Final Fantasy VII Remake Review
Updated: Feb 26, 2021
Final Fantasy VII is my favorite video game of all time. I was around 9 years old when I played it for the first time and it drastically changed my perspective on what video games could be. There was a deep and rich story being told with characters that had goals, flaws, and emotions unlike other games I was playing at the time. The world of Gaia was vast and interesting. The battle mechanics were engaging and the materia system was complex and rewarding to those who spent the time to master it. While in 1997, Final Fantasy VII was among the crowning achievements in video games, it started to show its age over time. It’s blocky polygon character models, while charming, just aren’t that appealing to the eye, and the game feels pretty slow and clunky to play at times. Honestly, just outdated.
Jump 23 years later and we now have Final Fantasy VII Remake. A Herculean attempt to try to faithfully recreate the magic and excellence of the original game while also expanding on the world and characters and overhauling all the gameplay mechanics. I honestly never thought we would see it come to fruition, but Square Enix truly nailed it.
True Beauty is an Expression of the Heart
Final Fantasy VII Remake is a contender for one of the most visually breathtaking games ever made. It somehow manages to thread the line between incredible realism and wondrous fantasy. I constantly found myself exploring every corner of the metropolis of Midgar to see all the secrets it had to offer. Everything from the massive skyscrapers and the details of the plate above the slums, to the simple things like the spray paint and flyers on the walls had so much detail in them, I couldn't help but to try to see it all. While I did have some issues with textures not loading on simple objects such as doors or flowers, it didn’t happen enough to cause any real disturbance for me.
Where the visuals truly shine through is in the character models and the emotions that are able to be expressed through Cloud and his companions. So much of the story and character moments hinge on the player being convinced that these events have an impact on these characters and the world they live in, and the ability to accurately convey these emotions and reactions is really what makes you fall in love and care for them. Not only do the animations sell you on the characters, but it’s really the voice acting that defines each of them, gives them a personality, and makes it feel like they are friends of yours in real life.
It’s the characters at the heart of what makes this game truly fantastic. We see the story through Cloud’s eyes and Square Enix takes the time for him to build strong and meaningful relationships with not only your party members, but just about every other character that he encounters. These relationships are everything. It allows every interaction to be funny, heart warming, gut wrenching, and all around interesting. It also allows you to make small decisions throughout the game while talking to your party members that have effects on things such as who appears to have a late night heart to heart with Cloud or what clothes the characters will wear in certain scenarios. Adding these decisions really personalizes your experience and brings the characters you like the most more into the spotlight. Having interesting characters is essential to having a successful JRPG. As games like Octopath Traveler has taught us, you can have amazing battle mechanics, but if the player isn’t invested in the story and more importantly the characters, then they won’t have interest in seeing things through to the end. Thankfully, Final Fantasy VII Remake has some of the most interesting and lovable characters in the franchise to date, expanding vastly on their original counterparts.
The music here is nothing short of incredible. Being biased for a second, this is easily my favorite video game sound track of all time. It takes the music that I already loved from the original and takes it to new heights with fully reimagined versions that hit me straight in the nostalgia. Now taking a step back and looking at it objectively, the music in this game only further amplifies the emotions of the characters and intensity of the situations that they are in. It varies from the melancholy Aerith’s Theme to the adrenaline-fueled Boss Battle Theme. Every song you hear drastically enhances the mood that the game is going for, and is always immersing you further into the moment.
One of the coolest things that FF7R does with it’s music is to play different versions of the same song to suit different moods around the same character. My favorite example of this is with Tifa’s Theme. The version we are used to hearing from the original game, and the version we hear when we first meet her in the remake, is a melancholy ballad. Later in the game we hear an upbeat techno remix of the same theme, something we never got in the original, and it’s a banger. They again take the same song later in the game, but play it in a minor key to really emphasize sadness and loss. They way they can bend the emotion of the player with the same song by presenting it in different ways is something special that I would love to see adapted in more games.
Those Who Fight Further
Final Fantasy as a franchise has been slowly evolving it’s combat mechanics, basically since the beginning. We’ve seen active time battles, turn-based battles, and 3-D action based battles. Final Fantasy VII Remake is the culmination of decades of combat design in a neat, fun as hell package. Similar to Final Fantasy XV, enemies are present in the overworld and when the player approaches them, they enter a combat mode where they can freely run around and attack the enemies. The big difference is that in Final Fantasy VII Remake, you are able to swap between your (up to) three party members instead of just controlling one for the entire battle, and your abilities and spells are locked behind building up an Active Time Bar (ATB). These new additions add so much new depth and strategy to combat that felt missing in Final Fantasy XV.
You’ll find yourself bouncing from character to character, who all play vastly different and each fill a particular role, and putting much more thought into your inputs even on the smallest enemies. Once you’ve built up an ATB (you can normally have a max of two stored up), you can enter the command menu which slows down time by 99%. This is where the remake excelled at still making it feel like it’s part of the Final Fantasy VII world. You have all the time you need to look through your command menus and pick the perfect action for the situation you're in. Once you pick something, you are immediately thrown back into the fray. Once you find yourself getting comfortable with the system, you’ll be jumping between characters and using ATB so smoothly, it almost feels like playing a fighting game. It’s very satisfying.
Final Fantasy VII Remake also takes a fresh and much appreciated approach to weapons. In most JRPGs, when you get a new weapon for a character, you immediately equip it and forget about the weapon that you previously had. Almost every time, the new weapon providers objectively better stats, so there is no reason to use the older weapon. In Final Fantasy VII Remake, each character has a total of 6 weapons you find throughout the game, but each weapon fills a certain archetype and every weapon you have levels up alongside the characters. This means that every weapon can still be useful even at the very end of the game. Take Cloud as an example. His Buster Sword is perfectly balanced, while the Mythril Saber is more focused on magic and the Hardedge specializes in physical attacks. This new take on weapons is really smart and makes it so each weapon is in some way useful for the whole game. I found myself swapping weapons for different characters to fill specific roles for certain fights.
The materia system from original Final Fantasy VII made the transition to the remake with the philosophy of “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”. They did add or take away different types of materia to better fit with the new combat style, but the overall concept still remains. Equip fire materia to Cloud’s sword, then he can cast the Fire spell. Link it with an elemental damage materia, then his attacks do fire damage. Simple to start, fun to master, just like in 1997.
The first 6 hours of the 40 it takes to beat the original Final Fantasy VII is the skeletal structure for the 40 hours it took me to beat Final Fantasy VII Remake. It hits almost every main beat of the original through the end of the Midgar section, but takes some of the minor beats and characters and fully fleshes them out. One of the biggest examples of this is Biggs, Wedge, and Jessie. In the original, they had a small amount of dialogue and were never really given any interesting character traits. This time around, they each have ideals and goals that drive them forward and give them actual purpose. They even dedicate an entire chapter of the game to spending time with just these three characters and establishing them as important figures in the story instead of just names to forget.
While some may see the added and expanded content in Remake as “filler”, I see it as fun and interesting storytelling to further develop characters, their relationships with each other, and the world that they live in. I’ll admit, some of the sidequests are classic JRPG boring fetch quests, the worst of which is Cloud running around Sector 7 to find 3 lost cats for a little girl, but while the task itself was boring, watching Cloud have to deal with it was very entertaining. He even exclaims at one point, “this sucks”, to which I absolutely agree. However, everything you do in this game is made interesting by how the characters react to them and watching them grow as a result from it. A vast majority of this game is a faithful recreation of its predecessor, which, given Square Enix’s recent track record with JRPGs, is a truly amazing accomplishment.
Just because I’ve highly praised Final Fantasy VII Remake so far, doesn’t mean that I don’t have issues with it. There are a few things that are holding it back from being king of the JRPGs. It’s pacing can feel a little off at times. While I have no issues with linear games as a whole (I like to remind people that The Last of Us is linear as hell and one of the best games ever made), some chapters give you a chance to fully explore an area and bounce around to different locations while others were very short with only one path to walk down. I wish those linear chapters had just a bit more to do in them than walk a little, fight a thing, repeat (I’m looking at you Chapter 15).
I didn’t like that there seemed to be forced slow down throughout the game. It’s up and down on whether it’s acceptable or just frustrating. For example, slowing Cloud to a walking pace when you are going to a destination while having a conversation with another character is fine. It gives you a chance to immerse yourself in the conversation and also get a sense of the world around you. However, on your third playthrough to try to get the platinum trophy, I wish I could skip through these sections like they were cutscenes. In a similar vein, having to slowly crawl through debris can add emphasis to a collapsed highway or destroyed area, but with how frequent they appear in this game, it’s hard to see them as anything but artificial loading screens. This, and Cloud walking slowly if you happen to get to a place too quickly will presumably be less egregious in future games on next gen consoles, where the main focus is load times and performance over visual upgrades.
Probably the most infuriating thing in the game is aerial combat, or the lack thereof. At most points in the game, you will have either Aerith or Barret in your party, both of which are good at fighting flying enemies. Some chapters, however, only allow you to use Cloud and/or Tifa, and when they have to try to fight a flying enemy it is painful to the soul. The characters will jump up in the air and freeze in place as they throw out a series of basic attacks. The enemy will almost always slowly back away, causing most of your attacks to miss before your character slowly falls to the ground. “Just use magic!” you might say, but with MP being the limited resource it is (especially in hard mode where it doesn't regenerate at rest spots and you can’t use items), it’s not always an option. All of their abilities are also incapable of hitting airborne units, rendering them useless. I hope that in future games, they find a way to make it so ground based party members can deal with aerial units without making it time consuming and frustrating.
When added together, these faults are all pretty minor in the grand scheme of what this game accomplishes. Every problem that I have with it is small, and easily fixable for future installments. The main thing to keep in mind is that they succeeded in making the remake feel like the original while expanding on what was already there. With some fine tuning, we could have some masterpieces in our future.
WARNING: I will be talking about endgame content and spoilers for Final Fantasy VII Remake going forward. YE BE WARNED.
The thing that Final Fantasy VII Remake did that I was not expecting it to do is make me even more excited for the games to follow, because I don’t know what’s going to happen in them. Throughout the game, Cloud and the gang constantly run into Ghost of Christmas Future type creatures, which stick out like a sore thumb as the biggest difference from the original game. At first, I had no idea what their purpose was and was a little iffy on them. As the game goes on, though, you start to realize that these ghosts, known as whispers, are the manifestation of destiny, actively trying to make sure the characters do everything the way it happened in the original game. This varies from small things, like making sure Aerith doesn’t fall into enemy hands, to literally bringing someone back to life that wasn’t supposed to die.
This all culminates in a final chapter where Cloud has to fight and kill destiny itself. The crazy thing is that both Aerith and Sephiroth (oh yeah, the game brought him in WAY earlier than the original. How could they not?) seem to be aware of a time loop and/or alternate timeline to the original game. Sephiroth is the one that encourages the party to kill destiny because he knows he loses in the original and needs destiny to die so he can have a chance of seeing his plans through. I could write for hours talking about what happens at the end of the game and what it could mean for the future, but that is exactly what I love about this ending. It makes me excited to talk about the future of Final Fantasy VII because anything is possible now.
Just because the creators of these games are now free to change how things play out doesn’t mean that they will. I still believe that the next however many games in the series will continue to follow the original almost beat for beat, but there will be changes at big moments that can really take the story to new heights. At first, I wasn’t too crazy about this bold choice they made. However, the more that I sat on it and really thought about it, the more I loved it. By going the J.J. Abrams Star Trek / Avengers Endgame alternate timeline route, truly anything can be possible with the future games. It gives way for water cooler discussions and crazy theories crafted on podcasts. It excites me because people are talking about Final Fantasy VII again in a way that I haven’t experienced since I was a kid talking to my friends about it on the playground.
This ending does come with some downsides though. Lots of unanswered cliffhangers that we will have to wait for who knows how long to be answered. I firmly believe that Final Fantasy VII Remake isn’t a remake, but a sequel to the original game. That becomes a problem for players who have never played the original game coming into Remake. There will be so much that they do not understand because the marketing for the game made it seem like just a remake. I understand not wanting to give away the big surprise at the end, but again, I can imagine that not experiencing the original makes Final Fantasy VII Remake feel incomplete and nonsensical. As a huge fan of Final Fantasy VII lore though, I am beyond excited for what’s to come.
SPOILERS HAVE ENDED.
Overall, Final Fantasy VII Remake manages to capture all of the charm and excitement that the original had, which is no easy task. Square Enix took the classic characters and made them feel more real than ever and made a game so beautiful to look at and listen to that I can’t stop thinking about it. It’s biggest success is creating a fun and deep new combat system that made me look forward to every fight. While the next games in the series could be ways away, I can not wait to see what surprises they have in store and what the future of Final Fantasy VII has to offer.