After thirty-nine hours, I am finally finished my first playthrough. Just to clarify, I am well aware it has been almost two months since Final Fantasy VII Remake launched. I had been putting off completing it. My family and I were in the process of packing and getting ready to move, but here we are. It’s bittersweet. My time with Remake has been nothing but pure joy. At times it definitely feels like there was content added to the game for the sake of padding out the runtime, but for the majority, it hit all the right notes. Remake retains what made the original so special, while providing a new and gorgeous experience for fans and newcomers to discover.
If you’re unaware, this release is the first installment for Remake. Game Director Tetsuya Nomura hasn’t verified how many parts will release (or when they will), but this part of Final Fantasy VII Remake takes place over the course of the Midgar section from the original PS1 game. Midgar only took a few hours to complete before you were set out onto the world map. Remake’s Midgar on the other hand, takes its time with its story. If you complete every side quest like I did, you’re looking at around forty hours your first time through. That time also factors into how much level grinding you want to do. I was level 40 (out of 50) when I beat the final boss.
The story of Cloud joining the rebel group Avalanche in an attempt to make some extra gil but getting embroiled in something far more grander in scale is all intact here. Events play out mostly the same, but there are little bits added to spice them up. The first assault on Mako Reactor #1 ends up having a much bigger impact on the citizens of Midgar then in the original. It is made very apparent that blowing up the reactor and what you’re doing to save the planet verges on terrorism. The original hinted at stuff like this, but Remake makes it much more apparent. The streets are in chaos, with debris collapsing everywhere around you as you try to make it back to your base of operations. Due to the limitations of the PS1, we didn’t get to see the aftermath. It’s little touches like this that really bring the world to life and add depth to each moment.
Along with added story elements, the characters are so much more fleshed out here. They’re all voice acted and each one is extremely well done. Avalanche members Jessie, Biggs & Wedge get way more screen time this time around, which ultimately makes you care about them more. Even Cloud feels more relatable as the game progresses. He isn’t just some angry soldier all the time who wishes he’d rather be somewhere else. Yes, he starts out like this, but there are hints or grins that he makes later on when talking to characters that bring his personality to life. He is shy and reserved but starts to become more open and actually care about the people around him. Tifa, Barrett & Aerith are recreated here true to their original PS1 days, and they grow as the story develops and the banter between them feels natural. By the final battle, seeing the group together taking on a world destroying threat gave me major goosebumps. I became so attached to the characters that I’m honestly dreading what’s going to happen to them in the later installments. I don’t think my heart can take it.
Throughout the duration of Remake, you’ll control Cloud, Tifa, Barrett & Aerith. Cloud & Tifa deal melee attacks, while Barrett & Aerith deal ranged damage. You can equip each of them with different weapons, armor and trinkets. Materia makes a comeback as well. Based on how many materia slots your weapon or armor has, you can equip them with Materia (magic spells) like Fire, Blizzard, Cure, Haste or Barrier to help give you an edge in combat. It’s nice to see the systems from the original are faithfully recreated here, which leads me to my next point…
The best part of Remake by far is the combat. I was cautiously optimistic about the switch from turn-based to action combat, considering just how great Dragon Quest XI was with bringing turn-based to modern consoles. A turn-based Final Fantasy VII Remake could have been amazing, but I was blown away at what the action combat brings to the table here. Each character in your party has a normal and hard attack mapped to the square and triangle buttons. Pushing the X button will bring up a menu that gives you access to abilities that you’ll immediately find familiar if you’re a fan of the original. Cloud’s Braver ability is no longer a Limit Break, so as long as your ATB gauge is full, you can pull off a special ability. You will find yourself inputting various special attacks on the fly, while switching to other characters to heal or provide magic attacks. It looks and feels great. I found myself just getting into random fights or spending time leveling characters and it never felt like a chore. Summons make a grand appearance too and they look fantastic. They’re flashy and beautiful to look at, with the camera panning and zooming around the action. It definitely retains the cinematic presentation from the original, but the summons don’t take fifteen minutes to work this time.
Despite the overwhelming praise I have for Final Fantasy VII Remake, it isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. Side quests aren’t that great and ended up being the bane of my existence. Finding lost cats for a little girl is a bore. Honestly, I am drawing a blank right now as far as available side quests go (that’s just how memorable they are), but the cat quest is seared into my brain. If you want to one-hundred percent complete the game, you’re just going to have to grin and bear it. In the grand scheme of things I suppose, these aren’t mandatory and are just a minor hiccup in an otherwise fantastic game.
Final Fantasy VII Remake redefines what a remake can be. It is a game that has been meticulously built from the ground up to replicate the feel of the original, but it has become something completely different in the process. Tetsuya Nomura and his team should be proud of what they have accomplished, and I am eagerly waiting the next installment. Hopefully it won’t take thirteen years to arrive this time. – NVJ
Final Fantasy VII Remake is now available on PS4