Final Fantasy VII Remake – Review

Review copy provided by Playstation Asia

Note that the review may contain minor spoilers


Remember in 2005, when Square Enix showed a PS3 tech demo of what it looks like to see Final Fantasy VII in then-current-gen consoles? Remember when in 2015 on Sony’s stage where Final Fantasy VII Remake was announced? Time flies.

There are many long-time fans of the 1997 seminal JRPG. One of the influential titles that brought the genre into the mainstream. So there is a lot riding on this remake of a beloved game. Interestingly, Square Enix’s approach to remaking the gargantuan (in today’s standard) length of the game is to take one portion of it, and flesh that into a standalone title.

It may only the first part of a larger epic, but Final Fantasy VII Remake successfully translates the opening hours of the classic JRPG into a wonderful, full-featured game.

Presentation

Final Fantasy VII Remake is gorgeous, as it goes without saying. Of course, we have seen the original low-polygon characters in 3D before. But the remake designs give them a fresh spin- still true to the original, but with a bit more flavour. Just look at Cloud’s incredibly toned biceps and the grooves on the bolts sticking out of his shoulder pauldron.

And those eyes.

What really wowed me is that it does one thing I never really understood of my (very short) time playing the original: the scale and layout of Midgar. The fancy modern city is a pizza (pie) in the sky as the slums sit literally beneath them. That’s something the original game couldn’t convey without the power of a 3D skybox.

Square Enix’s switch to Unreal Engine 4 instead of their proprietary engines does make for a pretty game. What I didn’t expect is how many breakable and moveable physics objects they are in the world. It opens up opportunities for silly shenanigans of pushing boxes, chairs or broken tables around an area so it looks goofy in cutscenes.

But it’s also haunted by the engine’s well-known weakness. Yep, you might have guessed it: textures not loading properly and in time. There will be many occasions where you will see blobs of what is a well-detailed door or poster, but the textures just don’t bloody show up sometimes.

On a more positive note, the soundtrack is without a doubt one of the elements that translated the best into the remake. It’s a testament to how timeless Nobuo Uematsu’s original score is, but the sound team did a great job in remixing and re-orchestrating the familiar songs fit for a modern game. And it covers a crazy wide variety of music genre too, from electronica to bossa nova.

Also, I lost count on how many of the FF VII battle theme remixes there is in the remake. Each of them sounds different and so good. I still am not tired of listening to each of them.

Gameplay

For the uninitiated, Final Fantasy VII follows the adventures of Cloud Strife, a no-nonsense ex-SOLDIER who’s now a mercenary for hire. A supposed one-off job of helping an eco-terrorist group kicks off a plot of fighting the local electric company, uncover the secrets of the world and exploring the city of Midgar.

Let The Battle Begins

Final Fantasy VII Remake is now an action-RPG that blends normal character-action gameplay with the original’s turn-based ATB system. If you need to use an ability (skills), cast magic or use items, you’ll need to wait for the ATB gauge to fill, with normal attacks having no restrictions. Similarly, the four playable characters each has a character-specific command that also doesn’t use the ATB. Cloud has a stance change for light and heavy attacks, for example, and plays very different from Barret, whose gun-arm needs to charge up to blast enemies with an overcharged shot.

It’s quite the undertaking at first. Sometimes it feels limiting that the commands are time-locked into waiting some meter to fill. But give it a chance, and you’ll see there’s a nice flow to it.

Another way of looking at the combat: imagine FF XIII’s fast-paced turn-based system (including the need to stagger enemies for big damage) married with a tight, better action-RPG combat of FF XV.

The normal character-action bits are not too shabby either. Just mindlessly mashing buttons don’t work here in most cases, and evade windows can be pretty narrow which do require some bit of skill to pull off consistently. Boss fights are genuinely tough, requiring you to understand attack patterns or get punished hard. Especially in one-on-one boss fights, which really feel like a character-action-lite.

The fights are quite the spectacle, each has multiple phases and the transition is always some crazy cinematic played in real-time. It’s a treat that has plenty of over-the-top “dumb-cool” moments, especially when fighting human enemies.

There is one issue- and it’s of the camera. The camera always seems to frame a battle badly, especially when you lock-on to targets and lose control of the camera. It also comes a bit too close a lot of times, despite putting the options to put it the furthest it can go. Fights in tight spaces are not pleasant, so thankfully that’s not that often.

The combat system works, essentially. Somehow, the blend of the old and the new works remarkably well, and the best Square Enix has ever pulled off for an action-RPG.

Needs More Materia

Similar to the original, Final Fantasy VII Remake retains the trademark materia system. A modern way to explain this is it’s a loadout system that determines what ability or spell or passive buff a character has, each slotted into a piece of weapon or armour. Most of the intricacies stay in tact. Like how you can link some materia to gain specific buffs or moves like infusing your regular attack with an elemental materia. Materia can level up, unlocking more abilities, magic, or give better buffs.

What’s cool is how weapon works. New to remake, each weapon has a different ability tied to it, which can be permanently learned upon enough usage. Yes, like FF IX. But also, to give you more options to change stats of your party members, those are now tied to weapons. Weapons have their own mini-sphere grid/license board/crystarium system but less complicated.

Weapons, just like materia, also accrue their own points that can level up and open more upgrade options. It’s a great system. It encourages you to tinker with your loadout, at least give each new weapon a chance and use it enough to get their ability permanently. It also means that old weapons are not made redundant. Cloud’s iconic Buster Sword continues to be gameplay-relevant from the start to finish. And so is the rest of the weapons for all party members.

Content

The main skeptical point I have with Final Fantasy VII Remake is can the Midgar arc alone be suffice as a full RM243 game. I am happy to report that I was wrong on this. The game has been incredibly embellished to be a proper game, and it’s not all filler.

From the little I remember of me playing the original, the first and second Mako reactor bombing run was less than five hours. In the remake, completing both can go up to ten. Doing most of the sidequests and other optional content, I took about 40 hours to reach the credits.

While the game is linear in general, it doesn’t propel you into long corridors. Map design is varied, sometimes with puzzles. And there are chapters where you can take a breather and explore at your leisure. The game has vastly expanded the areas you visit from the original game, with new side quests to do.

And there are whole sections where the remake adds- like a chapter focusing on the supporting cast.

Final Fantasy VII Remake makes me question what is a definition of a remake is. The parts where it sticks close to the original feels authentic and made with care. And it’s remarkable that just the Midgar arc can have a good opening, a climax, and resolution.

Minor Spoilers Starts Here

But what might caught you off-guard is how the story isn’t a beat-for-beat remake. Without going too spoilery, there are some changes and additional elements being added on top of what you would expect. Some you can already tell from the pre-release trailers and promos, but there are still more you should see for yourself.

If you’re a purist this might be something you didn’t expect, or wanted. I have a feeling that it may be divisive among fans, but at least even the most hardcore of fans now have a reason to check out the remake.

However, one of the more peculiar changes that I can talk about is how the leading ladies are being portrayed. Look, I’m not complaining, but the developers are really playing it up to the fans who ship Cloud with either Aerith or Tifa. Or even Jessie. There is an underlying sexual tension whenever Cloud is interacting with any of them. Whoever you believe is best girl, they got enough screen time to send your hearts fluttering.

Final Fantasy? More like Final Fanthirsty.

Minor Spoilers End Here

Personal Enjoyment

I am playing Final Fantasy VII Remake as someone who is not a big fan of the original. True, the 1997 game changed a lot of people’s outlook in RPGs, and games in general. It’s arguably one of the most influential titles on the original Playstation. But it never clicked with me- even back at the time. I much prefer IX. Or X. Or XII.

That being said, the remake won me over. The overarching arc is still relevant today. But what really gets me is how the many changes made for remake works oh-so well. The combat system is the best it could have been. There’s enough variety from start to finish.

The pacing is just impeccable, keeping me glued for hours on end each session. And of course, the amount of effort, time and money being poured to make Midgar look and sound this good goes without saying.

And this is from someone who doesn’t have a strong nostalgia of the original. I can bet the many other nods and references to the original that I missed will drive old fans of the original in tears of happiness. Unless they dislike the story changes.

On the topic of dislikes, I have some gripes with the controls too. Driving a bike that doesn’t really brake hard when you hammer the button is jarring. And making minor movements just to get a prompt to press a button can be finicky. A lot of inertia in the characters before they get moving.

But these are minor issues, when there’s heap tons of quality of life additions. Save anywhere you like. Auto-return to quest giver when a quest chain is done. Stronger magic (like Fira and Firaga for Fire) slots in the right side rather than take up vertical space in the small command menu. And many, many more.

For those coming in with a fresh pair of eyes, Final Fantasy VII Remake can stand as its own and makes for a good entry point to the series and game.

Verdict

Final Fantasy VII Remake is an ambitious undertaking, and a strong first step for a series of many more releases. It captures the essence of what is a 10-hour chunk of the original, and masterfully expanded it into a full video game. The combat system clicks really great when you wrap your head around it. And what a beautiful looking game this is (when the textures are all loaded) paired with a killer, timeless soundtrack.

Square Enix did its most prized possession justice with this remake, and they’re not even done yet.


Played on the base PS4. Review copy provided by Playstation Asia

9.1

Final Fantasy VII Remake

Final Fantasy VII Remake is an ambitious undertaking, and a strong first step for a series of many more releases. It captures the essence of what is a 10-hour chunk of the original, and masterfully expanded it into a full video game.

Square Enix did its most prized possession justice with this remake, and they're not even done yet.

  • Presentation 9.5
  • Gameplay 9
  • Content 8
  • Personal Enjoyment 10
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