Cloud Strife’s return is, simply put, beautiful and glorious.
Released way back in 1997 for the original PlayStation, Final Fantasy 7 is possibly the greatest game ever made. For a game released 23 years ago, Final Fantasy 7 was way ahead of the competition in terms of the technology implemented and the way video games told their stories. The RPG classic was in many ways a triumph for video games, which put them at the forefront of delivering intriguing narratives and complex storytelling. Now, finally, after more than two long decades, Square Enix have brought a high definition remake of the classic on the PlayStation 4, and every minute that I experienced with it was overloaded with nostalgia.
However, Final Fantasy 7 Remake is a different kind of a remake. The game that you are going to experience now is the first instalment of what is going to be multi-instalment release of the entire story. I was a bit skeptical of the developer’s decision to split the original game into multiple parts, and setting the first one entirely in Midgar, a location that just had a few hours of screen time in the original. But after experiencing the remake, I can confidently assess that this was the right decision, as it fleshes out not only Midgar as a setting, but also its characters and environments in staggering detail. Where the original game lasted around 40 hours for the main campaign, this first instalment of the remake will take you 25+ hours for just finishing main story- which was at most a 5-6 hour-section in the original game.
"Where the original game lasted around 40 hours for the main campaign, this first instalment of the remake will take you 25+ hours for just finishing main story- which was at most a 5-6 hour-section in the original game."
And this is without counting the side missions, which could easily bump the total playtime to around 40 hours. Stretching a section that was just a few hours in the original to a full-length game in the remake may make some players wary about whether the developers have simply stacked content upon content without any context, but let me assure you that is not the case with this remake. The way Square Enix have used the Midgar section of the game to expand the story and build characters deserves a lot of praise, and can only be described as an extraordinary experience.
For those who are unaware of the basic plot of Final Fantasy 7, here is a bit of synopsis. You take on the role of a mercenary named Cloud Strife, who is hired by AVALANCHE, an eco-terrorist group led by Barret Wallace. Your mission is to fight against the megacorporation Shinra Electric Power Company, whose unethical exploitation of the planet’s life energy, called the Lifestream, spins the cogs of their corporate machine. During your journey you will meet a vast cast of characters, including fan favorites like Aerith, Tifa, Barret, and more.
Without spoiling anything from the story, Square Enix have ensured that each of the major characters’ story arc is properly fleshed out. The original was praised for its excellent storytelling and is still celebrated as a champion of depicting a fascinating tale. Now ramp that up with even more focus on each character’s ambitions and emotions, and you have a story that is unprecedented in scale. There are plenty of moments in the game that will leave a lasting emotional impact on you in various ways, and that’s all thanks to the writing and some outstanding voice actors, who are able to deliver a wide range of emotions. The critical beats of the Midgar storyline are largely kept intact, but fleshed out more through additional missions, new scenes, and a couple of surprising story twists that will be appreciated by old and new fans alike.
"Limit Breaks return from the original, allowing each playable character to deal a special attack, such as Cloud’s Cross Slash, Aerith’s Healing Wind, Tifa’s Somersault, and Barret’s Fire in the Hole."
Combat is the next big change in this remake, which, unlike the original, happens in real time. Players can use a wide range of actions by simply pausing the action and use magic, items, and various attacks. Furthermore, you can also switch between characters with the press of a button. This is a major departure from the turn-based style of the original; however, the game features a Classic mode, which sort of recreates the original combat system. In this system, characters will automatically attack, dodge, or block to fill up the ATB bar, following which the player will select special attacks from the menu, thereby bringing the game’s combat system closer to the original’s command-based mechanics.
The combat system also allows each playable character to have unique commands. For instance, Cloud can switch to Punisher mode, which makes his movement slow but allows him to deal more powerful attacks. Barret can use his Overcharge command to fire a heavy shot the enemy, Tifa can deal a Whirling Uppercut, and Aerith can use Tempest, which can be charged up to increase damage.
Limit Breaks return from the original, allowing each playable character to deal a special attack, such as Cloud’s Cross Slash, Aerith’s Healing Wind, Tifa’s Somersault, and Barret’s Fire in the Hole. The combat feels remarkably solid almost giving you the feel that this is a Platinum developed game. The impact feels great and there is a sense of satisfaction after defeating a difficult foe. And the really good thing is that Final Fantasy 7 Remake is filled with a ton of combat sequences and thanks to its solid mechanics it never felt old.
"You can also make your weapons more powerful using Materia. For example, if players equip the Thunder Materia to Cloud’s storm, the player will be able to cast a thunder spell."
The game also features a weapon upgrade system, which will improve various aspects of weapons, including but not limited to increasing attack power. Every weapon that you will procure during your playthrough will be available for upgrades of various attributes by spending points. Another interesting thing to note here is the more you use a weapon, the more proficient you will become with its abilities. Each ability comes with a proficiency bonus, so, for example, if you manage to improve Focused Thrust to 100% proficiency, you will be able to easily stagger enemies as a bonus.
You will also be able to collect Materia (or buy it), which further enhances combat. New Materia are also present in the remake that not only give you classic spells like Cure and Regen, but also impact on-field actions. For example, using the Deadly Dodge Materia will allow for a melee attack even after the player has evaded from an enemy.
You can also make your weapons more powerful using Materia. For example, if players equip the Thunder Materia to Cloud’s storm, the player will be able to cast a thunder spell. The more you use it, the more powerful it will become, thereby unlocking even more powerful forms. The game also allows you to link different Materia. So, if Cloud places the Thunder Materia in his armor and also uses the same Materia for his sword, then he will become resistant to Thunder attacks from enemies, on top of improvements to his own thunder attacks.
"Despite featuring a robust combat progression system, the game doesn’t push you to strategize your build for different enemy encounters, so most players will often opt for a mindless hack and slash route to take down the enemies."
And lastly, you can, of course, also use Summon Materia to, well, summon powerful beings to inflict devastating attacks on enemies. It’s a great mechanic for an already packed combat system, and I found Summons to be extremely useful in situations where my chips were down. Overall, the weapon customization and Materia system is extremely in-depth and many players will find themselves coming up with a wide variety of builds for each character, resulting into different combat experiences for different players.
Despite featuring a robust combat progression system, the game doesn’t push you to strategize your build for different enemy encounters, so most players will often opt for a mindless hack and slash route to take down the enemies. Final Fantasy 7 Remake on normal mode isn’t the most difficult game out there, so most players may not use the in-depth combat system to its full potential during non-boss encounters.
Speaking of enemies, Square Enix have done tremendous work in designing the enemies, from the most insignificant ones to the set-piece bosses you will come up against. This is all down to some excellent art design that has a strong mix of fantasy and cyberpunk. The game features incredible boss fights and brilliant set pieces that will test your determination and grit. For the sake of spoilers, I can’t talk about them, but the boss fights in the game will push you to strategize your battle plans and are supremely satisfying, unlike the usual encounters with weaker foes.
"The game features incredible boss fights and brilliant set pieces that will test your determination and grit."
As noted earlier in this review, Midgar has been beautifully recreated and is brimming with intricate details in the remake. However, most of it is an extremely linear experience. Granted, there are a few open spaces, but Final Fantasy 7 Remake is largely a “point A to point B” kind of experience. This is not necessarily a negative strike against this game, but if you are expecting something in line with the open world sections of Final Fantasy 15, then you will likely be pretty disappointed.
Despite being a linear experience though, Square Enix have left no stone unturned in filling this world with every imaginable detail possible. Whether it be the slums or underground areas, each location has been intricately crafted and is a delight to explore. The game also features some mini-games, which fans of the original will instantly recognize. You can indulge in squats, shooting darts, and more. It’s a small part of the experience, but it adds to overall package nonetheless. There are also a ton of side missions, but I can’t go into much detail regarding how they work without spoiling them. Suffice it to say, most of the content here is on par with the main campaign. They serve a purpose, have proper story arcs, and do not merely act as filler content.
On the technical front, Square Enix have done a remarkable job in remaking the game’s world and characters. Each character in the game has been intricately modelled, the lighting and particle effects expertly handled, cutscenes are simply superb, and the visuals on the whole can easily rival the ones we saw in Advent Children- which was a CG movie, so that’s saying something.
"Final Fantasy 7 Remake manages to deliver a special experience that makes our wait for the next part seem like an incredibly arduous task."
At times, it feels simply unbelievable that all of this is running on the PS4, a hardware that is horrendously outdated at this time. However, some of the texture work in the game is of very low quality. You can easily spot them in various environmental assets and objects; though this is perhaps a necessary compromise to deliver those spectacular visuals that I spoke of.
There is so much to like about Final Fantasy 7 Remake that most of these issues seem very minor in the larger scheme of things. Despite being a remake of a 1997 game, Final Fantasy 7 Remake feels like a totally original experience, and it justifies Square Enix’s decision to follow up on it with sequels. Its story, graphics, world, and combat are truly spectacular, and it’s a game that is the very definition of the word “nostalgia”. It manages to deliver a special experience that makes our wait for the next part seem like an incredibly arduous task.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 4.
Excellent combat system, outstanding voice acting and visuals, superb transition of Midgar from the original, exciting boss encounters, side quests are rewarding.
Level design is linear, some shoddy texture work.
To begin with, it’s not an easy-peasy task to remake Final Fantasy 7. But Square Enix have not only done that, but they have also managed to deliver one of the finest RPG experiences of this generation.