No longer fantasy, the remake of Final Fantasy VII is finally here.
The original game, first released in 1997, was responsible for awakening audiences to the emotional power of video game storytelling and effectively putting Japanese role-playing games on the global map.
Even as the series continues into the double-digits, the universe of Final Fantasy VII resonates the most, having been revisited via a computer animated film sequel and spin-offs, while Buster Sword-wielding protagonist Cloud has made guest appearances in other beloved games like Kingdom Hearts and Super Smash Bros. But it’s the original source that everyone has been dying to see remade.
It’s taken years of fan demand and speculation, then years later still after the remake was officially announced back in 2015. But the wait has truly been worth it.
On Cloud Nine
Square Enix have spared no expense in reimagining Final Fantasy VII on a grand scale. Technology has come such a long way in the intervening decades that when the game switches from its sumptuous cinematic cutscenes to in-engine graphics, you can barely tell the difference. You won’t find a video game with a more beautiful cast, and that extends to the villains you routinely clash against. It’s as if the original PlayStation game was just a rough sketch and blueprint waiting for the big budget treatment it deserves.
From topside to the slums, the dystopian metropolis of Midgar is impeccably realised even though its setting is broken up into chapters. After all, there’s still a story it’s trying to funnel you through, an arguably timely one as eco-terrorist group AVALANCHE tries to bring down megacorporation Shinra and its unsustainable greed for the planet’s resources.
Nonetheless, in between story beats there’s plenty of opportunity to drink in the detailed surroundings and atmosphere. Similar attention has been lavished on the music. The remake goes beyond simply giving the nostalgic score an orchestral oomph. Just the battle music alone has dozens of variations and arrangements, while one of the more interesting collectibles are records you can play at jukeboxes, which include jazzy reworks or clubby remixes of recognisable tunes.
Lights, Materia, Action
A more important overhaul in Final Fantasy VII Remake is ditching the original’s random turn-based combat for real-time action. It might sound like depth has been sacrificed for mashing buttons but it’s actually key to charging up gauges that let you use more powerful abilities, spells and items.
There’s a lot of tactical play between party members, using the best abilities and materia, while trying to stagger enemies so they’re subjected to the most damage. It gets challenging when you start getting outnumbered by enemies as the game ratchets up the number of epic boss battles to insane levels.
If you’re overwhelmed, you can fortunately always reset back to just before a battle to change up your tactics. You can even adjust the difficulty anytime, including a ‘classic’ mode that handles movement and basic attacks automatically so you can treat it almost like it’s turn-based.
Either way, every battle looks terrific once sparks fly, even before you bring out Summons and Limit Breaks. There’s also no shortage of mini-games to break up the pace. Whether you find them arbitrary or throwaway, including the most hilariously mundane stealth section ever devised, there’s no denying they add a layer of offbeat charm to proceedings.
There is of course one major caveat: this remake is just the first part of Final Fantasy VII. As it’s set entirely in Midgar, essentially the first five hours in the original game, just how long and how many more instalments will it take to cover the entire story?
Yet concerns on this episode being stuffed with more filler than Peter Jackson’s bloated Hobbit trilogy are fortunately unfounded. At about 35 hours to beat, without taking into account the optional distractions, It’s a surprise how much this first part feels like a stand-alone game in its own right, from its lighter mid-point to its tragic second act finish. Just like any other role-playing game, you even get one last chance to tend to unfinished business before setting off on the big climactic showdown - or rather a series of showdowns.
Story beats have also been greatly expanded and, such as how other AVALANCHE members, previously consigned to bit parts, have their moment to shine. Bringing in more cohesion to the grander plot also means teasing later references and introducing certain characters even earlier. But it’s the brand new elements that will keep fans feverishly discussing its implications long after the credits have rolled, until the next chapter of the epic journey.
Final Fantasy VII Remake Verdict
Final Fantasy VII Remake is an even more triumphant reimagining of a classic than anyone could have dared to dream. It may only be the beginning of the story but it’s every bit a terrific stand-alone role-playing epic that will delight fans new and old.
The bar for video game remakes has been raised to new unimaginable heights. Regardless of whether future instalments can sustain expectations, we’ll always have Midgar.