It’s in the aftermath of the opening hour of Final Fantasy VII Remake that the game starts to show how it’s going to change what so many hold dear. It’s not just the graphics and gameplay that has received an overhaul. The story and characters have too. Cloud, Barret and the other members of Avalanche, the eco-terrorist group a bulk of the protagonists fight for to begin with, are made the most interesting they’ve ever been. So too are the other members of your playable party, Tifa and Aerith. The game gives room for all of these characters to breathe. To grow as characters and show their flaws as well as what makes them heroes.
A lot of the key story beats from the original game remain, but things do change, as is expected with remakes. It never feels like a negative though. There’s much more intrigue to the city of Midgar and even non playable characters feel fairly well rounded. Walking through a city street and hearing people having conversations helps to bring Midgar to life like never before. So too, do the side quests. These pop up a few times during the story and give you an opportunity to not only get your hands on some cool items, but find out more about the city and its inhabitants. By doing side quests the way people talk to you changes too. Cloud is no longer just the guy with a big sword. He’s the guy with a big sword that took out X and helped with Y.
He’s also hilarious. In fact there’s a humour in the game, even in the main story. It helps to make the grim and oppressive city of Midgar slightly more palatable. All of the characters poke fun at each other and the vocal talent do a great job in elevating them to another level, making them even more likeable. Yet Final Fantasy VII Remake isn’t scared of the edgier side of things and handles them well. Shinra monopolises Midgar and it’s highlighted repeatedly as they try to weave narratives in their favour. Members of Avalanche understand the weight of what they do. Crime bosses treat people with little respect and act repulsively. Final Fantasy VII Remake understands the balancing act it needs to perfect between humour and drama and handles it better than the franchise ever has before.
The script isn’t the only thing that the game excels at. The combat is the best a Final Fantasy game has been for years. The blend of real time action to fill up your meters so you can then hit more varied moves takes some getting used to but when it clicks it’s a blast. Switching characters with the D-Pad or controlling with they do with the shoulder buttons means you have control even when you’re in the more active phase of combat. Rocking in with long range attacks from Barret or Aerith to deal damage from afar whilst using Tifa and Cloud to get up close and personal to deliver big damage feels great. It’s just a shame you never get the chance to use all four at once. It means you can’t really invest in just one set up for each character, as you’ll have to flip between who is the healer, the mage etc on the fly. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, there’s plenty of materia around to have multiples on people, but it does present an interesting headache for upgrading weapons.
If you’re new to Final Fantasy VII you may wonder what materia is. It’s mainly used to give characters magic attacks like fire and ice but there’s various other types too, such as ones that buff characters stats up. These are handy when you’re forced to make someone perform a role their stats may not be the strongest for. Characters with low MP, which is used to cast magic, may need a bit of a boost if they need to be fulfilling a mage role in the battle. Luckily, if you go into a battle underprepared and mess it up there’s a checkpoint system which will take you back to just before that battle to try again.
The weapon upgrade system also plays a part in making sure your characters have the best stats for certain roles. You can choose for it to fill automatically if you’re someone that doesn’t like that control but I enjoyed tinkering with the whole team to get the most out of my play style. Different weapons come with different special abilities. Once you’ve mastered them you’ll then have the chance to use them even without that weapon. It’s a smart way to encourage weapon variation and being able to constantly level up weapons means that the ones you had at the start doesn’t become completely useless a few hours in.
Which is useful, because this is a long game and you’ll want the option to mix things up. It took me just shy of 50 hours to complete the game, which included doing a bulk of the side quests. It was stable on the PlayStation 4 Pro minus one odd glitch which left me stranded in midair. This seemed to be a one off though as I could not replicate it. Even after putting so much time into the game I’m already looking forward to revisiting it. The game is broken up into chapters and although certain chapters are definitely stronger there’s fun moments to revisit in all of them. I’m also nowhere near levelling up all of my materia or weapons. Luckily there is a new game+ kind of thing you can utilise to give you time to do that and enjoy using them in the main game. I would still recommend taking your time in your initial run through though and absorbing yourself in the world as much as you can.
The world is a beautiful place to be absorbed in too. Final Fantasy VII Remake is one of the best looking games of this generation. You’ll want to explore as much as you can but unfortunately the game tries to restrict you from doing that too much. “I wonder what’s over there” you’ll think and start walking over before being told by another character that you’re going the wrong way. It’s a small issue but it’s one that feels a bit frustrating at times. The game does become a bit more free to explore later on but even then you’re kind of limited to where to go. Combat coliseum like areas add a layer of challenge to battles but there’s very few places in the world worth going back to, to fight and experiment with combat techniques. The story keeps pushing you forward for the most part so you’ll realise this soon enough but once you’ve done everything in certain areas you’ll have little reason to go back, minus to absorb the aesthetic of it.
If you’re someone that wants to experience the game without having to worry about quick paced combos then there is an option that lets combat play out for you naturally, with your instructions coming once the action bar is full, if you’d like to. There’s also options to change certain aspects of subtitles, which are a nice big size, but unfortunately there’s not much more in the way of accessibility. Everything else is more personal preference tweaks, like camera controls and brightness.
The original Final Fantasy VII is still considered to be one of the best RPGs of all time. Final Fantasy VII Remake is easily one of the best RPGs of this generation. There’s so much great stuff that happens in the game that you’ll be left wanting more, which is a small issue in itself. This is not a full story by a longshot and there’s still a long time to wait to see how Square Enix reimagine the full world of Final Fantasy VII in Remake. There’s no denying though that the quality that is present in this instalment is impressive. Final Fantasy VII Remake is the best Final Fantasy has been in years. It takes enough from its inspiration to feel familiar but what it does by itself lifts the story to new heights. It’s a great game for RPG fans but even those that aren’t will have a blast.
Featured Image Credit: Square Enix