April 06, 2020
For many, no RPG is imbued with as much nostalgia as Final Fantasy VII. One of the original PlayStation's most iconic, beloved, and memorable games, it served as a gateway to an entire genre for a lot of western players, and so a remake such as this was always going to be met with incredibly high expectations. Square Enix has risen to the challenge, delivering one of the most remarkable Final Fantasy games in some time. Final Fantasy VII Remake is truly special, the suffix of 'remake' seeming almost reductive.
A completely new game that just happens to share the same story, characters and locations as its source material as the old one, there’s less of an emphasis on the ‘re’ aspect of this particular remake, as Square Enix has not only created something almost entirely brand new, but unfathomably ambitious. This is a game that boasts a dizzying sense of sheer, unbridled scale – it’s the very definition of a labour of love, if ever there was one.
Based upon the opening chunk of FFVII, in the sprawling impoverished sectors of Midgar – a vast circular city comprised entirely of steel and stone – Remake offers a full realisation of life beneath the gigantic pizza-slice segments of the city – a dark grey spaghetti of pipes, girders and sheet metal suspended above the slums. Every corner of Midgar is caked in grime, its citizens surrounded by discarded rubbish and innumerable signs of neglect, as the Shinra Electric Company watches from its vertiginous ivory tower, sucking mako energy (the ubiquitous lifeblood of FFVII’s world) from the innards of the dying planet. FFVII's story has never felt so pertinent.
Carrying out a onetime gig for Avalanche – a resistance group branded “eco-terrorists” by Shinra – protagonist Cloud Strife soon becomes fully invested in what's at stake, while confronting his own demons as a former elite Shinra soldier. The shadow of mentor Sephiroth (it's no secret that he's in the game) looms large and weighs heavily upon Cloud, and what unfolds is a narrative with real depth that builds significantly upon the events of the original game. Not all of the new content hits the bullseye, and there are certain activities that seem somewhat extraneous. Certain mini-games, like pull-up challenges in Wall Market's gym, aren't particularly fun, and some of the side quests can feel like pure busywork designed to add a few extra hours to the runtime. Then there’s the Wall Market colosseum, where you can engage in battles to your heart’s content – there’s no shortage of things to see and do.
Happily, the game's combat is superb, and since you'll spend much of your time in Final Fantasy VII Remake fighting human adversaries, machines, and monsters, it's fortunate that the minute-to-minute action delivers in spades. Hallmarks of the old turn-based system remain in the ATB (Active Time Battle) gauge, enabling you to unleash special abilities, wield spells, or use items, when a segment of the meter fills up. Without the ATB meter, you can freely strike your foes, wearing down their stamina until they're 'staggered', modifying your attacks with a press of triangle. It's an incredibly flexible battle system that ensures combat encounters remain novel and exciting, the succession of bosses requiring tactical thinking rather than absent-minded button mashing to overcome.
While the narrative has been expanded to include scenes only hinted at in the PSone version of Final Fantasy VII, Remake also adds greater detail to various RPG mechanics, whether it's upgrading your weapons using points accrued when levelling up, mastering weapon skills in combat, arranging your magic-giving materia as efficiently as possible to boost the efficacy of spells and abilities, or choosing the best equipment, like certain bangles and accessories that lend buffs or additional materia slots. Drilling down into the nitty gritty of your character's loadouts is involving stuff, and especially enjoyable for nerds (like me) who enjoy poring over every last bit of gear to raise their party's stats. Gathering battle intel and taking it to new character Chadley (nice name), meanwhile, grants access to unique and valuable materia, as well as VR battles against summons – like Ifrit, Shiva, Leviathan, or the comical Fat Chocobo – that once defeated can be called upon during boss encounters.
Beyond the increased depth on offer in Final Fantasy VII Remake, visually, the game is unlike almost anything else currently available on PS4. It's easy to see why the game weighs in at 100GB, spread across two Blu-ray discs – the level of graphical fidelity is mind-boggling, although there are minor issues, even on PS4 Pro. On very rare occasions, textures pop in or fail to load altogether, and some interactions with NPCs are preceded by a short delay. These complaints are like criticising the Mona Lisa because Da Vinci left a speck of dirt in the paint, and do little to detract from the overall experience.
What can be annoying are boss battles – particularly during the final chapters – wherein failure means a long loading screen and an unskippable (albeit mercifully short) cinematic sequence punctuating the action. It's a cardinal sin that can be fairly common in FFVII Remake, turning intense, sweeping boss encounters into tedious, sometimes interminable affairs. Again, it's a small gripe within the context of a game that not only does practically everything else right, but does so with a level of unrivalled care and attention.
Fans, too, will delight in landmarks that are present and correct (Wall Market, for instance, is a dense network of alleyways and shops, watched over by Don Corneo from his mansion, and the Honeybee Inn is tucked away in a grubby corner) and the game's sequence of events remains much the same as it was 23 years ago. But the elements you may remember are now embedded in a much grander story that's epic in scope, giving characters who were bit players in the original a far more developed role to play. Your fellow Avalanche buddies – Jessie, Biggs, and Wedge – who formerly had fleeting appearances, now help form a vital emotional core (alongside Barret, Tifa, and Aerith), and this being a 30-40 hour game (based on what was a 5-6 hour section in the original), every single character (and a handful of new ones) is given far more time in the limelight.
A question still hangs over how many instalments Final Fantasy VII Remake will eventually span and the cadence with which they'll release. Indeed, what's offered here only represents a small fraction of the 1997 original, but the entire thing is almost unrecognisable. The masterstroke here is that it works brilliantly as a standalone title, ending in a satisfying way, despite expectedly leaving a number of loose threads dangling tantalisingly. Red XIII works as a guest character, the side quests – for the most part – offer something beyond a simple diversion, and whether you've played Final Fantasy VII before or you haven't, the remake has an awful lot to offer, including more than a few surprises.
The remixed soundtrack is tremendous, guaranteeing nostalgia for fans and musical earworms for all. An enviable cast of talent provides fantastic voice work and performances. The atmosphere in Wall Market alone will make your head spin – it's amazing.
Infused with pure magic throughout, Final Fantasy VII Remake is up there with the most attractive games on PS4. There isn't a single inch of Midgar that hasn't been lavished with care and attention. It's gorgeous, despite some trifling issues.
Immediate hack and slash action married to an RPG combat system with real depth. The ATB mechanics stay true to the original and playing in Classic mode makes it even closer to how it was in 1997. Exploration, too, is a joy, aided by Chocobo fast travel later in the game.
A solid 30-40 hours, with (mostly) enjoyable side quests, mini-games and more. Finishing the game unlocks Hard mode and the ability to select chapters, so you can revisit the game to unearth collectibles or complete anything you might have missed. We only hope that you can carry on where you left off – with everything you've painstakingly accumulated – in the next one.
A list that demands two playthroughs, one in Hard mode, which means you can't use items and HP is restored only at rest spots. Ouch. Anything you've missed can be scooped up via chapter select, so you can enjoy the story without too much worry. In all, a straightforward, albeit slightly tricky Platinum.
A truly magnificent game, you'll soon forget that Final Fantasy VII Remake is based upon only a small sliver of the PSone original – it's astonishingly epic in its own right, with plenty of surprises up its sleeve. The only real problem is that waiting for the next one is going to feel like an eternity.