Boundless, terrifying freedom…
Final Fantasy VII is one of the greatest J-RPGs of all time. It popularized the franchise outside of Japan, and single-handedly turned PSOne into a global phenomenon. It gave birth to three spin-off games, two feature-length movies, and a ton of other tie-in media. It is the quintessential gaming classic. And now, nearly a quarter century after its release, we finally get a remake.
Before I say anything further, I need to specify something that isn’t immediately apparent from the marketing. This game does not cover the entirety of the story. The roughly 35 hours of the main campaign only adapt the first 8 of the original game – the Midgar arc.
Final Fantasy VII Remake takes place in the city of Midgar. The corporation Shinra is mining Mako — the life force of the planet — to use as a power source, threatening all life. Only a small group of eco-terrorists, known as Avalanche, are willing to defend their world. The story begins with mercenary-for-hire Cloud Strife and a small group of freedom fighters, as they try to blow up a Mako reactor. This will start a chain of events that will change the entire world.
If you’ve played the original, you know how much bigger the story becomes. It includes ancient secrets, genetic experimentation, and extraterrestrial threats. As well as some of the greatest moments of tragedy and heroism in the history of gaming.
From the very beginning, Final Fantasy VII Remake gives indication that something isn’t quite right. Minor events happen differently from the original. And not long after, Cloud encounters a group of mysterious shades (think Dimentors made of dust). They sometimes attack our heroes, and sometimes help them. Always in key points where the story diverges from its predecessor. Little by little we realize that this game has the potential to take its characters in a completely new direction.
The rest, as they say, is spoilers.
The gameplay is standard for a modern J-RPG. The Active Time Battle system is tried and true, though occasionally there is too much going on for the player to feel fully in control. Luckily, those moments are rare, and the variety of skills and magic makes combat exciting and fun. You can have a maximum of three characters, only directly controlling one at any given time. The other two will follow commands, but without those they only use their basic attacks, and block. Like, they will block a lot.
That last part was a bit of a disappointment. Considering that this game took half a decade to make, I would have expected a bit more intelligence from your party. What’s more, Final Fantasy has had phenomenal algorithms of behavior since literally two generations ago. Even the Gambit system from Final Fantasy XII (PS2) would have made of this game an absolute delight. However, the overall difficulty level is pretty low (even on ‘hard’, where you cannot use items, and don’t regain MP until chapter breaks). The command menu slows time to a crawl, and its navigation is intuitive enough, so telling everyone what to do is not a chore. But it still feels a bit lazy.
Visually, Final Fantasy VII Remake is absolutely gorgeous. Action and magic animations are fluid and colorful, without being too chaotic. The monster design is traditional Final Fantasy fare, but it is still wonderful to see old favorites get a glow-up.
While the art style might remind some people of Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, a direct comparison shows that the new game has a slightly more cartoon-ish approach to character depiction (back in 2005, the movie’s goal was to create hyper-realistic people in contrast with the original). The transition between cut-scenes and gameplay is seamless, and the city of Midgar is absolutely breathtaking. From the dystopian techno-complexes of Shinra, to the slums beneath the city’s giant metal plate, this world is bright and full of life. And for those of us who recall these sights in their 1997 glory, the nostalgia is real.
Final Fantasy VII Remake is a fairly streamlined, almost entirely linear experience. Although there are some secrets to find, nothing is truly missable. Completing the game gives players a chapter select option, retaining all progress. If you want to go for the Platinum trophy, it will take 55-75 hours, depending on pacing.
Overall, Final Fantasy VII Remake is a medium, but satisfying challenge, relying more on skill than grind. Understanding gear and ability customization makes a huge difference, which I always appreciate in a game. It is a beautiful return to a beloved world, telling a story that holds infinite promise. And although it ends before giving you most of the answers, there is still a sense of completion. I admit, I have certain (very plot-based, very spoilerific) fears regarding the future of this new franchise. But if its first installment is any indication, that future is going to be bright.