Final Fantasy VII Remake
Reviewed on: PS4
Reviewer: Tabitha Dickerson
Review Play-Time: 80h
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Review Published: 2020-05-05
+ The Midgar aesthetic is spot on
+ The music is as breathtaking as it was years ago
+ Visuals are lovingly and fairly-accurately recreated.
+ Combat is revamped and feels incredibly fresh
+ Nanaki's voice acting is spot on
- Can't use Classic Mode on the Hard Difficulty
- Sidequests are repetitive fetch quests
- Some minor gameplay annoyances
- Some voice lines don't have the weight they should
- The story is very different from the original and removes some of the best scenes in the game
Editor's Note: Minor plot spoilers are contained in this review.
Final Fantasy VII Remake is, as the name suggests, a remake of the classic Final Fantasy VII JRPG developed and published by Square Enix. Fewer games have managed to have the cultural impact on a generation, like Final Fantasy 7 did. Replacing Xenogears as the standout Squaresoft title of the mid to late 90's, FFVII managed to push the boundaries of what could be achieved both graphically, and technically; changing the scope of games that would follow it, while surpassing anything that came before. Without all the crazy flashy, shiny graphics of the current year, it managed to take a more subdued and subtle approach in comparison with later Squaresoft (now Square Enix) titles.
Boasting graphical fidelity, and cementing itself as the first three dimensional outing for the Final Fantasy series as a whole, there was a lot of hype and expectation riding on it, and for the most part it delivered. Aside from really janky minigame mechanics and the occasional glaring plothole, it managed to tell a story with relatable characters, who embark on a quest to save the world from essentially one great big violent climate change! Despite all of its flaws, the original game still managed to have a lot of heart, and it was clear the developers had a lot of fun making it as they went along; as flying batshit as the plot was.
Avid fans of the original may have a tough time chewing on this one. All the basic elements are there, but they come together to form a very different sum. The visuals have been lovingly created, and it looks great. The gameplay is a blast, even on Hard and the soundtrack is very nostalgic. At times the game coasts on nostalgia, but FF7R brings enough to the table that anyone looking for a fun little action RPG romp will probably want to pick this one up.
Enter year 2005, where Square and Sony together decided to recreate the iconic sabotage intro from the beloved '97 jrpg. A technical demo was showcased, to prove what the Playstation 3 could do in terms of graphical fidelity and framerate improvements. The audience was wowed and fanboys everywhere salivated at the possibility of a remake. There's just one problem:
A remake was never on the cards.
Following the events of an ex-SOLDIER-turned-mercenary, Final Fantasy 7R starts off in much the same way as the PSX original. A lone girl wanders the streets as a man bumps into her. Knocking her basket of flowers on the ground she kneels to pick them as another bystander tramples them accidentally. The girl looks up at as a car passes by and the camera pans up to reveal a living, breathing steampunk nightmare of a city. The green glow of Mako Reactor no.1 can be seen in the distance, burning brightly as two helicopters cut across the night sky, revealing a city that never sleeps, between the bones of its citizens and the steel of its confined walls. This is Midgar. We're back once more. A single train speeds towards its destination, before grinding to a halt in front of some armed SOLDIERS on a night shift, protecting the facility. A swift kick to the gut and they go down without any trouble, as an armour-clad figure with blond hair and a sword twice his height jumps gracefully from its roof.
The story of FF7R follows the bare bones of the PSX original, starting with the attempted sabotage of Mako Reactor 01. Cloud dispatches the guards, explaining he's just there to get paid: Jessie fawns over Cloud, Barret finds Cloud abrasive, Wedge really likes food, Biggs is great at hacking etc. It's all here, right up until after you beat the Guard Scorpion boss and set the timer on the explosives. Cloud and co begin their escape, Jessie gets injured and rescued by Cloud, so on and so forth. We've heard it all before, right? Except there's one important detail. The bomb that blows the reactor to smithereens has no effect. The reactor is still intact. Jessie's bomb has almost no effect on the inner workings of the reactor, and it's here where some of the problems start to arise. FF7 isn't really the faithful remake most fans seemed to want and waited 23 years for; rather it's a not so subtle departure from the story we've all grown up with.
Cloud is a little more abrasive than the original, Aeris is more likeable, Barret is still well, he's still basically Mr T with a prosthetic gun-arm. Jessie gets wet at the mere sight or mention of Cloud (seriously, it's a little annoying) and events don't quite happen the same this time round. Changing things here and there would be fine. The original game did have a few glaring issues occasionally that a rewrite could have done wonders for. Sadly, it seems Squenix decided to go the other route, immediately working about little changes into the overall plot (some of which work and some of which don't) and telling things slightly differently. This wouldn't bother me personally, if the changes didn't affect the pacing and the inclusion of key elements in the game. Unfortunately they do.
(MINOR SPOILERS FOLLOW!)
Several important elements of the game seem to carry less weight as a result of these changes, with the emotional nuances of some conversations or the context changed entirely. Previous lines from the game in some sections have been entirely omitted, along with important scenes. Some of Cloud's line delivery makes previously emotionally charged scenes come across as unintentionally hilarious or glib. Sadly, they entirely removed one of my favorite scenes in Shinra Corp where Cloud and co wake from their prison, only to find most of Shinra slaughtered, and soon after discover the President-kebob impaled with the Masamune. There's also a scene at the beginning of the game after Mako Reactor 01 where everyone in the streets is screaming and panicking, and some of Cloud's lines delivered during this seem glib and almost comical in comparison; very immersion breaking.
The story of FF7R is far more linear than the original, removing the chance to explore certain areas for goodies that you could in the original, and always keeping you moving. If you try to fight the game or think you can break or ignore a sequence of events, guess again. During important story parts, the game will force you into tight narrative corridors, and if you choose to take another path it will politely let you know you're going the wrong way, like you're a car in the Gran Turismo series. This can be really frustrating to those who enjoyed the exploratory freedom of the original, and forcing players down a certain path really feels limiting and at times jarring.
This is an odd choice. On one hand, I can understand that they didn't want a 1:1 retelling of the exact same story, in order to keep even veterans engaged, but on the other, this decision has I feel negatively affected some of the nuances and psychologically disturbing aspects of the game, while straight up destroying the atmosphere in some scenes. There are positives to the story. Every character's motivation and their personalities are delved into deeper and we are given more insight into their strengths and weaknesses. Some of them are made more human by these additions of little added dialogue snippets here and there, and certain sections are a massive improvement (particularly the sewers and the train yard sections), but in some way it feels like some of the charm has been lost. Some scenes are improved by the inclusion of these extra fleshed out inclusions, managing to retain the charming goofiness of the original, while others just straight up erase what the PSX title built upon. Technical restrictions meant the developers in 1997 had to focus more on the world building and the storytelling through words, rather than just visuals. Here, it seems some of the depth and scope of the story is actively harmed in favour of "rule of cool" flashy effects and heavily anime inspired gravity-defying fights. Sure it looks good, but I can't help but feel like something is missing.
Borrowing lightly from FFXIII, VIIR adds the stagger mechanic to its combat. Each enemy has different strengths and weaknesses that you'll need to exploit in order to do some serious damage. This can be frustrating at times when the enemies move around a lot, making it hard to exploit their weak point, because honestly without staggering them, almost all the bosses in the game are incredible bullet/slice sponges. Exploiting each boss's weakness increases the stagger bar below their health. Punishment mode is also pretty decent at helping to stagger them too. Your initial stagger percentage will add 160% extra damage onto every attack you deal during this time ,and the percentage can be raised even further once Tifa joins the party.
The main character and the easiest one to come to grips with is Cloud. Cloud's sword can deal a fair bit of damage, and he can build his ATB the fastest. Initially most players will just block and soak damage within the default "Operator" mode, building their ATB and using spells willy-nilly, but in the later Chapters and Hard mode; where the game ramps up in difficulty, you'll want to take advantage of "Punishment" mode. Punishment mode lives up to its name and is a bit of a double-edged sword.
While in Punishment mode, any physical attack made towards Cloud will result in a counterattack and deal a decent amount of damage. Where this can become tricky is fighting multiple enemies. Dodging takes Cloud out of punishment mode and mobility is severely limited in it. If you take damage in punishment mode, you'll take more than usual, if not blocking. This is a pain against ranged enemies and can be frustrating until you've managed to close the gap. When fighting a range enemy punishment mode is virtually useless. The camera getting stuck all the time doesn't help matters either; especially when the enemies are stun-locking or cancelling your ATB attack. Operator doesn't deal as much damage but in certain fights it can be much safer. Mastering both is the key to success.
Every character in combat has their own set of unique abilities (all based on previous limit breaks) and some are more tankier than others. Cloud hits like a truck, Tifa is extremely quick and can increase stagger damage, Barret is a slow burn damage dealer and sponge and not very mobile. Aerith is still well, basically the White Magician Girl. What is nice this time round is Pray is actually pretty darn effective compared to the PSX version, and in later difficulties almost becomes essential to keep everyone alive and conserve mp.
Materia more or less works the same way it did in the original, though you earn summons differently. You slot it into weapons and every battle you take part in increases your level of materia. Higher levels of materia give you access to more powerful spells and abilities, and so on. Each time a character levels up they earn SP which can be used to upgrade their weapons with extra materia slots or mp charge abilities and damage buffs. It's all pretty intuitive and keeps the flow of the game going.
The soundtrack... Wow! All your favorite tracks are here, re-scored and sounding better than ever. The audio has been remastered and in some cases the instrumentation has been altered. It still sounds great, fits all the scenes and overall brought on a huge wave of warm nostalgia to me for the 45 hours I carved a path through the game. The Shinra track is haunting, Aerith's music still has a touch of sadness to it. The seedy music of the slums and Wall Market all sounds spot on. If I had to give a score to the music alone, it would easily be a 9/10 and for me it was the highlight of the game.
The voice acting is well, a bit of a mixed bag. Some scenes, the voice has sadly removed the subtlety and nuance from certain events. The Sector 7 plate incident felt like it lost a lot of its initial weight, because of the voice acting. Cloud is far more colder, and doesn't talk as much. His lines within some of the more serious moments fail to hit the mark occasionally. Jessie has more characterisation and her voice is spot on. Barrett is pretty true to his character, but it feels almost like they gave him too many lines in comparison with everyone else. It's hard to really give an opinion on the voice acting. Sometimes it's spot on the mark and other times it detracts from the scene. I will say they did a great job with Nanaki's performance and I'm sad they changed some of his lines.