I’ll admit, I was skeptical about Final Fantasy VII being remade. The original left a deep imprint on me that’s lasted for years.
There’s always a worry with some games, books, and films that the source material is so good, there’s no need to revisit it again. Remakes aren’t always a good thing, even if they often represent good business.
But just half-hour into the Final Fantasy VII Remake and I was convinced. The painstaking detail, dynamic flowing combat, subtle changes, and character development. Midgar has never felt more relevant and interesting.
If the original was guilty of anything, it’s how passive it can be towards its sub-cast. Jesse, Biggs, Wedge, in particular, have their moments, but they don’t get much of the limelight. It’s always a tricky balance, especially when you have such an excellent main lineup.
Now Square Enix have given them – and others like Reno, Rude, and Heidegger – a new lease of life, while also exploring other relationships in ways you may not expect. This Remake stays faithful to what you know but redefines the narrative in ways that deepen your understanding of it.
For instance, Jesse shows affection towards Cloud. Biggs doubles down on his faith in him, and Wedge does his best to keep everyone on the same page. Their relevance to the story is much less understated and is actually even more integral to the development of the plot.
Each character is treated with full respect as well, from the way they conduct themselves in battle, to their dialogue choices and exchanges with others. This cast feel like individuals in a very deep, sprawling world that you can truly explore. They won’t just feel like old friends, you’ll learn plenty of new things about them as well.
But the best thing of all about this Remake is how so many iconic scenes have been transformed for the better. The Honey Bee sequences, for example, have been beautifully reimagined to be even more emotionally charged and pertinent. It even includes a fun mini-game that tests reflexes and keeps you energised.
And then there’s the moment when Aerith’s theme kicks in. Particularly when Cloud plummets through the church ceiling and lands in a flowerbed. My heart sank. My eyes welled up. My emotions ran wild for a good ten minutes following that. I couldn’t progress the story because I needed a few moments to compose myself – instead taking the opportunity to look around the interior of the church and appreciate the fine art. It was beautiful.
I cried several times while playing this remake, which is actually a rare thing for me these days as most games don’t strike that kind of chord with me. But that moment in the church sucked the air out of me. Tears trickled down my face as I listened to Elmyra recount Aerith’s challenging upbringing and how through it all, she remained a pure-hearted, loving and caring woman. Even now I can feel myself going…
I think the most wonderful thing this remake accomplishes is that it reminds you why you loved the original so much. It’s not trying to replace what was achieved back in 1997 – in fact, it’s given me more of an urge to replay the original in full. But it opens up the story and better explains some of its more complex moments, while expanding the wider possibilities, making it almost essential for superfans who feel there’s been unanswered questions lingering in the ether for over twenty years.
I’m also really impressed at how Cloud has been redefined. His character was probably the most difficult of all to develop as he has plenty more to say and do now. He’s still limited with words – a point made several times during this remake – and likes to show off and make an entrance, but he also needs to be doing more, seeing as he’s the one you’ll be spending most time with.
There are certain things that this Remake can’t get away with that the original game could. Characters need to react to what’s happening, their emotions are always on show, and because of that I feel like his development actually becomes more natural. He’s less of the ‘Whatever’ and ‘Why do I care’ moany merc, and more of a person that is being shaped and moulded by the events happening around him.
There’s a moment when you can tell Aerith has warmed the cockles of his heart. You can see the conflict in him when Barrett needs help, and there’s even a rekindling of his friendship with Tifa with jokes and momentary laughter. Cloud is a much better character now than he was in 1997 and that’s thanks, hugely in part, to the power of modern technology and the ability to tell a story through a facial expression as much as a line of dialogue.
But one of the other cool things about this Remake is that you get to control other characters temporarily, each one given an opportunity to lead the events of the game. This sometimes even gives you new abilities to try out in the overworld, but I’ll save those surprises for you.
And the combat is surprisingly masterful and arguably just as tactical as if it had been turn-based as each character offers something different. We’ve already likened Tifa Lockheart to Blaze Fielding from Streets of Rage and we’re not kidding with that comparison, but then you have Barrett’s continued flurry of bullets, Cloud’s expert swordplay, and Aerith’s ranged magic which will drain the life out of anyone and anything. All of them are strong and weak to particular types of enemy and you’ll need to make sure you’re using the right person at the right time or you’ll quickly find yourself in trouble.
That said, I did have my favourites, and what I found most fascinating about this Remake is that I actually spent more time with characters I tended to shun in battle during FF7 Classic – specifically Aerith and Tifa. Barrett, Vincent, and Red XIII were always my go-to characters in the original, and I loved dealing death-blows with Cloud. But Tifa and Aerith are just so much fun to play now, between the lightning-fast punches and pew-pew magic. It’s clear a lot of time and effort has gone into balancing and defining how each character plays, and that probably explains why a certain character isn’t yet playable. Hopefully that changes for Part 2.
Look, you’ve probably read a lot of things about the game already and you’ve likely already made up your mind about it, but I’ll just say that the Final Fantasy VII Remake is an essential re-telling of this story and we haven’t even gone beyond Midgar yet.
That’s an important note. The size of the game is a good forty hours – and that’s without the deluge of side quests – but there’s still a sizeable chunk left to come. When that will arrive, no one really knows. It already took us years to get to this point and arguably there’s even more potential to expand the game out during its later sections, so it might be years before we conclude this remake. Hopefully not.
I do think some sections feel slightly padded, particularly between 4-7 and 10 – 12. They never fully outstay their welcome, but they definitely help you catch your breath between some of the game’s bigger moments – believe me, you’re going to need to take a breather before Chapter 12. That’s a rollercoaster!
But on the whole, I am blown away by the scope, scale, and style of this Final Fantasy 7 Remake. We touched upon it in our preview last year but while Resident Evil 2 Remake was an exceptional piece of work, and at the time the standard by which all remakes would be judged, I now believe Square have taken hold of the baton and are the ones running with it.
Whether this is your first trip to Midgar or a return one, the characters, world, battles, music, and graphics harmoniously unite to deliver a very respectful and incredibly epic swansong for this generation. Square have somehow made one of the greatest games ever made even better and I am now more excited than ever to see what they do with some of my favourite characters in this universe.
Final Fantasy VII Remake is now available on PlayStation 4 as a timed exclusive for one year.
Reviewed on PS4
Review Code Supplied by Square Enix