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Final Fantasy VII Remake Review -- On That Day, Twenty-Three Years Ago

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Back in 2005, the opening cinematic of Final Fantasy VII was released as a technical demo for the PS3. It was a visually stunning update that lit a fire across the gaming world as fans begged Square-Enix to remaster the most iconic entry in the Final Fantasy franchise, originally released in 1997. Ten years later, to cheers and roaring applause, Square-Enix answered those pleas by unveiling the first trailer for Final Fantasy VII Remake. And after nearly five years of development, Square-Enix has finally released the first entry in the Final Fantasy VII Remake saga.
[I am going to do my best to avoid spoilers, but you’re on a forum with deep roots in the Final Fantasy franchise, reading a review for a remake of a Final Fantasy game that came out over twenty years ago, soooooo...]

There are a few things we need to get out of the way immediately. This is only the first entry in a saga that will be told over a currently unknown number of entries. As such, Square-Enix has expanded the content which previously covered seven to ten hours into a full thirty to forty hour game. There’s also no way to look at Final Fantasy VII Remake’s narrative and not see how this game has been shaped by the impact that the original Final Fantasy VII has had on gaming culture for over twenty years. Because the game is building on a foundation that has been well-established for over twenty years, there are numerous moments throughout the game that are never properly explained, but will resonate with longtime fans who have played Final Fantasy VII uncountable times before. The best examples is Sephiroth, the most iconic villain in the Final Fantasy pantheon. In the original game, Sephiroth makes "his" first appearance near the end of Midgar and serves to motivate the group’s subsequent journey. In the Remake, however, Sephiroth makes his first appearance within the game’s first hour and maintains a presence throughout. As someone who has played Final Fantasy VII numerous times, I can’t disconnect my prior experiences and knowledge from the Remake, so I would be curious to hear how these moments played out for new players. Then again, given BlueGartr’s history, maybe this is the wrong place to bring that up.

All that leads to the next point, this is not just a high-definition update, but a full remake of the original Final Fantasy VII. Although the first chapter plays out as an updated take on the original bombing mission from 1997, the game quickly introduces new elements and twists not featured in the original game. Yes, if you’ve ever played Final Fantasy VII, the game is going to feel very nostalgic and tread familiar territory. The game is still set in the fantasy/cyberpunk city of Midgar where an eco-terrorist organization called Avalanche is waging a war against the Shinra Electric Power Company for its exploitation of Mako Energy harvested from the planet. The story follows Cloud Strife, a spiky-haired mercenary who wields an unbelievably large sword, his spirited childhood friend Tifa Lockhart, the loud and rambunctious Barret Wallace, and the cheerful but mysterious Aerith Gainsborough. And yes, the story is largely driven by the same key events: Avalanche destroys two Mako reactors, Shinra retaliates, and events unfold from there that eventually place the group hurtling towards a greater threat. Interposed between these events are scenes and sequences that expand on the characters, motivations, and the world of Final Fantasy VII. Players spend significantly more time with characters like Jessie, Biggs, and Wedge, see Tifa question the group’s actions, and get to explore the slums beneath Midgar and interact with the citizens who live down there. Beyond those changes are the strange hooded specters that were featured in early trailers, who maintain lingering role throughout the game and play a significant role in distinguishing the Final Fantasy VII Remake from its predecessor.

One of the challenges with expanding this part of Final Fantasy VII into a full game is that the original game didn’t spent a lot of time developing the characters to that point. And that wasn’t a problem because this section was only seven to ten hours of a thirty to forty hour (or longer) game. In fact, fans of the original will remember that one of the first big expositional moments doesn’t occur until after the group leaves Midgar and travels to the town of Kalm. Final Fantasy VII Remake devotes considerable time to expanding on a lot of the sections and interactions between the events in the original story to give players more time with the cast. For instance, in the original, the story pretty much immediately progressed from the first reactor mission to the next, but in Remake, an entire sequence is spent with Jessie, Biggs, and Wedge which serves to fill players in on Jessie’s background and motivations and helps to develop Midgar. I’m not going to go so far as to say I hated the added time spent with these characters, but at the same time, knowing where the story was headed, a lot of these new sections felt like unimportant distractions. That said, these detours were probably necessary to give Cloud some needed character growth. While Cloud is still largely the stoic and emotionless protagonist he was during this section in the original, these additions helped to crack his tough exterior which makes for much better interactions with characters like Tifa, Aerith, and Barret. In the same vein, while Midgar was a fairly linear story in the original game, the Remake lets players get a better picture of the disparity between those living above and those living below by offering a number of side quests that allow players to explore and interact with the slums.

While there are parts of Final Fantasy VII Remake that some fans might disagree with, I doubt there are many who are disappointed by the drastic graphical improvements. Over twenty years ago, Final Fantasy VII’s visuals were defined by the technology and technical limitations of the time. And while the backgrounds were often beautiful and the cutscenes were remarkable for their time, there’s no denying the in-game character models were comically blocky. Square-Enix has redesigned the characters to appear more realistic while staying true to their iconic looks. And it’s not just the characters, but the world itself that has received a graphical overhaul. Whether you’re playing through a section on the upper plate or completing side quests in the slums below, the visual details do a great job of emphasizing the different sides of life in Midgar.

Great care has also gone into both the game’s score and voice acting. From the moment you start the game, the game greets players with a new version of the memorable Opening ~ Bombing Mission track which has been beautifully updated. Remake does an exceptional job of maintaining this high musical bar throughout its playtime, mixing in new tracks with updated remixes of iconic themes and songs. My one complaint, and this has been an issue with a number of recent Final Fantasy games, I need Square-Enix to find a better way to incorporate Victory Fanfare. Don’t get me wrong, I would argue that Final Fantasy VII Remake has some of the best voice acting I’ve heard in a game in a long time, but hearing Barret belt it out from time to time after battles just did not work for me. Speaking of the voice acting, special praise needs to be given for the voice acting and writing of both Tifa and Aerith. Especially in regards to Tifa, I think it’s fair to say that Final Fantasy VII Remake has already done a lot more with her character than the original did across the whole game. One of the best examples is Tifa’s perspective on Avalanche’s actions and mission. Whereas Barret is unwavering in his commitment, Tifa expresses doubts throughout which do a better job framing Avalanche in a world that feels more gray than twenty years ago. Yes, Shinra is an evil corporation, but Avalanche is resorting to eco-terrorism to achieve their goals, and people are getting hurt by those actions.

Another significant update from the original is the new combat system. When earlier trailers for Final Fantasy 7 Remake showcased the new battle system, a lot of fans, myself included, were disappointed that the game was seemingly abandoning the iconic Active Time Battle system (ATB) of the original in favor of a real-time system seen in action role-playing games like Final Fantasy XV and the Kingdom Hearts franchise. However, having played the game, I will admit that the new system ended up growing on me and while there is still a part of me that misses the old system, I can appreciate how the Remake built upon and iterated on that system. The combat system isn’t purely a real time battle system, but a hybrid that incorporates elements of the ATB system. Every characters has an ATB gauge like the original, but can use basic attacks at no cost. The ATB gauge fills over time and as players use basic attacks, and once filled, players can open the command menu which slows time and allows players to choose between items to use, spells to cast, or a variety of abilities which cost one or two ATB charges. Players control a single character at a time while the other party members are controlled by AI, which has become the norm in recent games. However, players can either direct party members to use their ATB charges or freely switch between characters to control the best character for a particular situation. Once you get the hang of it, it is a fairly fun and flexible system that manages to innovate on the old system without abandoning everything players previously loved. All that said, as has been the norm in a lot of Square-Enix’s recent real-time combat systems, camera controls can be hit or miss. These issues become especially pronounced in closed areas or when you’re trying to flip between targets on the fly.

While I have a lot of praise for Final Fantasy VII Remake, that’s not to say the game is perfect or without flaws. From the beginning, we’ve known that this was only the first part of this saga, but we don’t know how many parts this journey will end up covering or how long it will take for us to get the entire story. We also don’t know when the next entry will come out and whether any progress from this game will carry over, or will each entry be essentially a fresh start. It also doesn’t help that this game focuses on such a small part of the whole. A lot of players were apprehensive when it was announced that this entry would focus entirely on the early parts of the game confined to Midgar, and having played through it, I go back to why not wait and release the full story? Especially when you look at a lot of the additional content that adds to the game’s playtime, such as the aforementioned segment between the bombing missions, the expanded sequence in the Train Graveyard, or the section that must be completed before starting Chapter 15, it's hard to shake the sense the game isn't filled with unnecessary bloat. Don’t get me wrong, there are sections I am glad Square-Enix expanded upon. However, if you remove all the superfluous content, I imagine there are less than twenty hours of content.

It is hard to review this game knowing Square-Enix could have made an HD remaster of the original Final Fantasy VII and fans would have loved it. And although the game’s bones are largely the same, the visuals, the music, the core gameplay, and yes, even the story have seen updates and changes. It’s also hard to review a game that’s the first piece in a saga that, as I mentioned earlier, we don’t know how long it is going to take to play out. One of the major questions that Remake has raised is, will this saga remain true to the original game and story? While some of the narrative changes are minor and likely will not have a significant impact on the story going forward, there are others that could drastically alter the story if Square-Enix decides to go in that direction. Should you play Final Fantasy VII Remake? Final Fantasy VII is one of the most beloved entries in the Final Fantasy franchise, this is a forum with deep ties to that franchise, and yes, you should. But know that this is not a perfect recreation of the game that most of us have played before, and going forward, who knows what this saga has in store for us.

The reunion at hand may bring joy; it may bring fear.
But let us embrace whatever it brings.

All images owned by Square-Enix.


  1. Draylo -
    Draylo's Avatar
    This game is amazing!