Final Fantasy VII Remake
Platform: Playstation 4
Released: April 10th, 2020
Series: Final Fantasy
Intro: Final Fantasy VII was the game that drew many people into the series and into RPGs in general and is arguably one of the most popular games of its kind. Now, over 20 years later, after fan demand and advancements in technology, SquareEnix finally brought the game into the current generation. Final Fantasy VII Remake takes a classic and reinvents it into something new enough to draw in fans of the old, and to entice those new to the game into the world of Gaia. There will be spoilers.
Story: Being a remake, fans were scared that there would be too many changes to the story of the original game. Developers promised there wouldn’t be any big changes but needless to say, that was misleading. First of all, this game is the first of many in the remake series, focusing only on the Midgar section of the original game. Stretching a 5 hour section of the game into 40 hours may not have been the best idea in terms of story. Don’t get me wrong, they did a lot of things right here; fleshing out not only our core characters but also some side characters, immersing us into the world and making it feel like we are really a part of a living, breathing city. What they did wrong, however, was add a lot of extra story that we just did not need and slowed down the pace to a crawl. There is a big difference between fleshing out things that needed it and just drawing them out to make it last longer. They hit all of the major story beats just fine, but sadly some of them have been radically changed and not for the better. Several key fates of certain characters are changed that negate the impact of the scenes where they met their fates earlier on. It cheapens their sacrifices, and it makes the emotional impact almost nothing. Another major addition were the Arbiters of Fate, ghoulish creatures that are supposed to urge the story along in the way we knew the original FFVII story to go, but after what happens with them in the end, it is obvious that the developers intend to deviate significantly from the original tale, and while they may continue hitting those story beats, they may also change some things for the worse. The changes to the story here have left many a fan uncertain of the future of the game. As for how they went about telling the story, aside from the few sections where it was drawn out too long, the tale itself was well told and engaging. I still felt like I was in the world of FFVII and I felt like the details that I needed to engross myself it in was more than ample. Lines were well delivered for the most part and the developers did a great job of maintaining the intensity and action of the scenes. I am honestly torn on what score to give the story – had it not been a remake where I was promised little to no changes I would have given it a 4, but since it is in a fact a remake and we were promised by developers there would be no major changes to the plot, I would have to give that a 3. As an average, 3.5 out of 5.
Characters: This is one of the places where the game shines bright but also dims a little too much at times. All four of our playable characters are fully fleshed out, given backstories with just enough depth for this point in the story. They have multidimensional personalities even if certain aspects seem to take precedence over others. While we see Barret’s love for his friends and family, and his ability to be a leader, we do often see his intensity in his defense of the planet a little more than anything else. What were once very small roles have expanded quite a bit, the team of Avalanche now having their own stories and motivations, and while they are slightly less dimensional, there is still much more to them this time around than before, making them far more enjoyable to interact with. Again as it is a remake, character designs took inspiration from the original, but got that special coat of paint to make them fresh. Tifa finally got an outfit that made sense for a martial artist, for example. As for background characters such as townspeople, they were decently done but about on par with any other townsperson in other RPGs. Little personality, few words. I’m okay with that, however, as I am more interested in our core cast. Villains were alright; we saw very little development for most of them. We saw some for Sephiroth but if you had no prior knowledge of who he is or what he is about, his presence didn’t make a whole lot of impact. Reno and Rude were amusing opponents, matching their Advent Children iterations almost exactly. The directors of Shinra saw little development at all, even if we did get a few short scenes with them. Don Corneo was one of the most fun to see what with his over the top lechery finally being fully voiced. Overall it is obvious they went all out with the good guys and about half mast with the villains. I really hope that with the next installment, they flesh out the villains just a little bit more to balance out with our heroes. I still give this a 3 of 5.
Graphics: SquareEnix has always had stellar graphics in their pockets, with the failings usually coming in nitpicks. The characters are all amazing to look at with their new designs and realistic features. The background characters of the townspeople are much lower res, as is typical. They are nowhere near as bad as FFX, however. The world of Midgar has been made to look like a truly unique place. It captures everything from the torn up landscapes, to mechanical mayhem, to hi-tech buildings. The villages are a perfect blend of shacks and brick, leaving you feeling like you are really in the slums of a city. Aerith’s house is a marvel to behold with the gardens and waterfalls as one of the few places we get to experience nature’s beauty. The sewers seem a little larger inside than realistic, but that was obviously to accommodate battle. The upper-plate town looks and feels just like your average suburban town. And of course Shinra tower has all of the sci-fi wizardry you expect to see in the most advanced place in the world of Gaia. Many gamers have complained of slowdown in places, textures popping in too late, or backdrops being lower quality static images rather than three dimensional builds, however on my PS4Pro, I did not experience the slowdown or texture popping. The lower quality backdrops, to me, were not glaring enough to draw me out of the world but that is personal opinion. It was also obvious in a few places where they forced Cloud to walk very slowly or creep through cracks for the sheer reason of allowing the next area to load seamlessly and that did get a little old, but to me was preferable than loading screens. It reminds me of Konami’s usage of the fog in Silent Hill to hide the loading of assets in the background so that you never had to experience load times aside from entering buildings. I think it’s clever, but some find it damning. Overall, I give the graphics a solid 4 of 5.
Sound: I was skeptical at first when I heard that all of the voices had been recast from Advent Children. I was used to those voices, but once I heard our new actors, I was very pleased. I only had ever heard of two of them, both from Teen Wolf, so I went into it mostly earblind. I am pleased to say that the voices matched the characters well, with smooth delivery that allowed dialogue to flow naturally. I did feel, however, that Barret felt way too much like Mr. T. and would have gladly taken Beau Billingslea back, but I was satisfied with those who reprised the roles of the others from Rachel Leigh Cook, Steve Burton, and Mena Suvari. I agree with many gamers that Tyler Hoechlin did feel a little young for Sephiroth, but then again we didn’t know exactly how old he was supposed to be in the first place and his delivery of his lines was fine for me. The last bit on the voices was that the battle dialogue needed a LOT more variety. Almost every FF game has suffered from that since the introduction of voice acting; there just is never enough random lines for battle or running around. After a while it just becomes repetitive and an option to lessen or turn it off altogether would be nice. As for the music, it was amazing. SE took the classic tracks are gave them new life. The tracks are all there, blending well into each other, with just enough renewed flair to make them unique. There aren’t harsh breaks between songs, but rather one fades into the next and back as needed. Action and cut scenes get the perfect soundtrack for the most intense of moments, and the music for those tender moments is there too. Sound effects are on point, from sword swings to kicks and punches to battle cries and explosions. Playing this game without the volume on is a true disservice to yourself. I give sound 5 out of 5.
Gameplay: Longtime fans were worried about the gameplay as soon as the game was announced. Some wanted the classic ATB, others wanted pure action. What we got was a hybrid that I think works pretty well. We can constantly use any basic attacks like punches and kicks, sword swipes, and gunshots, but spells and special moves require ATB, which builds up over time and with use of basic attacks. You learn new moves from various weapons and materia, and each character has their own special battle feature – Cloud being able to fight fast and light or hard and slow, or Tifa being able to charge up power to let out a three-step combo. It makes each character play more uniquely, giving you a different experience depending on who you currently control. A fan of fighting games, I enjoyed Tifa the most, but had a lot of fun slinging spells with Aerith or slashing fast and furious with Cloud. The only one I wasn’t a big fan of was Barret, but I have never been a huge fan of gun characters; I like to get in there up close and raise hell. I did find that I often used their special abilities way more than magic, mainly because MP was time consuming or costly to recharge, but also because each spell has charge time that can be easily interrupted, resulting in lost MP with no tradeoff. It makes using magic more of an annoyance than a joy. It also doesn’t help that only 2 spells home in on a target, the others nonmoving and easy to miss their targets. Limit Breaks are back, and while each character gets only two, they are very powerful and flashy. The materia system received a welcome revamp, the number of materia reduced but also allowing for better combinations. My only complaint was that many of the support materia had only one copy, so it made for difficult decisions choosing which materia to pair it with. I also found I never used some spells such as haste and the barriers or regen. They just didn’t seem to show enough an effect to make it worth the MP or charge. The weapons do receive an upgrade option, which is a nice addition and makes for varied strategies based around their innate passive skills. A weak weapon may have a high crit rate and extra crit damage, making up for what looks at first glance, a shoddy weapon. Overall, I enjoyed the battle system and look forward to the next advancements with it. With a little refinement, it could be near perfect for a hybrid. As an added bonus they also threw in an option for a more classic feel where you autoattack and only select abilities from ATB. It feels slower, however, but may be great for those less skilled in intense combat. The new summon system was kind of a miss as no longer did you have control over when to call them (though more control than in FFXV) and there were so few of them, but it wasn’t enough to ruin the game. I give this a 4 of 5.
Content: Unfortunately, this game doesn’t have a lot of extra content. The side quests, while better than simple fetch quests, are only available during a couple chapters and there are only a handful each. The VR missions are good, and definitely challenging on Hard Mode. Speaking of, once you have beat the game once, you gain access to Hard Mode and Chapter Select. The former is an additional difficulty with stronger enemies and no MP recharge from benches, and no items. Period. It’s okay for a challenge, but it seems like that should have been an extra-hard mode, with a hard mode that allowed at least items. I tried it for several chapters and it actually got to a point where it was more frustrating than fun, even at max level and maxed out weapons. The only incentive for finishing Hard Mode is acquiring more SP for your weapons. That’s it, no special ending, no amazing awesome bonus fights. If you manage to get through all of Hard Mode to finish maxing out your weapons, you don’t even need them anymore. Back to the VR missions, they were fun but also limited in number, with full access only available after beating the game once. I felt very little reason to go back and complete the game a second time, which was very disappointing. I had hoped that there would be enough extra content to make me want to play it again and again, but alas there wasn’t. It is possible to complete 90% of the content in a single playthrough, and the rest of it you can bypass unless you enjoy frustratingly hard VR missions. I give this part a generous 2 of 5.
Overall: 3 out of 5. The game was a lot of fun with a great story, even if I did not care for all of the plot changes. It was well told and the heroes were well developed. The villains were lacking, but hopefully they make up for it in the sequel. Visually it is a spectacular game that leaves you feeling fully immersed in the world. The battle system is a great hybrid of action and turn based, just needing the smallest bit of polish. What hurt the game the most was the lack of additional content, making replayability very low. In fact, I have not touched the game a second time since I feel like I completed everything in one playthrough. I highly recommend it for fans of the series, and it is a great love letter to fans of the original, but you have to go into it with an open mind and be willing to accept the changes, or else you will hate it. I say give it a chance and just remember it is an alternate telling, sort of like how you have the MCU and the comics they draw from. You can enjoy both as long as you don’t compare them too much.