By Joe Delaney
Remaking an old game is both a huge compliment and a biting insult.
On one hand, you’re saying that this game is a beloved classic, and we need to devote resources toward recreating its brilliance for a modern audience. But then again, you’re also saying that this game doesn’t hold up to today’s standards, and it needs an update to remain relevant. Whether it’s simply a cosmetic makeover (like most HD remasters), or a ground-up overhaul that changes the game’s design (like Resident Evil 2 and 3’s remakes), the message is clear: these remakes are meant to replace the originals.
That’s what most people assumed Final Fantasy VII Remake was going to do. As stated in my retrospective piece, the original holds up for the most part, but it looks terrible even for a 5th generation title. It’s battle system, while loved by many, was not without its flaws.
A straight retelling with prettier graphics and a new battle system would’ve been well-received, and for much of FF7R’s runtime, that’s exactly what it is. But by the time the credits roll, you realize that this game was never meant to be a replacement to the PS1 classic. In fact, I’d say that only people with at least a passing knowledge of the original game will fully grasp what the remake is trying to accomplish. It’s a companion piece, a love letter, a reverent yet subversive remix. It’s not the game I thought it would be, and it’s all the better for it.
Visually speaking, it’s a huge glow up from the original, with character models that look like real people, and not microwaved Legos. The NPCs who offer side quests look about as bad as the ones in Final Fantasy XV, but the main cast and most supporting characters look incredible. And for a game that takes place entirely in one city, the environments rarely got stale to look at.
Within the span of three chapters, you’ll explore a sleazy yet alluring red light district, a treacherous sewer, and train graveyard that feels straight out of a horror game. My only complaint is that I would’ve liked to see more of the city’s topside, since nearly the entire game takes place below the steel sky.
When it comes to the music, all they had to do was not change anything. I’m glad to say that most of the classic songs are all intact. They’ve been enhanced with modern technology, but Nobuo Uematsu’s brilliant compositions are largely unchanged. It’s soundtracks like this that make you realize just how forgettable most music is in modern video games.
The new songs here aren’t as instantly catchy as the old ones, but they definitely hold their own against the classics. My favorite of the new tracks was the one that plays during the train graveyard section, a somber piano piece that perfectly captures the tragedy of the spirits trapped there.
Obviously, the game’s sights and sounds have been improved, but they remain faithful to the aesthetic of the original. Along with the story, it’s in the gameplay department where FF7R deviates the most from its source material.
Turn-based battles have been abandoned in favor of a more action-centered approach similar to most modern Final Fantasy games. The combat is hit or miss, and I mean that literally: my attacks missed enemies as often as they landed.
I almost never found myself using my more powerful spells like Blizzaga because most foes would jump out of the way before the attack landed, and that’s only if my character wasn’t attacked first during the absurdly long wind up. Even limit breaks aren’t guaranteed to land. You don’t know true pain until you think you’ve cornered your opponent and unleash your limit break only for them to escape, while you watch Cloud perform Cross Strike into thin air.
The combat works well most of the time, and on occasion, is absolutely thrilling. I do wish that your teammate AI did more independently from your direct commands, but I can see why Square Enix wanted it this way. Once you get into the flow of switching from character to character, unleashing powerful attacks to stagger your enemies, it feels great.
Admittedly, I’m not that great at it, since I’m pretty bad at most RPG combat outside of the Souls games. I barely got through my first run on Normal Mode, I breezed through my second run on New Game Plus, and now I’m trying my hand on Hard Mode, so wish me luck.
Before delving into spoilers for the plot, I figured I’d give my final verdict on the game before going into the more revealing details. Honestly, the story and characters are my favorite aspect of this game, which is what elevates it above it’s solid, yet flawed gameplay.
It’s an obvious recommendation to anyone who loved the original. For anyone who hasn’t played the first game, well, let’s just say you’re going to be a little lost. So maybe read the Wikipedia summary of that game’s plot before going into this.
Spoilers below this tasteful picture of Cloud in drag.
Since you’re reading past this point, I’m assuming you’ve either finished FF7R, have already been spoiled, or just don’t care about spoilers. And when I say finished it, I’m specifically talking about the Remake, because if you’ve just played the original, then you can still get spoiled here.
One last warning before I get into it … it’s time to talk about that Cloud and Sephiroth love scene.
Okay, that didn’t actually happen (although you could cut the sexual tension between those two with a buster sword). But hey, anything can happen now in this series. People were disappointed when they initially found out that this game would only cover the Midgar portion of the original game, but now it’s clear why they’re doing this.
I’m cautiously optimistic about where this is going, but considering how well they handled the storytelling in this first entry, I’m more optimistic than I am cautious.
Every one of the characters is handled so well here. The cast in the original has always been iconic and likable, but over the course of my 30-hour playthrough of Remake, I truly grew to love them.
Nearly all the characters are portrayed perfectly, from design to dialogue to voice acting (I know, good voice acting in a Final Fantasy game, these truly are the end times). But I have to give a shoutout to two characters in particular: Cloud and Aerith.
The former was always a brooding pretty boy. He’s certainly that here, too, but there’s so much more to him now. His emotional detachment toward the other characters (especially Jessie, who really wants Cloud to eat her pizza) leads to both some of the best laughs in the game, but also some of the most heartfelt scenes, too. My fiancée described him as a male Tsundere, and I couldn’t have put it better myself.
One of the best touches they included was how the post-battle banter between him and Barrett evolves over the course of the game. They start off being dismissive of one another, but toward the end of the game, they start complimenting each other. The 90’s angst of old Cloud has been replaced with something much more sincere and relatable, and it’s one of my favorite changes from the original.
As for Aerith, she’s always been more famous for her death than for her personality. But here, she’s just so charming, funny, kind, and strong, that it makes knowing her (possible) eventual fate all the more heartbreaking.
It was also nice to see her given so much more time to interact with the other characters, especially with Tifa. When she was taken captive in the original, I was determined to save her for sure, but at that same part in the Remake, I was thinking “if you pieces of shit touch one hair on her perfectly rendered head, no Whispers will save you from what I’m gonna do to you.”
Speaking of the Whispers, they’re sure to be the most controversial thing about this game. They’re basically a metaphor for the purists who wanted this game to follow the exact plot of the original game, because that’s literally what the Whispers are trying to do.
For most of the game, they try to make sure that the events unfold the same here as they did in the first game, they’re ultimately unsuccessful in keeping destiny on track. Characters like Biggs and Zack, who were absolutely killed in the original, are shown to be alive and well here (although it appears with Zack, he’s in an alternate timeline).
Once you destroy the Whispers at the end of this game, that basically means that the story from here on out is free from the confines of the original plot.
Does this mean that we’ll have a completely new adventure from here on out, or will the broad strokes remain the same with only some small changes? Will we still see beloved characters like Cid and Vincent, and not-so-beloved characters like Yuffie and Cait Sith (who already had a cameo in the first game, but hey, hopefully he doesn’t show up in the sequel). Will Cloud end up with Tifa, Aerith, or in the warm embrace of Sephiroth where he belongs?
I don’t know. The future of the Final Fantasy Remake series is unclear, and that’s what’s so exciting.