SPOILER WARNING: Due to the nature of this review and the nature surrounding the game, this is your advance spoiler warning if you wish to go in blind.
When the original Final Fantasy VII game was released back in 1997 for the original PlayStation, I didn’t own the system. I remember coming home from school and my younger brother frantically telling me about some movie commercial he saw on tv with a dude with spikey yellow hair riding a motocycle. I immediately was curious as to what spectacle this was beholden to, and made sure to keep am eye out for it.
During one particular session of homework, the shout of “its on!” coming from the living room made me run to the tv to capture this much touted movie trailer. Sure enough, yellow spikey hair, motorcycle, man with a gun for an arm and some fancy cinematics for sure. Then the kicker as the PlayStation logo appeared. “Not coming to a theater near you.”
I knew then I needed a PlayStation.
Thankfully mom came through that holiday season (alongside newly released Metal Gear Solid and a copy of The Legacy of Kain to boot. Thanks mom!) and I immediately fired up Final Fantasy VII and would lose countless hours into leveling up characters, diving into the storyline of a group of eco-terrorists fighting against an evil mega-corporation and eventually defeating the evil Jenova and her lackey Sephiroth. While I never felt FF7 was the best of the Final Fantasy titles (I personally have a strong love for 6 and 9), I knew then the impact it would have. Final Fantasy 7 made Role Playing Games mainstream and cool, no longer confined to “that game played by nerds in their basement.” (As I write that I laugh, thinking there ever was a time being a nerd wasn’t cool. Man…that was long time ago. I’m also old.)
Now here we are over two decades later at the cusp of a remake of what is considered one of the greatest games of all time. A remake that seems in line with the industry looking to capitalize on nostalgia a whole lot as we move into the next generation. It makes sense though; Capcom has had great success with remakes of Resident Evil 2 and 3, Phantasy Star Online 2 has re-emerged to popular fanfare on PC and Xbox and Shenmue 3…uh…happened.
Which brings us to Final Fantasy VII Remake, a game cusping on what is perhaps the biggest nostalgia grab of all time and awaited with immense anticipation. From the debut trailer at E3 2015 to a demo earlier last month and a new final trailer that perplexed many a player, would this new Final Fantasy 7 Remake live up to expectations? Would it be yet another ham fisted SquareEnix production that fails to deliver ala Kingdom Hearts III? The answer lies within whether or not how much of a diehard Final Fantasy 7 fan you are and how thick your nostalgia goggles tend to be.
This remake essentially follows the first 4-5 hours of the original title. Starting off with the initial and classic Bombing Mission, through the slums and Don Corneo’s Mansion and Honey Bee Inn (complete with a QTE dance sequence that’s a spectacle in it’s own right) culminating with the Shinra Raid and Highway Chase all its own. Taking 5 hours of content and stretching it to 15-20 (thats ignoring the side missions which easily bump it to 30-40) means that off the bat you’ll find a lot of down time and filler within the game’s narrative. The upside to this is a chance to flesh out a lot of the characters we know and love. Giving Biggs, Wedge and Jessie more screen time and learning their backstories and reasons for joining Avalanche make for some interesting and enjoyable narrative. Adding some much needed depth to the main roster of Cloud, Tifa, Barret and Aerith also does wonders for what will obviously be a trilogy given how this game ends and the direction said ending takes. I will say only this: the game’s ending is sure to be divisive among FF purists, but those of you with an open mind will appreciate the chance to do something different with a game that is 23 years old.
While I groaned and view the ending as a “Nomura going full Nomura” moment, I also view it as Square Enix doing something bold and different. Much like Capcom made changes to the Resident Evil 2 remake and defied expectations, this Final Fantasy 7 Remake goes against the traditional grain and dares to ask the question, “What is truly a remake?”
I’m not sure if Square Enix has answered it with this title though. I’m torn because it feels like they lied to us in the advertisements, dangling nostalgia in our faces and enticing those of us curious enough to check this game out. Then proceed to whack us over the head with an ending so preposterous and convoluted we sit there and wonder if this really happened as the credits roll. It’s probably exactly what they wanted. For us to have the proverbial “WTF” moment and then hit up our friends and message boards asking if they can believe what just happened. And boom…Final Fantasy 7 is the talk of the town again.
Back to the game at hand though. It plays well enough with a retooled Active Time Battle system that links the Kingdom Hearts-like action with a pseudo-turn based system that sees you chaining attacks to build up ATB Gauges across party members and switching to them manually to cast spells, summons and perform Limit Breaks.
Abilities are learned by your equipped weapon. Different weapons can earn you different abilities and once fully learned, said ability can carry over to another weapon. For example, you can max out Cloud’s Hardedge and take the abilities learned from that sword and equip say, the Buster Sword and keep Cloud’s iconic weapon throughout the game. This is great for visual thematics and imagery as I took the Buster Sword into the final encounter and it felt correct. The skill trees within each weapon allow for some customization but I never found the need to fully dive in.
Materia is also available and you can equip Materia to your weapons much like in the original game. Boosting Fire to Fira and eventually Firaga is as simple as using the equipped Materia whilst in combat. Summon Materia is also available and they can be brought out when certain conditions are met during battle. Summons will stay on the field until the summon meter runs out or the summoner is incapacitated, making it cool to see Ifrit or Shiva walking around and laying a beatdown on whatever you’re fighting at the moment. Its definitely worth it to key on the specific summoning circumstances during a boss fight for the sheer spectacle it enables.
Alongside an amazing visual and narrative overhaul, Final Fantasy 7 Remake boasts remade tunes from the original game, with Nobuo Uematsu returning to deliver his excellent touch as always. Famous tunes like “Aerith’s Theme” and “Those Who Fight” are all redone with an orchestrated overhaul and rock and roll aesthetic. The redone Main Theme brought a tear to my eye and had the trailers not spoiled his appearance, Sephiroth’s “One Winged Angel Reborn” is just absolutely bad-ass.
Overall Final Fantasy 7 Remake is a good game, divisive ending aside and nostalgia goggles be damned. I will say if you’ve never played the original and this is your first entry point to the spectacle that is FF7, I highly urge you to dive into the original with its block textures and pre-rendered visuals and mish mish cinematics. You’ll be missing out on what makes the original so heartfelt and remembered fondly and see the original tale at it’s best. This remake does a good job of coasting on nostalgia for that remembrance and it definitely will be talked about for some time and that’s the power of the Final Fantasy franchise. It is limitless in its capacity to have memorable characters, fantastic storylines even if most are just ripped straight from Star Wars and some of the best music in video games to date. Final Fantasy has something for everyone and it drives well into the spirit within to create timeless classic after timeless classic. Once this Remake has its story told in full, I hope that is the case as well.
::cue Victory Fanfare::