It's been a long time in development but Final Fantasy VII Remake is finally upon us and it's quite the jaw-dropping spectacle.
Before getting to the review, allow me to discuss my personal history with Final Fantasy VII. Back in September 1997, I brought my long-saved money to the local game store so I could buy a PlayStation along with a copy of Final Fantasy VII. Having recent experience with many incredible SNES RPGs such as Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy VI, and Super Mario RPG; I was super-excited to play it. Taking my new console home and setting it up only to watch the opening cutscenes of Final Fantasy VII absolutely blew my mind and I played it obsessively until I completed it then played it some more. Although it captivated me, I was still perplexed by how it didn't feel like any previous Final Fantasy game with its punk characters and sci-fi setting but that change of tone is what Final Fantasy needed and looking back now, the entire franchise is a collection of loosely-connected distinct experiences which is what I love about it.
As I'm sure you know by now, Final Fantasy VII Remake is a recreation of the events that took place in Midgar which composed the original game's initial handful of hours. To be honest, I never really liked Midgar and whenever I played through Final Fantasy VII, I couldn't wait to escape and explore the open world that awaited me. Specifically, Midgar is a depressing place complete with a highly divided class system, a dreary atmosphere, and plenty of debauchery. Although this has its appeal, I've never thoroughly enjoyed my time there.
With all of that being said, Final Fantasy VII Remake presents Midgar in a much more realistic fashion that makes it feel like the massive metropolis that it is. Plus, there's a human element that wasn't quite there in the original game which is portrayed through NPC dialogue as you walk past crowds, subtleties in the atmosphere, and gorgeous cutscenes which all help flesh out the city of Midgar in an impressive way. Of course, the story is a lot more detailed and the events that transpire are more deliberately-paced so it's definitely a more fulfilling journey than the opening hours of the original. However, it's hard not to miss the events and characters that get introduced after this portion, especially if you're a big fan so it's understandable to be disappointed to some degree with the scaled back narrative.
As you can tell by the screenshots, Final Fantasy VII Remake looks fantastic and is a huge step up from the original's visuals. The most impressive part of its graphics is the character models and animations which are super-detailed and natural which really makes the cast come to life. It's the small details like how currently equipped weapons and materia are reflected that really make the visuals pop. Also, the environments are intricately rendered and make each unique area shine. With that said, I found the overall lack of environmental variety to substantially weigh down the visuals. From traversing the sewers to climbing support structures; almost everything has a dilapidated appearance which makes areas blend into each other. The primary stand-out area is Aerith's house which is beautiful.
Final Fantasy VII Remake boasts some incredible audio as well. For starters, the redone soundtrack is solid and I enjoyed it a great deal. Most of Final Fantasy VII Remake's music merely takes elements from the original songs but I wish it recreated them in a more true-to-form fashion. In my books, the gold standard for redone soundtracks is still Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age. Anyway, the sound effects add a layer of satisfaction to combat and the voice cast certainly does a great job at bringing out each character's personality.
Whereas the original game featured turn-based combat where you merely issue commands, Final Fantasy VII Remake is a full-on action RPG complete with intense and challenging battles. The basics have you target enemies while unleashing a fury of attacks. However, you'll also need to consistently block and dodge if you want to emerge victorious because even some regular enemies can be super-aggressive and easily end your life if you're not careful. As you fight, party members' ATB gauges fill and at certain thresholds, you can issue commands to perform abilities, cast spells (which consumes MP), use items, and unleash a Limit Break or summon.
Speaking of summons, they basically join your party as a guest member for a limited amount of time which feels awesome. As soon as their time is up, they perform a powerful final move before saying goodbye. Once you begin to master the combat, you'll start taking advantage of more in-depth features such as switching your controlled character for a tactical advantage, staggering enemies via effective means, learning how to use each character's unique ability appropriately, and utilizing the optimal elements. Heck, enemies can even bind characters at times and switching to a new character gives you the opportunity to free them. The resulting formula is a constantly engaging and exciting dynamic that'll keep you on the edge of your seat, especially during the plentiful boss fights.
Setting up your party in Final Fantasy VII Remake is a very simple task. Of course, it becomes more complicated if you want to focus on taking out a specific boss but at its core, all you do is equip weapons, pieces of armour, and accessories to each character then set materia. You can also assign SP to weapons which provides substantial stat boosts and such. I found that this simplistic approach worked much better for the turn-based combat system of the original and considering Final Fantasy VII Remake is more focused on action, I was hoping for a more flexible and fully featured party customization element which would have added a deeper layer of strategy to the overall challenge. In the end, this is yet another element that made Final Fantasy VII Remake feel like a less complete experience.
As I've mentioned, the characters all look great and come to life with gorgeously detailed models and solid voice work. Their personalities really shine in Final Fantasy VII Remake and it's great to see even minor characters play a larger role as you learn more about them and their back-stories. Although this is all wonderful, one aspect regularly took me out of the narrative which is the unnatural and often lazy dialogue. For example, the phrase "What the..." is exclaimed literally dozens of times throughout the story from almost every character and I ended up laughing whenever anyone said it. Barret's lines are especially cringeworthy which I guess goes with his bombastic personality and whenever he sang the Final Fantasy victory tune (which he does a lot); I just wanted to push the mute button.
Final Fantasy VII Remake may be a much shorter game than the original (it took me 25 hours to complete) but it does feature a wealth of replay incentives. The most significant piece of extra content is the Odd Jobs system which has you try and fulfill 26 side-quests for NPCs. I've seen a few folks complain about how tedious these can be but they're completely optional and it's great that they at least exist. If collecting stuff is more your cup of tea then there are plenty of hidden items and materia scattered around Midgar for you to find including 31 music discs that are fun to unlock. Plus, levelling up materia is just as satisfying as it was in the original game.
Once you complete the main story, you unlock hard difficulty which not only makes things more challenging; it also allows you to acquire all 56 manuscripts. There are oodles of mini-games to discover and master as well such as darts, colosseum challenges, and combat simulation battles. On top of this, you can even alter events at points in order to view alternate resolutions or make the characters wear different dresses when meeting Don Corneo. In short, these additions make replaying chapters a rewarding endeavour.
Final Fantasy VII Remake brilliantly recreates the events of Midgar in a breathtaking way. Even though there's no denying just how amazing of an experience it is, the adventure within will still leave fans wanting much more.
- + Incredible recreation of Midgar and the events that took place there
- + Challenging and visceral combat
- + Solid replay incentives
- - Doesn't quite feel like a complete game
- - Environments are generally unvaried
- - Frequent unnatural dialogue