunion.
After five years of waiting, “Final Fantasy 7 Remake” has finally come out. The game follows Cloud Strife, a former SOLDIER (military unit) turned mercenary, that is hired by Avalanche, an eco-terrorist group focused on saving the planet. Their mission is to take out Shinra, a mega electric corporation that runs the city of Midgar and is draining the planet of its lifeforce, Mako. But as they start to attack Shinra, they uncover much more than they had initially thought.
For context, I played the original “Final Fantasy 7” about four years ago. It is a fantastic game, even though it has aged. Going into this remake, I was curious to see how they would handle it given that this is an important game to a lot of people.
But this game delivers in just about every front. It’s fantastic and worth playing.
For starters, this isn’t a traditional, by-the-numbers remake. In actuality, it’s a remake of the first section of the original game. The technologically advanced city of Midgar is about three to four hours long and is roughly 10% of the original game. This remake takes that section and expounds upon it to create a full experience told over 18 chapters.
The story and characters are the heart and soul of this remake. There are three main areas of focus in regards to the story of this game: the story beats from the original, the additions they make to the story and the changes they make to the story.
Anyone that has played the original will recognize all of the story elements that are in this remake. Nothing essential is skipped and everything is given a fresh coat of paint. It doesn’t take away any of the quality from the original.
However, the new story additions to this game fundamentally make this an incredible experience. They take those story beats and add new scenes, dialogue and (sometimes) characters. Those additions give the story more weight and importance that the original doesn’t always have.
Finally, there are a few story changes that are made, mostly towards the end of the game. Without spoiling anything, I personally enjoyed what they changed, and it makes me excited to see where they’ll take the story in the next parts.
This is the best part about this remake: the story. By taking the original story, they are able to fully realize the potential of it by building on the characters, the world and the scope. Just about everything makes sense and the characters become much more fleshed out. It knows when to take itself seriously to get its message across, while also putting in some lighthearted moments that never felt out of place.
All of the main characters are built upon from their previous versions. Cloud is still a reserved mercenary that’s mostly just there to get paid but has a hint of sarcasm and slowly grows to care for his friends over the course of the game. Barret is very bombastic and passionate about the planet, while having a softer side that gets revealed during some of the slower parts of the game (he has a fear of heights, for example). Tifa is a strong individual that has navigated her way through the cruelties of life, but still has her apprehensions towards what they’re doing and the consequences of their actions. Finally, Aerith is a compassionate character that always finds the brighter side of life but is still capable of protecting herself (which was more evident here than in the original).
A lot of these character traits are in the original game but are expanded and more nuanced in the remake. This game is able to take its time to present these traits and let these characters grow on the player. This is also due to the game being fully voice acted. It often times portrays these characters in a way that the original sometimes doesn’t, whether that be from their tone of voice to the emphasis on certain words. Sometimes, it’s a little over the top, but I thought that it added to the charm of the game.
Along with the main characters, the side characters of Jessie, Biggs and Wedge from the original are made into full and realized characters. They add backstories, motivations, traits and quirks to these characters. Essentially, they are much more fleshed out in the remake in the same way the main characters are. I actually found myself caring for them in a way I never felt from the original. This is one of the best accomplishments of this game and it’s the best example of how this game positively adds to the original.
Midgar is also extremely fleshed out. They were able to give a real sense of scale to the city. Most of the game takes place in the slums underneath the main “plate,” which is the topside of Midgar. In game, it’s impressive to witness, as the oppressiveness of the city and Shinra are shown as they tower over the characters. This also goes for Shinra tower, which stands in the center of the city and watches over everything.
Avalanche is a much larger force in this game as well. They have much more reach and are more expansive, as there are different factions all fighting for the same goal.
Even though this is just the first section of the original, they added to the scope and scale of the game in such a way that is admirable.
Along with the expanded scope, the themes in this game are given significant attention.
One of the main themes is unregulated corporations and their governing over everything. Shinra is made more of threat, as their influence is shown throughout the game. Their corporate greed is shown as they bleed the planet for profit and comfort. They actively control the media in an effort to spin the narrative in their favor. Finally, their influence over political leaders is evident, as they put up the mayor of Midgar as a puppet to push their own agenda. This game does not hold back from showing how awful corporations can be sometimes, especially in what they will do as a company to better themselves (that’s without mentioning the inhumane science experiments that they conduct).
The environmental message is extremely prevalent within this game as well. The main goal of the game is to stop the planet from dying. The ramifications of the planet being bled dry are shown through the barren desert surrounding the city, the lack of plants and the literal cries from the planet. This also makes the few instances where nature preservers over man and technology much more poignant, like a patch of flowers growing in a dilapidated church.
One of the last main themes within the game is that of reunions. From family and friends coming back together to old enemies returning, reunions are consistently brought up. This is also shown in one of the main symbols of the game: flowers. They are stated in game to represent reunion (specifically for lovers, but still relevant).
These themes are well realized in this remake and add tremendously to the experience. They are in the original as well, but this remake takes its time to establish and build upon them. At least, they seemed to resonate more for me this time through and are increasingly relevant as time goes on.
Another aspect of this game that is incredible is the score. It’s the same score from the original, but it’s given a full orchestral makeover along with variations of different themes. It’s beautiful and worthy of listening even outside of the game. It’s absolutely amazing in just about every sense of the word.
Another core aspect of this game that is executed incredibly well is the gameplay, specifically the combat. The original is turn based, as you had to wait for a bar to fill up before performing an action. However, the remake has real time combat, meaning that you can move around and attack freely (there was an option for a classic mode, but I didn’t test it).
The remake does incorporate the original’s gameplay within the real time combat. During combat, there’s an attack button that can be used any time, a guard button that reduces damage, a special attack button and a command button (along with a few extra features). When the command button is pressed, the game slows down and allows the player to perform abilities, cast spells, use items or utilize limits. These can only be used when the Active Time Battle (ATB) bar is filled (which is what the original used). Limits have their own bar that is filled up over time. Also, there are summons, which are special allies that are found throughout the game; these activate at random times and use ATB.
Even though this kind of sounds like a mess on paper, it works incredibly well in practice. It allows for the player to be active during combat as they wait to use abilities. It requires the player to think strategically for what they need to do when they have access to their full arsenal, which is why the game slows down when you enter the commands menu.
Along with this, the game lets the player seamlessly switch between active party members. This helps when certain enemies can only be attacked using a specific combat style (close quarters combat or ranged). It’s another area of the combat that requires strategy from the player.
There are several weapons and items available to every party member throughout the game. A new addition to the game is the weapon upgrade system. By leveling up, the player obtains Skill Points (SP) that are used to upgrade weapons. This can be anything from increasing attack points to spell buffs. It’s well implemented and allows the player to pick and choose which weapon they want to use instead of just picking the “best” weapon.
Abilities are tied to specific weapons but can become permanently learned if the weapon’s proficiency is maxed out. Also, certain abilities, spells and status buffs are obtained from materia, which are orbs made from Mako. They are upgraded through constant use in battle and are central items in the game’s story and world.
Moving on, the boss fights in this game range from alright to incredible. Most of them are pretty good, as they’re either okay, really long or just a little bit annoying. The rest are fantastic.
There are three main boss fights that I want to highlight. The first is at the end of Chapter four. It’s with a new character Roche, a soldier like Cloud. The fight is amazing, as it requires the player to think about what their moves should be while reacting to his attacks. I had a blast figuring out Roche’s moves and attacks; defeating him was immensely satisfying, and I hope they bring him back in the next parts. The other two are spoilers, so I won’t directly mention them. But the first one takes place in Chapter six with a returning character, and the other is at the end of Chapter 17 (this one has two phases and, albeit a little annoying, I liked the variety that it brought).
Outside of the bosses, the rest of the combat encounters are fine. However, this is one of the few gripes that I have with the game. On a few instances, the number of enemies in an encounter is unbalanced. I died more times to enemies continuously attacking me all at once than I did to any bosses. It was sometimes frustrating, as it felt like the game randomly increased in difficulty. But it’s nothing egregious, as it only happened a couple times and the rest of the encounters are fine.
Speaking of gripes, the side quests in this game are not very good. There aren’t any awful quests, but there aren’t any good ones either. There are 28 side quests in the game, but you can only complete 26 of them in one run. The game opens two of four side quests in Chapter 9 based on certain decisions that the player does in that chapter (the other two open if you make different decisions). This was really annoying. Most of the quests are just boring.
However, everything around the side quests is great. By doing them, the player is rewarded with small cutscenes (that help build characters), certain choices or details that flesh the world out. For example, if you complete all the side quests in Chapter three, two things happen. The first is a cutscene, which helps to build Cloud and Tifa’s relationship. The second is how the world reacts to your accomplishments. As Cloud completes them, the people around you begin to change, as they acknowledge your abilities and status. This also occurs whenever something major occurs in the story. It’s a nice detail that helps make the world feel more alive. If these weren’t added in the game, then I would say skip the side quests. But these elements are so good that it makes playing through the quests worth it.
Also, the only slightly good side content in the game is the battle intel reports. It’s not really a side quest, but it’s better than the actual side quests. Basically, a new character, Chadley, researches materia and requires you to gather intel for him. Intel is gathered naturally from fighting enemies and is completely optional. Completing it yields some good materia and adds another interesting aspect to the already great combat in this game.
Along with the optional side content, the minigames are okay. Outside of a couple decent items, they’re not worth doing.
My last qualm with the game is that some of the non-player characters (NPCs) look bad when you interact with them. Outside of this, the rest of the game is gorgeous. The graphics, especially in cutscenes, are amazing and filled with detail. They really help in creating the world, atmosphere and characters in this game.
Fortunately, all of these problems that I have (except for the unfair combat encounters) is completely optional. The game doesn’t force you to complete them if you don’t want to. But it’s important to note anyway.
One of the last points that I want to discuss is the nature of this remake. I’m not going to spoil anything. Essentially, this game acts as a meta-textual analysis of itself using some of the new story elements that they add to the game. It’s something that becomes clearer as the story progresses. Over time, you figure out that this game knows that it’s a remake of a classic. It’s surprisingly well done.
This game is absolutely fantastic. There is so much detail and love put into crafting this game. It’s clear that the team at Square Enix really took their time to do this game justice and they completely succeeded in my opinion. Nearly every aspect of this game is amazing. Even the few parts of the game that are weak are overshadowed by everything else in the game or are made better by what surrounds them.
While I was playing through this game, an analogy came to me. The original game is a fantastic outline for an essay. It gets to the point and contains all of the essential information in it. This remake is the first paragraph of that essay. It takes the info from the outline and expands upon it. It’s crafted with style, flows well from sentence to sentence and is much more detailed than the outline. It’s not perfect due to a couple grammatical errors, but it’s so good that those don’t really matter. It actively makes me excited to read the rest of the essay.
This game is amazing. If you haven’t already played it, do yourself a favor and check it out. It’s well worth your time.
I completed this game on a standard PS4 over the course of 43 hours on normal difficulty.
Rating: 4 ½ out of 5 stars.