Final Fantasy VII Remake: An impressive and ambitious new standard for remakes
Played On: PlayStation 4 (Original)
Final Fantasy VII is usually regarded as not only one of the most top-tier Final Fantasy games of all-time, but even one of the most iconic and best games, in general, of all-time. With the game being such a strong part of gaming history and having one of gaming’s most iconic protagonist in Cloud Strife and antagonist in Sephiroth, who are ironically both now available to play in Smash Bros. Ultimate, it’s probably one of the most nostalgic games that people remember across multiple generations. So, it was strange to me that fans craved a remake so bad.
Remakes are a tricky business and there’s always that fear that a remake could ruin the legacy of the game. However, Square Enix eventually gave fans what they asked for when they announced the remake was in development back in 2015 at Sony’s E3 press conference, but it wasn’t exactly coming in the way people expected. There was a lot of debate of how this remake would come out, what it would play like, and when we would finally get to play it. As trailers came out to show fans what they were in for and a release date was finally set for 2020, it was hard for me not to excited even though I was still a little hesitant to believe it could live up to expectations – especially after Kingdom Hearts III dropped the ball so hard. Now after finally beating after months of going in and out of it though, it’s really clear that Square Enix delivered much more than a standard remake.
Most modern remakes end up just being graphical remasters that end up just putting classic games in better engines and doing a couple gameplay tweaks, but Square Enix does much more than that to create a fresh experience. Obviously, the graphics between the original and the remake are night and day in comparison since the days of more polygonal graphics and character designs are long over. Finally, the stylized graphics are no longer just in the cutscenes and the backgrounds, characters, and overall design are given a much-needed makeover. To say that the game is beautiful would be an understatement and it actually carries the great animation seen in Final Fantasy animated films like Advent Children. The character designs maintain a strong familiarity that retains the iconic looks of the characters while also adding in some updated details that give them some modern graphical flair. The cutscenes give a much more action-packed, fantastical cinematic experience that really sucks you into the environment and the action while delving into the new gameplay experience the remake offers.
The remake makes a major departure from the original game in its gameplay in that it features the kind of real-time combat seen in more modern RPGs as opposed to the turn-based combat of the original. As a big Kingdom Hearts fan and knowing that legendary Kingdom Hearts director Tetsuya Nomura had his hands in this game, the combat was easily the most excitable aspect to the remake for me and it doesn’t disappoint. The movement is incredibly fluid and there’s so many ways that players can approach combat now. With the ability to dish out basic light and heavy attacks, use materia to deal magic damage as well as heal your party, and even utilize character abilities to land big blows and deal a lot of damage, there’s actually a lot of new strategies players can develop on the fly. One ability in particular, called Assess, that players can earn from Chadley (voiced by Sean-Ryan Petersen), a new character for the remake, allows players to learn enemy weaknesses and resistances that are key to understanding in battle.
With all of these tools at your disposal, it seems like things would get overwhelming, but it actually doesn’t because of how simplified and easy to navigate the battle menu is. It’s pretty similar to how Kingdom Hearts’ battle menu works with attacks, abilities, and items being divided into separate categories and players being able to navigate and choose attacks at the press of a button. These options aren’t available at an instance though as they are all tied to an active time battle (ATB) that slowly fills with time and that players can fill up more by using basic attacks. It’s a great system that creates a great balance in gameplay and makes players have to strategize their attacks and choose when they want to use specific attacks, materia, or items. It’s also great that time slows down when interacting with the battle menu, so players have plenty of time to think over choices and develop better strategies. Even better is that players can select attacks for other party members without having to switch to them so they’ll perform different actions on their own and the menu can even be accessed outside of battle so players can heal their party outside of battle.
One of the biggest changes though is that Cloud (voiced by Cody Christian) is no longer the only playable character as players can fully take control of iconic party members like Tifa (voiced by Britt Baron), Aerith (voiced by Briana White), and Barrett (voiced by John Eric Bentley). Honestly, this was one of the best things that this remake brings as it offers a strong variety of gameplay that players can easily switch to in a flash. Players can throw fast-paced punches with Tifa, cast some powerful magical attacks as Aerith, or fire some high-speed rounds from afar with Barrett. The ability to finally take full control of characters is really ground-breaking for this franchise as it finally lets players fully feel the upgrades, weapon and accessory choices, and all of the different abilities that each character has within the gameplay. It creates a deeper set of options for players to take into battle and create strong combinations between characters. It’s such a smooth and surprising experience that’s going to be even better when we meet other classic party characters in the next installment.
In terms of the story, the remake offers just a slight introduction to the classic narrative as it encompasses the events of Cloud arriving in Midgar, reuniting with Tifa, helping Barrett and his Avalanche crew take down the evil Shinra corporation, meet Aerith, and have nightmarish flashbacks to his days as a SOLDIER for Shinra and an ominous figure named Sephiroth (voiced by Tyler Hoechlin) pretty much to the tea of what you would expect. Mostly knowing of Cloud and other characters from seeing them in the Kingdom Hearts story, it was actually pretty interesting seeing how much his story is about corporate corruption, environmental destruction, and inner demons. Seeing all of the connections made between Cloud and other characters and the slow rise against Shinra that builds throughout the game is incredibly impactful with how it’s showcased now. The more emotive cutscenes allows for deeper moments to connect to the characters, there’s a greater expansion on smaller characters’ stories to flesh out the world, and the way the game combines a mostly linear narrative with a slowly expanding open world really makes each step forward feel impactful. Not to mention, there’re tons of incredible moments with epic boss battles with their own set of challenges and using staple summon characters for the series is better than ever with how some of them have to be fought in order to be earned.
It’s even better that experiencing the story again is made incredibly fresh with some of the new experiences that are added to enhance the gameplay and create some amazing new moments fans will never forget. The whole motorcycle sequence is amazing and the two boss battles it leads to against Roche (voiced by Austin Lee Matthews) are mind-blowing since I’ve never seen a boss actually heal you before the fight. There’s a lot of great humor added including some funny scenes with Tifa’s number one fan Johnny (voiced by Yuri Lowenthal), a hilarious stair-climbing sequence, and some great banter between the whole cast. There’s even a great dance sequence added that’s the peak of visual dazzling this game has to offer and an incredibly fun coliseum battle that follows with one of the toughest bosses in the game. Even the sequences where you play as one of the supporting party characters is great as it offers some refreshing gameplay changes and unique moments for characters other than Cloud.
Square Enix could’ve just redelivered Final Fantasy VII with updates graphics and called it a day like so many other series, but they didn’t. Rather, they delivered a game that reinvents the Final Fantasy formula for the modern era of gamers and creates a refreshing, impressive, and ambitious experience that fans will latch onto and love every step of the way. Capcom may have set a new standard for remakes when they released their Resident Evil 2 remake last year, but Square Enix has somehow surpassed it and created a gold standard of their own.