The long-awaited remake of the award-winning Final Fantasy VII dropped last Friday, and quarantined gamers have had plenty of time to play it to its fullest. That goes for this long-time fan, who was able to put a solid 15 hours (and eight chapters) into the game, even with household distractions.
I mention “long-time fan” because FF7 was my first Final Fantasy and the reason I bought a PlayStation. I’ve played the game multiple times, across every platform, since it was released in 1997.
I’ve waited for a remastered version (at minimum) and been patient with Square Enix since their announcement in 2015 (and even the “it was just a benchmark video” in 2005). Having already played (and loved) the demo, I was ready to delve into the full game.
I’m here to say that FF7R does not disappoint.
The first notable aspect is that the game follows all the familiar beats of the original.
The plot is the same, from blowing up Reactor 1 and the escape to the failed attempt on Reactor 5 that leads to meeting Aerith. Similarly, you’ll run into all your favorite cast, from the playable characters to supporting roles and antagonists.
The music of the original surrounds you, sometimes following Nobuo Uematsu‘s orchestrations and other times hidden within new remixes. You might catch the victory fanfare on occasion, even if hilariously from Barret’s own mouth.
The script has a lot of the same words, as well, although given the emphasis of the voice actors and animated body language. Sometimes this leads to hilarious or cheesy moments, but more often, it adds more gravity to the dialogue and interactions.
All of this is perfect because it means they’re not missing anything essential from the 1997 game. Long-time fans will enjoy the familiarity, and new players will experience everything memorable from the original.
None of the above means that this is just a dull retread of the old material. Although the remake never leaves Midgar, the designers have managed to successfully stretch what was 7-8 hours of gameplay in the original game into a full, standalone 40-hour experience.
FF7R is much more in-depth than its originator and not only because it expands the areas of Midgar into a broader, explorable setting.
Conversations flesh out characters and make them less two-dimensional, adding to their backgrounds, relationships, and motivations. Even the background chatter brings the world to life, as locals gossip about terrorist attacks, and you see the effect Shinra and Avalanche have on the world around you.
New chapters help with this depth and also bridge gaps between the original’s main plot points.
For example, an entirely new story between the first and second Mako reactor missions expands upon the Avalanche crew, introduces a new antagonist, and helps set up the next task. Even the trip to Reactor 5 involves many more stages, and a whole new area, that stretches the original mission into three separate chapters.
Graphics-wise, as expected, this game is stunning and makes me feel the same way when I first saw Final Fantasy: Advent Children.
The characters are brought to life, even if some of them are cartoonish in their anatomies, like Barrett’s Maui-sized frame or Tifa’s painfully ample bosom. Watching the cutscenes are like a TV series or film, and even the free-roaming and combat are life-like.
Similarly, while there is some debate over whether FF7R is better than Final Fantasy XV for graphics, for most players, the game is gorgeous nonetheless. Whether you’re running through the streets of the upper city, climbing through abandoned buildings, or making your way through catwalks overlooking the latter, everything looks fantastic and full of detail.
The only time I had a problem with the graphics was how “noisy” combat could be, sometimes making me miss critical attacks or opportunities. Or, that could be a problem with learning the new combat system.
Overall, the combat in FF7R is excellent, but I think it’s also the most contentious point.
The game uses a mix of the free-roaming and AIs introduced with Final Fantasy XII’s active battle system, mixed with the staggering mechanic from Final Fantasy XIII. This choice creates a seamless integration of free-roaming, cinematic, and combat, and provides the feel of an action game.
Unfortunately, where it falls short is that it still uses the Active Time Battle (ATB) gauge so common in Final Fantasy games, which can limit your initial actions.
When combat starts, you cannot even cast a spell or use an item, until you’ve spent time building your gauge through basic attacks. Against some opponents, this can spell the difference between success and death, especially when you need to Stagger them with specific spells or abilities immediately.
FF7R’s combat, at times, could be frustrating, and I found myself bouncing from character to character, just to find one with an available gauge to use. I suppose this is why they offer different combat modes, like Classic, for those of us who have trouble with the hybrid style.
As for the rest of the game, I’ll have to wait and see. I’m not even halfway through and can only imagine what new (and old) experiences await me.
Although, like many, I’m disappointed the game ends with the group escaping Midgar, from what I’ve seen, I know I’m going to enjoy this particular game on its own. I’ll even get another 10-20 hours as I go back and try to find every achievement, like the completionist I am.
(You don’t know how long I spent on that dart game alone!)
Final Fantasy VII Remake may not be the perfect game we wanted when it was first announced, but it’s the experience we needed. From old fans to new players alike, Square Enix has brought fresh life to one of the biggest games in gaming history.
Now it’s time for me to finish this one and longingly pine for the next chapter in the saga.