Twenty-three years after the original Final Fantasy VII stunned PlayStation gamers the world over. With its (at the time) groundbreaking visuals, massive world, and epic and expansive story. It’s now finally received the modern makeover fans have been clamouring for. Square Enix first teased the thought with that now infamous E3 PlayStation 3 tech demo way back in 2005. We all know what happened next; nothing concrete manifested despite the considerable buzz, and for years the faithful have had to satisfy themselves with vapid CGI films and other money-grabbing side properties milking tenuous ties to Cloud and friends.
It may have taken more than two decades, but at long last, we have the game we’ve been dreaming of. And it’s better than we dared hope! The episodic format allowed the developers to explore the nooks and crannies of Midgar. That narrower, more focused scope gives players the chance to see the dichotomous metropolis in a whole new light. Combat is fast-paced, fluid, and addictive. A serious upgrade from the button mashing or slow turn-based style of Square Enix’s other action-RPG titles. Final Fantasy XV and Kingdom Hearts to name a few. But most importantly, it’s warm and familiar to long-time fans yet avoids a heavy reliance on nostalgia to carry the game. Making it a title that the old blood and newcomers alike can fall in love with.
I could gush on and on about how great this game is – three playthroughs and counting, so I clearly can’t get enough! And although there is a lot I really like, there are some things that I’d love to see improved in the next episode. So let’s get into what’s hot and what’s not about the Final Fantasy 7 Remake.
HOT – The Overhauled Battle System
Let’s start with a bang. The brand new battle system feels like a revamp of the real-time action combat in Final Fantasy XV with one important addition: the ability to switch between characters on the fly. And it’s glorious. Combat in Final Fantasy 7 Remake is a highlight of the game, which is a good thing since so much of your time in-game is spent battling all manner of beasties and baddies.
Bar Cloud Strife himself, who’s a well-rounded fighter useful in most scenarios, each of the playable characters boasts a unique fighting style. With situational utility that encourages a type of strategic thinking that’s quite different from the original. In the 1997 game, the intricate materia and magic system was vital to mastering the game’s turn-based battles. With the different characters’ physical attacks being virtually identical in practice. Now, magic takes a back seat to physical attacks and combinations, and fights promote the frequent swapping of characters for optimal results. If you guys are looking for the optimal build guide for each of the characters check it out here.
Though it loses some of the charm of the original’s ATB system, the new combat mechanics more than make up for it in sheer fun and visual splendor.
NOT HOT – Generic Filler Side Quests
When the news broke that FF7 Remake would be delivered in episodic format, fans were worried about what that meant for the game’s playtime. The story explored here in Episode 1 was covered within 10 hours in the 1997 original. Luckily, Square Enix didn’t rest on their laurels and delivered far more content than any of us were expecting, with reported playtimes easily hitting 30 hours or more.
However, not all of that new content is great. As in any RPG, the world of Episode 1 is filled with all manner of sidequest and sub-plot threads that you can lose hours to. Some of those sidequests are decidedly uninspired, clearly implemented for the sake of padding run time with no relevance to the plot and no clear world-building purpose. Such as when the slum girl asks Cloud to find her lost cats or that young man needs someone to clear out a rat infestation, followed of course by numerous, mundane fetch quests.
HOT – More Fleshed-out Side Characters
AVALANCHE is an extreme conservationist organization with a mission to end the Shinra Corporation’s irresponsible bleeding of the planet’s lifeblood, a mystical energy source known as Mako. In the 1997 original, our time in Midgar spans only a brief few hours, sufficient to introduce us to our main party members. The game’s epic, continent-spanning adventure has yet to begin and the game is anxious to get started so there isn’t much time allocated to the other members of AVALANCHE, Biggs, Wedge, and Jessie.
In FF7 Remake, those few hours are expanded into a full-length game. Meaning there’s so much more effort spent on getting to know secondary characters. It’s not just the three mentioned above, though they certainly get the brunt of the screen time, but Midgar feels much more populated and lived in with children and townspeople, occasionally getting the spotlight at key moments in the game.
I can’t wait to see how Square Enix will carry on this sense of intimacy as we enter the main quest proper. How will they handle character relationships once our spiky-haired hero leaves the relative safety of Midgar and Nibelheim and heads out into the big, wide world?
NOT HOT – Corny Dialog and Stiff Performances
Writing realistic, convincing dialogue has never been Square Enix’s forte. But their writers’ seem so dead set on sticking to personality templates that suspending disbelief and accepting these characters as real, breathing people becomes nearly impossible. Square Enix has always had difficulty writing natural-sounding conversations; with the game’s interpersonal relationships taking centre stage, it’s more evident now than ever.
Some of the line delivery is also questionable, made even worse by the dissonance between the stiff facial animations and the often over-the-top vocal performances. Characters will shout but their mouths barely move, emoting with tempered, restrained facial animations that can make heated moments fall flat. This was also an issue with the feature-length Advent Children film, set in the same universe, so it seems a stylistic choice rather than a technical limitation, but I’d love to see the characters express some more passion.
HOT – Details, Details, Details
The FF7 Remake is chock full of tiny details that made the fanboy inside of me squeal with delight. From the classic jukebox found in Tifa’s bar, the 7th Heaven, to Cloud adorning his SOLDIER uniform with a yellow flower gifted to him by a certain young woman from Sector 5. I damn near screamed when I first came across that iconic playground with its tired, old slide.
This attention to detail makes the Remake a game that old fans will want to spend hours just exploring, and the full 3D environments mean there’s a lot more there to see. The original showcased the size of Midgar but you weren’t allowed to explore as you wanted, blocked by invisible walls. But the Remake really gives you an appreciation for the scale of Midgar. And one thing that the Remake does very well is showcase the significant economic and social gulf between the elite that live atop the plates and those that inhabit the slums below. An important division that the original doesn’t (or couldn’t) satisfyingly depict.
NOT HOT – Linearity
Episode 1 of the Final Fantasy 7 Remake does provide room for open-ended exploration, but it remains a largely linear experience. You’ll find yourself going back and forth between Sectors, particularly when playing the various side quests, but there isn’t much new content you’ll find when tracking back to older areas. This new film-esque direction to the property means once you enter a new area, the story’s focus shifts and there’s little reason to return to old zones.
It’s a bit hard to blame Square Enix for making this Episode so linear – we haven’t really even begun our journey yet! – and with the more intimate atmosphere of the Remake, increased linearity was an expected side effect. In the original, once the player escapes from Midgar and enters the world map, Cloud can basically go wherever his feet can carry him. So I wonder how much freedom Square Enix is willing to give us when that time comes.
The Final Fantasy 7 Remake is everything fans wanted from a remake and more, with dozens of hours of content – and we’ve only covered the first act! It’s not a perfect game by any means, but it provides an exceptional foundation for future Episodes to improve upon. Who knows when the next part will grace us, but for now it seems that Final Fantasy 7 Remake may prove to be a game as iconic as the PlayStation original.
What do you think about the Final Fantasy 7 Remake? What did you love and what did you hate? Share your thoughts on the good, bad, and ugly in the comment section below.