One-Sixth Of A Winged Angel
HIGH A standard-shattering audiovisual spectacle.
LOW They somehow made Barrett worse.
WTF The entire project, conceptually.
The original Final Fantasy VII is a firebrand moment in the history of videogames. It’s probably the most debated, discussed and dissected game ever, at least on the internet. There is no FFVII hot take that hasn’t been written. Hell, even The Washington Post got in on the action.
I’m not particularly interested in reigniting the “Final Fantasy VII is overrated/underrated” debate — no, I’m only interested in the facts, and it’s a fact that this title is a incredibly important game that blew my damn mind as an impressionable eleven-year-old and influenced an entire industry in countless ways.
Another fact? The original version, now nearly 25 years old, is in need of a remake. Like so many of the groundbreaking, seminal classics from the era of early polygonal design, it has aged terribly.
The blocky character models have hammer hands, twig arms, and no mouths (or, if you played the PC version, very strange mouths). The composition of the score is near perfect, but it was clear that Nobuo Uematsu hadn’t quite figured out how to use the capabilities of the Playstation to best represent his music. The combat has flaws that are easy to take advantage of. The CGI cutscenes, while incredible at the time, varied wildly in quality. Its representation of minorities definitely screams “Made in Japan in 1997”, and the translation was awful, with weird name changes, misrepresented personalities, unnecessary profanity, and occasionally misleading information. Needless to say, there’s a lot that could be improved.
2020’s Final Fantasy VII Remake is essentially a re-do of the original’s introduction — back then, the Midgar section probably represented 5-7 hours out of a 40-ish hour campaign. In this Remake, that chunk can last upwards of 40+ hours all by itself and it feels like a complete, stand-alone product. At no point did I feel the pacing suffered, or that it was stretched too thin.
This trick was achieved by intensely expanding on ideas and themes from the original, almost as if the developers read every line of dialogue from the first game wondering if it could somehow be dragged out into a multi-hour side story. People are debating if this should be called a remake or a re-imagining, but in reality this is a reinterpretation.
Themes that were previously only hinted at are now beaten over player’s heads and expanded dramatically. Minor characters now play central roles, and Biggs & Wedge get the most screen time they’ve ever had. It’s weird to dance around spoilers for a title old enough to drink, but while the core A-to-B narrative of the original Midgar section is generally on par with the Remake‘s locations and events, the devs have changed a lot in between. Many of these changes will be controversial and have varying results, but they make me interested in what future installments have in store. The ending in particular will be the subject of tremendous debate, I’m sure.
On the plus side of what’s changed thematically, much of the crude dialogue and the “1997” way in which sexual orientations were portrayed has been revamped. I don’t want to get too specific, but some things that happen at the Honeybee Inn are genuinely inspiring. On the other hand, Jessie was certainly flirtatious with Cloud in the first game, but she’s now gone full Manic Pixie Dreamgirl Waifu with occasionally grating results. However, the biggest loser in this transition, literally and figuratively, is Barrett.
1997 was a different time and I was hoping that 2020’s revamp would pick up subtlety that was missing, but if anything, Barrett’s portrayed even more stereotypically than before. He also comes off as considerably dumber and more self-aggrandizing, and I don’t like his portrayal here at all despite good work from voice actor John Eric Bentley — I blame poor direction. Both Jessie and Barrett do grow and change over the course of the campaign, but the damage done in the first half is difficult to overcome.
An area where this remake fares better is the combat. In what could be described as a middle ground between the battle systems of Final Fantasy XIII and XV, combat balances spectacle with tactics surprisingly well. While Cloud is the default player character, one can swap between other party members on the fly. Barrett’s machine gun arm is great for long range enemies, and Tifa can string together different hand-to-hand combos, for example.
Players primarily control one character in real time similar to FFXV, but pressing the ‘X’ button puts the world into slow motion and brings up a command menu with special abilities, while also letting the player direct the other two party members. While it is real time, each character in the party has specific roles in combat, and finding the right combination is key to success. This concept shines most in the boss encounters, which almost work like puzzles as players decipher how to properly dispose of them.
The Remake also implements the stagger mechanic from FFXIII, where dealing enough damage to an enemy causes them to become temporarily more susceptible to damage. There’s also a “classic” mode available for those who want a more traditional turn-based experience, and it actually does offer a significantly different play experience. I’d say it’s there to appease purists, but those same purists will likely be too angry with the plot changes to appreciate the nod.
The combat is incredibly engaging, but the two party members not directly controlled aren’t super motivated, so utilizing the party’s entire arsenal involves constant swapping in-battle. There is synergy materia that players can equip to assign specific commands, but keeping this functionality behind what is essentially a spell that takes up a slot in one’s equipment is a weird choice when it’s a standard feature in most action RPGs.
Something else borrowed from FFXIII besides the staggering mechanic is that the FF7 Remake is rather linear. Near the end of the campaign, players get access to a fast-travel option to help mop up the few side-quests there are, but in reality, the adventure is a lot of walking forward apart from some intricate dungeons and the occasional option to branch out slightly. Considering that huge, sprawling, optional activities like Chocobo Breeding were such a fundamental part of the original, this linearity is a tad disappointing.
A big way Final Fantasy VII set standards for the industry back then was in terms of production values. The quality and detail in the CGI cinematics, the breadth and scale of the world, and those summon spells — these things made it an exciting experience for so many, and this legacy is honored by the Remake. This is possibly the most technically impressive audiovsual experience I’ve ever played.
The cinematography in cutscenes and in the game itself is stellar, the voicework is outstanding, the character models and animations are second-to-none, the orchestral score does a masterful job of dramatically remixing (while also respecting) Uematsu’s original work, and the amount of detail put into Midgar is possibly unmatched by any other triple-A release. Seeing such an iconic location reinvigorated with this much love and craftsmanship is absolutely worth celebrating.
Unfortunately, this opulence is also the main reason I have legitimate concerns over the remainder of this project. There is no debating that FF7 Remake is a incredibly well-made title with passion to spare and that the people who made it should be proud, but rendering the rest of the locations featured in the original to the level of Remake‘s Midgar will be a staggering, bank-busting task. In fact, I’m willing to wager that many of the plot-based changes are an attempt to re-tool the story in order to avoid revisiting every location and plot beat from the first script.
With this in mind, there are many unanswered questions such as how many parts is the total game going to be? How many years will we have to wait between installments? What platforms will be included? I assume the next game will be on the Playstation 5, so will my save transfer? Will it matter? Is anyone working on Final Fantasy XVI? No one knows the answers to these questions, and i’d feel better about the entire project if we at least had a roadmap to go by.
If we were to estimate the completion of the series based on how long it took to make this small chunk of the original game, we are looking at a seven part series that might be completed around the year 2050. I can’t be the only one who sees this as a tad concerning, right?
Finally, one issue that I just can’t get over is the name. People who regularly trawl through game news online will likely know, but those who don’t might be very misled by the Final Fantasy 7 Remake title without a “Part 1″ at the end of it. My brother considers Final Fantasy VII to be his favorite game of all time, and he had no idea this release only covered the Midgar section until I told him. His response? It’s not suitable to print here. This was an enormously popular game that reached far beyond the realm of chat rooms and message boards, and considering Remake only delivers perhaps 15% of the total experience that fans might expect, the branding here feels more than a little misleading.
The Final Fantasy VII Remake is a stellar production that kept a smile on my face from start to finish, but I have huge concerns about this project conceptually, and nothing about how Square-Enix has operated in the last fifteen years leads me to optimism. If given the choice to have a lower-scale, complete remake with the same gameplay and general improvements, I’d have taken that over this promising-yet-incomplete spectacle — the original was an important title for many reasons, and I’m concerned it won’t get the complete remake it so rightfully deserves.
Disclosures: This game is developed and published by Square-Enix. It is currently available on PS4. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on a Base Model PS4. Approximately 41 hours of play were devoted to playing the game, and the main story was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T and features Language, Suggestive Themes, Use of Alcohol and Tobacco, and Violence. While there is no blood or gory imagery, Final Fantasy VII is a game that does dabble in some mature themes like substance addiction, and features a decent amount of swearing. There are also questionable portrayals of minorities and sexuality, so certain scenes could be deemed offensive. For teenagers it’s fine, but maybe hold back for younger ones.
Colorblind Modes: The game features no colorblind modes.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: The game features subtitle options and presents them in large, clear font but with no way to resize them. All dialogue and instructions are provided in text. In the chaos of battle, support characters will often provide necessary information like if someone needs healing or a weak point. This information was easy to decipher in audio form while playing the game, but attempting to read the information while playing the game could prove difficult.
Remappable Controls: This game’s controls are not remappable, and there is no display for the controls in game. Players control their movement with the left stick while controlling the camera with the right stick. The square and triangle buttons are used for attacks, while the X button brings up the command menu to issue orders. For players with needed accessibility requirements, the classic turn-based mode offers a much less chaotic and twitch-based experience.