Video games

Final Fantasy VII Remake: Video Game Review

The Final Fantasy VII Remake has been something that people had been craving for an incredibly long time, arguably starting on the PS3. Last year (2020) the game came out on the PS4, and this past year I’ve finally beaten the game and would like to give my thoughts on it.

Final Fantasy VII Remake, much like this year’s Dune: Part One, is not a complete adaptation of the source material, with the remake covering the first disk of Final Fantasy VII, with the game covering the plot up until Cloud, Aerith, Tifa, Barrett, and Red XII’s departure from Midgar. The plot covers a lot of ground, with some padding during the middle of the game, with a whole slew of sidequests getting dropped in right before the Sector 7 Plate is dropped, and again right afterwards, with Cloud, Tifa and Barrett trying to help with the aftermath of the destruction.

All of that said, from very early on, the game does set up that things can potentially jump the tracks. Leaving the opening reactor bombing, Cloud ends up getting some flashes of Sephiroth, giving him a presence much earlier in the narrative than he had in the original title. And then there are the appearance of various “specters” over the course of the game – ethereal black robed figures which swirl and float about, and appear to guide the characters onto certain paths, with the player ultimately having to fight them at several points.

These elements end up leaving to several very significant character shifts over the course of Final Fantasy VII Remake. Aerith retains her nature as being a flower in the slums (if her flower garden in the church, and the gardens around her home didn’t make it explicitly clear) – but she also has a harder, and hardier edge. Some of that was present in the original – as evidenced by how quickly she came up with the idea to have Cloud dress in drag to infiltrate Don Cornelo’s manor. Other elements though are much more new to this game – a semi-mandatory side quest puts Cloud and Aerith in an arena battle to get the attention of the proprietor of the Honeybee Inn – which is where they find the opportunity to bring in the Hell House. Once again, here Aerith is very eager to get into the arena, and being in such a high-profile location also has a really great payoff later in the game.

The mechanics of the game do a good job of striking a balance with the original title’s ATB, and the more action-based combat of Final Fantasy XV. As battles go on, the ATB gauge will fill, with the gauge filling more quickly if you use standard attacks, which doesn’t use up the gauge to carry out. Once the gauge, which has two slots, fills, you can carry out special attacks, cast spells, or use items, with different attacks or spells requiring either one or both of the gauge’s slots (depending on the attack or spell) to use. During combat, you only control one character, but can easily switch between the two, depending on what you’re looking for, tactically.

If I had a complaint with the combat mechanics, I would have liked some better options to micro-manage the game. This is not just in the sense of telling characters to fight my target or to fight more defensively, but also in the sense of “Attack this target with these tactics” – i.e. “Go all out on this construct with lightning spells.”

The narrative adjustments have a mix of some very solid new beats and some much less so chunks. The number of mid-game optional side-quests can be a little obnoxious in a few respects, but those side-quests are also clearly meant to be a proxy for what would have otherwise been grinding in the original game.

On the other hand, several mandatory narrative beats and story-specific elements have been somewhat improved. The entire questline around Cloud’s cross-dressing, which had some particularly rough gay stereotypes (some Japan-specific) has been improved – though I admit as a het person I’m not the person to say if they go far enough. The death of President Shinra also moves from being partially off-screen to being on-camera, in keeping with putting Sephiroth more to the fore, instead of making his appearance at the end of the disk into the introduction of the Real Antagonist, as something of a cliffhanger.

Image of the interior of Hojo's Lab in the Final Fantasy VII Remake.

Other than that, and outside of the middle of the game which has a few too many side quests, Final Fantasy VII Remake is an engaging game that retells a decent story well, with some unique twists that makes it worth your while to revisit the story in this form – if you were fans of the original game. As far as new players go – that’s difficult for me to say. The shifts in the narrative that occur over the course of the game are played with some narrative significance, but from what I’ve picked up from discussions around the game on various podcasts, where people who are new to the story have played it, why certain narrative shifts are played as significant has come across as somewhat confusing without that advance knowledge.

Final Fantasy VII Remake is currently available digitally from the PSN store, and in a Physical release from Amazon, either as the PS5 Intergrade release (which is what I beat) or the PS4 release, and is also presumably available from your Friendly Local Video Game Store or Gamestop, depending on what you’ve got. Buying anything through the Amazon link helps to support the site – but if your FLVGS has it, I recommend getting it from them.

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