Platform: Playstation 4/Pro
Release Date: April 10, 2020
Developer: Square Enix Business Division 1
Publisher: Square Enix
Depending on who the gamer is, hearing “Final Fantasy VII Remake” could resonate strong emotions within. For some, on the other hand, all it is is a gorgeous looking reskin of a game from long ages past–a generation when 3D was from another dimension, with no rose-tinted glasses to fondly remember the past with.
Still, as the bridge that connects different generations of gamers together, Square Enix’s Final Fantasy VII Remake proves to be the definitive installment that strikes a chord within like the original once did.
Tried and True Story
Final Fantasy VII follows the story of mercenary Cloud Strife, a gruff elite ex-SOLDIER and muscle-for-hire, who serves no one but his wallet.
His most recent contract has him rubbing shoulders with Avalanche, a colorful assortment of eco-terrorists hellbent on waking the world up on the seedy nature of the Shinra Electric Company, a worldwide conglomerate that harvests Mako, the planet’s “lifeforce.” To do this, Avalanche prepares to bomb Mako reactors to show Shinra what’s up. Talk about environmentally friendly.
Cloud wants nothing to do with this crusade.
Much like Cloud, the game wastes no time with exposition or lengthy dialogue. It quickly establishes a clear dichotomy of Cloud’s self-serving nature compared to the burning righteous hearts of his temporary comrades. He hides his derision of everything and everyone with the subtlety of a brick thrown through a glass window.
All he wants is his money and to GTFO before he has to hear another quip from Barret, the boisterous leader of the Sector 7 Avalanche cell—and his employer.
However, fate deals Cloud an unlucky hand as he continues to find himself further entwined within the war between Shinra and Avalanche, and the machinations of the organization he fights against . On top of this, Cloud is haunted by strange visions, all of which allude to something bigger and more sinister lurking behind Midgar’s shadows.
Luckily, he doesn’t venture the path alone like the loner he likens himself to be.
Final Fantasy VII knocks it out of the park with its characterization of the people Cloud meets along his journey. From the playful, flirtatious demolitions expert Jessie, Cloud’s childhood friend Tifa, and the Rambo-esque one man army Barret , each character leaves a lasting imprint upon the stony mercenary, making him—and the players—realize that the heart of a man still beats behind his icy exterior .
Cloud’s subtle transformation is chronicled throughout the game and is integral to driving the story forward. He forges relationships with party members and outsiders, making both Cloud and players invest themselves into the slums and the people they’re fighting for. This heightened investment works wonders at raising dramatic tension and driving home pivotal story moments.
Thanks to the influences he receives along his travels, Cloud turns from a mercenary with no purpose into a celebrated hero with conviction—for the right price, of course. The game’s quests are paced just right to be in step with Cloud’s development throughout the story, with the right amount of goofiness and charm to make him shine.
All-in-all, FFVII is an adventure laden with triumph, grief, and hope all rolled into a mean, little package known as Cloud Strife. A tried-and-true tale of a lone wolf becoming a member of a larger pack.
Like Cloud’s name suggests, his adventure is jam-packed with strife.
Final Fantasy VII’s original combat system was turn-based, Each character had to be issued a command during the player’s turn to maximize combat effectiveness. The segmented nature of turn-based combat dampens dramatic fights quite a bit, taking players out of the action and forcing them to micromanage HP and MP bars as well as buffs and debuffs. In this generation, it’s a bit of a bore and a chore.
Final Fantasy VII Remake does away with this entirely, adopting a free-flowing combat style will make gamers wonder whether they’re playing an RPG or an action game.
Gamers can move Cloud and his party members freely within the battlegrounds. These are set locations with scripted events and/or respawning enemies. There are no random encounters in unfavorable terrain. Thanks to this, traversing the battlefield during combat is a breeze and something players soon grow accustomed to. This free movement lends itself to the actual fighting.
Attacking and casting specials is dependent on movement. Unlike turn-based games whereby the hit-rates of attacks and spells depended on in-game stats, players must go out of their way to engage the enemy if they want to take them down.
FFVII’s ATB system makes a return in a slightly different fashion. ATB bars, the in-game action meter, are charged by successful attacks and blocks as well as over time, albeit at a much slower pace. The more the player engages in the fight, the faster these bars charge, allowing them to whip out special attacks and life-saving specials. Spells and items also cost ATB charge, forcing players to be economic with their decisions. It’s a smart twist on combat that prevents spamming strong moves to overwhelm enemies like other button mashing action games.
Players can completely whiff attacks if they aren’t careful, leaving them vulnerable to lethal damage, especially during boss fights.
Combat is a deadly dance. Gamers need to be smart with how they tackle certain foes. Button mashing is a viable strategy early game, but players quickly learn to take advantage of all the other tools and abilities in their possession if they want to win.
The Blend of Combat and Strategy
Cloud isn’t the only one taking to the battlefield. His comrades do their fair share of fighting alongside him; each fulfilling different roles. Though players always control Cloud throughout the game, combat is a different story. They have the freedom of choosing whoever they want to use and can switch party members in the heat of combat.
Each character has different abilities, strengths, and weaknesses, performing vitally different roles with varying degrees of flexibility. Cloud and Tifa are mainly locked to close-quarters fighting, relying on high mobility to get damage done; their special attacks reflect this. Aerith deals magic damage from a distance, requiring a safe amount of space to deal consistent damage and support across. Barret can be fitted for both ranged and close quarters combat depending on the weapon he has equipped. Choosing the right character for the right situation is instrumental.
Combat isn’t so much about spamming attacks but rather targeting enemy weaknesses. Striking enemy weak points—as well as flooding them with attacks—builds “Pressure.”
Pressure meters are fillable bars that almost all enemy types have. When players attack enemies enough with regular and/or special moves, they can be “staggered”. Staggered enemies are left wide open for all manner of attack with an added damage bonus. Combat mainly revolves around staggering enemies as much as possible.
This can be achieved in a variety of ways, courtesy of the game’s intricate customization and leveling. Players unlock special abilities by maxing out proficiency on new weapons. Upon leveling up, Cloud and Co. will unlock Weapon Skill Points (SP). With SP, players can customize their weapons any way they deem fit. They can upgrade attack power, physical/magic defenses, HP, ATB charge rates, and even Materia slots.
Materia are special orbs Cloud can purchase or find scattered throughout Midgar. They can be fitted onto weapons and accessories, giving Cloud and his party access to nifty combat spells, support buffs, and skills, like the enemy-reading “Assess” skill.
Materia have their own leveling grind as well. The more Cloud takes certain material into battle, the more experience they gain, allowing them to level up into more powerful versions. Higher level Materia give players access to stronger spells and skills.
The party will need this level of customization. As they progress, fights get tougher and more demanding. Players will have to switch characters and strategies on the fly.
Combat can seem frustrating when first starting out. It’s easy to become overwhelmed. However, the game is fair. Defeats don’t send players back to a save spot. They can pick up the fight again right away.
With enough practice and time, fights turn from grueling slugfests to exhilarating moments where players can truly feel how much they have grown while playing.
No turn-based system can ever deliver that.
It’s a Final Fantasy game. Of course its visuals are going to be impressive as all hell.
FFVII Remake is more than just injecting botox into an old game. Completely rebuilt using the Unreal Engine 4, Midgar has received the visual glow-up to look like what longtime fans envisioned in their heads years ago. Players can practically taste the atmosphere of wherever they go with their eyeballs.
From the dilapidated ruins of abandoned sectors to the Wall Market’s vibrant party atmosphere, Midgar is teeming with environmental storytelling and fantastically crafted locales.
Even on the original PS4, the game holds up incredibly well. Textures are a bit jarring when up close on the aged console but it doesn’t detract from the overall package.
Character models look gorgeous as well. They are an animator’s wet dream. Lifelike character models usually teeter on the uncanny valley, taking gamers out of the experience when they don’t look or behave normally. Many games drop the ball when it comes to making aesthetically pleasing character faces and animation.
Thanks to FFVII’s excellent art direction, all characters are a treat for the eyes, especially Cloud and his hair. It’s so majestically spiky.
They look amazing during combat too. Animations are not only expertly choreographed–they ooze with personality. Each character’s personality comes to surface just from the way they move, dodge, and attack, making for great visual characterization. Did the review mention that they look great?
However, FFVII’s visuals are not without its faults. While the main and supporting cast of characters received uber special treatment, others weren’t so lucky. There’s a large disparity in quality between main and minor characters.
Some NPCs have stiff facial expressions and animations, making it obvious where the visual budget was cut from. Seeing these characters stand side to side with Cloud and Co. can be jarring enough to take players out of the experience.
As a remake, FFVII’s entire soundtrack was revamped to be on par with the quality of its presentation, and it does not disappoint.
Every song from the original game has been remixed to match the remake’s grand tone. From somber overworld tunes, dramatic battle themes, and even electronic pop dance music, the soundtrack, simply put, is an eargasm.
Each track has been carefully selected to play in specific scenarios and locations, heightening important story moments and combat situations. As much as Tifa, Barret, and Aerith are Cloud’s constant companions, the soundtrack is the player’s.
It is able to add so much more to what happens on screen and does so without coming off as mere background noise.
Longtime fans will appreciate the work that went into remaking these tracks for this generation. It is now a lingering regret of this reviewer for not purchasing the deluxe edition for the soundtrack alone.
Conclusion: A New Fan
Final Fantasy VII Remake is a prime example of a remake done right. It is able to capture the original’s magic while being an accessible and fun title for new and old players to sink their teeth into.
Like the Buster Sword, which has inherited the hopes of those who fight, Final Fantasy VII Remake has inherited the hopes of all who await its sequel.
It can’t come soon enough.