Final Fantasy VII Remake
The time has come. Five long years have passed and now Square Enix has finally released Final Fantasy VII Remake on the PlayStation 4. After spending so much time in Midgar we became eligible to purchase real estate, we're finally ready to share our review of Final Fantasy VII Remake. Spoiler alert: It made this fan very happy.
Midgar Fully Realized
The Final Fantasy series has been around for generations. The numbered franchise has produced both captivating tales with boundary pushing visuals to some that didn’t quite live up to the franchise’s reputation. Throughout the series, few have withstood the test of time like Final Fantasy VII has. When it released in 1997, it became a universally beloved title for its powerful storytelling, captivating characters, and shocking twists, all within the confines of a seemingly never ending world.
It’s my favorite of the series. In fact, to this day it still remains my favorite game of all time. So, of course, my expectations have been high ever since Square Enix announced the first part of Final Fantasy VII Remake was in the works. Even so, its release shattered every expectation I had, thus, making it one of the greatest video game accomplishments of all time, in my eyes.
The story of Final Fantasy VII is all about greed, corruption, and the environment we take for granted in the pursuit of our own self-satisfaction. As this is a “fantasy” game, there are tons of mystical aspects to distract you from the overall green peace message. The original game begins in the colossal industrial city, called Midgar. Run by the Shinra Electric Company, the city is powered by Mako, a.k.a. The lifeblood of the planet. After about 8-10 hours, the events of Final Fantasy VII eventually take you out of the city and into the expansive world. Despite the short stay, Midgar still features so many iconic moments Final Fantasy VII is known for.
2020’s Final Fantasy VII Remake takes place solely in Midgar, a choice that concerned many fans. However, true to Producer Yoshinori Kitase’s word, this part of Final Fantasy VII Remake is large enough to be a standalone game. With a whopping 50+ playable hours, tons of lore, and a fully realized Midgar, you almost forget there is more to the overall story.
From the jump, the Final Fantasy VII Remake team does a masterful job showing you just how massive Midgar is. By weaving players through the cinematic streets to eventually the first Mako Reactor mission, it sets the tone that the Midgar from 1997 has gone through a major reconstruction. There are new shops, bars, entertainment districts, residential areas, and so much more. Midgar is now a hustling, bustling metropolis and we get to experience all of it in the perspective of an actual citizen, not like an overseer with a fixed camera the 1997 original featured. Every time I sat down, I found myself exploring, doing side quests, and finding as many things as I could before eventually progressing through the story.
You may be assuming that Final Fantasy VII Remake is an open-world game. Even my initial thought was it would be open-world with maybe a few parts of Midgar inaccessible, but that’s not the case. Final Fantasy VII Remake is very much a linear game split into 18 chapters. In only specifically designated chapters, a fairly low number of side quests are available to do. In some cases, the choices you make will even dictate which side quests are even available to you. Yet, despite its linear limitations and simple side quests, I found myself filling my time exploring every nook and cranny the chapters allowed, while never growing tired.
Even though side quests are simple, they do an exceptional job of developing new and existing characters while crafting an overall lore for Midgar. Furthermore, the collection quests, handful of mini-games, and battle intel challenges provide an unexpectedly fun respite from the doom and gloom of the primary story. Plus, listening to NPCs discuss the goings-on of Midgar is just so neat. I loved seeing the city from their perspective.
Another aspect I really enjoyed was how Square Enix made it easy to catch anything you may have missed. With the addition of Chapter Select (after completion of the game) I could go back to certain points with all my upgraded equipment and take on side-quests/monsters I may have missed before. Any choices made in these Chapter Selects will carry over to the next chapters, allowing certain mainline aspects of the quest to infiltrate Wall Market’s favorite scumbag Don Corneo’s compound, as a pseudo prospective bride, to change. It’s a detail that completionists will likely utilize to Platinum the game, but it’s one that you should take advantage of if only to experience every single outcome possible.
I would’ve loved an open-world style for Final Fantasy VII Remake. To be able to dive into every part of Midgar would’ve been so cool. That said, I still really enjoyed the linear style. Much like a TARDIS, each level felt bigger on the inside, despite being a relatively small map. There was always something to do and the story naturally progressed to new levels and mini-games to keep me entertained.
Kitase and co. said in an Inside Final Fantasy VII Remake episode that they thought they could’ve done more in Midgar, when the original game was being developed. They wanted the Remake to expand Midgar in a way that they didn’t have the technology for in 1997. They accomplished this and much more by making Midgar more than it’s ever been.
Voice Acting & Movie-Quality Cinematics Deliver All the Emotion
The Final Fantasy franchise is known for delivering graphics and cinematics that push the boundaries of modern consoles. Final Fantasy VII Remake is no different and I often felt like I was playing in a 3D animated movie, similar to Final Fantasy VII Advent Children. One of the best parts of Final Fantasy VII Remake is how the movie-quality graphics and voice acting work hand-in-hand to make the game feel brand new. The events of the story are the same (there are some new parts added), but the characters feel like we’re truly meeting them for the first time.
When the original game released in 1997, Final Fantasy VII used text for all of their dialogue. Naturally, emotion, context, and all manner of storytelling can be missed or misunderstood through text alone. Plus, the game used body language to express emotion, but unless you have an art degree it’s harder to fully grasp when looking at a pile of moving blocks. Final Fantasy VII Remake rectifies that with their exceptional voiceover talent and artful facial expressions. The result of this delivers a better understanding to our main characters (Cloud, Tifa, Barret, and Aerith).
Meanwhile, it makes stars out of characters like Jessie, Biggs, Wedge, Heidegger, and every eccentric talent in Wall Market. In 1997, all of these characters suffered the most with their limited involvement and dialogue. By giving them a voice, it made their high points soar and their low points crush your soul. Adding a voice was just part of that, though. Square Enix took their time with these characters and crafted their own stories for you to experience and understand who they are as people.
While all characters enjoyed this newfound attention, no one benefited more than Jessie. Her character shined just as bright as the main characters. Through one entire chapter, we learn where she comes from, her ambitions, and that she’s just a massive flirt. At the end of it, it was impossible not to love her.
Going into the game, I already loved each and every one of these characters, but hearing their voices, seeing who they were outside of the missions, and their expressions allowed me to form an even deeper connection to them.
The Perfect Blend of Turn-based and Free Roaming Battle Styles
Going into Final Fantasy VII Remake, I had a pretty decent idea of what the new battle system was like. The demo, released in March, provided a great introduction to this new style, although I was happy to learn it was just the tip of the iceberg.
Final Fantasy VII Remake uses a battle system that seamlessly integrates traditional turn-based combat mechanics with the more modern free roaming style. When it was first introduced at E3 2019, I wasn’t entirely sold, but after 50+ hours in Midgar (not including the demo) it grew on me so much I didn’t even miss the classic turn-based style.
What I liked most about the new style of combat are how fast-paced the battles were, how teamwork was so easy, yet necessary, and how combat that’s so simple to learn was so intricate and challenging.
I found tremendous joys in delivering the hurt on lower level monsters, but it didn’t compare to the incredible rush I felt to take on more demanding foes. Boss battles are uniquely difficult, because in the heat of battle, it’s a race to learn as much information about the boss and use it against them. If you don’t, each boss unleashes a massive barrage of abilities that have the ability to knock out your party in one strike. I found this to be especially true with bosses like Hell House, Leviathan (Optional), Bahamut (Also, Optional), The Failed Experiment, and every other boss Shinra threw at me.
One thing that was missing, though, was the incredible “Victory Fanfare” heard when a battle was finished. Fortunately, Square Enix recognized this and allowed a certain member of the party to sing it, as a nod to fans of the game.
As if Final Fantasy VII Remake wasn’t enough of a challenge, the game also has a Hard difficulty. Once you finish the game, you can unlock this difficulty and experience more strategy and mayhem than ever before. It becomes a war of attrition, as Hard mode prevents you from using items in battle. Thus, making it that much more important to stock everyone with Healing and Stat boosting materia. Even then, the Hell House still gives me nightmares...
Incredible Music Shines Brighter than Mako
Of all the things I absolutely love about Final Fantasy VII Remake, it’s the completely re-imagined music that took my breath away. To be fair, I’ve been bullish on the soundtrack since before the game’s release. It’s been the main thing I’ve listened to during each and every writing session (it’s actually what I’m listening to as I write this review).
That said, I still got goosebumps hearing it in action. Like many others, I was a sucker for the original soundtrack. It is still one of the greatest video game soundtracks to ever release. Yet, somehow the brilliant composers Mitsuto Suzuki, Masashi Hamauzu, and Music Supervisor Keiji Kawamori managed to completely remake the soundtrack in a modern, yet tactful way.
This team of musical geniuses spoke often in Inside Final Fantasy VII Remake about how they were focused on making the music flow and transition like a top class DJ. Due to this mindset, Square Enix gave them the greenlight to arrange as many tracks as they desired. This team ran with it and composed more tracks than they’ve ever produced. The result is simply mystifying.
Each Sector and chapter has its own musical theme that falls in line perfectly with what’s going on in the game. Then, when a battle takes place, that same theme transitions into a higher pace to pump players up while still maintaining the integrity of the level itself. Even as I write, I am still marveling at this accomplishment, wondering how they managed to pull off this musical feat.
There were moments when I wished I had a Midgar-themed walkman, in-game, so I could listen to my favorite tunes during explorations (Those Who Fight - Squats Edition is FIRE). Yet, each time I did, Square Enix would slap me in the face with another impeccably produced tune to deem that idea moot.
Square Enix obviously realized what they had with this soundtrack as they installed Jukeboxes around sectors and even made a quest to find original tracks. These tracks are only playable at these Jukeboxes, but it’s amazing to listen to the different interpretations of classic Final Fantasy VII music.
Should You Buy It?
Throughout my time in Midgar, I struggled to find a reason why anyone shouldn’t play this game. Honestly, I came up with nothing. The story is brilliant, the voice acting is exceptional, the graphics are gorgeous, the battle mechanics are sublime, and the music...well you know how I feel about the music. The fact of the matter is, Final Fantasy VII Remake is one of the best games I’ve ever played.
There are detractors who put the game down for only being a part of an even larger story, but you could say that for games like The Last of Us or God of War or Insert AAA Trilogy Here. The only difference is that most people know how this story ends. Hence, the unnecessary butthurtness. Square Enix made Midgar enough of a game by allowing chapters to take time to develop, adding side quests, and making choices matter.
If you’re a veteran, Final Fantasy VII Remake is everything you ever wanted Midgar to be. It’s expansive and rooted in lore. Furthermore, there are tons of Easter Eggs and nods to future characters and situations we’ll experience down the road in future Remake installments. I can say with 100% certainty you’ll play this game with a smile on your face and a new appreciation for both the original and the remake.
If you’re new to Final Fantasy VII or even the Final Fantasy franchise, you won’t feel excluded. Each Final Fantasy game is its own individual story. So, you don’t have to have played any other Final Fantasy game to know what’s going on. In the case of Final Fantasy VII Remake, it is a very inclusive game that does its best to foreshadow and tease veterans, but still leaves out enough to maintain any upcoming twists and turns. It’s worth a play even if you know nothing about Final Fantasy.
If you take anything away from this review, I hope it’s this. I was 7 years old when Final Fantasy VII first released. It was the game that made me fall in love with video games. It set the bar for what video games could be. It’s a game I’ve played countless times and hold near and dear to my heart. Square Enix respected the love most of us share for this game and treated it with such care. The result is a remake that is able to spread its wings and soar to greater heights, whilst staying true to roots. I’m incredibly thankful and proud of Square Enix for what they accomplished with this part of Final Fantasy VII Remake and I am unimaginably excited for what’s to come.