Published on April 6th, 2020 | by Jamie Kirk
Final Fantasy VII Remake PS4 Review
Summary: Final Fantasy VII Remake mostly lives up to the hype. A nostalgia fuelled romp for series veterans and a solid introduction for those who are new to the series.
Square Enix know they have a lot riding on Final Fantasy VII Remake. The original is one of the most beloved games of all time, essentially responsible for the worldwide acceptance of JRPG’s. The development cycle has been long, with reports of instances where the game was scrapped and started again. Then came the announcement that the initial release would only focus on a section of the original game. This was a concern to many, no matter how iconic the opening of Final Fantasy VII is. The main question that emerged became, have Square Enix bitten off more than they could chew? With a giant breath of relief, I can confirm they have not. Final Fantasy VII Remake is a blast to play and experience yet not without its issues that have plagued more recent Final Fantasy titles.
For those coming in blind, Final Fantasy VII Remake tells the story of mercenary Cloud Strife. Cloud partners with eco-activist organisation AVALANCHE to take on the evil corporation Shinra. Shinra has created the mega city Midgar, where the rich live comfortably high in the sky while the poor live in slums far below. The city is powered by Mako reactors that sacrifice natural resources in the name of technological progress. AVALANCHE aims to stop this, but soon are sucked into a wider tale where the very life of the planet is threatened.
As Remake is only the first of multiple planned episodes, it can’t help but feel a little like a prologue in terms of the main narrative. Remake covers only about 5-6 hours of plot from the original game so it devotes extra time to side stories and character development. This is mostly very successful. The expansion of AVALANCHE is delightful. All the characters have their own established relationships with each other and the additional fleshing out serves the main plot well.
The main plot also has certain remixes and additions. These new plot points definitely help the plot feel a little more complete. Some parts do fall a little flat. The less said about Roche, the better. On the whole even the most hardcore Final Fantasy 7 fans will experience moments of surprise, especially towards the end of the game. New players may not be getting a complete story, but there is enough here to compel them to investigate future editions.
The core characters also get far more to do. There is a lot of incidental dialogue in this game, and it is compelling stuff. The timing of it is impeccably implemented. Breaking up gameplay sections with little interactions between the party adds layers to the characters and propels the game forward. Cloud, Barret, Aerith and Tifa all get moments of drama and levity that do well to explain their motivations. Barret in particular has a number of lines that do a good job of softening some of the rougher edges he had in the original.
If you were fan of the original game, you will spend long stretches of the game with a big goofy smile on your face. Midgar is huge and fully realised. All your favourite attractions are here. The tweaks and changes are pleasantly surprising. Square Enix has found a way to integrate all the fan favourite moments, but update them for a new generation. Wall Market in particular can be walked around for hours just investigating all the nooks and crannies. The mini-games may frustrate some newbies. But trust series veterans when they tell you they are a significant upgrade over what came before.
Final Fantasy VII Remake shifts between looking breathtaking and annoyingly plain. For a game in development this long there are some parts that are inexcusable. Let’s start with the good. In a broad sense, Midgar looks fantastic. Taking a second to rotate the camera around the city shows so many perfect little details. People going about their day, decaying buildings and the ever-present plate in the sky all are perfect updates to the slums of the original. Taking a closer look is where some things become a little problematic.
Character models of the main characters and major NPC’s are great. The much-touted facial animation system conveys emotion wonderfully. Tifa really shines here, as the range of feelings captured in her facial expressions are a perfect complement to the words coming out of her mouth. Lesser NPC’s fare poorer. Their faces are flatter, the lip sync seems odd and their clothes look like they have been painted on.
The attention to detail to some parts only makes the other parts more noticeable. Clouds shoulder pad is insanely detailed, you can almost feel the battles it has been subjected to. However multiple menu boards or signs inspected up close become a pixelated blur. Hell, in Clouds own apartment the bathroom mirror doesn’t even reflect. It’s just a grey surface, and an ugly one at that. A lot of doors and other background elements also suffer from this condition. It is a little disappointing considering how beautiful most of the game looks.
The combat, for the most part, is a hell of a lot of fun. Remake opts to move the combat in real time and it feels like a huge refinement over Final Fantasy XV. Actions taken by your party members fill up the ATB bar, and once full you can unleash special abilities, cast magic or use items. It is an intuitive combination of past and present battle styles. When selecting abilities, the game enters slow motion to give you time to issue commands to your party members.
Those who are worried that it will just involve mashing the X button will be in for a very pleasant surprise. Combat is tactical and involves exploiting weaknesses to stagger enemies, at which point heavy damage can be dealt. You will also need to effectively switch between your party members for the best results. There is definitely a learning curve to combat. Under preparation and slow reactions will lead to death against even the punier monsters. However, once you’ve decked out your Materia and come to grips with the system you will find yourself effortlessly performing all sorts of balletic moves.
Combat also does a good job of incorporating different strategies. New enemies that require new strategies are introduced at a good pace. An early example with this is the first fight with fan favourite Reno. Going on an all-out offensive will only lead to ruin. Learning to time blocks and then counter with abilities opens the fight up and allows you to turn the tables on your fleet-footed enemy.
There are some niggles. Generally, your AI companions do the right thing. They know when to block attacks and when to go for broke. However, during my playthrough I found that my AI companions ATB meter fills up far slower than the player-controlled character. This results in situations where your characters are cheaply defeated as the ATB bar doesn’t fill in time. This leads to frenzied switching between the characters that feels unnecessary.
One of the biggest worries in containing a full game to just Midgar was the potential for bloat and redundant inclusions. Thankfully this is kept to a minimum in the main campaign, although an early mission involving a motorbike and Roche had me fearing the worst. Most of the updates have a reason for being there and do not outstay their welcome. The lack of random battles goes a long way towards making the expanded dungeons bearable. The encounter rate is paced just right. In addition, immediate backtracking does not repopulate the area with monsters just to tack on length, which is a godsend as some of Remake’s dungeon designs are huge.
Square Enix has repeatedly said during development that Remake would last about as long as a mainline Final Fantasy title. This is… not quite true. A completist play through run of the main plot and side quests should clock in around the 40-50-hour mark. There is endgame content but the meat of the game can be beat in significantly faster than a mainline game. There is a lot of game to be played, but the decision to release episodically definitely has cut into the overall play time.
So, does Final Fantasy VII Remake live up to the standards set all those years ago? Overall, yes. The world is lively, the script is well written and the combat feels natural. There is still a long way to go in the saga yet, but with these bones it feels like Square Enix has the potential to build something great. The first instalment strikes a great balance of catering to long-time fans while opening up the tale to a newer generation. If you don’t like it, there’s always the original. This trip to Midgar is well worth taking, even if it feels like the best may be yet to come.