Is it possible to have your expectations broken when you never had any?
I had almost no form of hopes and expectations prior to going into Final Fantasy VII Remake because I didn’t have a true prior love of the original. As I stated in my previous review, I didn’t grow up with Final Fantasy VII and have only just recently beaten it in full for the first time and while I certainly loved it, it certainly didn’t put me into hype overdrive for this game prior to its release. I really didn’t know what to expect out of this game outside of it being an action RPG.
Boy Fucking Howdy Did I End Up Getting A Lot.
What I initially thought of was going to be a simple expansion on the first 5 hours of the game turned out to be an absolute rollercoaster of engaging gameplay, wonderful new story additions, an afternoons worth of padding, a total grab bag of visual fidelity and quality all wrapped up in a neat, confusing little bow that I was left positively awestruck. Final Fantasy VII Remake is not the game a lot of people were expecting, maybe even hoping it would be, but it is an incredibly fascinating and entertaining experience that I thoroughly enjoyed from start to finish.
Now when Final Fantasy VII Remake had its first gameplay reveal about 5,000 years after it was announced I was very curious about it. It seemed to marry the general strategy element of the original (Materia, ATB, etc.) with the more action-focused gameplay from Final Fantasy XV, which is the only non FFVII related FF game I’ve beaten funnily enough. After spending about 40 hours with the game I can say my guesses were 100% correct except that unlike XV, FFVIIR’s battle system is actually fun. While it’s nothing complex in terms of functionality and melee, it provides the player with enough depth and “unga bunga me hit button” feelings that it makes each enemy encounter fun to play through. The game of course still retains the originals Materia system and ATB meter but in my opinion, where the combat gets more complex however, is in its mid-battle character swapping mechanic and character-specific abilities. Cloud, Tifa, Barrett, and Aerith all have their own unique abilities and playstyles that help keep the gameplay fresh and interesting and they all feel great to play, for the most part. My only real complaint when it comes to the combat is that Barret can get melee weapons and they are not only less fun to use that his gun arms, they have far less utility and make him feel weaker as a result. Now, why is that? Well……
Each weapon in FFVIIR has a unique ability tied to them which can range from offensive attacks that increase the enemies stagger gauge (a returning mechanic from XV that weakens enemies by staggering them), supportive abilities that allow your characters to earn extra attacks for a limited time (Tifa’s “Unbridled Strength” ability), or even ones that heal you or recover your ATB gauge without the use of magic. While a lot of the more useful abilities are locked behind objectively weak weapons it is paramount that you experiment with them so that you can get the most out of your characters so you’re more prepared for tougher fights. I love this kind of stuff in games since it provides the player an extra challenge within the challenge of combat and it helps keep things fresh and interesting. It also helps the fact that the enemies and bosses in this game are a blast to fight and finding new ways to exploit their weaknesses is really fun. I could honestly recommend this game based on its gameplay alone. Now that’s with the combat, what about just exploring the vast city of Midgar? Well, it’s something, my goodness is it something.
The world traversal in FFVIIR is, in a word, is frustrating. Very very frustrating. This isn’t due to movement issues or anything like that, far from it, actually. The movement feels just as good as it does in combat. The main problem comes from the fact that FFVIIR really, REALLY likes slowing the player down and limiting where they can go throughout the majority of the game. Certain chapters constantly shift between gameplay and cutscenes and they will forcibly cap your walk speed to an agonizing crawl during certain segments for no reason. A lot of story-based 3rd person games do this and it drives me insane just let me move at my own pace, good lord. Really, in general, the game has a very bad habit of padding out gameplay sections with tedious puzzles and unrelated side quests that AREN’T optional and it ends up breaking the pace of the game in a bad way. Many chapters are also a bit too linear for my liking and while the game does let you freely explore Midgar it doesn’t happen until near the end of the game so it ultimately just feels pointless. I don’t know this aspect of the Remake is the most confusing of all considering the original let you go pretty much wherever you wanted. I suppose this kind of thing is more subjective to me and if these kinds of things don’t bother you then you won’t have an issue with it at all, it just kind of irks me a little.
Going back to the world of Midgar for a second though that brings me to my biggest complaint about the game and it’s ironically also one of its biggest strengths, the visuals. Don’t get me wrong the game looks downright gorgeous and the main characters and environments have an insane amount of detail and fidelity that it took my breath away at times. The issue though is that the game is also filled with a baffling amount of design choices that bog the game down and distracted me to the point of writing an entire section of my review dedicated to it. Towns and filled with low poly props and low-resolution textures that look unbelievably out of place and the skyboxes are nothing but pixelated images. Like all of them. What you don’t believe me? Look.
There are times when environments have almost no visual depth to them because these images take up so much of the backdrop that it gives an aura of cheapness to the entire experience, which isn’t a fair thing at all. I know damn well this game took a lot of time and money to create and iron out which just makes these decisions all the more baffling. Now let me preface this by saying that I am playing this on an original model PlayStation 4 so maybe that’s why the texture quality is so low but I highly doubt the difference between 1080p and 4K is THAT big of a leap to make these look as bad as they do. Another thing I found offputting were the non-important NPCs and how plain they looked compared to everyone else. The denizens of Midgar look like they’re from an entirely different world than our main cast of characters and it makes everyone feel out of place in their own environment. I don’t know, man, FFVIIR is weird presentation-wise just because of the discrepancy between the genuinely high-quality stuff and the baffling low-quality stuff.
At least the music is fucking fantastic, good lord.
-General story overview-
Alright, gripes with the visuals aside, this all only serves as a literal backdrop to the single most important thing in an RPG, its story. Now don’t fret I will not be going into specific details about the story or anything like that outside what has been shown off in the promotional material and just general story bits. So FFVIIR takes place during the first 5 hours of the original game which has made a lot of people weary of it, and I can understand that. Why release a $60 game that doesn’t cover the full story and doesn’t allude to the fact that this is a “Part 1” in the title (which is fair, to be honest)? Well, truthfully that prospect never bothered me because A). I’d prefer a more fleshed out Midgar as opposed to the same limited one and B). Square-Enix would still be working on this game to this fucking day if they chose the 1-to-1 path. I greatly appreciated the expanded interactions and characterization of the AVALANCHE members and I loved all the stuff they included in the main story. There are new characters like the motorcycle-riding psychopath Roche, there are book exclusive characters like Leslie and Kyrie, and there’s even Sephiroth appearing in the first hour of the game!
Yeah Sephiroth, the main villain of Final Fantasy VII, the guy that didn’t even appear in a physical form until you got OUT of Midgar, appears before Cloud near the start of the game. This is another point of contention with a lot of people since many feel like they introduced him far too early without any proper explanation and that it lessens his impact a little. I fully understand these complaints and while I don’t 100% agree with them I do think they should have limited Sephiroth’s appearances until the middle of the game or near the end. This does, however, tie into another change in FFVIIR’s story that I thought was interesting. The fucking game has ghosts in it. Without giving TOO much away there are these weird dusty ghosts that are constantly flying around and sticking to the characters, almost as if they’re following them. I will not say why or what exactly they do when they show up but let me tell you something, people; this shit gets REALLY crazy REALLY fast and is the major reason why I love the story for this game so much. While it has serious issues with padding and prolonged and necessary story bits the game does something that I absolutely love, it separates itself from its source material. Final Fantasy VII Remake by the end becomes a fundamentally different game from its predecessor and I commend it for that. Maybe it’s because I’m not speaking out of nostalgia but I will always prefer a remake going for something different as opposed to a beat for beat retread because that means it won’t be replacing the original only complimenting it which I think was the intent. I know the story, especially its ending, is very divisive amongst fans but I think it’s a great experience that still captures the essence of the original.
In conclusion, I think Final Fantasy VII Remake is a fantastic game that, while not surpassing the original for me, is perfect in capturing its spirit and helps enhance it. While I have my qualms with the games pacing and general gameplay quirks and the weird 50/50 visuals I cannot in all good conscious not recommend this game, especially if you’re a fan of the original. While you may not like a lot of the story changes and where this series of Remakes may be headed, I for one am fully on board with what they’re trying to do. I’m excited to play Remake Part 2 when it launches in 2030.