Tifa and Cloud and Barrett, oh my!
If you can all remember, I once promised that I would play through and review all the mainline Final Fantasy games starting with Final Fantasy VI. Well, I’m here to report that in all that time I have managed to finish Final Fantasy VI and the Midgar portion of Final Fantasy VII. Oh, and I’ve also beaten Final Fantasy VII Remake and that’s what I’m going to talk about here today.
It is a little hard for me to talk about anything Final Fantasy VII related because I missed out on playing the original game back when it came out in 1997. Our family never owned a PlayStation and we were all too busy playing our Nintendo 64 to even worry about it. Although I never personally played VII when it first came out, I did, however, grow up in its fumes.
What I mean by that is that people have never stopped talking about Final Fantasy VII since it came out. They seriously won’t shut up about it. The game is now like that movie you’ve never seen before but you can still recite all of the main plot points. I can tell you all about Final Fantasy VII even though I have never played the second half of the game (I’ve played through the first five or so hours of it many times, however). I’m sure many of you can at least name a few characters from the game even if, like me, you have never played it. It’s almost like this is Final Fantasy VII’s world and we’re all just living in it.
As a consequence, the game has almost become mythological. With that in mind, you can almost see why I was just as excited as everyone else when Square Enix announced Final Fantasy VII Remake way back in 2015. Although I never played the original game, I was still taken in by the prospect of a remake of a game that people had hyped up for two decades. I was taken in by everyone’s excitement and I couldn’t wait to try it out. Too bad it didn’t come out for another five years.
And so that was my mindset with Final Fantasy VII. Longtime readers will probably not be surprised, however, when I say that I bought the remake at launch and then proceeded to never play it for two years. That’s just par for the course as far as I’m concerned.
The first thing I want to say about Final Fantasy VII Remake is that it is a beautiful-looking game (especially on PS5). The environments and the characters are gorgeous even though some of the backgrounds are obviously just JPEGs but that really doesn’t matter in my opinion. What matters is what everything looks like up close and I can say with confidence that everything looks really good (mostly).
Not only do the graphics look great but every character has been perfectly translated into 3D from their blob-like appearance in the original game. Cloud, Barrett, Tifa, Aerith, and even Red XIII are truly a sight to behold. None of their personalities have been lost in the conversion either. The art teams at Square Enix did a magnificent job here and I can’t praise their work enough.
One of the first things you should notice about Final Fantasy VII Remake is that the combat is different from the 1997 game. Long gone is the turn-based combat of the original. It has been replaced by an action-command hybrid system. I used to consider myself a fan of the old turn-based style of combat but, after finishing Remake, I have to say that I don’t miss the turn-based mechanics. That’s a testament to how much fun I had with the combat in Remake.
So, how does that there fancy combat work, I hear you asking. Well, it is really simple. You can press the attack button to hit enemies with a simple attack. This, along with getting hit in turn, helps build up what are called ATB gauges. ATB stands for “Active Time Battle” and is a callback to the original Final Fantasy VII’s combat. Anyways, once one (or even two) of these bars fills up, you can do a special menu-based attack. These can either be a spell or a special ability. For example, Cloud can do his Braver or Cross Slash attack using one of these ATB bars.
Not only that but you have to fill up one of these gauges in order to heal as well. This aspect of the combat took a little getting used to because it made me really nervous when one or more of my party members were about to die and no one had an ATB charge to use. It made for some really hectic battles, let me just tell you. I wasn’t a fan of this system at first but it really grew on me as the game went on.
I have to mention this here before I forget but is there a way to quick heal everyone in the party once a fight is over? I could never find a way to do it and it was quite annoying having to heal everyone individually after every fight. I discovered that you couldn’t even do it from within the pause menu which I thought was odd. You would think there would be a better way to do it other than using the command menu outside of battle. And, you know what, there may be a better way but I never found it. If there is, let me know in the comments down below! Anyways, back to the combat.
The battles, as I mentioned, were quite hectic and is one of the many reasons why I enjoyed them so much. I had to always be paying attention because the tide of battle could literally shift at any moment. There were times when I thought we would lose for sure but then the stars would align, everyone’s ATB bars would fill up, and then my team would steamroll all the enemies in sight. The opposite was true as well. I thought I had a few battles in the bag and suddenly I didn’t no more. What I found most interesting is that I would lose a battle, load up a save, return to the same group of enemies, and then I would win quite easily in the grudge match. The battles made me feel like the best and worst fighter in Final Fantasy VII Remake at the same time. I had a great time with it and I know you can too.
I forgot to mention this but you can switch between characters on the fly mid-combat as well. In fact, it is encouraged because each character handles quite differently. For example, Cloud has his sword for up close and personal combat while Barrett has his gun arm to attack from a distance while Tifa uses her fists and Aerith has her magic. I think they did a fantastic job making each character feel different and unique in battle. I have to admit that I never got used to using Tifa. I’ve read that she handles a lot like a fighting game character and if that’s true then the reason why I never got used to her becomes clear. I don’t play fighting games.
One thing I didn’t like about the combat is how dumb the AI is when left to their own devices. There were times (especially when fighting a boss) when I would take cover because the boss was obviously getting ready to unleash a big attack and I would look over and spy my AI companions standing right in the way of the attack. There were also times when I would heal one of my party members, turn around, and look back just five seconds later and I would discover that they were almost dead again. How does that happen? Can’t they stay out of the line of fire for more than a few moments?
There is a way to issue commands to your intrepid colleagues but, since I absolutely hate micromanagement, I never did this. I instead focused my whole attention on what I was doing at any one moment because, like I said, the battles can get a little hectic and you don’t want to miss anything. This strategy must have worked since I was able to beat the game all by myself. I know you all are really proud of me.
The boss battles were a lot of fun since many of them had weak spots or required a certain strategy to beat them. I had a good time trying to read their attacks in order to respond to what was going to happen. I especially enjoyed the battles where it was only Cloud versus the boss as it was almost like a duel. I had to really pay attention so I didn’t get killed within two seconds. As I said, there was a trick to beating many of the bosses and you just had to pay attention to figure it out.
One thing I wished that Remake’s battle system had was a dodge mechanic. I could never get a character to dodge an attack no matter how many times I rolled or ran around. Maybe this wasn’t supposed to be an aspect of the whole system hence why it’s not in here but I really wish it was. Maybe I was supposed to just be blocking the whole time or just keep running until the attack fizzled out. It was just weird how I couldn’t dodge attacks that were obviously going to hit hard. It seemed like I just had to absorb a few blows because there was nothing else I could do. Also, the enemies in the last third of the game who can freeze party members were a real pain in the ass.
Never fear, Final Fantasy VII purists! They didn’t forget to put materia in Remake. Materia, for those of you who don’t know, give party members like our boy Cloud all sorts of abilities. This can range from spells like Thunder, Blizzard, or Cure to passive bonuses which increase HP and the like. There is a lot more variety to materia than I am letting on here but I want you to discover that for yourself should you choose to play this here game. One piece of advice for the materia is that you should always try to have all your bases covered when it comes to spells. You never know when you’ll need a specific spell to defeat an enemy and it’s best to always have it on hand.
Perhaps the best materia in the game are the summon materia. Summons are big creatures which can be called into battle to help you out. Once summoned, they will do their own attacks against enemies and will even allow you to spend a few of your ATB bars to do special attacks. Oh, and they’ll also do a big final attack on their way out. The game doesn’t explicitly say what conditions are required for a summon to appear but it seemed to be a once-per-boss-fight thing.
You can also upgrade individual weapons using SP points. These points increase each time a character levels up (at least that’s how I interpreted it anyhow) and they can be spent on a variety of upgrades. These upgrades are your standard fare for RPGs: you can bolster each character’s health, magic, and defense among other things. Weapons also feature their own special abilities. These abilities can be learned by whichever character has the weapon equipped as long as certain conditions are met. What this means is that these abilities can be used by the character in question without having the weapon he or she learned the ability from equipped. That all make sense? Good, moving on.
One last thing I will say about the combat is that you should really (and I mean really) consider having the “Assess” materia equipped to someone in your party at all times. This materia allows you to scan enemies which will basically give you a printout of its weaknesses along with providing a list of ways to stagger them (this allows you to do a massive amount of extra damage to them). I found this materia to be essential. I can’t imagine trying to play through this game without it. My hat’s off to anyone who played through Remake without the “Assess” materia equipped because that means you had to discover every weakness for each enemy by yourself. That is truly an accomplishment.
I just want to take a moment and point out how long I have gone on about the combat in Final Fantasy VII Remake. Longtime readers will note that I never, ever talk this much about the combat in any game (although I think I did talk a lot about the combat in the Yakuza games too). I usually gush about a game’s story, characters, and soundtrack and then say something along the lines of “Oh, there’s combat too. It’s pretty good.” And then call it a day there. This should tell you all you need to know about the combat system in Remake. It was so good that it made yours truly blabber on and on about it.
Oh, I almost forgot to complain about one little, tiny problem I had with the combat. I found myself wasting ATB charges way too often because enemies can interrupt your characters while they’re winding up for their special moves. Additionally, I witnessed my party members missing the enemies while using those same attacks. They would sometimes execute their special moves and miss their targets by mere feet. Now, I admit, my first concern could have been remedied by me simply “getting gud” at the game.
My second point, however, can’t be fixed in such an easy fashion. I especially got mad whenever an enemy would jump out of range just as I selected one of my character’s abilities. These two issues really bothered me because, as I said before, you need those ATB charges not only for abilities and special attacks but also for healing and other such nonsense. This makes those ATB charges very precious which made it all the more annoying when I wasted them because an enemy interrupted me or when a character missed their target by the smallest of margins.
Before we dig into the story, there’s one aspect of Final Fantasy VII Remake in particular that I want to discuss. And that is the game doesn’t seem to know how to let go of the player’s hand. What I mean by this is the game is afraid to let the player make a mistake or is even afraid of letting the player explore for more than five seconds without saying exactly what you should be doing. There are many examples I could provide but one really comes to mind while I’m sitting here typing this.
There is a section of the game which involves moving shipping containers with cranes. One part of this section has Cloud operating two different cranes in order to construct a way forward. I was messing with the controls of the two cranes for maybe a minute before text along the lines of “Try stacking the crates” appeared onscreen. This really bothered me because I had literally just figured out what to do. And, I want to say it again, I had only been messing with this puzzle for a minute or maybe two if I’m being generous with my estimate. This rubbed me the wrong way and it happens several times throughout the game. I just wish the developers had trusted us the players and let all of us off the leash more often.
I would be remiss and would never be forgiven if I didn’t mention Final Fantasy VII Remake’s soundtrack. I once read a comment on a YouTube video which stated that Nobuo Uematsu was one of the greatest composers of all time. Who is Nobuo Uematsu, you ask? Well, he was the composer for most of the music for all the Final Fantasy games up until IX. This, of course, includes VII and it is probably one of his best-known works.
Having now heard the fully orchestrated tracks which are based off of Uematsu’s original work, I can now agree with that YouTube comment I read. Hearing these pieces come alive in Final Fantasy VII Remake was one of the greatest joys for me personally while playing through this game. I was worried that those melodies written over twenty years ago wouldn’t stand the test of time but let me assure you that they do. The Bombing Mission Theme, the Gold Saucer, Aerith’s theme, and even the battle theme (“Let the Battles Begin” is its official title) are just a few examples of songs that are simply amazing.
I was also glad that many of these songs can be collected throughout the game from merchants, random people in the street, and even from vending machines. I would stop whatever it was I was doing whenever I heard a new track and look around until I found where I could buy that song. You don’t really get anything for collecting these songs as far as I can tell but I just liked collecting them so I could learn what their official names were so I could (legally of course) look them up later.
One thing I am unsure of is whether or not the soundtrack will change in the next installments of this little remake project. I wonder because many of the tracks you can buy are from areas in the latter parts of the original Final Fantasy VII which means said areas weren’t in Remake. Costa del Sol is a prime example. I hope they don’t completely change the soundtrack as new entries in the Remake project keep coming out since many of these songs are classics and it would be weird if we didn’t hear them going forward.
And now we finally come to the story. I have written and rewritten this section about half a dozen times now because I was never really satisfied with it. I’m still not satisfied but I have to move on at some point so here we go. Without further ado, here is my review of Final Fantasy VII Remake’s story!
I decided to follow the old adage of “Keep it Simple, Stupid” here. I liked how the story was handled in Final Fantasy VII Remake. I didn’t really enjoy it until about Chapter 4, however. I couldn’t exactly pinpoint why I started liking it at that point. All I can say is that all of the main characters started interacting in this chapter and the charm of the whole group won me over. I was quite fond of them all by the end of the game and I look forward to seeing them again in late 2023. Oh, who am I kidding? We all know that the next part of this story won’t be coming out next year.
I won’t bother trying to explain the setup of the story for you all because, quite frankly, you wouldn’t believe me even if I did. The story of Final Fantasy VII Remake is best experienced with as little knowledge as possible going into it. I know that’s a tall order since the plot details of the original game have been floating around in public for decades now but I implore you all to try.
The only thing (or character) I’ll mention is a guy named Sephiroth. For those who don’t know, Sephiroth is kind of a big deal. I bring him up because I’m curious to hear what newcomers to Remake have to say about him. I watched the trailer for Final Fantasy VII Rebirth, which is the next chapter in the Remake saga, and it includes the line “What is Sephiroth’s endgame?” I burst out laughing when I saw that because, even as someone who has played and finished Final Fantasy VII Remake, I still can’t tell you what Sephiroth’s game was period. That’s why I’m curious what people who didn’t play the original game think.
To me, the ending almost devolved into unintelligible nonsense. I will venture to say that if you haven’t played Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII then you wouldn’t be able to understand it. I know I didn’t. I can hear people writing comments already about what I just said but let me just ask you this: doesn’t Square Enix have a history of writing stories which are unintelligible? Just ask any Kingdom Hearts fan and you’ll have your answer. I’m worried that Square Enix will drag this project out forever and we’ll never get a satisfying conclusion. I hope I’m proven wrong in the end but that doesn’t mean I won’t be worried throughout the whole thing.
Another thing I’ll say about the story of Final Fantasy VII Remake is that I think there could have been fewer cutscenes. The main story cutscenes were great but the ones I’m talking about are the scenes which interrupted the gameplay nearly every minute. I’m being dead serious by the way. There were parts where I would walk maybe fifty feet and a new short cutscene would trigger. It became annoying after a while. They felt especially egregious because most of them didn’t add anything to the overall story. There was one cutscene in particular, and people who’ve played the game will know what I’m talking about, where all we learned from it was that a monster the party had just fought must live in the sewer. That’s it. That’s all we discovered in that scene. This scene and a whole host of other ones could have been cut in my most humble opinion.
One last thing I’ll say about the whole game is that, although I liked it as stated above, I still think certain parts of the game were drawn out just because the developers thought they should do so. I liked most of the expanded portions of the game (Wall Market comes to mind here) when compared to the original VII but I still think it could have been trimmed down a little here and there. This ties in with what I said above about how I’m worried about this whole project going forward. I don’t want the story to drag on and on just because the developers feel like they have to. Does that make sense? I hope it does. This paragraph in particular was one I wrote and rewrote multiple times and I still don’t think it’s just quite right yet. Oh well, it’ll have to do.
I really, really enjoyed my time with Final Fantasy VII Remake. I had my reservations going into it but they’ve mostly been allayed. It was good to see all of these characters come back to life and to see a new take on this classic story. Although the story was what had drawn me in from the get-go, I was pleasantly surprised by the nuanced and chaotic combat. I am still concerned for the future of this whole project but I’m along for the ride no matter what happens. I just hope that Square Enix doesn’t get lost with me in the backseat.
Thanks for reading! Have any of you played Final Fantasy VII Remake? Like I said, I’m mostly interested in hearing from people who never played the original game and only played this one. Even if you don’t meet those requirements, I would still like to hear from you. Come on, don’t be shy now!