Final Fantasy 7 is many things to many people. For many, this game crowned the exact moment that storytelling in a video game “clicked” for them. For some, myself included, it marked the future of role-playing games. Fans of games like Final Fantasy 6 (3 in the States), Chrono Trigger and Dragon Quest were in awe of the bold and captivating new direction the genre was heading. For a lucky few, it was the first game they ever played; an explosive welcome into video games.
Whatever Final Fantasy 7 was to you, it was for years one thing: the ONE game everyone wanted a reboot of. Now, twenty-three years, several spinoff games and cameos, a movie, and a PS4 tech demo later…it’s finally here. It is part of a small phenomenon in gaming. A white whale finally captured. It can turn into a nightmare, a bitter lesson taught to us all by Duke Nukem. There are rare instances, where our patience is rewarded. When the wait, now finally over, was totally worth it. I went into the hype for this a skeptic. Series creator Sakaguchi wrote 7 in response to losing his aunt, a woman integral in his upbringing. With him gone, I feared the emotional subtleties would be lost in a sea of blockbuster action. Tetsuya Nomura, the game’s director, had failed in many to deliver on the expectations for Kingdom Hearts 3. Like this game, KH3 was in development for a dogs age. However, Nomura’s first big gig was designing characters for FF7, and his love for his roots shines in this remake. I went into this pretty skeptical, but now I can easily say I have never been so happy to be proven so wrong.
In the constant barrage of reboots and remakes of today’s entertainment industry, such words have developed somewhat of a negative vibe for many. Final Fantasy 7 Remake has been lovingly crafted in every detail. The environments are rich and detailed, albeit a little linear. The ambiance is stunning. Townsfolk chatter as you pass them. T.v.s and radios crackle with breaking news on Avalanche and their ongoing war with Shinra. The glow of the materia socketed into your weapon changing depending on what you have equipped. RPGs live and die by their ability to engross and pull the audience into their world. FF7 Remake triumphantly nails the immersion in a sleek, well put together game that shows more than enough respect for the original.
One of Final Fantasy 7’s original selling points was its state of the art visuals. Though visually it hasn’t aged well, the spells, bosses, cutscenes and head-turning summons once sold Playstations. The remake achieves this, albeit not as huge a jump as the 2D to 3D one was. This game is gorgeous. Neon lighting effects glow realistically as you run through Wall Market. Puddles reflect and ripple. Everything has detail and texture. The slums, while drab locales are teeming with people going on about their day. The animation is lifelike and well thought out. Mostly gone are the exaggerated expressions that pull you out and remind you that you’re playing a game. It is the right blend of JRPG and cinema. This is truly the sensory spectacle Square Enix set out to create. There are a few hiccups here and there, but it’s easy to see a lot of effort went into the quality of this game. Townsfolk aren’t much less detailed than our heroes. Maybe less ornately dressed, but their designs still have variety and character. The voice acting is pretty decent too in general, but I’ll get into character specifics in just a bit.
The truth in the story is that, yes, it has changed. It’s more additions than it is outright alterations. The dialogue has been tightened up quite a bit, helping characters stay a little closer to their personalities. It has also kinda opened up some characters and made them deeper, and far more human. Aerith is a fine example of this. While by no means a bad character, she was originally portrayed as generally sweet, wholesome and that was about it a lot of the time. Remake’s Aerith is sarcastic, confident, a little clumsy, witty, and kind of an unrepentant flirt. She feels like a real person, as does Cloud for that matter.
The soundtrack is a respectful mix of classic tracks and remixes. You can find discs for some remixes simply by finding the source of them, often a radio or jukebox, and play them at any jukebox you find. The actual remixed soundtrack tunes are mostly pretty cool, with only a few I wasn’t huge on. Still, none I found too grating. The voice work may have a few cringy moments, but overall the voice cast really delivered on what these characters should sound like. From Cloud’s stoic and monotone way of talking to Barrett’s tendency to shout nearly every thought, it’s all delivered in spirited performances. If you enjoy playing with Japanese audio, that cast is stellar too. Least of all being the final role of Keiji Fujiwara, the voice of the Turk, Reno. He passed earlier in the week, after having brought many beloved characters to life with his voice. His performance as Reno is one of the game’s best, and definitely worth checking out.
The largest leap made by Remake was going from classic turned based combat to action RPG. It seemed like a doomed decision at first, but after playing it, the decisions made in the style of gameplay really make sense. Instead of making the player wait for the ActiveTimeBattle (ATB) meter to fill just to hit attack, Remake plays like a cross between Kingdom Hearts and Devil May Cry. Much was learned by Nomura and the company in making Final Fantasy 15 and Kingdom Hearts 3. Combat is a blast. The battle system in this game feels like a refinement of the type of action pioneered in those games. There are skills and spells to use which break up the hack n slash. With the push of a directional button, you can switch on the fly to your party members, each who play differently than the others. Slotting material gains one various ability which can be further enhanced by linking other materia, just like in the original. There is a weapon leveling and upgrading system so no weapon is ever junk. Like the way the Buster Sword looks? Keep using it and leveling it up and it will never be outclassed by newer weapons. Speaking of which, the weapons look cool and as I mentioned earlier, the materia you have in the sockets of your weapons is visible. It’s a little touch, but it’s little things like this that add up to a good game.
There are definitely reasons to approach a largely hyped retelling of a classic with caution, especially in today’s gaming landscape. The fact that this game is only the “Midgar section” of the game (the opening 15%, roughly) may raise a few eyebrows. I had my doubts. While it’s not the entire story, it most certainly is an entire game, worthy of 30-40 hours of play, easy.
This remake is somewhat of a much-needed win for Square Enix. In recent years, the company has been on what appears to be a return to form. Harkening back to the days where the nerd world awaited a Squaresoft announcement with bated breath. If you’re a fan of this game, which you likely are, the Remake is definitely for you. However, if you’ve wanted to experience Final Fantasy 7 for the first time, it’s a good time to jump in. This Remake has everything it needs to be the same moment to some gamers today that the original was for folks over two decades ago.