It was a staggering 15 years ago at E3 2005 when Sony decided to stoke the fires of nostalgia as they built up hype for the PlayStation 3 console, leaning on the legacy and fan adoration for the game that put their original console on the gaming map so many years earlier. The scene was familiar: A young lady in a pink dress prayed in front of a few hardy plants barely surviving amidst the cobblestones of an industrial city, the camera shifting to a birds-eye view of the sprawling metropolis before zooming back in on a fateful train ride that ended with a mercenary hopping off.
That brief preview of what the PlayStation 3 was capable of resulted in a tsunami of fan requests to give Final Fantasy VII a new lease on life. To once again revisit Midgar and take control of Cloud Strife as he became embroiled in a grand saga of life and love. It wouldn’t be until 2014 when rumours began circulating that Square Enix had finally committed to a remake of the beloved game finally culminating in a proper reveal at E3 2015.
Five years later, Final Fantasy VII lives once again. More than two decades since the original game swaggered onto the gaming scene with a ballsy declaration that it was about to kick the collective asses of every video game in existence, Square Enix’s original gamble for a game that would be a make or break deal for the company at the time, is ready to pick up an oversized sword and spread the gospel in a manner that only a Jenova’s Witness truly can.
Final Fantasy VII Remake is everything you remember about the iconic RPG, lovingly recreated with bleeding edge technology that surgically attaches nostalgia goggles to your face and proudly wears its legacy on its sleeve. It’s a grand and bombastic explosion of retro fused together with more modern sensibilities…but it’s not the Final Fantasy VII game you think it is.
After a first playthrough that lasted me over 24 hours in its entirety, I’m hesitant to even call Final Fantasy VII Remake a game. It has all the trappings of one, but it’s more similar to an interactive visual novel, as this remake prioritises story above action more than any other game in the franchise dared to. This is a Final Fantasy experience that wants you to watch its story rather than engage with it, stripping control from you frequently and making you wonder why you never prepared a tub of popcorn for this gaming binge.
When Final Fantasy VII does give you control though, it’s absolutely magnificent. Whereas the original game was a true blue role-playing game wherein you took turns hurling a modest number of polygons into colourful obstacles on the other side of you, Final Fantasy VII Remake offers players a choice of gameplay styles from which to choose from: Purists can lean on a classic style of charging up their attack gauge and launching a barrage of magic, action junkies can approach any battle as a proper third-person melee and the fusion between those two schools of thoughts is where I found myself most comfortable.
Having direct control of Cloud and pals, slowing the action down to a crawl as my Active Time Battle Gauge built up and then strategically choosing an option with just enough time between beats was a sight to behold. When you’ve mastered the combat system, Final Fantasy VII Remake blinds you with how dazzlingly slick the entire operation is, allowing you to focus on enemies, switch between party members to direct their unique skills and setting up fearsome foes for almighty smackdowns after you cripple them with your arsenal.
Much like the original Final Fantasy VII, materia plays an important role in how you grow your cast of misfit mercenaries, eco-terrorists and martial arts bartenders. Equipping the right orb of magic or ability allows for the character to access arcane or deadly skillsets to complement a more physical style of play, while mastering certain weapons also allows for your crew to unleash devastating new attacks in the heat of battle.
If you’d told me five years ago that Square Enix was going to combine the more visceral action of the heavily underrated Final Fantasy: Crisis Core with a proper turn-based style straight out of the best Final Fantasy games of the 1990s, I’d have laughed in your face. And yet here we are, my laughter silenced and my mouth agape at just how beautifully the combat system works, incorporating a blend of yesterday with today to stunning effect and effortlessly blending white-knuckle reactions with cinematic tour de force setpieces that’ll leave your eyeballs scorched by the orgasmic Firaga visual spells cast upon them.
As good as that combat system feels to experience and learn, it’s a toybox of of fun that you’re barely allowed to dip into. With the entire Final Fantasy VII Remake being a gargantuan effort to comprehend let alone tackle, Square Enix had to make a hard decision with just how much content they’d allow to form the backbone of this first part of the retold legend.
Spanning the the entire Midgar chapter (Roughly the first half of disc one), Final Fantasy VII Remake knows from the start where it wants you to be, when it wants you to get there and exactly how fast it wants you to reach its various milestones. Which is done at a pace that can only be described as glacially slow.
There was no complaint from fans when Square Enix revealed that Final Fantasy VII Remake’s story would be extended somewhat, fleshed out in other areas and new content added, but the manner in which it’s done misses the mark more than a blind assassin trying to nail a long distance kill with a blunderbuss rifle.
Final Fantasy VII Remake pads out its runtime with numerous aggravating methods. It forces players to sidle between nonsensical obstacles as they explore Midgar, pushes you into mini-games with languid controls and makes you endure numerous cut-scenes that run for far too long just so that the game can squeeze in a few extra seconds of character grunting for the sake of a longer runtime.
Thank Gaia for a skip button on these cut-scenes (Which I avoided using just to be accurate with my first stab at the game), as I spent more time hands off with my controller than I did mashing buttons. It also doesn’t help that Final Fantasy VII Remake’s strictly linear path only opens up to a precious few breaks in the story when you’re allowed to explore, to do some light grinding and a few oddjobs on the side. This is a remake with a defined beginning, middle and end, barely deviating from its plot and forcing you to stick to the script.
And yet, there’s a certain joy in following that golden path. Devoid of sandbox filler and always nudging you in a certain direction, Final Fantasy VII Remake is a surprisingly humble beast, one where the fantasy of its world only truly kicks in after you’ve invested ten hours into its setup. Final Fantasy VII Remake is content to spend its time establishing its cast, it wants you to appreciate the hard work put into the reconstruction of Midgar and the iconic haunts beneath the plate of a city in the sky that is slowly bleeding the planet dry of its vital life-force.
It’s a truly stunning game, one that borders on next-gen quality and feels like the sum total of not only this generation of gaming but of the entire Final Fantasy VII mythos that spanned the course of two decades after the original game went on to find great success. Everything from Crisis Core to Advent Children, Before Crisis to Last Order have a presence and an impact on the story that Final Fantasy VII Remake retells to both its older fans and the new generation waiting to experience the dread of a one-winged angel and the glory of a love story that sums up the beauty of life itself.
By the time you reach the third act and engage in a whirlwind adventure that has you crossing swords with ghosts from the past, parasitic abominations and motorcycle mecha showdowns, you’re fully invested in Final Fantasy VII Remake. You feel for its cast, you’re ecstatic for the triumphs yet to come and you fear the tragedy that will eventually fall upon them.
Square Enix could have easily slapped some new HD skins on the original Final Fantasy VII and called it a day, but Final Fantasy VII Remake is something that feels like the last hurrah for a game which shaped a generation. It may not always hit the nail on the head, but there’s no denying that it’s a passionate love-letter to its fans, a confident blast from the past for newcomers and a touching reminder of not only how special games can and should be when the emphasis is on fun, not a diversionary time-sink to throw money at.
Last Updated: April 6, 2020