Game Review: Final Fantasy VII Remake

Released: April 2020
Rating: T (Language, Use of Alcohol and Tobacco, Violence, Suggestive Themes)

After the hellish wait, the Final Fantasy VII Remake (FFVII R) is finally here. Developed by Square Enix, with many of the original team of 1997’s Final Fantasy VII (FFVII ‘97) returning, does it live up to the impossible hype people generally set for long-awaited titles? Not exactly, but it’s the closest to achieving it that I’ve seen one of these highly anticipated games get. One the one hand, FFVII R delivers a cinematically stunning, musically brilliant, and fearlessly classic story; on the other, it presents an awkwardly paced plot in the latter half, repetitive, uninteresting sidequests, and a near-mandatory grind that some people might find downright insulting in modern gaming. Some may describe it as bloated — and they’d be right. If you’re a fan of the original, the bloat is a riot, if you’re not, it can grate on the nerves pretty fast. 

The majority of the game is incredible: there is exotic scenery to be enjoyed, as well as classic returning characters, which are given new life by way of especially strong character writing. It feels like you’re not just living your dream of finally playing this thing, but also experiencing how the developers of the original had imagined a fuller version to be. Once in a while, however, FFVII R will grind to a halt in favor of random obligatory activities in what would otherwise be a non-stop rollercoaster of sublime recreation.

Although the tradition of random encounters is no longer available, there are plenty of opportunities to fight. The main bulk of my playthrough hours went into managing Materia. Honestly, if I didn’t spend at least half my time doing that, I would wonder if it was truly Final Fantasy VII that I was playing. 

That’s another thing to be aware of, and another aspect of the game kept intact from the original: Materia is still here, still elegantly confusing, and still capable of turning a five minute fight into a seven second squabble using a single cast of Firaga. The outstanding character progression in terms of use and variability of Materia delivers the most satisfying power fantasy you can have outside of FFVII ‘97. I also appreciate that, while leaving some things unsaid and therefore open to experimentation, there is a brief description of what the Materia itself enables you to do, so you don’t feel as in the dark as you might in the original. The only real disappointment in the combat system was that there aren’t more Materia to experiment with. 

Abilities make their return tied to weapons and characters. So, while each character can again be made to fill any combat role, there is more emphasis on what each character will be best at. All party members can be directly controlled in combat too, though I noticed a seemingly immediate aggro draw when switching, making characters with a naturally lower defense and HP stat much less viable. There is a clever interpretation of the PHS, the party switch system, as there is an emphasis on seeing all the characters at the same time. This also encourages teamwork in later puzzles and allows for greater combat variety, as you will not be controlling the same character 100% of the time. Not only is this good for combat, but it’s welcome narratively as well. 

FFVII R reintroduces Cloud Strife, no longer a collection of polygons with a bad attitude, but rather a most real person with an even worse outlook on life. His personality is well realized, consistent, and impressively dynamic. Perspective shifts to party members allow him to be a real character and connect the player to the other party members, all of whom are just as memorable and full of life.

So, the characters are excellent, what about the story? I’d like to start by saying although I have reviewed FFVII ‘97, I think I did it an injustice by glossing over the downright weirdness of the plot. FFVII as a whole, before it is fun, before it is profound, and before it is brave, it is weird. Indeed, perhaps it is because it is so strange that it’s able to acquire such fantastic traits. Yes, the story is fearless, but that is because it has reason to be afraid. For every ridiculous narrative tightrope it walks, there is a danger of a fall so long and hard that there is no returning to that thin golden line of brilliance. 

The thing that’s so impressive is that FFVII ‘97 never falls, never even falters; FFVII R, unfortunately, does. The first three quarters of the game are otherworldly. The music, composed, of course, by Master Nobuo Uematsu, glints by the light of whatever the current situation may be — always fitting, dependably divine. Unfortunately, while the last chapters are fun gameplay-wise, the romp of the original game loses its charm in the final stretch. Grounded plotlines become jarringly tropey, what had previously felt real fails as consistency is betrayed, and the confusion that results muddles both the toxic fascination with the main villain and what could have been an entrancing ending to the first part of what we know will be a multiact story. The effect is so impactful that, while I’d normally never discuss the ending to a game, I will say this: purely due to the ending of part one, I will be much more hesitant about buying the next installments of the Remake. It hurts to write, but there it is.

I honestly thought that FFVII ‘97 was too weird to be remade for a modern audience, and I wasn’t entirely wrong. The remake unapologetically recreates not only the story of the original, but also the monotonous activities and winding endless corridors. I spent many happy hours trekking around the environments saturated like an oil painting — more so with color than detail — my only stars the distant lights of the fantastic city of Midgar far overhead. Running around killing monsters and fighting injustice with my now high definition anime friends who I’ve missed for twenty years feels like coming home. It is when the game forgets itself and loses confidence that this satisfying simplicity is ‘enough’ for the player that it suffers. FFVII ‘97 commands attention, FFVII R asks for it shyly.

Despite my disappointment with the ending, I did enjoy FFVII R to its utmost. After completion, there’s a dedicated hard mode to look forward to, which I guarantee I am playing as you read this. I expect changes in future remakes. 

I know that it is foolish to think that a game made twenty three years ago can be copied to the tee, and I didn’t want that. I also didn’t want boring sidequests centered around characters originating in other media who ultimately don’t amount to anything more than wasted time. I didn’t want an ending that was reminiscent of Bioware’s Mass Effect 3 (2012) in its tone-deafness. As entertaining as I found the ride of the Final Fantasy VII Remake to be (mostly), I really hope, moving forward, that this whole venture doesn’t turn out to be a wasted opportunity.

Final Verdict: 8/10

Words by Morgan Gustafson

This article was originally published as part of The Indiependent’s May 2020 charity magazine, which is still on sale and is raising money for the British Lung Foundation. Find out more here.

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