Everyone has that one game. That one game that stays with you, and in some cases defines your gaming personality and your expectancies for every game you play going forward from that point.
For me, that’s always been Final Fantasy VII. So you probably understand me when I tell you how excited I was to finally get my hands on the remake of a game that had in some essence profiled my childhood gaming habits.
Square Enix’s biggest challenge with the Final Fantasy VII Remake wasn’t just delivering something true to the source material, it was more than that. It was about making it accessible to the very many potential fans that I’ve no doubt the series will have now, and to modernise it in a way that made it current without conceding the richness of the experience.
I’m going to keep this review as absolutely spoiler free as possible, simply because the game has so much to it, that to spoil it for someone would be a great shame. So sit your ass down in that chair and drink your goddamn TEA!
Final Fantasy VII Remake starts off with some additional scenes. For the newbies, what you get is one of the finest graphical experiences seen in a Final Fantasy game to date. For the lovers/returners of the series, its no less exciting to see something that was admittedly impressive for its time recreated in absolutely phenomenal detail. From the get go, we’re onto a winner here.
It’s a great entrance to the game, the classic logo reveal and the pounding orchestral music, which is massive upgrade (on the midi of old, of course). It’s something that gets you ready, sets you in the right frame of mind to start (or relive) the adventure as Cloud Strife, Ex-Soldier 1st Class.
The cutscenes are blended effortlessly into the actual gameplay and its plenty exceptional. One of the greatest things that this game does well is keeps everything flowing. The action feels complete and never stops, so it’s almost like a controllable movie. It’s pretty impressive to say the least. Now that’s not to say there aren’t loading screens, of course there are. But it doesn’t feel intrusive to the experience, and it takes a lot of care and craft to pull that off.
Your thrust into the action as soon as the initial cutscenes end and Cloud (the main protagonist) hops off to start his first mission as a Mercenary for hire. The tutorial pieces start to flash up on the right side of the screen with some pretty hefty explanations. Its great because there’s no mincing words here. The combat slows to a halt around you whilst you take information on how to wield Cloud like the effective killing machine he is.
Combat is pretty effortless and intuitive. I’d go as far to say that it’s likely one of the best action RPG combat systems i’ve experienced in a long time. You have basic attacks, and a hard press on that same button will deliver a stronger attack (in some cases, AOE dependent on character) which can come in handy for taking on larger enemy numbers. Each character has a specific ability tied to them too, for example, Cloud can flitter between his normal mode called ‘Operator’, and his heavy attack smash baddies into the ground mode, titled ‘Punisher’. It gives a depth to each character, giving them all a role to play throughout the game.
You can switch through your party of three freely and in fact, it’s a good idea to get used to this. When you need to use one of the various abilities, magics or items you’ll have at your disposal, you can either bind it to a set of four useable hotkey commands or bring up the menu. You’ll be happy to know that the battle slows down almost to a stop whilst you make your choices in the menu too, so no need to panic pick.
You’ll also have have access to guarding and dodging, and you’re going to have to get used to it. Enemies attacks can blindside you and keep knocking you to the ground. So you want to make yourself a friend of both.
That’s not all though, the game forces you to change tactics on the fly. Some enemies for example fly or are too high up for Cloud to blunt the edge of his sword with, so this is where characters like Barrett come in. With a bloody great big gun on his arm and a mean attitude, he’ll make short work of those out of reach nasties.
Combat is sleek. Bosses have patterns, the arenas for fighting are really quite big and it doesn’t feel restricted at all. The characters bound out moves with stylishness and equally, enemies are pretty exceptional in their own right, with each one feeling unique.
Ultimately, battles are really well balanced. Nothing feels unfair, and certainly nothing is easy (unless of course you play on easy, but that’s all personal choice). And the boss fights are really well done. Not only are they graphically impressive, but exciting to boot, so much so that whether you’re a returner from the original or a complete new starter to the series, there’s so much fun to be had.
Which takes me to my next point.
The characters. There’s so much character development here that its genuinely wonderful just to listen to the conversations. Cloud is typically cold, with a hint of softness to him. Barrett’s quips and singing the victory fanfare will have you laughing, Tifa is endearing and wonderfully portrayed and Aerith is almost ditzy, but kind and so funny. That said, there’s plenty of other characters like Biggs, Wedge and Jessie that get so much screen time in the remake, that you’ll get super attached to them too. In fact, there’s so much to every character you come across its hard not to love them all.
Midgar (the city you traverse in this part of the story) is bustling with activity. To overheard conversations (sometimes about questionable things) all the way to the streets being filled to the brim. It’s great to see so much life in Midgar because it blurs the line between game and full cinematic experience. You’ll find yourself chuckling occasionally, and perhaps even feeling things you didn’t think possible as you make your way around Midgar, enjoying the story and solving the denizens woes as only a Mercenary can.
The detail on the characters is second to none, it gives an emotional range to the game that was sorely missed in the original outing. The music is far more fantastic this time around, with every track naturally being modernised. Everything about the soundtrack is bold and immersive, so I’m sure that even newcomers to the series will have plenty to love about it.
Let’s talk about Materia. Returners will already know what this is, but for the newcomers, Materia are little orbs that slot into armour and weapons to allow party members to cast magic. And wow is there a lot of variation this time around. There’s plenty to get your teeth stuck into to create your perfect build of magic, commands and support Materia, making you an unstoppable machine on the battlefield. There’s also a lot of Materia to create synergy between each character you’re using. It’s such a great system, it’s hard to find any fault in it at all. And it complements the battle system immensely.
Returning to detail briefly, the Materia slots on characters weapon models will actually populate with the exact colour Materia you slot in the menus. I mean, it’s small but it’s so impressive.
You’ll find yourself collecting various weapons and as each character levels up they’ll earn skill points to use in improving each weapon. This can vary from increasing attack, defence, magic attack and so on. It’ll also allow you to open more Materia slots on your weapons so that they stay current as you go through the game too, so no weapon is wasted and each has specific circumstances or abilities where it will come in handy.
The story of Final Fantasy VII has always been one of, if not the, best in the history of the series. What Square Enix have done in this time, is improved it. Sure, the source material is still in here in all its glory, but theres so much more to it now that the VII of old seems a somewhat distant memory.
There are parts of this game where you will laugh, there are parts where you’ll feel sad, there’ll be parts where you’ll be fired up. There’s something about this story, even in its initial form that spoke volumes to the numerous fans it already has around the world. You’ll remember the characters, hell you’ll remember the poor downtrodden people of Midgar that suffer under the oppression of their corporate masters, the Shinra Electric Power Company. Everything about it is memorable.
For the returners, there’s been a lot of content added story wise. There’s additional scenes and some other completely new additions to the narrative that bring the experience up to 2020 in style. I won’t go into detail for obvious reasons, but will say this. It will change your idea of what you knew about the Final Fantasy VII. My lips are sealed.
In between the run through the story, there are numerous side quests to try your hand at. Some of these will be simple fetch quests, some will be battle orientated and some will be mini game related. Like squats and pull ups. Sounds crazy right? But it works so well! What gives the side quests in Final Fantasy VII Remake so much charm, is how invested you’ll feel just by taking them. We’re not talking generic NPCs here, we’re talking characters whom you’ll want to help because you feel you need to. There’s nothing super flashy about the side quests, but they’re just so damn fun. Little tip too, completing the side quests at particular points in the game will open up extra scenes or dialogue with some characters, so it’s worth going the extra mile.
From start to completion, I clocked in at 36 and a half hours. And that was completing pretty much everything that I could possibly do on a normal run. That’s a great length of time for an RPG of this magnitude, so you can be sure that even if you only do the one run through to experience the story, it won’t be money wasted at all. After completion you’ll also unlock hard mode, which will allow you to earn certain items unavailable on the first run through, as well as some of the achievements you may be missing. Add to that, you can pick and choose the chapters too as completion opens up the ability to chapter select, so for those that want to dive right back in the option is there.
It’s hard to look at something you love and not be completely biased. But I can assure you that this review reflects my complete and unbiased opinion.
Final Fantasy VII Remake is a gloriously detailed and wondrous, exciting experience from start to finish. An intuitive battle system, impressive character development, modernised story and fantastically presented musical score makes this the best Final Fantasy to date, and one of the best games of 2020 so far.
I’ve no doubt that this game will stand the test of time as one of the most memorable action RPG experiences, like its predecessor did all the way back in 1997 for JRPGs. Well, certainly until they release part 2. But the apple doesn’t fall so far from the tree, and Square Enix have once again showed that with a bit of effort and care, you can take something original and recreate something truly breathtaking.