A little bit of a history lesson is required before I get really stuck into why the Final Fantasy VII Remake is worth playing. Final Fantasy VII originally released way back in 1997 to critical acclaim. It left an imprint on a generation of gamers and was truly iconic for its time.
Fans of the original game have quite literally been screaming for a remake since 2005. Why since 2005? Simply put, Square Enix showed off a Crystal Tools engine tech demo at E3 2005 featuring Final Fantasy VII’s opening cinematic on PlayStation 3. This sparked years of fans asking for a remake and finally in 2015, Square Enix announced that a full remake was indeed in the works.
Fast forward to 2020 and fans finally have a remake on PlayStation 4 after 15 long years of waiting. Does it hold up to the original PS1 game? And more importantly, is it truly the success every FFVII fan wants it to be?
First and foremost, Final Fantasy VII Remake is not the complete package just yet. This game is only part 1 of what will eventually be a complete remake series of games. Players familiar with the original Final Fantasy VII will already know what’s in store for them.
Some mild spoilers lie ahead but given the fact that the game has stuck with the original source from 1997 quite well, if you’ve played the original, there shouldn’t be too much to worry about. Nevertheless, be warned.
The Final Fantasy VII Remake follows the story of Cloud Strife, an ex-soldier from the Shinra Energy Corporation. The game is set in the fictional city of Midgar. Midgar is a sprawling urban industrial zone made up of technologically advanced “Plates” for the wealthy, and the less than fortunate “Slums” for the poor and destitute.
Final Fantasy VII Remake follows the tale told by the original game’s first major section. Square Enix have taken what was once around six hours of gameplay and have expanded it into a full fledged 40 hour long journey on PS4 in the remake.
Graphically, the Final Fantasy VII Remake is gorgeous. However, you can clearly see the game has had a rough development history. It’s really immersion breaking when you have a freaking gorgeous high resolution high detail item/character in a scene and then there’s this blurred out jagged Playstation 2 era texture on display in your face in the next scene or even in the same scene.
It’s mind-boggling that this went through to final production but alas, it doesn’t detract too much from the game when you learn to accept it and move on.
The Final Fantasy VII Remake expands upon the original game in a number of ways. The game has a much slower pace in terms of the story for starters. Sections that were once small and seemingly insignificant in the original game have been stretched out and filled with content.
This content isn’t just filler either. It’s substantial story content that fully fleshes out even minor characters from the original game.
As a mercenary for hire, Cloud is recruited into Avalanche, an eco-terrorist group hellbent on causing as much damage as possible to the Shinra Energy Corporation. Shinra has been draining the planet of a resource known as Mako.
Mako is the lifeblood of the world and Avalanche have made it their mission to save the world by preventing all the Mako from being slurped up by Shinra. The game’s opening act involves the bombing of Mako Reactor 1 and Cloud is brought along to help with this.
As mentioned above, there have been substantial amounts of new story content added to the game. Biggs, Wedge and Jessie from Avalanche have all had a tonne of new character development added to them.
Jessie in particular stood out a cut above the others with a personality that particular shone through with her character’s development throughout the story.
The same can be said for Cloud himself. The silent protagonist gradually begins to open up and players are exposed to a lot of his backstory and personality development through flashbacks and other story events.
It’s cathartic and this can be said for a lot of the other characters as well. Tifa, Cloud’s childhood friend, is well fleshed out too and her interactions with Cloud gradually draw gamers into their relationship with each other.
Later on in the game when Aerith is introduced, there’s a sense of cheerful optimism, joy and whimsicality introduced to the game. Character development, and the delivery of their respective personalities by their voice actors, and writing has been given the utmost care in the Final Fantasy VII Remake.
Fans of the original will easily be able to point out discrepancies in certain situations but seeing as there’s additional content on offer here, I highly doubt many will find fault with this. Yes there is padding and some parts of the game do drag on for a bit but the game never feels like a chore or a pain to play.
There aren’t a tonne of fetch quests or annoying side quests here but rather a steady flow of enjoyable missions.
While the story elements of the game might be great and hold true to the original for the most part.
The gameplay has taken a step forward into the future whilst also taking a slight misstep backwards in some aspects. Gone is the full turn-based battle system of old, instead featuring the ATB or Active-Time-Battle systems featured heavily in more recent Final Fantasy titles.
This is great for the most part if you enjoyed Final Fantasy XIII and it’s sequels or if you played Final Fantasy XV and enjoyed that.
However, if you wanted a fully turn-based battle system, you might be disappointed here. The Final Fantasy VII Remake also makes use of the stagger system from Final Fantasy XIII albeit slightly reworked. This isn’t a bad thing at all but purists might find the change annoying to say the least.
Players will button bash the attack button to pull off basic normal attacks with their characters. Characters also have a special character unique ability assigned to Triangle which adds a layer of complexity to each specific character in battle.
Using either of these attacks will charge their ATB gauge. Once a full segment of the ATB gauge is charged, players can then slow down the flow of battle and issue a specific attack command such as using a special ability or casting a spell.
This leads to some rather frantic battles though since the mixture holds up pretty well in most battles but falters in some that require a more technical approach.
Levelling up your characters is done in a range of ways. Players will gain exp and level up normally but in addition to this, weapons will be upgraded with SP gained from battles using a very Crystarium-esque system as seen in Final Fantasy XIII.
Upgrades will provide stats boosters and percentage based bonuses as well as unlock new slots for Materia.
Speaking of Materia, this aspect of Final Fantasy VII makes a return and it’s great. Players will slot Materia into their weapons and accessories equipped on characters, and these Materia unlock spells or specific bonuses.
There’s quite a lot of customisation here because of this since players can mix and match Materia and come up with multiple combinations for each character should they see fit. There’s also Summon Materia which allows for summoning in a similar manner to how Summons were called forth in Final Fantasy XV.
Overall, the gameplay is an enjoyable blend of old and new mechanics. The button bashing aspect with regards to the charging the ATB gauge can be a hindrance at times but thankfully, the game doesn’t punish players too severely in battles.
The addition of an easy mode also makes things a lot simpler for those that would prefer to just play the game for the story and focus less on the battles.
Final Fantasy VII Remake does what it set forth to do and then some. The game’s ending will be incredibly divisive and there’s plenty on offer here that hardcore purists could find fault with but for newcomers and fans who grew up with Final Fantasy VII, the game will be great.
The battle systems might annoy some and the linearity of the game in taking you through specific chapters with little freedom to explore the world is a bit of a let down, but not one that ruins the entire experience.
If you enjoyed Final Fantasy XIII or Final Fantasy XV, the Final Fantasy VII Remake will be enjoyable too.
Thankfully, multiple gameplay aspects such as the soundtrack and the story set pieces are excellent so the overall package still delivers a fun, worthwhile experience. It’s just a shame that Square Enix opted for such a divisive final chapter that will perplex some gamers and fans alike.