A New Dog With Old Tricks. Er, Old Dog With New Tricks. Red Dog With Flame Tail?
What a true labor of love Final Fantasy VII Remake is. A lot of the old guard at Square got the band back together to give us the first part of this remake. Tetsuya Nomura, who had a huge part to play in the original Final Fantasy VII(character design, art direction, scenario, etc), was able to revisit a beloved family member in a sense, and sort of modernize the game for fans and newcomers alike. The result is an all star team that delivers in almost every way. And I could say you definitely get the whole package here, but it’s not the whole package.
So let’s get this out of the way, in case you weren’t aware of the situation. Final Fantasy VII Remake(FF7R) only covers the Midgar portion of the game. But that small section is scaled to an entire game. Complete with new quests, areas to explore, and an expanded story that even goes into the two FF7 novels and touches on other characters from the FF7 expanded universe as well. You might be shaking your head right now, telling yourself that they are only selling you disc one, or part of a game, so on and so forth. In a way, I guess you’d be right. I would tell you to go play the original and be satisfied. But what if you wanted more? What if you had the opportunity to see a game that you love get special treatment, and fleshed out so much that the production time and cost is vastly higher than that of even a big budget game? Then I give you FF7R disc one, which has enough content that it took me over forty hours to play through.
This is usually the part where there is some back story about growing up with games, or how much I played the original FF7. But I think you’d rather hear about the remake, so let’s keep this short. Yes, you all know rpgs are my favorite. Yes, I have played FF7 countless times and bought it at launch, and own it over a ton of platforms. No, it is not my favorite Final Fantasy. Does it rank high on the Final Fantasy list? Maybe top 5. It changes whenever I go back and play through them again. FF6 is my favorite. See, that wasn’t so hard. Time to board a train, moving on.
That train is heading straight for Mako Reactor 1, with a very nice nod to the opening of the original game. Seeing Cloud jump off the train gave me goosebumps. This is really happening! With a brief introduction to some Avalanche members, you are thrown into a fight. Now myself, I am a fan of turn based combat systems, but I get why SquareEnix decided to go with some different options. If you’ve ever played a game in the Tales series, or Star Ocean series, you’ll feel right at home here. The standard combat is real time, with you, the player, being able to move Cloud around and tap square to combo with that nice Buster Sword you have in your hands. As time goes on, along with the hits you land, your Active Time Battle(ATB) meter builds up. Why is there an ATB meter if the game isn’t turn based? Well, it still incorporates a bit of turn based combat here. When you pull up your menu, time slows to almost a stand still, and you can choose different commands. This adds a really nice layer of strategic combat. You can build up two uses of your ATB at the start, which allows you to cast magic, use items, or unleash more powerful attacks on your foes. Sort of simple, right? Well, the game is teaching you the basics, and it starts to really unfold soon enough.
While we are discussing the combat system, let’s jump head first into how gorgeous this game is. Right down to the pores on Cloud’s face. It is just ridiculous to think that the look from Advent Children would be utterly topped in a videogame, but here we are. The lighting while going through Mako Reactor 1 is just out of this world. It really showcases what SquareEnix can do with the Unreal Engine. Not long after making my way through the reactor, Barret decides he doesn’t trust Cloud, and joins the party to keep an eye on him. This is where another layer of combat is added. Now you can switch to Barret on the fly, and use his unique combat abilities. Enemies out of reach? Gun them down with Barret’s gun-arm. Want to help raise the stagger bar on enemies faster? Barret can help with that as well. Or if you like, you can bring up the menu and assign commands to the person you aren’t controlling at the time. You can even assign shortcuts so you don’t have to interrupt the combat flow by slowing down time constantly. So many options here. Soon enough you will add in Tifa, and it will be full time management for regular combat. Some people might think this is too overwhelming. Me? I loved it. You are always doing something, which keeps you engaged in the fight. Each character is a blast to use, giving you tons of options that is far superior to just pressing the attack button. Tifa is crazy fast, and can unleash combos that will build the stagger gauge up while knocking them around. Aerith is your main for magic, whether it is healing and buffs you need, or just an all out offensive spell casting fiesta. There were really only a few times where the combat felt a bit too long, and part of that is where I didn’t have the right materia or weapons equipped. Weapons get their own leveling system too, complete with a sphere grid that unlocks more HP or MP, higher attack stats, another materia slot and so on. It was fun to go back and forth, and even use that gleaming Buster Sword later on in the game. Materia is pretty straightforward here, allowing you to cast spells like Fire and Thunder, or Cure and Haste. Some give you abilities like Steal, or even allow for a third ATB bar. The customization is definitely first class. Or is it ex first class in Cloud’s case?
So we’ve got more story this time around. This sprawling metal city named Midgar is a character of its own accord here. And due to the graphical upgrade, it generally is fun to explore the sectors filled with people going about their daily life. Speaking of graphics, there are times after Mako Reactor 1 where the textures seem to have trouble popping in. That is fairly standard with Unreal Engine and I’m sure will be patched soon enough, so I won’t really complain here, but it’s just enough to briefly pull you out of the experience. Playing on a PS4 Pro, I never really suffered with this problem much, or even slowdown or technical glitches or hiccups. This game is fine tuned right off the bat, with minor tweaks that can be made. Which is saying something these days. Generally with Japanese rpgs, I tend to stick with the Japanese voice cast. But since this game was tailor made for the English cast, I went with that. And I am very proud of this cast. Most of the names you will recognize, and if you don’t, you will once you find out what else they have starred in. Cody Christian(Teen Wolf series) voices Cloud, Tyler Hoechlin(Supergirl,The Flash) lends his voice to Sephiroth. John Eric Bentley(literally everything!) is Barret. Britt Baron is Tifa, and Briana White is Aerith. There are so many more. And one of my personal favorites, the very talented Erica Lindbeck(I hear she is a woman of the trees) brings Jessie to life to the point where people will be cheering her on during her advances to Cloud! I was extremely happy with the newly added layer each character gained from being voiced.
Speaking of hearing voices, I also hear so many different takes on each track when that lovely music kicks in. Along with some new songs, even one by the original FF7 composer himself, the legendary Nobuo Uemtasu, Masashi Hamauzu takes great care to make sure that the original sound is still present. Each track has at least three variations of it, with each track picking up or slowing down depending on what’s happening on screen. Instead of just hearing the battle music play over and over, we get different versions of the area we are in. And I loved them all, except for the Wall Market variations, they were a bit annoying after a while. Having the music ever present is important to a Final Fantasy game, and Hamauzu along with his team did a wonderful job being able to go from a track being atmospheric, to full on in your face at times.
So, is this truly the complete package for only being disc one more or less? Well, I do like to keep my review spoiler free as much as possible, but I can tell you seeing Could walk into Seventh Heaven and talk to Tifa, or the amazing Wall Market scene involving Cloud and Aerith, made me realize that this game deserves to be remade, and other people should get to see this story play out. Walking to Aerith’s house, and hearing that theme, and seeing the amount of detail put into all of the flowers, and the water, made you feel like you were transported out of the slums of Midgar. It made me really excited to see the whole game done to this degree. Hearing the raw emotion of rage and sadness in Barret when things start to come down made me like his character even more than I had in the original. All of these expansions are great, going top side and seeing new locations, it’s all a blast to play, until it’s not. There are absolutely new additions that just don’t work here, starting with a new Soldier and his motorcycle that he may or may not have had relations with. Now, I’m all for a silly side to break up the grind, but he was just too much. It took any sense of realism(which I get this is a fantasy game) and just tossed it right out of the window, and then some. Sorry, I just laughed to myself and hoped it would be short. And it was, so it wasn’t a huge complaint. No, the huge complaint would be Nomura trying to Nomura this game.
Seeing Rufus with all the trademark Nomura belts and buckles was a bit cheesy, but then the whole game goes to brand new characters, new beings, and a timeline twist of fate Kingdom Hearts shenanigans style that will make you overthink what you knew, or what you thought you knew, and who this person really is, or these beings trying to stop the intervention of beings intervening with time and fate. Sound ridiculous? Well, it could be that I just made all of that up off the top of my head. Or that Nomura made all of that up because HE DID. I wish I was kidding here folks. That is really my only big complaint here. And it goes further than that, but I refuse to spoil anything. Some of my friends who are fans of the original are fine with it. And that’s completely alright. But I am just not. So much that I might make a separate article about how dumb I think this move is. But, I am not Tetsuya Nomura, and in the grand scale, it might pay off in ways I haven’t thought about. So my gripes are that, some texture issues, and the occasional drawn out battle. Over all, I enjoyed this game.
If you are a fan of the original, or have never played it, I would still suggest Final Fantasy VII Remake. There is plenty for everyone here, including post game stuff to do, and a hard mode that looks very intense. And at the end of the day, regardless of my complaints, you get a very high caliber game made with the love and respect it deserves. And I can’t wait to play the future parts of the game, barring Cloud starting to sport clown shoes and has to save people’s hearts.
We have finally made it this far, no longer in the April Fools' abyss.
The graphics are just so good! Which if you remember the original, they were also pretty groundbreaking for consoles.
The soundtrack is so much fun, hearing so many variations of each track.
A nice mixture of real time and turn based, making for a very fun, and very busy battle system.
Occasionally textures have problems popping in, but I think that will be fixed in the future.
The new additions can be too silly, and almost takes away more than it adds to the game.
Kingdom Hearts 2.5HD Remix 1/2 Machina Belt Buckle Zipper Extraction/358 Days Birth By Sephiroth is just not needed in this story. At all.