Final Fantasy fanatics everywhere were full of excitement back in 2015 when Square-Enix announced Final Fantasy VII Remake. Nearly two decades after the release of the original classic, it felt like a dream come true. With Tetsuya Nomura on board as director, and likely many fans of the original being part of the development team, the potential was immense. When it became clear that the game would be expanded upon, the team also clarified that they would release the story in several parts. While some fans might compare this to something like Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit trilogy, this reimagined classic is more than a mere director’s cut. Is it worth picking up the first part? Or is it best to wait till the fully story releases?
Many fans that grew up with the original Final Fantasy VII know the story. A mercenary, a environmental extremist group, a flower merchant, a corrupt corporation, and so much more. It’s a story that has captured the hearts of gamers everywhere when it came out in 1997, and now, a new generation can experience it. While it’s great for newcomers, fans of the original have a lot of surprises as well. The foundation of the original remains, but Final Fantasy VII Remake adds an extra layer of detail and lore that will make it a fresh experience. Because of the expansion, this part focuses on the story in Midgar, home city to the Shinra Electric Power Company. What was once a brief segment of a few hours now broadens to a 40 hour epic.
With so much added to the game, it can be a little overwhelming sometimes. Despite this, it leaves the door open for so much attention to detail, and it’s truly stupendous. The many facets of the slums, the brightly lit districts, the industrial sites, both broken and under construction. There’s society and commerce in Midgar, and Final Fantasy VII Remake displays this perfectly. It feels like a relatable world despite being that of a fantasy. The children play, the citizens observe the media, and everyone just lives day by day. A lot of these details were in the original Final Fantasy VII, but the amount of care applied to it here is on a while other level. We can talk all day about all the minute details, but it’s best to discover them yourself.
Of course, all these details wouldn’t be nearly as impressive if not for the fantastic visuals. Gorgeous graphics make the city of Midgar a true feast for the eyes. While the environments look great, the true beauty is in the character models and the visual effects. Cloud, Barret, Tifa, Aerith and more all look incredible, and every close-up shot is absolutely mesmerizing. From the fabric of their clothes to the texture on their skin, these characters look better than ever, and that’s after having a CG movie in 2005. Adding the beautiful effects from using Materia is just icing on the cake. The crackle of Thundara coming down on a mechanical foe never looked so good.
It’s not just the magic that looks great either. Each attack and ability has a certain energy to it that perfectly showcases the individual characters and their personalities. Overall, the character animation is fantastic and pays tribute to the original game with all the respect it deserves. The enemies and bosses also move with plenty of vigor, making the impact of fighting them that much better. Of course, this beautiful animation also applies to the amazing looking summons, which add an extra magical layer to a fight. The summons in the original were much different, and didn’t last nearly as long, so it’s great to see them played up in the remake.
Animation and visuals aside, there’s more to a remake than giving the game a current generation makeover. One of the biggest changes with Final Fantasy VII Remake is the gameplay. The game is no longer a turn-based RPG, and instead takes more of an real-time action route. Think like Kingdom Hearts III or Final Fantasy XV, though still wholly unique. What makes the combat interesting is the way it uses the original’s ATB gauge with the new tactical mode. As you fight enemies, you’ll gain meter for your ATB gauge, and spending ATB bars will allow use of abilities, spells, or items. When you use these abilities, the game slows down dramatically to give players time to strategize like they would with a turn-based system.
The new combat really is the perfect blend of old and new, and what really helps is the way players control each character. While Cloud is the primary party leader, the game heavily encourages switching between characters in battle. While you can opt to simply command the other party members indirectly, there are certain actions that only work with direct control. Not only does this help to gain the upper hand in battle, but it also helps you gain powerful weapon abilities. Each unique weapon offers a special ability, and using that ability enough times will allow you to keep it permanently. Many of these abilities are renditions of existing attacks from the original, and they return in perfect form.
One of the best parts of switching between characters is just how different and unique each one plays. Cloud is your balanced fighter, wielding a giant sword and delivering powerful combo attacks. He has two stances, with the quick and nimble Operator Mode, and the powerful and steadfast Punisher Mode. Barret is a tank fighter, with tons of HP and a gun arm that rapidly fires a spray of bullets. His overcharge attack will unleash powerful charged shots, which can be crucial for certain enemies. Later on in the game, he’ll acquire melee weapons that give him the overrun attack, which is also a powerful asset. He won’t have much attack range with them, but the damage you achieve can make the sacrifice worth it.
Tifa delivers a flurry of punches and kicks, using her martial arts expertise to combat her foes. Her Unbridled Strength ability charges her special attacks into more powerful forms. She’s essentially the one you call when you want to stagger an enemy, as she not only increases the stagger gauge, but she also has the ability to multiply the damage. Finally, Aerith is your ranged magician, who fights from afar with her cascade of magical energy. Her Tempest special attack has players charge to unleash a more powerful strike upon their enemies. It’s clear that Square-Enix wanted each character to have a different feel, and they definitely succeed here.
Weapons not only give characters new abilities, but they also have upgrade options this time around. In the original game, you would simply switch to a more powerful weapon. With Final Fantasy VII Remake, you can still choose to do this, but now you can choose to upgrade an older weapon instead. This makes iconic weapons like the Buster Sword a more viable option, even in the later segments of the game. Players will earn weapon levels as they progress through the game, and leveling up gives them skill points. Spending these skill points will unlock stat increases, special effects, and even new Materia slots. There’s a great balance here, and it allows for players to essentially pick a favorite weapon for each character.
Materia works pretty similarly to the original game. In fact, it’s probably the one element that has the least changes in this new version. Characters will earn AP for their Materia after each battle, and reaching a certain threshold will upgrade its abilities. While some Materia feels like a natural progression, some can be a bit of a chore to upgrade. Even after doing everything I could to upgrade the Raise Materia, I still needed roughly 1000 AP by the time I finished the game. This in turn made it so I couldn’t complete a side quest by the time I reached the ending. While I can do it post game, it’s still a bit more of a grind than I would have wanted.
Like the original, Final Fantasy VII Remake also provides plenty of mini games. This includes games like darts, motorcycle combat, Whack-a-Box, and the infamous squatting exercises. Each one offers a certain challenge and helps to give the game fun little distractions. Even though they’re mostly optional, something about the way they work makes you want to work harder. It makes me wonder that if this part alone offered this many different mini games, what would the future installments offer?
Speaking of future installments, one of the big questions here comes down to the elephant in the room. This isn’t the full story of Final Fantasy VII, and that’s okay. The story of Final Fantasy VII Remake handles itself rather well, offering its own antagonists, it’s own conflict and resolutions, and a very climactic ending that still leaves room for the next part. This doesn’t feel like the first episode of a series. More like the first book of a saga. This is Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, or even The Avengers. While fans can expect certain characters to appear, how they present them is masterfully done.
One of the biggest challenges to remaking an iconic title like Final Fantasy VII is the music. The music in the original resonates well with the hearts of many, whether it be “Aerith’s theme,” or even “The Prelude.” Somehow, the master composers manage to not only match the nostalgia, but they make amazing arrangements of video game classics. This comes in not only the background music, but also in the music discs that players can collect throughout the game. Various shops and vending machines will occasionally play songs for players to purchase, usually offering jazzy remixes of favorites. This is all thanks to series veteran Nobuo Uematsu and his collaborators Masashi Hamauzu and Mitsuto Suzuki.
Another element that the game really nailed is the voice acting. Not only does the game have amazing performances from the main cast, but it also has a great list of additional voices. Interestingly enough, Square-Enix decided to start from scratch with the actors, instead of using the actors from Advent Children. While some might miss some of the original actors, the new actors not only do justice, but in some cases improve on the originals. Cody Christian does a fantastic job as Cloud, not only matching the tone of Steve Burton, but also adding new charms. Briana White also kills it as Aerith, giving an amazing performance despite being her first voice acting role. She does well to add new elements to the character without actually feeling out of character.
I also want to recognize John Eric Bentley as Barret, as he just makes the character his own. From hearing his emotions cry out in anger or sadness to a comedic rendition of the victory fanfare, he makes Barret so much more likeable. I honestly can’t think of a voice in the game that didn’t do great. Even the vocal performances for Biggs, Wedge and Jessie make the characters so much more charming than they already were. The actors and casting director definitely deserve applause for this one. One thing that I feel is worth mentioning is the absurd amount of language in the game. The original had cursing in it, albeit censored, but the remake takes the filter off and burns it. It’s not unusual for Barret, but when certain other characters start cursing regularly, it becomes a bit jarring.
While there is a lot right with Final Fantasy VII Remake, there are some flaws. Even though the game has some solid performance, there is a texture loading issue. Some textures can’t even use that excuse, as they seem to be tucked away in the background, hoping we don’t see them. The overall quality of models in the game is great, but upon closer inspection, you start to see the sacrifices. It’s likely that some models were made with a lower polygon count to improve performance, which should take priority. Even so, sometimes it’s hard to ignore the six-sided pipe lining the walls. There’s also a couple moments when it’s clear that there’s a skybox surrounding you, which kills some of the immersion.
Issues aside, the game still oozes quality. Even after watching the ending, the game offers a chapter select and even a harder difficulty to keep playing. I have a few loose ends, including some things I missed, and even some additional bosses to make me return to. Even though the story isn’t over, I know I still have plenty of time to spend in this segment. How information may potentially carry over is currently unclear, but hopefully the developers make it worthwhile. I would hate for my efforts to be in vain, but I have faith they’ll do right by their fans.
While Final Fantasy VII Remake isn’t a direct translation of the original, it does an astounding job recreating the experience from the ground up. The music, the characters, and the attention to detail just sucks you into Midgar like never before. Add on the additional story elements and fantastic combat, and you have a real winner here. It’s unknown how long we’ll have to wait for the next game, but this one was well worth playing now. I look forward to seeing what Square-Enix does next with their remake project, and if Final Fantasy VII Remake is any indication, I likely have nothing to worry about.