Review: Final Fantasy VII Remake

It’s been 23 years since Final Fantasy VII revolutionized the industry with its state-of-the-art graphics, emotional story and gameplay. Final Fantasy VII defined a console generation back in the 90s and secured a loyal fanbase that continues to sing its praises. Fast-forward to today and Final Fantasy VII has been reborn for the PlayStation 4 as Final Fantasy VII Remake. Featuring new 3D graphics, voice-acting, and numerous story changes, is Final Fantasy VII Remake what fans have been waiting for all these years or is this just a corporate cash-grab?

Final Fantasy VII Remake follows many of the same beats as its original counterpart. You play as Cloud Strife, a mercenary and former SOLIDER fighting alongside an environmental group known as Avalanche to take down the villainous Shinra Electric Power Company. After an attack on a Mako Reactor, Cloud finds himself drawn into a conflict that runs much deeper than Shinra.

Be wary, Final Fantasy VII Remake is not a full remake of the original game. Despite no designation in the marketing or branding, Final Fantasy VII Remake is the first in a series of entries that will eventually tell the full Final Fantasy VII plot. VII Remake focuses entirely on the Midgar section of the original game, which was about a 5-8-hour slice of content. Though this slice was small in the original game, Square Enix has managed to turn it into a full game. Lasting about 20-30 hours depending on difficulty and side content pursued, Final Fantasy VII Remake has the appropriate length and uses it to expand what was already there.

Final Fantasy VII Remake
may start the same as the original, but it deviates from there to expand the Midgar plot. Existing characters, like Jessie and Biggs, are provided additional scenes to give personality to characters that didn’t have much at all. Meanwhile, new characters are thrown in to add some additional emotion to classic scenes and even add further dimension to existing characters. Plus, a handful of new scenarios end up making Cloud, Tifa, Aerith and Barret more relatable. Cloud particularly gets plenty of time to grow and develop. Gone is the brooding Cloud that’s been omnipresent since the release of Advent Children. In his place, we get a new Cloud that starts cold and detached but ends up with some significant development as the story concludes. Tifa and Aerith get nice moments as well, though Square Enix might have gone a bit too far with Barret’s Mr. T impression. It’s spot-on, but can be overwhelming at times.

It was smart of Square Enix to delve deeper into the characters, but not all additions improve the plot. In fact, a single new addition thematically clashes with Final Fantasy VII’s overarching themes. This plot element ultimately feels more like it belongs in a Kingdom Hearts game than Final Fantasy VII Remake. Considering Kingdom Heart’s director, Tetsuya Nomura, is also Remake’s director, it isn’t all that surprising that it’s here when it probably should have been left on the cutting room floor. Despite this, Final Fantasy VII Remake’s story is a well-told recreation of the original game’s Midgar slice. The new additions help expand the story, and though there’s one unfortunate element added in, the story is well worth seeing through. It’s emotional, lengthy and leaves you wanting more.

Final Fantasy VII Remake’s 20-30 hour campaign is spread across 18 chapters of varying lengths. While most chapters serve narrative purposes, the game features a lot of filler chapters that do little but add hours to the in-game clock. When playing a chapter that pushes the story forward in meaningful ways, Final Fantasy VII Remake is a game that’s nearly impossible to put down. Chapters like the one about turning off lights or chasing down a rodent, however, feel contrived and ultimately unnecessary in the grand scheme of things. The game also provides lukewarm sidequests you can take up at your leisure in specific chapters. They usually all boil down to either killing a powerful enemy, clearing out an area or delivering items, though there are occasional fun sidequests. A squatting challenge features charming and endearing NPCs and an engaging mini-game. The rest are just filler, however, and easily skippable.

Final Fantasy VII Remake
also feels like it didn’t learn some of the lessons of Final Fantasy XIII. Though the game is much more open and filled with shops and interactable NPCs than the deeply controversial XIII, the dungeons follow a similar pattern to that game. They’re long hallways with little deviation. There aren’t any collectibles or puzzles to find, secret areas to uncover or hidden bosses to challenge. Thankfully, though, VII Remake’s environments are more visually diverse and generally shorter than XIII’s long-winding hallways.

Final Fantasy VII Remake has enough hours to be its own game, but Square Enix might have gone overboard. Having lots of content is always nice, but it must be quality content. For the most part, VII Remake does deliver stunning chapters that’ll keep you glued to your controller. Unfortunately, there’s also quite a bit that feels like padding. Luckily, Final Fantasy VII Remake packs the entire runtime with deep, engaging combat. For years, Square Enix has tried to find that perfect blend of action and RPG, a system that looks like Advent Children, but still offers the RPG mechanics fans expect from the series. With VII Remake, they might have found that by blending the real-time combat of Final Fantasy XV with the ATB system from the original VII.

You control a single character at a time with the ability to switch between party members. During real-time, you can freely attack, block and dodge attacks. By successfully landing hits or blocking, your character slowly builds its ATB meters. Once full, you can unleash devastating abilities, powerful magics or use items. It’s a complex system that takes its time to come to grips with, but the game carefully eases you in. When fully immersed, it’s an engaging system begging for players to master it. This is especially true of the 1v1 boss battles, which truly showcase just how masterful and fun the combat gets.

Each of the four characters plays differently from each other. Cloud is the classic solider who fits all general situations, Tifa is fast and utilizes combos to deliver significant damage, Barret is a ranged tank, and Aerith releases bursts of magic from a safe distance. Learning what character works best for each situation becomes of utmost importance as the game progresses. VII Remake isn’t particularly difficult on Normal, but it can be easy to get overwhelmed if not prepared or if the camera acts up. A hard mode does unlock after beating the game should you want more challenge.

Finally, there’s character progression, which feeds directly to combat. The materia system returns, governing what kinds of magic, buffs and summons a character can use. New to VII Remake is the weapon upgrade system, which works like the Sphere Grid from Final Fantasy X. Characters earn a resource called SP through leveling up, which can then be spent on upgrades like Attack, Magic Attack, MP or additional Materia slots. It’s a rather ingenious system that allows players to tailor their characters for different playstyles. Thankfully, there’s a way to reset weapons in case you want to try a different tactic. All said and done, Final Fantasy VII Remake nails gameplay. It successfully blends real-time and RPG mechanics to provide a unique combat system. Asides from a few camera issues, there’s lots to love about playing VII Remake.

Final Fantasy VII
delivered a state-of-the-art presentation when it launched in 1997 on the original PlayStation. As such, expectations for VII Remake’s presentation on PS4 were sky-high. Unfortunately, there are two sides to this coin. On one, the game delivers some of the best visuals on the platform while running at a solid 30fps. The main cast features some truly impressive model and texture work, and interior locales like the Mako Reactor and Shinra building are feasts for the eyes. There’s also a wide array of remarkable effects firing off everywhere without tanking the performance. When everything clicks, Final Fantasy VII Remake lives up to its predecessor’s pedigree.

On the other side, however, things aren’t as rosy. While the main cast, prominent NPCs and key story locations are given lots of attention to detail, the rest aren’t. NPCs roaming around the world lack many details, which isn’t a problem when running by, but it is noticeable when in conversation and the camera gives them a close-up. Worse are many of the less-important environments, which sport low-resolution textures. Whether it’s a door, chain-link fence or the ground, there are lots of low-resolution textures in the game. It’s possible this is a bug or texture streaming issue, but there’s been no word from Square Enix about it. As it stands, these issues can get distracting and mar what is otherwise a technically impressive presentation.

Closing Comments:

It’s hard to remake a beloved game. Balancing nostalgia with new ideas is a tricky conundrum to overcome, especially when it comes to a game like Final Fantasy VII. So many have fond memories of that game and it’s impossible to replace those. Instead, Square Enix has crafted a new game that successfully utilizes the best parts of the original story, adds in new elements and delivers a whole new battle system. Final Fantasy VII Remake provides the characters, settings and plotlines players expected, expanding them with a greater focus on character development. The new combat mechanics perfectly blend the original ATB system with a modern real-time action system to create something wholly unique and engaging. Unfortunately, not everything new works. Some of the new story elements feel out of place with the overarching story and tone, and quite a few of the many hours feel like padding. When the story, combat and characters come together, however, Final Fantasy VII Remake captures the magic that makes Final Fantasy special. Final Fantasy VII Remake is just the beginning of this new journey and it’s already off to a great start.