A former soldier joins an eco-terrorist group in a mission against the electric power company he used to work for in order the protect the planet and their environment.
Publisher: Square Enix
Reviewed on: PS4 (Pro unit)
Also available for: N/A
Cast: Cody Christian, Tyler Hoechlin, Britt Baron, Matt Jones, John DiMagio, Gideon emery, Erica Lindbeck, Fred Tatasciore, Briana White, Max Mittelman, John Eric Bentley, James Horan, Arnie Pantoja, William Christopher Stephens
Developer: Square Enix
Directors: Tetsuya Nomura, Naoki Hamaguchi
Writers: Kazushige Nojima (screenplay), Yoshinori Kitase (original story), Tetsuya Nomura (original story), Hironobu Sakaguchi (original story), Kazushige Nojima (original story)
Scenario Design: Motomu Toriyama
(Note: This review is spoiler-free and I’m doing my best to not spoil anything from the original 1997 game or any of its sequel/prequels for new players. I’m also not spoiling any of the new content for returning players. That said, if knowing there is NEW content is a spoiler to you, maybe click-off this review for now.)
Adored by fans as one of the greatest games of all time, Final Fantasy VII has held cult status in video game history since its release on the original PlayStation in 1997. It contains one of the most memorable moments in video game history and went on to spawn an entire compilation of spin-off titles including an animated film, Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children. When a remake was announced, fans, like me, were excited to see their beloved game leave behind the PS1 polygons and inject some modern video game sensibilities. However, if you’re looking for a one-to-one creation of the original game you’ll be shocked to find what’s within Midgar’s walls on this journey.
Our adventure begins as it always has with Cloud Strife, an Ex-SOLDIER, now mercenary for hire riding along with the eco-terrorist group Avalanche headed up by Barret Wallace on a mission to destroy a Mako Reactor, a contraption that is literally sucking the lifeforce from the planet to fuel all manner of life in the city of Midgar. Cloud who was initially just there for a paycheck quickly gets whirled up in more than he signed up for as he meets and begins to form relationships with the characters he meets along the way and sees more of the atrocious actions the Shinra Corporation is making, aside from just sucking the planet dry.
What follows is the first paragraph of the Wikipedia plot for the original game. Where the original game spent roughly four hours inside the walls of Midgar before sending you into the open world on a quest to save the world from oncoming destruction, Final Fantasy VII Remake took me 38 hours to reach that point, and then it asks you to wait patiently for more. This will be super annoying to new players as the game opens so many plot-threads, but closes barely any of them by the time the credits roll.
As a fan of the original game, Final Fantasy VII Remake does a wonderful job of recreating the major set-pieces and character moments in now gorgeous 4K and highly detailed character models. Everything is strung out and expanded upon now which allows you more time to build relationships to the characters and get a better understanding of Shinra, and slight teases of what’s to come.
The original game was very dense with complicated themes about protecting the planet, corporate overlords and even the afterlife, and the meaning of death. Twists and reveals were plenty and could give you whiplash at a moments notice. Having more time for the game to explain several key pieces of information will help to lead new players into the future sequels, but there’s still plenty of confusing elements in here, one of which is going to be the most controversial and most debated part of the game until more information on the sequel arrives.
I’m obviously not going to get into here as it’s a major spoiler, but the conversation around this game will rest entirely on the final couple hours and what are sure to be controversial choices in setting up the future games in the Final Fantasy VII Remake series. This is FF7 reimagined, not remade, and knowing that might help with preparing for the small and larger changes.
For players coming to this as their first experience in the FF7 universe, it’s equally the best and worst way to experience the story and characters. For the first 3/4 of the game, it’s a great way to experience an extended version of the Midgar section from the original game. However, in the game’s final act, it feels like having played the original is almost imperative to understand what’s being teased for the future and I can’t help but feel new players would simply be lost in this section.
The time spent on expanding Cloud’s relationships with Tifa, Aerith and even the Avalanche members Biggs, Wedge and Jesse are very welcome additions. The somewhat canonical entry of which girl Cloud ends up in a relationship with according to Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children is waivered here and left more open-ended. The extra time with Aerith in Midgar is welcome and she’s easily loveable with a heart of gold; Tifa Lockhart surprisingly doesn’t get much of her backstory revealed here though, even though a lot of it is teased. Barret is frustratingly just as stereotyped as this gruff Mr. T caricature as he was in the original game and if there’s one character I wish they would have tweaked, it’s definitely him.
Cloud is somewhat more likable in this Final Fantasy VII Remake than he was in the original game. He’s supposed to be an abrasive loner type, but his too-cool-for-school attitude can be grating. They start to peel that back quicker in this game which is a welcome change. The nature of this game leaving so many unanswered questions about Cloud will undoubtedly be another annoyance for new players, especially since the game constantly hints at things in its final hours, but never goes there.
Several of the more outrageous and silly elements of the original game remain mostly unchanged. In fact, one particular fight I assumed they’d remove because it’s so ridiculous is here and hey, it is ridiculous, but it’s part of the charm of the game.
Sephiroth is in the game, that’s no secret, although it may come as a shock because in the original game he was only teased for the Midgar section. Here that teasing is much more upfront. I enjoyed how Sephiroth was used in this game, but unfortunately, I can’t discuss more here.
The original game was classic JRPG turn-based combat and Final Fantasy VII Remake does a great job of implementing those systems into a more action-focused game. You have an attack, dodge and block button and although your early battles will seem easy and very ‘hack-n-slash’ in nature, you’ll quickly realise with more enemies, comes a requirement for more tactics. At the bottom of the screen, your ATB (Active Time Battle) bar charges over time, or faster as you attack enemies. You need a charge of ATB to make any actions outside of basic attacks, rolling and blocking. This includes using spells, abilities and items. Entering tactical mode, time slows to a crawl and allows you to input actions for Cloud or any other character in your party at the time. It’s actually really similar to a setting you can enable in Kingdom Hearts 3 which was included to make the game easier for those that struggle at keeping up pace with that games’ hecticness and fast-paced combat.
You can switch between any of the other two characters in your part with a simple press of the d-pad. It’s fast, fluent and will become annoyingly necessary as your party’s ability to use their correct spells and abilities without you controlling them is terrible. If you’re fighting an enemy that’s weak to thunder spells, for example, you’d think if Tifa was the only party member you had with that spell she’d just use it, but instead, she’ll auto-attack or just block primarily. It’s not so annoying at the start of the game, but the second you’re in the boss fight it becomes increasingly more annoying to feel like you have to somehow play three characters at once.
It’s a huge disappointment too because I really like the combat system in Final Fantasy VII Remake, but hate how dumb your party is unless you jump into the driver’s seat. Thankfully the game isn’t too difficult on Normal difficulty. When you beat the game you unlock Hard difficulty which I tired out for an hour. It locks away the ability to use items and you’ll only heal HP at rest stops. It’s when the party members’ lack-of smart-decision making becomes the most frustratingly obvious.
The materia system has also been disappointingly changed from the original game for the worse. In the original, you suited up your weapons and armour with materia, which are orbs containing spells or abilities. After a certain amount of experience, you’d max out the materia and learn that skill or spell, meaning you don’t need the materia equipped to use the spell or ability and could swap them out to learn new stuff. In Final Fantasy 7 Remake you can max out materia, but it just unlocks higher levels of the spell – you still need it equipped to use the spells or ability. With only a limited amount of materia slots in weapons and armour, it doesn’t encourage changing them up, especially when you need to have the fire, blizzard and thunder spell on hands at all time to take on specific enemy types. The ‘assess’ ability that lets you scan an enemy to learn its weakness also takes up a materia slot, and it was something I wasn’t willing to go without either.
There isn’t much variety in the weapons either, although there are enough armour and accessories to allow mixing and matching for certain protections against certain foes or boss fights. There’s only a handful of weapons for each character and at least one for every character just seemed useless. These weapons however each do contain a unique ability that you can learn after using it enough, and then, for instance, switch Cloud back to the Buster Blade.
Each weapon has it’s own upgrade tree that reminded me of the simpler versions of sphere grid from Final Fantasy X. You get points to spend as you level up and can then unlock materia slots in the weapon, defence or attack bonuses and more. None of the weapons featured unique enough skills to make changing up your builds for taking on different enemies, however, so most the time I’d just learn the new weapons ability and then switch back to the iconic Buster Blade for Cloud.
All the weapons show up on your characters’ bodies as you play since even the cut-scenes are all in-engine. Which is just one of many subtle things that show the power of what Square Enix is working with, in the game that was pushing my PS4 Pro’s fans to sound louder than any other game I’ve played recently.