Final Fantasy VII. One of the most monumental and iconic games ever made. One that helped bring not only the JRPG genre to new heights outside of Japan but was […]
Final Fantasy VII. One of the most monumental and iconic games ever made. One that helped bring not only the JRPG genre to new heights outside of Japan but was also key to helping the original Playstation reign supreme in the late 90s. In the 23 years that have followed there have been an insane amount of Final Fantasy games – each one with it’s own unique set of characters and stories yet for many people VII was the one story they wanted to return to. Square-Enix, never shy of milking any cow, came back to the FFVII well a few times for prequels, a sequel and a movie. The opening cinematic was recreated on PS3 hardware to show off it’s graphic capabilities. All this really served though was to whet the appetite that many people didn’t realise they had – a fully fledged Final Fantasy VII remake. Rumours were persistent and fans demanded it but Square’s silence was deafening.
That is until E3 2015 when Sony brought out the holy trinity of oft-rumoured and much-delayed games, one after another. The Last Guardian, Shenmue 3 and, at long last, a remake of Final Fantasy VII. The other two have came out but it would take nearly five years for FFVIIR to finally come out. Square also went silent about it for a good few years, only other to insist that they were definitely still making it. As soon as the dust settled on Kingdom Hearts 3, the road to the Remake was paved once again, this time with a release date and everything. It started to feel real again. It might have been delayed a couple more months but finally it came out and people actually got to play it. For real. The Final Fantasy VII Remake. Well, part one of the Remake is real at least. So, can Square-Enix capture the magic of 1997 and give us the Remake we’ve been dreaming of?
Final Fantasy VII Remake is, by large, a very faithful remake of the Midgar section of the original game – with some changes to expand the game, new characters were introduced and old characters were given bigger roles. The story is familiar with people who have played the game for sure. You follow Cloud, a mercenary who has been hired by a group called AVALANCHE, eco-terrorists who plan to bomb a Mako Reactor in Midgar. Mako is the lifeblood of the planet, but Shinra Electric Company has harnessed this resource into power and is profiting from it. AVALANCHE want to protect the planet that they feel is dying because of Shinra draining all the Mako. AVALANCHE is made up of Barret – a big man with a gun instead of an arm – plus Biggs, Wedge and Jessie who are the side characters and Tifa – a martial arts expert and an old childhood friend of Cloud’s. Eventually Cloud will meet Aeris Aerith, a kindly but street smart flower girl and Red XIII, a wise talking dog like creature who joins a little too late to be an actual playable character. Those who have played the original will know how the plot goes from here and for those who never have I won’t go into too much detail about it.
Instead I will go into a great detail about how different the actual game is to the original. Instead of waiting for a timer to fill up so you can do The Attack, everything is now done in real time. You can swing your sword/fists/gun-arm/magic stick by pressing the attack button BUT there are still ATB meters that will fill up over time and as you attack. Pressing X will slow the game down to a crawl and give you time to navigate the menu to perform abilities. An ability will cost one or two ATB meters to use weapon abilities and one ATB meter and some MAGIC POINTS (MP) to do MAGIC. You can wait for the ATB bar to fill by just staying well away from the action and waiting for it to fill up on its own but to do that will take a while and enemies like to hone in on whichever character is being player-controlled. The game, thus, incentivises you not being a total coward – you must attack in order to be able to attack better or heal. Even items use up an ATB bar. The ATB meter is the key to success in FFVIIR.
Magic is equipped with materia and you will collect a lot of this stuff over the course of the game. There are five types of materia – green Magic, yellow Command, blue Support, purple Independent and red Summon materia. Magic is straight forward, equipping these will grant you magic to both harm your enemies and heal your party. Levelling up these will give you more powerful spells. Command materia adds abilities – such as Assess that will scan your enemies and figure out their weaknesses and enemy skills which will allow you to learn certain skills that certain enemies dared to use against your good self. Rude (but not Rude, just rude). Support materia are usually linked with Magic materia to give them extra boosts, such as increasing their range by sacrificing power or adding an element to your weapon or armour. Levelling this up will increasing how well it supports the materia it is linked with. Then there is the purple Independent materia which is a vague term that just means “this doesn’t fit with the other types”. These materia can do stuff like increase your HP or MP, or give you an ATB boost if you take an attack while blocking etc. Using a mixture of these four types of materia means there are a lot of opportunity to build each character the way you want. One character can be a healer, one can be a battlemage and the other can swing his giant sword around for days.
The fifth type of materia is important though – Summons. In the original game you did not have access to a summon until you reached the Chocobo Farm, after you leave Midgar. That would not be very fun though so they do give you access to a small handful of summons throughout. Each character can equip one summon at a time and if you are struggling in a fight – usually by falling down to a low health – a meter will pop up on screen. Once it is filled you can summon your friend of choice and it will appear on the battlefield and fight with you for a little while. You can use your ATB bars to let it unleash a powerful attack of its own and when it is time for the summon to leave it will do so with a bang – it will do it’s ultimate attack and then go back into it’s little red orb. It’s almost like a Pokémon.
It is important to learn the enemies weakness as quickly as possible in FFVIIR as this will not only help you beat it quicker, but it plays into the new Stagger system. Each enemy has a different thing that will cause it to feel pressure. For some it is hitting it with its weakness, for others it is interrupting their attacks, for me it is the weight of expectations that I feel like I could never meet. The point is, once you’ve pressured an enemy you can whack it for a bit until it is ready to blow and when it cannot take anymore pressure it will get staggered which allows you to just wail on the poor bastard with extra damage. A percentage will pop onto the screen showing you how much extra damage you’re doing but certain attacks – like Tifa’s triangle commands – will increase the damage multiplier. It is a fun system and in certain battles, such as boss battles, a lot of it can boil down to “HOW DO I STAGGER THIS DUDE?”.
Boss battles are a treat as well, most of them are really fun multi-stage fights. As you deal more damage to a boss it angrier it will get and it will start to unleash it’s more powerful attacks. Some of these fights can be really challenging and a lot of them are fairly lengthy as well. I didn’t die much – I wouldn’t go as far to say any of the main fights are difficult if you’re prepared well enough – but some fights definitely brought life into my old bones as I came close to an unflattering death. On more than one occasion I was a hit away from a game over only to just get a phoenix down out to one of my homies and from there skillfully getting back to full health. It can be tense but that’s what makes it fun. The battle system is very, very fun but for me it took a little while to really click with it – by the end of the game for sure I was having a lot of fun with some of the endgame fights.
Outside of battling, the big difference to the game’s story is mostly just expanding the original story to justify stretching the Midgar section into its own full length game. There are a couple of brand new locations and all the old ones are larger and brimming with life. New characters are introduced to flesh out the story and you’ll see a lot of them when doing sidequests. Returning characters are expanded upon and some that barely appear in the Midgar section of the original get a proper chance to shine in the Remake. Despite all this stretching, it rarely feels like FFVIIR is dragging its feet along – the game is paced pretty well considering and the game clocks in at around 40 hours – with potential to play a lot longer than that if you’re trying to get every little thing in the game.
One of the bright points about the game, especially early on, is the writing of the characters works really well. Cloud is a cocky, emotionally distant dickhead, Tifa is a nice but occasionally worrisome girl, the AVALANCHE gang are super likable in their new expanded role in the game – Biggs is cool, Jessie is a thirsty girl for Cloud but that’s okay and Wedge is just nice. Every important character has had their original characters expanded upon without losing their original selves. Cloud’s initial emotional distance is definitely more pronounced here where in the original game he seemed to have more of a humour about him but that’s the beauty of the Remake – yeah there are changes but because the game is so different than the original it never feels we’re losing the original in favour of this one.
One new thing introduced in the Remake are mysterious flying hooded figures that intervene at various points in the plot. They are first introduced harassing Aerith the first time Cloud meets her. They pop up here and there but nobody can explain what they are, at least until the end of the game. They certainly are interesting….if only I could actually talk about them…
A few of the chapters allow Cloud to do some hard work as a mercenary and help out the residents of Midgar at the same time. What a nice man (for a price). This can range from dealing with nasties that threaten the townsfolk to finding lost cats for a little girl. No job is too little or too dangerous for Cloud Strife. They usually come as a nice buffer between big moments in the plot by giving you a chance to breathe a little. Helping with this are a few mini-games in each of the hubs to give you a break from whacking things with a sword by whacking things with a sword BUT FOR FUN! And items, if you get over a certain score. They’re fine for the most part, though the pull-up mini-game late on in Wall Market can pull it self UP IT’S OWN ASS. I got stuck on the last level of it and I cannot come close to beating it and it’s definitely not my own fault. The mini-games are okay otherwise.
There are collectables in the form of remixed tracks from Final Fantasy VII which are fun and change some familiar songs into new genres and styles. Who doesn’t want a Hip Hop redentition of the Chocobo theme? This even extends to theme songs for characters and locations that we won’t see in this Remake here which is a nice touch. The other type of collectables are manuscripts that will give you more SP for your weapons as well limit breaks and the such. A handful are available in the main game but if you want to truly max out your party then you will need to play through on hard once you’ve unlocked it to get the majority of them as they will only pop up in that difficulty.
The game has been expanded but it is still very faithful to the original game. The last couple of hours of the game are a wild ride though and might require a seperate post to really get into spoiler territory because I NEED TO TALK ABOUT IT. But until then allow me to sum my thoughts on the game.
It is a very, very good game. Probably the best Final Fantasy game in a long time. It has a fun, visually pleasing battle system, the game looks gorgeous and it makes the heart feel so good seeing all the OG characters again and revisiting their journey. I do have a couple of issues with the game – first of, there will be times when you have to press a button and the game will demand that you are standing on the right pixel before giving you the option to press the button. Second of is I have some issues with the storytelling towards the end of the game that I won’t go into until the spoiler article but let’s just say there is some Nomura DNA here for better and for worse.
Overall though this is an excellent game and I am glad it is here at long last. There is a reason I beat a 40-hour RPG in four and a half days – this game is addictively good. I just never wanted to put it down once it got going and I wanted to know what they were going to change and there was enough vague talk about the ending for me to know something was going to go down. I still wasn’t prepared. I’ll go into more detail about that another day but for now allow me to give the score and end this review for today. This game was worth the wait.