Finally, the long wait is over. Fans clamored for a remake after seeing the opening train sequence of Final Fantasy VII rendered faithfully with the PlayStation 3 Tech Demo at 2005’s E3. Then, nearly a decade later, Square Enix released a trailer revealing that, after the long wait, it was happening – they were making a Final Fantasy VII Remake.
Five years later, the Final Fantasy VII Remake is finally here. Well, just Midgar for this installment. But the question remains, should Square Enix have remade it? Was the Remake worth the wait? Will it be worth the money?
And mostly, is it fun?
The answer to these questions vary, but let me ask you this: what happens when you take the convoluted plot of Kingdoms Hearts, action-rpg sensibilities of Final Fantasy XV, the Sephiroth of Advent Children, the alternate universes similar to Dissidia Final Fantasy, and overlay it all on top a modern interpretation of Final Fantasy VII?
You get Final Fantasy VII Remake.
Let’s get this out of the way: Final Fantasy VII Remake is beautiful, as beautiful as a grimy Midgar can look. Final Fantasy VII Remake really captures the gritty atmosphere of the original game’s bleak and oftentimes depressing cyberpunk setting. Whether you’re in Wall Market, The Slums, Sector 7 or The Shinra Headquarters, you’re really given a sense of how grim Midgar can be. The way Midgar has been captured in the Final Fantasy VII Remake is what makes this game so beautiful. They really took time to conceptualize what was originally pre-rendered graphics into fully-fledged 3D areas.
However, I get the sense that Square Enix is more obsessed with hair physics than creating a believable world. Sure, Cloud’s hair bobs back and forth as he moves, which is impressive. Yet, it seems like the developers lost sight of the forest for the trees. The main cast looks amazing, and it’s certainly exciting to see them rendered in HD. However, outside of the iconic characters, everything else seems a bit bland.
A lot of textures look like PlayStation 2 renders, whereas the NPCs look like PlayStation 3 models. This causes a lot of the game to look blurry outside of the main character. Speaking of NPCs, you’ll see many repeats. There was more diversity among NPCs in the original Final Fantasy VII. Even worst, textures and objects will routinely pop up in front of you. Some PlayStation 2 games don’t even have this issue, so it’s extremely jarring to see from a AAA Final Fantasy game. And in some spots, the game gets worst as you play it, showing that the team working on it was definitely rushed.
When playing the game, you can see how much stress the PlayStation 4 is under. There will be times when Cloud seemingly sidesteps slowly through a narrow corridor that take forever for him to pass through, in an attempt to have the game load. Yep, Cloud moving is the game’s loading screen. This wouldn’t be too much of a problem if it happened sparingly. However, far too many times are you moving at snail’s pace while balancing on planks, going under fences, squeezing between openings, etc. The game is at its max, and it becomes obvious when loading.
For better or worse, nothing looks ugly, but a lot looks low-res. I’m surprised that there aren’t too many slow downs, since frame rate thankfully runs relatively well. Still, the graphics aren’t the best as they could have been. Graphically, Final Fantasy VII Remake provides a serviceable game that, outside of the main character models, shows its age almost immediately.
The sound quality is top notch, and the voice acting is well done, if not a bit cheesy due to the script. All of the voices seem familiar their Advent Children counterpoints, which isn’t a bad thing. Barret sounds unbelievably intense, Cloud sounds stoic, and all of the girls sound “cutesy”.
The music itself is excellent, even for being essentially remixes based on the Nobuo Uematsu’s seminal score from the original Final Fantasy VII. The arrangements are done really well; they’re professional and well-orchestrated. Several times I was really pumped when the many variations of “Those Who Fight” (the battle theme) came on.
However, while I can’t help but hear the amazing depth they put into the sound, something seems so…off. While it’s fantastic, the new score all seems so generic like it’s lacking the personality of the original. Yes, the original was composed in MIDI format, and is no where near the quality of the remake.
I really can’t explain why it feels off. Maybe it’s because I’m so used to the original? Still, the music is one of the best Final Fantasy soundtracks I’ve heard. If there’s one thing Final Fantasy does consistently right, it’s remixing songs. This soundtrack provides a modern sound for Uematsu’s 20 year old work.
Of course, some issues even with something as a musical remix. In this case, the sound placement is off. Sometimes, the music will be intense, yet the characters will joke around with each other as if what’s going on is no big deal. The high intensity music won’t change, even when they’re no longer in danger. Other times, music accompanying a silly scene will still play during a serious battle.
I just don’t quite understand how music placement was overlooked. It creates these off-putting tonal shifts that takes the player out of the scene and really confuses the mood. Final Fantasy VII knew where to place music appropriately, so it’s strange they couldn’t have done in the remake either. It really doesn’t seem like an artistic choice either, almost as if the directors really didn’t understand the effect music has on a scene.
Still, it doesn’t detract from the music itself. Nobuo Uematsu made a classic score, and many of the remixes do modern day justice to it. It’s just unfortunate that the same amount of care wasn’t taken with placement.
Final Fantasy VII Remake is no longer a turn-based RPG. As an action-RPG, it’s very simple. Press square to attack in real time. While not completely hack and slash, it still has the same trappings of a button masher. You can block, dodge and move around an arena-like battle area to fight enemies. Like the original, the command menu lets you choose to use abilities, spells or items in battle. Unlike the original, you can use L2 and R2 to enter tactical mode and issue commands to the rest of your party.
I wouldn’t call it a “Crisis Clone”, but it seems to be very much like the PSP game from over a decade prior. It doesn’t really do anything new or as inventive in the gameplay department. For what it is, Final Fantasy VII Remake is safe, and serviceable.
Thankfully, each character has their own unique playstyles. Cloud, Barret, Tifa and Aerith (your only main controllable party members) all feel distinct. Cloud is all-around melee attacker, Barret is a long range shooter/tank, Tifa is a close range brawler, and Aerith is still the dedicated mage. And just like in the original, they each have unique abilities. You acquire these new abilities each time you get a new weapon (which has its own unique upgrade tree). Once you use the abilities enough times, the ability is yours to keep.
Materia is back as well, and contains a few familiar abilities. Materia can be combine to improve your status, give you magical abilities, and simply enhance your characters attacks and defense. While fun, Materia also seems downplayed in this game for some reason. You have your standard Final Fantasy elements of magic and summons, but aside from battles they seem to play a smaller part to your characters and the story. Oh, and summons can only be used during boss battles.
Final Fantasy VII Remake looks very cool and flashy, especially the ability to slow down time to choose your moves. However, “Classic Mode” is only offered on Easy. There is no reason for this, it’s such a strange design choice, and a missed opportunity to have something so cool for all modes.
Combat itself is poorly tuned however, proving that Square Enix really should have stuck to turn-based gaming. Enemies are staggered in a specific way, yet can stagger you almost seemingly whenever they land a blow. You have to wait for your action to finish (ala Dissidia Final Fantasy NT) and by then the enemy might have shifted attacks. It leaves you hitting nothing while your enemy can land a quick swipe. That’s a ton of unavoidable damage, but it’s even worst when enemies can stunlock the player. Enemies are damage sponges that need to be staggered (ala Final Fantasy XIII) to have any significant effect. And if you are hit-stunned while casting magic, you will lose MP while being unable to cast the spell. This is beyond frustrating and certainly not fun.
As said earlier, your AI controlled party isn’t as refined as in previous games from the series. You can choose a tactical mode to control your party members individually. This sounds great on paper, but your other two party members don’t do much outside of your control. They auto-attack even when it’s not beneficial for them to do so. The ATB (active time battle) gauge fills up every time you fight, allowing you to perform Limit Breaks. But if you don’t switch to the character with a full ATB gauge, it may actually cause the action to go to waste. In this sense, you’re still menu hoping, but Final Fantasy VII Remake would have benefited greatly from an actual gambit or paradigm system.
Final Fantasy VII Remake boasts a lot of content, yet the game doesn’t take too long to complete. There’s a reason a Midgar only section is so long: filler. Sidequests are pure filler (kill rats in the sewer, find cats, etc.). A few chapters in feel like filler. The middle of the game feels like filler. Near the ending, you get more filler. The ShinRa building are floors that look copy and pasted. This game has more story, but it’s balanced poorly with padding. The only reason Final Fantasy VII Remake isn’t monotonous is purely seeing your characters do things with proportional graphics. And even that wears thin. Other times, the game can have a lot of fun moments, like the darts minigame in Tifa’s Bar Seventh Heaven, or the squats minigame in Wall Market’s Men’s Hall Gym. But even they won’t help as much. The game just feels lazy.
This brings me to pacing. Final Fantasy VII Remake took a roughly five to seven hour long section and inflated it with around 30 – 40 hours of padding. Everything seems so drawn out, from battles to level design. More enemies seem to have been added for the sake of length, which is never a good sign. And don’t get me started on the way to Sector 7 from Sector 5. The section with the mechanical arm is the worst time wasting offender.
At times, the gameplay feels like an action adventure game similar to Uncharted. Walk up to a area, press the button and watch Cloud perform a Quick Time sequence. Watch a cutscene. Walk down a path and fight some enemies. It’s all very scripted. It may not be as linear as Final Fantasy XIII, but the illusion of freedom wears off once you realize the pattern.
The camera doesn’t adjust as well, and can annoyingly gets in the way. It’s not as bad as Final Fantasy XV’s at launch, but still lacking. You shouldn’t have to keep the camera zoomed out to see what you are doing in this game, but that’s a cheap fix until they patch it.
Yet, when taking it all in, you can see that it’s mostly style over substance. Final Fantasy VII Remake isn’t a total disaster in the battle areas, but doesn’t really do anything particularly great either. It’s not as “floaty” as Kingdom Hearts, nor is it as hectic as compared to Final Fantasy XV. The Materia system provides a lot of depth and strategy, as it did in the original. Sometimes it feels clunky to control, a bit like a PlayStation 3 game, but it’s not something too many people will notice while playing it.
This is where the game takes a massive dip in quality. With the new technology for the Remake, you’d expect Square Enix to treat the rest of the game with such respect. But not in this department. Sure, most of the main story beats are there, but sometimes it seems like the developers had very little understanding of what made the original narrative so captivating. It almost seems painfully obviously they were trying too hard to reinvent the story, rather than simply bring out the best of the original. The result is a mess and outright mockery of Final Fantasy VII’s narrative.
While Final Fantasy VII was always a little campy, the characters were still iconic. Here, you get the sense that the writers don’t really understand how people communicate with one another, or how they should act properly in their surroundings.
Jessie constantly flirts with Cloud. That’s it. This is now her personality. Sure, she has a bit more character development, but she’s just as one-dimensional as her classier counterpart. Biggs and Wedge are just awkwardly there as the two other guys in AVALANCHE. For reference, in the original, they were terrorists who understood the risks and severity of their actions for essentially going against ShinRa. Here, in the Remake, they act as like pranksters pulling a practical joke on a local mom and pop shop, complete with thumbs up and smiles as they giggle past ShinRa grunts. It’s embarrassing and cringe worthy to know that the original captures the mood better in polygon form, than an HD “remake”. Sure, Biggs, Wedges and Jessie are fleshed out more, but the trade off is seeing them act camp at their worst.
Aerith is woefully campy, Barrett sounds way too boisterous, and Tifa is simply another pretty character model with lines. The main star of the show, Cloud, doesn’t make too much of an impression. He’s almost like Noctis, in that the surrounding characters have more personality. Of course, during this stage of the game, the script doesn’t call for him to go through any actual character development. So what we are witnessing for this game is a one-note main character who doesn’t show signs of growing as a person. Then, what is the point of having a remake in Midgar only if the writers can’t give them a proper arc? It really makes you wonder if the people who worked on the Remake, many of whom worked on original, even understood the original characters.
This isn’t to forget additional characters with awful dialogue and unnecessary retcons. At the end of the bombing mission on Sector 1, we find out ShinRa destroyed the building when the bomb AVALANCHE placed was little more than a dud. So not only is this version of AVALANCHE incompetent, but ShinRa is cartoonishly evil without reason.
And it all goes downhill from there. The story takes several twists away from the main story almost immediately afterward ShinRa’s actions thanks to the inclusion of these mysterious ghost-like figures. The Whispers of Fate, as the game calls them, randomly show up to throw off the pacing of the story and provides you with mini boss battles that aren’t particularly welcomed. All this time, when you could be forwarding the story, you have to fight apparitions who seemingly don’t want our characters to do certain things. Whenever Cloud and the gang deviate from the original script, the ghost come in to scare them back. But why have characters deviate from the original, just to have the ghost appear and usher them to the proper storyline? Why not just make a remake where the characters are doing what they did in the original game, without the ghosts?
This is unnecessarily complicated in itself, but it’s nothing compared to the travesty that is the ending.
The story radically diverges from what Final Fantasy VII is towards the end. Here, Sephiroth (who shows up far too often than necessary) is a time traveler who jumps into an alternate timeline (which is this game) to kill the Whispers of Fate. The Whispers of Fate are, essentially, “time-cop ghosts” who try to preserve the original timeline. This is why they show up all throughout the narrative, to ensure that the characters are following the original storyline. Sephiroth knows what is supposed to happen during the events of Final Fantasy VII, knows that he loses, but wants to alter his fate. He then convinces Cloud and company to defeat the Whispers of Fate, and when they do, the Remake is “free” from following the original game’s story.
Which only raises questions. If the Whispers of Fate are from a different timeline, why should they care what happens in an alternate one? They shouldn’t. There’s no reason for them to care. These “time janitors” are there for the sake of having a convoluted plot. The inclusion of the Whispers of Fate is, frankly, stupid. They aren’t needed, don’t enhance the plot and can’t possibly make the new direction any bit more fulfilling or meaningful. And since they have been defeated, it’s unlikely we’ll get answers as to why they exists in the first place. What a joke.
Later, we see glimpses of the future story that suggest sequels will not be about saving The Planet, but changing our party’s fate. This is a massively selfish and self-centered narrative that ruins the themes from the original (as what always happens when Nomura is involved in a project). Even the remake was originally going in a different direction, only to be derailed towards the end. It’s unnecessary fan fiction that does nothing to improve upon the original story. The final offense? Red XIII sees the ending of the original game in a flashback, yet exclaims it’s what will happen if they “fail”. That’s right, Final Fantasy VII was the “bad ending”. But the Final Fantasy VII Remake ending wasn’t good. So where does that leave us?
In this sense, we really got a reimagining, disguised as a remake, that is functionally a sequel of Final Fantasy VII. But that’s not what was advertised. I daresay what we actually got was scammed. This is an almost intrusive change that simply breaks the immersion of what was the remake of Final Fantasy VII. Many people wanted Square Enix to make sure everyone knew Final Fantasy VII Remake was only “Part 1” of the massive project they were undertaking. Now, many simply wish they knew about Final Fantasy VII-2: Electric Boogaloo.
Even though the game is longer, Final Fantasy VII Remake doesn’t nearly have the replayability that the original game had. The structure of the remake is broken into several chapters you can replay to do every sidequest you may have missed the first time, if you chose. Otherwise, there’s not really much reason to go through the story again. You’ve seen all you need to know about Final Fantasy VII Remake’s story. To progress the story, wait until the next installment.
The real replayability may come in the form of DLC, later episodes and patches over the span of this game’s life. So if you like what you’ve played so far, and you’re willing to shell out more money, you’ll probably be held over until the sequels. As of now, the sequels do not have a specific roadmap for release.
So, should you play Final Fantasy VII Remake, much less buy it? Well, it depends.
If you’re a fan of the original and you really want to see what they did here, I say sure, play it. Higher graphic fidelity, a top-notch soundtrack and a chance to see your favorite characters expanded upon are great reasons to play it. Not having anything else to play is also a great reason to play it.
Otherwise, there’s not much more to recommend. It’s a somewhat lazy, mediocre action-RPG riding off the namesake of Final Fantasy VII. The characters seem like caricatures of their original selves. The whole story will soon devolve into a parody of the original Final Fantasy VII with the inclusion of the Whispers of Fate. And the additions don’t add too much to the story, while the changes aren’t a logical conclusion from the original.
Sure, the remake has its moments. It can be fun at times. But the Final Fantasy VII Remake doesn’t exactly make up for what it could have been. Throughout the game, you can see what they got right, and how close they were to actually making a proper remake. They would have been close to exceeding it, had it not been for stupid inclusions, such as Roche. Roche is a SOLDIER 3rd Class madman that patrols the streets of Midgar looking people to fight. He’s a one note character without too much depth. He shows up, you race him, you fight him, and he goes away. It’s lame. There’s not much to him, and he seems like an afterthought. It all make you wonder why they couldn’t have just stuck to the original script. And when you look back at how perfect some of the chapters were, it makes you feel depressed, because you see what could have been. But instead, this is what we got.
While they intend the remake to be for veterans and newcomers, it can’t actually satisfy either. Veterans will understand that this is not the game they once knew, and won’t see the nostalgic factor. Newcomers will actually need to play the original to understand how the end ties into the Final Fantasy VII compilation as a whole. In this sense, the Final Fantasy VII Remake defeated its own purpose.
It’s not a game for fans and first timers, like Final Fantasy XV was trying to be. It’s a game intended for everyone and no one in particular, providing a fascinating yet baffling look at how Square Enix tries to appeal to the mass market. The demo gave a lot of fans the false promise that they were more or less telling the original story updated to modern day technology. But just like the end of the demo with ShinRa pulling a twist, the game decided to change things in a not so good way.
Final Fantasy VII Remake is not what was advertised during its five year development cycle. This isn’t a faithful retelling of Final Fantasy VII that they led us to believe (hence, the cover of the “remake”). It’s a horrible bait and switch project that Square Enix of today had no shame in promoting.
When you take in the cash grab nature of the oncoming series, the frustrating combat, campy characters and horribly convoluted ending, it’s hard to recommend this game except for a novelty. The result is an impressive undertaking that tries to break free of its past, with varying success. But it’s not the remake we were promised. Final Fantasy VII Remake is The 3rd Birthday of the Final Fantasy series.
Not as advertised? “Not interested.”
Replay Value: 2/5
FINAL VERDICT: 2/5