Review – Final Fantasy VII Remake
FFVII was originally released in 1997 on the PlayStation and became an immediate hit. Over time, it has gone to establish itself as not only one of the best RPGs ever, but also one of the best video games of all time. Fans have been clamoring for a remake for decades so they could relive the journey of Cloud and the gang in better graphics than what the PlayStation had to offer at the time. Square Enix took a huge risk by attempting to recreate such a beloved title, but they threw caution to the wind and presented us with the long awaited FFVII Remake. A gamble that has some fans divided, but remains an overall success.
For the uninitiated, FFVII and Remake follows the journey of Cloud Strife, an ex-SOLDIER for the electric power conglomerate, Shinra. He’s now a mercenary for hire and he takes a job for a rebel group called AVALANCHE, who Shinra has labeled “eco-terrorists”. They’re on a mission to take down Shinra and stop them from draining the planet of its life’s blood, the spiritual energy called “mako”. Along the way, he’ll meet Aerith, a strange and charmingly upbeat woman who enlists him to be her bodyguard. Eventually, they all become intertwined with each other’s lives and band together to stop Shinra from draining the planet dry, as well as discover the motivations behind the mysterious and evil Sephiroth.
FFVII Remake is vastly different from the original in many ways. For starters, this game is episodic, meaning it’s going to be broken up into several installments. The total number of installments remains to be seen, but since this first game solely takes place in the Midgar segment, I think it’s safe to assume there will be at LEAST three games to complete the story. I’ll admit that I got nervous when I heard that they were taking what was essentially the tutorial section of the original and blowing it up into a full game. I figured there was going to be tons of mindless filler, but luckily, I was wrong.
What they have done instead is gone back and given impressive amounts of world building to the little bit that was already there. You’re able to explore a lot more of the various sectors in Midgar, which gives you a better look into how the people live there. You’ll trek across the slums, underground in the sewers, through the hustle and bustle of Wall Market, and eventually scale the imposing Shinra Tower. You can see in clearer detail just how the various sectors differ from one another, going from the dilapidated sector 7 slums to the high class Shinra tower.
There are also a ton of sidequests in FFVII Remake that were never in the original. There are those who feel some of these sidequests are unnecessary and just used to pad the game’s length, but I strongly disagree. Many of them will provide you with more insight as to how the civilians live their lives in various parts of the city as well as flesh out the stories of other members of Avalanche. Having a better understanding of the people of Midgar and their lives makes the gravity of certain events even more impactful.
The same goes with your Avalanche team members. Understanding each of their motivations makes you care about them a great deal more than in the original. This also means that you’ll feel both more elated and heartbroken after different points in the story because of the deeper connection with them. It’s truly a testament to how well the characters have been developed in this game.
There are also a few different choices you can make with certain dialogue options. Many of them seem simple enough, but most influence the game in various ways later on. Many of these result in minuscule differences, but some of the choices you make have larger implications. In fact, some trophies can only be attained by seeing the outcome from each choice, so there is a huge incentive to play it multiple times. After beating the game once, you’ll be able to chapter select going forward, so collecting those trophies will be a little easier. I’m curious to see if the decisions you make here will affect future installments as well.
While FFVII Remake does follow most of the main story points from the original, there are a few new plot points and changes to the main story. This is the main divisive factor with fans. Diehard fans of the original are up in arms about the changes, particularly toward the end, whereas people new to the game are loving everything about it since they have no comparison. Then are the group of fans, like myself, who love the original, but also see the value in going more in depth in some areas and changing things up. This way it’s not exactly the same experience as it was back 1997, only with a new coat of paint. I can understand the upset because of how it was marketed as a “remake”, when it would’ve been more accurate to call it a “reimagining”.
Now the main thing that has some fans nervous about what’s to come is the fact that FFVII Remake is being spearheaded by Tetsuya Nomura, the man behind the incomprehensible mess that is Kingdom Hearts III. However, I would like to point out Hironobu Sakaguchi (the director of the original FFVII) and Kazushige Nojima (co-writer from the original) are also working in conjunction with him on this project. Since they were able to make such an incredible piece of video game history with the original, I have faith that they’ll be able to recapture the glory of the first without letting it become overly convoluted. Please Nomura, don’t make me regret those words.
The gameplay has been completely redesigned from the ground up. The original game has a turn-based system with an “Active Time Battle” (ATB) gauge that slowly fills for each character. Once it’s full, that’s when the character can perform their chosen action. In FFVII Remake, combat is no longer turn-based. Instead, you’ll be able to fully run around the area, which allows you to avoid attacks easier or hit enemies from behind to inflict more damage. The ATB gauge is still here, but it’s now used to perform special abilities, cast spells, or use items. You can do normal attacks and block all you want while you wait for the ATB gauge to fill. You can also switch back and forth between team members, to utilize their particular strengths and weapons as needed for each battle.
This whole combat system is so much more enjoyable than the original. It’s like a combination of the fighting mechanics between Kingdom Hearts III and FFXV. Everything feels so much more fluid as you run around and switch back and forth between characters. There is even more strategy to it now that you have free reign to move how you want, especially since the enemies can move around now too. My one small gripe is that occasionally when you’re fighting an aerial enemy the camera will go haywire. Honestly though, that’s pretty much to be expected with any action game when dealing with a flying foe. Luckily, locking onto the target helps keep the camera focused properly in most cases.
Materia is once again present in the Remake, since you can’t really have this game without it. Materia is super concentrated mako that holds different properties and allows the wielder to use magic, as well as numerous other buffs and debuffs. Some Materia is discovered throughout different areas, but others can be earned by completing Materia research goals by a boy named Chadley, who you’ll run into periodically. Chadley offers the best Materia, like enhancing your elemental Materia power, gaining extra AP so you can level up faster, or allowing you to learn abilities from enemies. Admittedly, I accidentally left that last one on an old weapon and completely forgot about it until the very end of the game, but from what I hear it’s a game changer. So let that be a lesson to you; don’t forget to remove Materia from all weapons and armor you aren’t using.
The graphics are obviously another area that has gotten a massive overhaul. The original game featured low res polygonal characters on pre-rendered environments. That was cutting edge visually back when the PlayStation first rolled out. Needless to say, it has not aged well. Luckily, technology has vastly improved and we have high definition real-time polygonal graphics utilizing the Unreal 4 engine. This game is absolutely gorgeous. The environments are richer and highly detailed, to the point where you can almost smell the slums and feel the chaotic charge of Wall Market. There is the classic Unreal engine tactic of having the main character squeeze through small crevices to cover up the next section rendering, but its done very convincingly here.
The main characters themselves are also incredibly realistic. Well, as realistic as one can look with ridiculously spiky hair and outfits straight out of an anime. You can see the differing shades of color in their irises, the pores on their skin, and even their hair moves naturally, outrageous hairstyle or not. The background NPCs that you aren’t able to interact with are significantly less detailed, but the NPCs you do have conversations with are just as intricately designed as the main characters. You can even tell the difference in the material of their clothes, the texturing is that impressive.
Like everything else, the sound design has been vastly improved. The composer from the original, Nobuo Uematsu, has returned for the Remake alongside Masashi Hamauzu. All of the songs from the original version are here, but with much better sound quality. A lot of them have been redone to better fit the tone and setting of the world around you. There are a few new tracks in here too, which also go well with the expanded environment.
The voice acting is top notch all around, with the exception of Barret’s character who sounds like he’s trying to do his best Mr. T impression. Each vocal performance wonderfully captures the personality of each character. Sometimes when walking around, the conversations NPCs are having with each other will drown out the dialogue you’re having with your team, but that’s about the only issue I had with the sound design as a whole.
FFVII Remake impressed me in every possible way. The level of detail to the world building and character development is some of the best I’ve ever seen in a video game. There are several trophies that you can only acquire after a few playthroughs with making different choices, so there is a huge replayability factor. Square Enix took a big chance by taking one of the most influential video games of all time and completely revamping it. However, to most of us FFVII Remake is a complete success. Naturally there will be naysayers who want to keep the purity of the original intact, but I am beyond excited to see what’s next.
Stunning graphics with beautifully detailed characters and environments. Some of the background NPCs aren’t of the same quality, however.
The combat system has been completely revamped to being a freely-moving real-time system vs the timed turned-based system from the original. It’s smooth, fast-paced, and incredibly fun, even though the camera sometimes goes haywire with aerial enemies.
The music improves upon the tunes from the original and enhances them. There are a few new songs in here as well. Occasionally the conversations from NPCs will drown out the main character’s conversations, though.
FFVII Remake managed to satisfy me in just about every way. The combat is completely different and so much more fluid and enjoyable. Not only is the whole city of Midgar even larger and more explorable, but the characters are fleshed out better. I’m excited to see what’s in store for us next.
Final Verdict: 9.0
FFVII Remake is available now on PS4.
Reviewed on PS4 Pro.