Final Fantasy VII: Remake has been on the shelves for well over two weeks, going by the early launch due to the complications of COVID-19. Not that we are complaining, we’ve been waiting for this title for decades now. It seems surreal to be alive for this game to finally reach fruition. After countless rumors, ill-fated tech demos, and a wealth of spin-off titles in April 2020 marked the release of one of the most celebrated JRPGs of all time. Does it stand up to the insurmountable hype that the name Final Fantasy VII carries? In short, I’m happy to say that it is a resounding yes, but not without its caveats. This is not a perfect title, nor did I expect it to be. There are plenty of blemishes that stop this one short of being a masterpiece. Here, I’ll take a critical look at this remake through the lens of a completionist.
As the aforementioned claim suggests, I went into this title with every intention to complete everything it had to offer. To Playstation owners this typically means earning the platinum trophy, yet I wanted to go the extra mile and 100% the play log Final Fantasy VII: Remake offers upon initial completion of the game. While respecting the opinions of my contemporaries, I found plenty of hints that reviewers pushed to crank out content, seemingly rushing through the experience entirely. To truly grasp the value of this piece, it is crucial for players to soak in each moment of the 18 chapters the game has. In other words, this review of the game is from the perspective of someone who clocked nearly 80 hours on the title. While this much time with FFVII:R isn’t necessary, players risk a hollow experience if they choose to play the game without delving into all of its activities, particularly due to the linear narrative and map design.
Players who do venture off the beaten path are rewarded with some of the most immersive environments in any modern Final Fantasy title. There has always been something lacking with modern visuals. Not from a graphical standpoint but a fully 3D environment is harder to illustrate an illusion of a “lived-in” world that lovely pre-rendered backdrops games like the original Final Fantasy VII and VIII had brandished. In VII’s Remake, the developers were able to capture the dystopian feel of Midgar right down to the gritty details of each of its denizens. Each town is bustling with people, all of which have one of two lines of dialog, expressing their thoughts on current events. While seemingly a minor addition, this adds incredible value in immersing the player in Midgar in a way that simply wasn’t possible in 1997.
While typically a grand sight to see, the environments falter in certain areas of the game and do so BADLY. There is a certain section of the game that allows the player to see an expansive view of the city
Musical Composition and Sound
The sounds of the game are exceptional on nearly every front. The remade tracks from the original are bops and are even better than the original tracks in some cases. The game does lose a bit of the charm the original tracks had due to the inadvertent haunting sounds the limited hardware the Playstation was able to produce. While impossible to recreate, the modernized composition truly does a remarkable job at capturing the emotion of a
As far as gameplay goes Final Fantasy VII Remake is exceptional in nearly every way. Leveling isn’t a slog-fest and is a constant reward for the player, the materia system is
Players are able to quickly swap to any of the three-party members at any moment, utilizing their kit optimally. Enemies also possess their strengths and weaknesses that aren’t exclusively tied to an elemental affinity. It incorporates the game’s weapons as well, with Cloud not always being the best option in any given engagement. Sometimes that manifests with players swapping to Barret to shoot down those hard to reach turrets that rain fire on your squad, in other cases it could mean becoming Tifa to pound on hard-shelled opponents that prevent combos from Cloud’s hulking sheet of metal. There is almost always a reason to swap regularly, for better or for worse. The worse being due to A.I. pathing issues and just straight up sucking in some encounters. The A.I. gains ATB (currency earned through real-time attacking that can be spent to use abilities, items, and magic) at a snail’s pace, providing no noticeable impact beyond their basic attacks. Using ATB in combat is crucial to
The character the player is in direct control of is the one receiving enemies’ attention. While there is certain materia that can change the conditions of this aggression, it generally does not change even 40+ hours into the game. The threat system is initially frustrating, particularly in encounters where an enemy’s signature moves are stun locks (incapacitates characters over and over again). Yet, in Hard Mode, players have generally learned how to exploit this system through rapid character swapping. This tactic confuses the enemies’ pathing and causes brief moments of inaction, allowing the player to act freely. No it is not necessarily cheating but it can diminish the challenge of some fights while cheapening the experience.
Continuing on to the difficulty, I suspect most players will experience practically no issue completing this title on normal mode (with the exception of one surprise encounter mid-game). It’s for that reason I cannot recommend playing on Easy or even Classic, as they present such little challenge that combat becomes trivial. The fun of this game IS the combat and without the fights, Final Fantasy VII: Remake just doesn’t have enough content going for it. While I dislike the notion of being reductive in a game I enjoy immensely, it simply is the truth that much of the story structured through a linear pathway. The freedom of choices reign in the combat encounters and the load outs of weapons, equipment, and materia the player can choose from.
In fact, some of the most fun I had were in the coliseum-esque sections where players do battle with waves of enemies. Learning the ins and outs of enemies, especially on Hard Mode where most encounters have the potential to wipe an unprepared party. While difficult on Hard Mode, anytime I would become frustrated with a battle, I realized that I’d overcome them with careful planning and preparation. I could no longer expect to beat an encounter with raw numbers, I had to strategize. This is when a Final Fantasy game is at its best.
For fans of the original Final Fantasy VII, you will be happy to see many story elements recreated but with modern technology. Emotions that couldn’t be conveyed with the limitations of the Playstation console are on full display here with detailed character models. Segments that were only minor beats in the original game are blown into entire chapters in the remake, adding incredible depth to the relationship between the members of AVALANCHE. Barret, in particular, steals the show on numerous occasions with his tough demeanor but caring soul. As the story progresses both him and Cloud, who both were intentionally insufferable in the beginning hours, thaw out and create an endearing dynamic. This character development felt authentic, given what they had been through. I’m also relieved to see that Cloud, the stoic mercenary, doesn’t remain a one-note character throughout the story.
In regards to the ending, just be aware of how divisive it is. Fans are going to be split on whether they liked it or not. That isn’t to say its good or bad but prepare to find yourself in either camp after the credits roll. Don’t take my or the rest of the Internet’s word for it, however. The best kinds of art are interpretive and it is up for you to decide how to feel about it.
How long is Final Fantasy VII: Remake? A run-through on normal, without skipping any side quests, took me around 37 hours to clear. A run-through on Hard Mode, while trying to complete the Play Log takes around 70-78 hours. There is a lot of meat here so if you value length to justify your purchase you are completely covered. For fans of the original Final Fantasy VII be warned: there is a ton of padding in the remake. While I didn’t shirk at the opportunity to learn more about characters and see an expanded version of Midgar, there are ridiculous aspects of the game that serve to only lengthen one’s runtime. I can’t go far into the details without spoiling the game but the padding isn’t exclusively limited to side quests. There are mainline activities that feel entirely unnecessary and don’t add much to the game’s lore. This perhaps is the game’s biggest shortcoming, yet it doesn’t take away to the exceptional experience the game otherwise provides.