Major spoilers to follow. Do not read if you haven’t played the game.
Final Fantasy VII Remake is a joy to play from start to finish. The wait was worth it. From the opening bombing mission that introduces Cloud and the eco-terrorists, Avalanche, to that climatic battle at the end. There are many welcome changes to what is a beloved entry to the Final Fantasy series. The love, dedication and attention to detail from the series creators is evident throughout the entirety of this game. Ardent fans will not be disappointed. Square Enix delivers.
Story: I loved that the game kept almost all the original story bits, albeit with some changes. For example, when you meet Aerith at the Sector 5 Church you see some positive changes, you get to brawl with Reno in a one-on-one and are relieved from pushing barrels during that escape scene in the original. I preferred to this version over the original, especially watching how this scene closed, e.g. seeing a thrashed up Reno struggling out of the Church.
The other major change I liked to the story happens later in the Shinra Building during the moments before and after the death of President Shinra – this plays out very differently to the original in a spectacular way. The first change is the death of President Shinra happens in front of the players and the party faces Jenova Dreamweaver in an epic confrontation befitting a near final boss. This part of the story was likely changed as Sephiroth was introduced in Chapter 2, whereas the original keeps in chest until after the Midgar portion.
The final climatic battle with Sephiroth harks to the Advent Children final battle and manages to look even better in this incarnation. At the end of this game, I was surprised, yet the ending left me eager to see how else this story would change in future installments, hopefully for the better.
Unlike the original, Sephiroth makes a lot of appearances, sometimes in Cloud’s memories and other times before the entire party. His presence usually forebodes that something bad for our party is about to happen. With modern technology, the chill you get from Sephiroth from your first encounter to the last is well presented and almost seeps through your screen.
The fleshing out of the story was mostly good. I enjoyed being able to see different parts of Midgar that weren’t introduced in the original. For instance, the entirety of Chapter 4 takes the party on an adventure with Jessie, Biggs and Wedge to Jessie’s parents’ home in the upper plate of Sector 7 and a Shinra facility. This chapter revolves around Jessie wanting to steal some ingredients for her bomb for Sector 5. You learn a lot about the trio in the chapter. From learning about Jessie’s past as an actress at the Gold Saucer to Wedge being a cat lover and owner. The chapter also introduces you to the motorbike chase, which foreshadows another chase near the end, and a one-shot alright guy, Roche. I felt this chapter was a nice way to flesh out the characters of Jessie, Biggs and Wedge and the new character Roche. It’s a shame they don’t get more than a chapter. I like Roche and would have liked for him to make one more appearance before the end of this game. There is a high chance he will make another appearance in Part 2 or beyond.
Gameplay: The game play was excellent for the most part. I liked the action RPG elements. I thought the game had a nice balance in connecting the original with modern RPGs expectations with the retention of the ATB bar. I am also a big fan of the Dynasty Warriors franchise, so I found myself being punished whenever I just hacked and slashed. The game requires you to be strategic especially around how you expend your ATB charges.
The characters, Cloud, Tifa, Barret and Tifa play differently to one another. I loved playing as Cloud as he was able to smash into a crowd of enemies and deal heavy damage with a few mighty swings of his blade. Barret was excellent at all ranges and seemed to have less trouble fighting enemies, since other would often be knocked back by boss enemies. Tifa is excellent for doing burst damage and increasing the stagger meter, while Aerith is great for magic, support and healing. Aerith’s second Limit Break is unbelievably useful, especially during Hard Mode.
The game play gets harder when you play on Hard Mode and the ability to use items is taken away. This makes using abilities and magic effectively all the more important. In Hard Mode, the enemies HP are higher and they can deal heavy, potentially fatal damage. I found myself at the mercy of missiles dealing 1 to 1,500 in damage and blood-thirsty hounds that I failed to take down fast enough. In Hard Mode, I needed to equip Revival materia, ensure I had both one ATB and enough MP to ensure I could revive a party member if anyone fell. Probably one of the worst things is the lack of MP replenishment in Hard Mode. Hard Mode definitely makes strategising more important and I found it challengingly fun.
In Hard Mode, I had my ass handed to me on too many occasions against ‘weak’ enemies. I recommend you go in with your best materia and equipment during this mode.
I am not a fan of the stagger bar or flying enemies. The stagger bar works differently for all the monsters and bosses in the game. You have to learn how to stagger each boss to win and usually you need certain materia equipped before the fight to have an easier time. I remember fighting the Hell House and not having the proper equipment or materia and having to waddle my way through that fight, chipping at the boss’ HP with weak weapons and abilities. Plus the stagger doesn’t last long enough for some enemies. The other annoying enemy were flying enemies, Cloud just struggles most times to even land a hit on these flyers and you can face these flyers without Barret or Aerith in the party.
The loved the ability to Summon during tough fights. This was a boon to any fight. It never got boring to see the Summons enter the battlefield. Summoning creatures like Ifrit, Shiva and Leviathan were always awesome to see on screen. I liked that these entities were able to fight alongside the party like guest members. My least favorite Summon is Fat Chocobo, but it may be due to me not knowing how to use him well. Fat Chocobo requires 2 ATB bars to use his skills and seemingly moved too slowly for my liking.
The side quests for the most part were mostly forgettable, but they were at least easy to pick up and sometimes challenging. Like Final Fantasy XV, each of the NPCs that give side quests have a personality of their own. It’s a nice touch and makes Midgar feel more alive than its original incarnation. I barely remember any of their names, except a title… Guardian Angel of the Slums.
The mini games were well done. It’s great to see so many mini-games brought into the fold. I can’t remember a contemporary Final Fantasy game with this many mini games. I enjoyed playing darts and Whack-a-Box, but didn’t like the pull-up challenge, mostly because I kept messing up, or the dance challenge with Andre.
Sound: I loved the polish to the game. The choice of voice actors was excellent. I liked almost every voice. I was concerned for Sephiroth’s voice in Chapter 2, but the more I listened to it throughout the game, the more I liked it, even though it left a cold chill down my spine. While Barret’s voice is great, I thought they picked a perfect voice for Cloud. He just sounded the part and lines were definitely well scripted.
Tifa voice actress was able to emote and deliver her moments really well. She character really shown in this incarnation.
Zach’s voice sounded off initially, but probably due to me expecting his old voice actor to say those memorable lines from Crisis Core.
The whole game from memory is voiced, every dialogue, and this made the game easy to follow and play.
The music from Nobuo Uematsu was fitting throughout the length of the game. I found it really pleasing that scenes would play new music beats with almost effortless transition, except one moment involving Moggie. I loved most of the remade tracks, and really liked the new song Hollow especially when the instrumental played in certain parts of the game. Hollow is the first male vocal song from memory for any mainline Final Fantasy title.
Concerns: My main gripe with the game is the length of Chapter 17 and the Professor Hojo moments of the game. Yes, Red XIII joins the party in this chapter, but only as a guest. I just wish we could issue some commands from time to time to help the flow of battle.
The Hojo moments were long and stretched beyond what it should have been, almost like the infamous chapter in Fantasy Fantasy XV when Noctis only has access to his ring. I didn’t feel like Chapter 17 added to anything additional to the story. I felt like a long maze of uninteresting fights and unremarkable A to B runs. When I heard from the dialogue there were three gates I needed to pass, I was thinking how annoying this section of the game would be. Three gates! Groan… If anything, Chapter 17 does feel like a final dungeon, but I would have preferred more floors and things to do in the non-research part of the Shinra Building.
Overall, I really enjoyed Final Fantasy VII Remake. I finished it within 35 hours. The game was hard to put down because of how gorgeous it looked and how it kept captivating me from one chapter to the next. I am definitely looking forward to Part 2.