Developed and Published by Square Enix
Available on PS4 and PS4 Pro – Reviewed on PS4
Released April 10, 2020
When Final Fantasy VII Remake was unveiled back in 2015, saying the fanbase was excited was an understatement. Often being touted as one of the greatest entries in the franchise, the hype and expectation for this remake was immense. When revealed later that it would be split into multiple parts, concerns began to appear amongst the community, particularly if each part would feel like a satisfying, full game? With a roughly 30 hour campaign, while it does have the length of a full game, the reality is that Final Fantasy VII Remake is an experience that, with the exception of brilliant moments peppered throughout, is spread thin and bloated with unnecessary, dull filler.
This first part takes place entirely in the city of Midgar, a section which lasted about 4-5 hours in the original. In terms of main story events, it is mostly the same, apart from an extended final section. You play as Cloud, an ex-soldier of the Shinra corporation, who joins Tifa and Barret, members of the eco-terrorist group known as Avalanche. This group aims to take down Shinra, who are slowly killing the planet with their mako reactors. Along the way, Cloud is split up from the group and encounters Aerith, who is later revealed to be the last surviving Cetra or “Ancient,” an old race of the planet. For those that played the original, a lot of the story will be familiar to you, however, there are some major changes to the narrative that we’ll come onto later, particularly with the iconic antagonist, Sephiroth.
Arguably the biggest change in this remake, is the combat. No longer is the game turn-based like in the original, instead, a fluid and dynamic, action-combat system takes its place. This now happens nearly entirely in real time, with a few exceptions. Over the course of the game, you’ll be able to take control and command four characters, each having their own strengths and weaknesses. Sword wielding Cloud is often the best all-rounder, with a focus on hard hitting melee attacks. Barret is best at taking down aerial foes, Tifa is the most agile, while Aerith excels at magic. You’ll often want to switch up who you’re specifically controlling, to have the most fun and manage the games ATB gauge. Speaking of which.
Each of your heroes has their own ATB gauge that slowly fills up on its own, however, you’ll often have to swap party members and carry out attacks yourself, as this fills up the gauge quicker. I thought this was a great way at forcing the player to really diversify their play style, and not just sticking with a single character. This ATB gauge is also very important to succeeding in combat, as magic and special abilities require a certain number of segments to activate. I found this to be both a blessing and a curse. While this was great at making the player spread out their attacks and not just spam certain abilities in one go, it also just added another arbitrary step to using crucial abilities and items. There were many times where I was desperately needing to heal, but had no ATB segments to spare, so I couldn’t even use a potion to recover a bit of health. It wasn’t anything terrible, but it did add a minor annoyance in certain situations.
As a way of managing your spells/abilities through menus in combat, time will slow to a crawl, allowing you to choose them for your party without much stress of being mauled by an enemy while you strategise. It’s here where some bigger cracks in the game’s design start to present themselves. While you can hotkey skills to reduce issues somewhat, you will still find yourself constantly pausing to allocate abilities for the whole group. When the action combat is so good and pretty fast-paced, the continuous stopping every 10 seconds to micromanage everyone, completely breaks up the flow of combat. This is mainly caused by the near complete lack of party A.I. in the game. The characters you aren’t controlling will not do much, apart from conservatively doing basic attacks on the enemy. They won’t use any abilities or spells, even heal if critically injured. You will have to manage everything. While some may not see this as a problem, it undeniably affects the games combat, as I could never fully enjoy the action system, due to stopping every 10 seconds, sometimes quicker. I felt this could have been made so much better if there was an option to turn on A.I. autonomy in some capacity. There is a “turn based” mode, but in reality, it’s just a different variation of the default mode, where you’re just left to manage the abilities of the party while the difficulty is set to easy.
The bosses are where the game shines in my opinion. Each one really feels like a cinematic event, and they feel so unique in their design to one another. Right from the very first one, they really test the player’s skill and ability to manage their party. Many have multiple phases and its up to you figure out their weakness and exploit it to turn the battle in your favour. There are also times where the environment plays a part in the fight, requiring you to avoid certain environmental aspects, whilst using the battleground to your advantage to block attacks. These boss fights are nearly always thrilling and it’s clear a lot of time went into making them that way. Now there are some faults that do hold these back partly. In particular, they can often be damage sponges, even early on and when you exploit weaknesses. There were quite a few times where the bosses were just a slog to fight through. However, I felt this was often only a problem in the early stages of the game, where huge health pools aren’t typically expected.
Also, I hated the Hell House boss fight, mainly due to the issue I just mentioned, but also because of the game’s inherent combat design. It was completely necessary to use magic in order to win, where Aerith was the main magic user. This meant I needed to pretty much stay as her the entire fight, in order to quickly build up the ATB segments to use the necessary magic. However, she is also pretty weak in close combat, causing frustration when enemies are often glued to the player controlled character. While the fight looked epic, it was just an unbearable and frustrating slog.
There is also the ability to summon Eidolons to fight by your side in tough situations. It’s similar in ways to the implementation in Final Fantasy XV, making it a bit hit or miss. In order to be able to summon, you first need to find the red materia throughout the game. Once you equip them to a character, you’ll have the opportunity to summon one of these powerful deities under certain, often random, conditions. In boss fights and some other larger encounters, a purple bar will appear in the corner of the screen, allowing you to summon. They will then appear on the battlefield and fight alongside you, where the equipped character can use ATB segments to activate powerful abilities they can use. It’s an amazing sight to see these iconic creatures fight for you, especially with the incredible level of detail they have. However, the random nature of how to summon them can often be frustrating, where you often don’t have the chance when you really need them.
It’s important to mention the way in which abilities and spells are learned. It’s mostly similar to that of the original, where spells and skills are learnt through equipping materia to the character’s weapon or accessory. Those that are equipped, can then be levelled up through AP earned from battles. However, there are now character specific abilities learnt through mastering the various weapons you can find throughout the game. These weapons can also be levelled up to become stronger and gain new passive skills. This all adds a new degree of customisation that is improved from the original. But, there is one aspect that is utterly pointless, which is mastering the weapon specific ability. You’d initially think this means wielding the weapon and using that ability a large number of times, but in reality, all it is is using that ability 4 or 5 times, which can often be done in a couple of fights, sometimes even in a single one. This means you can use the weapon for about 10 minutes, master the ability, then ditch that weapon for the one you prefer. It often made the need to use a variety of weapons redundant, since you can master the abilities comically fast. Despite the grips I had, the combat overall is the best aspect of the game. Unfortunately, the rest of the gameplay and narrative choices fall far short, presenting many significant issues.
Many of the problems in this game are a result of the decision to split the game into multiple parts. Putting it simply, it’s a roughly 4 hour section that’s been stretched into a 30 hour game, where most of the gameplay and ‘additions’ lack quality and just feel monotonous. Nearly every single section from that original part, however small, has now been made into a full area, bringing with it countless issues. On paper, this wouldn’t necessarily be a problem for a game, however, since the number of main events has been kept mostly the same, these expanded sections serve no other purpose than to just drag out the experience unnecessarily. This is amplified by the fact that a lot of the game’s areas lack diversity and just look the same, where nothing of real narrative value occurs in them. They nearly always just serve as drawn out gauntlets of fighting and dull traversal, between the main story parts. Furthermore, the amount of slowly crawling through spaces, slowly walking over parts of the terrain, is ridiculous. This has either been done to further drag out the run-time (this aspect adds nothing to the game), or to hide an absurd amount of loading screens. While many might argue that X and XIII had similar design flaws, the difference was that practically every area in those games felt necessary for the journey and had their own important narrative aspects. The reality is, the gameplay and level design has been made to pointlessly bloat sections to fill out the length.
Now it isn’t all bad, where there are new additions that improve upon the original. Some parts have helped to add new depth and nuance to side characters that I never cared about before. Jessie, Biggs and Wedge get much greater character development, which made later scenes affect me far more than they did in the original. I actually cared about them and felt like they were just as important as the main cast. The few moments like helping out Jessie, were what I thought this remake would have more of. The other side activities like the pull-up challenges and new ones, such as the arena, offer a genuine fun detraction from the main story. However, apart from these far and few between additions, the “expanded’ aspects are mostly dull and pointless, ruining the pacing of the game, particularly the side quests.
If there is one aspect that felt truly pointless and genuinely low effort/lazy, it would be the side quests. While there are games that have truly abysmal and repetitive quests, much worse than included here, there is less excuse for such a big budget game that is mostly linear in design. Practically every one of the 26 missions, are either basic fetch quests or monster hunts. For example, one has you looking for some cats missing in town, a second has you searching for missing chocobos, while another has you bringing students back to their teacher. The story that accompanies these quests are equally weak and forgettable. What makes this part of the game all the more glaring, is that many other larger games, especially open world games that feature far more, have much higher quality and memorable side quests. While these are mostly optional, it remains a shallow attempt at adding more unnecessary content to make the game longer.
The story of Final Fantasy VII Remake is perhaps the most divisive aspect of the game. As mentioned earlier, it does remain pretty similar for most of the game, until you reach the final act. One of the, most obvious changes you will encounter, is that of the ghostly apparitions that appear in certain scenes. At first, their motives are pretty unclear until it’s made more obvious later on. Overall, they feel out of place in the game and poorly developed. In contrast, there are main story aspects that have been improved over the original, often reaching the true potential of what the developers initially envisioned. Alongside the greater development of side characters, sections like the Honey Bee Inn and Don Corneo’s Mansion are brilliant and even more outlandish and fun. With voice acting and the advancement of tech, the cutscenes and many narrative moments have so much more detail and emotion behind them. The characters remain just as captivating as they did in the original, benefitting from the current-gen hardware. My personal favourites have to be the brilliant Aerith, Tifa, Barret and Jessie. However, the changes made to Sephiroth’s inclusion at this point in the story feel random, ultimately lessening the growing mystery and ominous tone he had in the original.
While I won’t spoil the ending, it’s important to mention nonetheless. It takes a pretty big diversion from the original game and many fans, myself included, will be left conflicted over its implementation. While the boss fights and music are epic, the story and context behind these fights, fall flat for me. Because of the game being split into parts and the original not really having an epic fight at this stage, the developers had to alter the story and figure out a way of including bosses that would fit a final fight. While they succeeded in some respects, these bosses aren’t developed enough at this stage of the narrative to make much sense as final bosses. In addition, the ending changes and revelations cheapen earlier emotional moments, feeling more like weak fan service, as opposed to a well written story. It’s an ending that will divide the fanbase, where its implications are shrouded in mystery until the next part is released.
What has stayed just as brilliant as the original, if not better, is the iconic soundtrack. As with nearly every Final Fantasy, the music is often one of the defining aspects of the game. Every single track has been revamped to be given a more grand, orchestral sound. The music still remains easily recognisable and retains the greatness of the original, everything sounds even more epic, which fits the more action focused combat and extravagant boss encounters. Furthermore, the re-orchestrated soundtrack is still able to capture the softness and emotion of certain scenes. While some may still prefer the original music, the new renditions have evolved to fit the new style of the game perfectly.
There is great inconsistency not just in the the gameplay, but also in its visuals. The models of the main characters have clearly been given the most attention in the visual department. They all look brilliant, with realistic facial animation that delivers truly excellent quality and emotion to cutscenes. They are easily some of the most visually impressive character models of the generation, up there with the likes of Red Dead Redemption 2, The Last of Us 2 and Gears 5. NPC’s on the other hand can often look terrible, akin to the dead-eyed inhabitants of Mass Effect Andromeda. Also, while there are plenty of moments where the environments and settings can look gorgeous, there are countless times when they appear flat and the textures close up, are blurry messes. This can happen in cutscenes that easily stand out, completely taking you out of the moment, particularly when juxtaposed against the detailed character models. Performance on the other hand is mostly stable, where it wills occasionally drop in big fights where a lot is happening on screen at once.
Overall, Final Fantasy VII Remake never ends up justifying its need to be split into so many parts. Where aside from the occasional, brilliant addition that truly expands upon the original in a meaningful way, most of the game has just been stretched unnecessarily, full of uninspired bloat and low effort side quests. While the addictive combat and revamped music highlights elements of brilliance, it doesn’t make up for the rest of the dull gameplay and poor pacing. The story remains mostly great, but changes made, particularly in its later stages, aren’t well executed and could possibly lead to a convoluted and messy plot later down the line. In the end, Final Fantasy VII Remake rarely feels like a complete game, rather, it’s an intriguing prologue that drags on for way too long.
Score = 6/10
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