When you anticipate something for a really long time, there’s always a risk it’s going to be a letdown. When a videogame gets remade, that risk grows even larger as the developer needs to generate nostalgia, while creating a new experience which stays reverent to the original yet modernises it and has the potential to attract new fans.
It can’t be an easy task.
Final Fantasy 7 Remake is inarguably the most sought after, the most anticipated and the most important videogame remake so far. The original was a watershed moment in videogame history and it set a new benchmark for storytelling, gameplay and audio and its legacy remains to this day.
Remaking such a landmark title is a tremendous risk but it’s one that Square Enix has managed to pull off. Final Fantasy 7 Remake is, quite simply, one of the greatest videogames ever (re)made.
Final Fantasy 7 Remake Review
If you’ve followed Final Fantasy 7 Remake’s development, you should know by now that this release is only the first part. Instead of releasing a full remake, Square Enix has stated that the game is too big to be remade in one game. So, this game takes place entirely in Midgar and ends as Cloud and AVALANCHE escape the city.
To protect the experience for new players and for fans of the original, I won’t go into any detail about what’s changed, what’s new or what to expect aside from letting you know that Final Fantasy 7 Remake does feel like an entire game as is. Knowing there’s more to come is just the icing on the cake.
Although, if I had my way, I’d already be eating that cake, icing and all. But alas, we have to wait.
Just like the original, Final Fantasy 7 Remake begins with AVALANCHE’s attack on Reactor 1. It’s an exciting and explosive introduction to the game and a brilliant way to explain the universe, its lore and the various factions fighting one another. While many, many RPGs (especially JRPGs) start slowly and take forever to get going, Final Fantasy 7 Remake bolts from the gate.
Right away you’re going to be hit with waves of nostalgia.
This is a game that is far advanced and so far beyond what the original was that they bear little visual resemblance. Yet, they’re instantly recognisable as one and the same. It’s a difficult experience to convey but it’s obvious that Square Enix has worked incredibly hard on ensuring a visual language is shared between the original and the remake.
When it comes to visuals, Final Fantasy 7 Remake is largely flawless. The character models have clearly been given the most love and attention. Cloud looks incredible, easily matching and often surpassing the visuals seen in Advent Children. And the same can be said of the other lead characters. Veins bulge on Barret’s arms and sweat beads on his forehead. Cloud’s hair moves realistically as does Tifa and Aerith’s and every piece of clothing shifts as though it was being worn by a real person.
However, this focus on the character models has clearly been at the expense of other elements. There are multiple examples of some truly butt-ugly textures throughout the game, especially in the background. I saw plenty of low-res gates, pipes and other bits and pieces that looked so out of place and so ugly, my eye couldn’t help but be drawn.
Similarly, any character not integral to the story looks noticeably worse. It’s to be expected and understandable but it’s still a bit disappointing and it detracts from the immersion. Thankfully, for most of the game, you’ll be enjoying some of the best visuals Square Enix has ever crafted for a videogame, which only makes those ugly moments stick out even more.
Thankfully, the audio in Final Fantasy 7 Remake is perfection from start to finish. Uematsu Nobuo’s original score is as good (if not better) than it was in 1997 and the new versions of familiar tunes are absolute bangers. If you can sit back and not nod your head or tap your feet, then you simply must have no soul.
What Final Fantasy 7 Remake has that the original doesn’t, is full voice acting for each and every character. And most of them are slam dunks.
Cloud is perfectly cast as the brooding, lonely emo who gradually comes out of his shell. Tifa has just the right combination of innocence and world-weariness and the supporting AVALANCHE crew are wonderful. Especially Matt Jones (Breaking Bad’s Badger) as Wedge.
Unfortunately, Barret sounds like a racist caricature from beginning to end. Every time he speaks I cringe and it feels both out of place and out of time. Aerith’s voice acting is also terrible, though this has more to do with the direction than the sound. Aerith’s personality in Final Fantasy 7 Remake really, REALLY irritated me for a good long time. In order to make her seem innocent, she acts like a little girl. It’s that same generic anime character trope that you see time after time.
And every time she opened her mouth, I rolled my eyes and wished it was over. Eventually, she tones it down and starts to grate less, though I wish she’d been more of a mysterious, aloof, otherworldly figure like I remember.
What you’ll be doing for the most part in Final Fantasy 7 Remake is exploring Midgar and engaging in combat. Exploration is pretty bog-standard. Go to point A, collect thing, speak to person 1, return to point B and so on. Not much has changed in this regard between the games or in the genre in general. Moving around is smooth and easy, though the camera does occasionally struggle.
Wall Market and its narrow alleys, in particular, were a bit of a struggle thanks to the camera’s inability to get into the right location. By and large, exploration is great and is an excellent way to explore the world and learn more about the lore.
Combat is the absolute best thing about Final Fantasy 7 Remake. When I learned it was going to feature real-time combat I was ready to write it off then and there. It felt blasphemous to turn Final Fantasy 7 into an action game. I shouldn’t have been so quick to judge though because what Square Enix has created is phenomenally brilliant. A hybrid real-time/turn-based system that uses MP and ATB which feels incredibly like the gameplay of old.
You press Square or Triangle to attack and do so in real-time, using Circle to dodge. By pressing X you pause time and bring up your combat menu. From here you can use abilities, magic, Limits and Summons. Every action from the menu requires ATB and/or MP to use. ATB is generated through combat while MP comes from Ether.
After making your selection, combat comes back to full speed and you see your actions play out.
When you’re in a party of three, you can press Up and Down on the D-Pad or L2 and R2 to switch to other characters and perform actions with them. The deeper you get into the game and the more experienced you become with the combat system the more at ease you’ll be with it. It’s not long before you find yourself using all manner of attacks, switching between party members and tearing your enemies to shreds.
It’s a gloriously violent ballet of swords, bullets and magic.
It wouldn’t be Final Fantasy 7 without Materia and the system works pretty much the same way it always had. By inserting the Materia in slots in your weapon and armour you can equip magic to use, improve your stats and change the way you perform in combat. Figuring out your optimal build is half the fun and you are able to endlessly experiment. Your weapons can also be upgraded as you level up allowing you to unlock stat boosts, new Materia slots and more.
Final Fantasy 7 Remake may be partially real-time but it hasn’t sacrificed any of its depth. In fact, the movement to this new battle system has opened up the combat in new ways that make it even deeper and make the importance of your stats even greater.
Final Fantasy 7 Remake is mind-blowing. As a remake, it’s the best ever made. As a videogame, it’s one of the best ever made. As a Final Fantasy, well…it’s the best one ever.
There may be a few minor issues and some complaints but in the face of the overwhelming quality of Final Fantasy 7 Remake, they fade into the distance. The narrative is more impactful than ever before and is even more relevant today than it was in 1997. Watching characters discuss their plans and intentions and hearing the voice acting makes everything that happens more real.
The story was already fantastic but when it’s told this way it truly gets to shine.
It might have taken years and years but we finally got the Final Fantasy7 Remake. It might not yet be complete but it’s incredible and has been well worth the wait.
Final Fantasy 7 Remake was reviewed on PS4 Pro using a digital copy provided by Square Enix.
Game Title: Final Fantasy 7 Remake