Final Fantasy VII Remake Review: A loving tribute to a beloved game, that also challenges our definition of “Remake”
The concept of a Final Fantasy VII Remake has been a dream game of mine for many years. Like many people, I too became totally obsessed with the original PlayStation JRPG back when it came out in the late 90’s. It was the sole reason I bought a PlayStation at the time, as I was a huge fan of Final Fantasy IV and VI on the Super Nintendo.
Final Fantasy VII is a game that needs little introduction, as it is one of the most revered video games of all time, one that ushered in a golden age for the Japanese Role Playing Game genre. It was a spectacle of what new gaming hardware could do. It was an epic journey that spanned many hours and multiple discs even. And for many people it’s one of their favorite games of all time.
However the original FFVII wasn’t without its problems. It’s such a weird game with a bunch of mismatched elements slammed together, a poor localization, and a laundry list of bugs and glitches due to its troubled development. It’s also a game that many people feel is overrated, and thus it carriers with it somewhat of a bad rap depending on where you look on the internet.
For many years fans salivated over the idea of FFVII remade with modern technology. Something that Square Enix liked to tease as often as you would have key figures at the company giving quotes stating that it would take decades to pull off such a feat.
Fortunately, during an amazing showing from Sony during its E3 2015 press conference, the world was made aware of the impending remake. However fans would have to wait another five years before we saw the finished product.
This too came with its fair share of concerns. As it was revealed the game would be broken up into multiple parts, making up separate individual game releases. As the years went on, we eventually learned that the game would only cover the “Midgar” portion of the original game. And also that there would be changes made to the original story.
Finally on April 10th, 2020, everyone was able to see what might be the biggest, and most divisive remake of all time. And I guess I’ll attempt to sum up my feelings about it with this review.
Final Fantasy VII Remake, much like the game that inspired it is a rather unique game. It retains certain elements of the original, whether that be its stylistic setting, and jaw dropping visuals — or its cast of iconic characters that inspired an entire generation of kids and teenagers.
However Remake is also a game that challenges the idea of what a “Remake” of a video game actually is. Considering that FF7R is a game that plays dramatically differently from the original, and even subverts our understanding of the classic story we all know and love.
The original Final Fantasy VII takes advantage of its unique setting, and over-the-top characters to tell a very memorable story that resonated with fans for years to come. It’s at times a game that has a strong message about how people treat the environment, the benefits of that, and the cost. But it’s also a game that has a lot to do with spirituality, as well as delving into some pretty heavy themes such as psychological trauma.
That is evident now more than ever before in this remake. And thanks to the game’s incredibly detailed character models that are accompanied not only by some of the best English voice work I’ve seen in a game to date, but a brilliantly written script that does an excellent job of getting these characters across. The reason that so many people connected with Final Fantasy VII largely has to do with people’s attachment to these characters, and their own personal trials they overcome on this globe trotting adventure to ultimately save the world from destruction.
Fans of the original will know that there are some truly shocking plot twists that you come across during later parts of the original game, but seeing as how this Remake is just the Midgar portion of the original, we’re only seeing a small part of the that game’s story.
However, the team responsible for FF7R smartly decided to use the nostalgia and notoriety of the original as a means of subverting the expectations of the player. Many of the story beats in Remake are almost one-to-one when compared to the first game. However just enough of them are different that it not only leaves newcomers eager to find out what happens next, but long time fans as well.
While I think that this works remarkably well most of the time, there are a few instances in Remake’s story that have more than a few people, myself included, worried about the direction other installments in this Remake series might take.
Still, I don’t think any of this would work nearly as well as it does if it wasn’t for the fact that the developers put so much love and care into this Remake, that there is a staggering amount of attention to detail, and call backs to the original game that diehard fans will grin at.
This includes substantial things like the recreation of the Wall Market, a very iconic and memorable segment of the original game — down to obscure animations that generic NPCs had back on the PlayStation. Some of my favorites being the way that the thugs in Chapter 3 walk, and the clever inclusion of the “PHS” that was originally a quirky method of changing up your active party members in FFVII.
If I could take a moment to talk about the characters some more, I have to commend Square Enix’s decision to make the English voice actors for the main party members, Cloud, Barret, Tifa, and Aerith (She’s still Aeris to me though, dammit!) all relatively new, fresh faced actors. I also get the impression that most of them have a deep respect for the original game, and the roles that they portray. As this is especially apparent with Aerith’s actress, Briana White, who has been streaming her playthrough of the Remake and having very real, emotional reactions to her parts in the game.
Everyone involved with bringing these characters to life once more deserve immense praise. I haven’t seen such an earnest and spot on interpretation of Cloud Strife in well over a decade. And Tifa is still one of my original video game crushes. But it’s really Barret and Aerith who steal the show. Both of them are much, much, much stronger characters in this Remake than they were in the original.
It’s almost criminal that I’ve gone on this long without commenting on Final Fantasy VII Remake’s battle system, which is an ingenious marriage of the tactical turn-based combat of the original game paired with modern action RPG combat. I feel like despite the fact that most modern Final Fantasy games, as well as sister series, Kingdom Hearts have been banging the drum for action based JRPGs for years now, Remake is the first time that I feel like this is a natural evolution of the games from generations ago.
FF7R’s combat can be extremely hectic, since it asks the player to juggle not only skilled based action combat, but actual strategy during most encounters in the game. At least on the Normal difficulty setting. I never found the game to be particularly difficult outside of a couple of boss battles (I’m looking at you Hell House, and Rufus) but it is none the less a very rewarding system they’ve built.
All of this is supported by the various systems and mechanics that help prop up the engaging battles. The fact that all four of the game’s playable party members have a unique feel to them, instead of just being very similar in nature — which is actually a pretty remarkable improvement over the original in my opinion.
But also there’s a deep, and I do mean deep level of customization and preparation that goes into planning for the more difficult battles to come. The game has a revised version of the materia system that was so popular from the original. Allowing the player to equip their characters with magical orbs that allow them to do special abilities, or offer certain passive bonuses. The brilliance of the materia system is that a bunch of the materia in the game actually have a high level of synergy with other materia as well, allowing for some pretty cool and potentially overpowered combinations if you’re willing to invest the time.
Remake also introduces the concept of upgrading each character’s weapons. Unlike most JRPGs, each party member has a relatively small number of weapons they can equip throughout the entire game. But each one offers something different from the next, and they can all be customized in any way you see fit via a “skill tree” type system that is reminiscent of Final Fantasy X’s Sphere Grid, or whatever the hell it was called in Final Fantasy XIII.
The key to many of the more difficult encounters rely heavily on the decisions you make before the battle in how you choose to outfit your party. But thankfully the game has a very generous auto-save / checkpoint system that will instantly take you back to the moment before any lost battle so you can mix things up and try again. There’s very little in the way of lost progress in this game.
To say that I have a very positive opinion of Final Fantasy VII Remake should be evident at this point. It’s probably my favorite game of the year so far. However it isn’t without a few snags along the way. For instance, the previously mentioned plot changes. Like I said, I’m either a fan of them for the most part, or open to them at the very least. But there are some questionable things in here from time to time that I’m interested to see where they lead moving forward.
Another thing that isn’t actually much of a negative at all is the soundtrack. I love most of the remixed and rearranged music found on Remake’s soundtrack, and believe me, there’s a lot of it. However some songs just don’t “hit the same way” they did in the original, you know what I mean?
If I had to list the few actual flaws the game has it would be two things.
One is that despite the game generally being the best looking video game I’ve ever seen, full stop. There are times, when it is anything but. This is most apparent in very minor NPC character models, as well as some unfortunate texture problems during certain stages of the game.
And my other “big” criticism is still one that I wouldn’t commit to entirely, and that is the fact that the game does have a bit of a pacing issue. You’ll hear a lot of people complain about the game’s open world style side quests, some of which feel like rejected MMO quest designs. But I would argue that none of them are egregiously offensive, and many of them are worth seeing for a number of reasons at the very least.
Where I feel like I have more of an issue with the game’s pacing lies in some of the game’s dungeons… yeah, there are some rough spots there for sure. Since the Midgar portion of the original Final Fantasy VII takes roughly 4–5 hours to complete in a “casual” playthrough, it was expected that Square Enix would add some “padding” to help change that into a full length game.
Just, I think this could have been accomplished without quite as much padding. I’d estimate the game takes roughly 50 hours to complete the first time on average, if you’re playing on Normal and trying to do everything you can. But I feel like something as low as 30 hours even would have made for a much tighter more perfected game.
I don’t outright hate any of the dungeons, but most of the new ones are hit and miss. With the game’s final dungeon actually being one of the worst parts in the entire game, and right at the climax of the story to boot.
The original Final Fantasy VII is one of my favorite games of all time, and it means a lot to me personally. While I don’t feel like Remake quite lives up to that game, nor did I ever think it truly would. It is still a fantastic “remake” of it. As a fan of the original, I absolutely loved playing this game from start to finish, and am excited to go play even more of it after I finish this review.
If nothing else, I think that FF7R really makes me question what a video game “remake” actually is. With many “remakes” opting to just do the same thing again, “but prettier”. I can definitely see the appeal in that, as I would have loved to see that here as well. But on some level I think I like this interpretation of “remake” better, as it is something that brilliantly calls back to a beloved game, while at the same time subverting player expectation in such a way that I think discussion of this remake is much more varied and interesting than just “Yep, they made Final Fantasy VII again.”
And that’s pretty rad.