I love Final Fantasy VII. I live it, I breathe it and I’ve been obsessed with it for as long as I can remember.
If you’ve read my (long neglected) blog before or you know me personally, you’ll know that Final Fantasy VII is the first JRPG I remember playing at the tender age of seven, so it holds an incredibly special place in my heart. And my love for it hasn’t waned at all since then.
I’ve always been a purist when it comes to this game, so when they first announced that they were going to remake it I was dead set against it. Nothing could compete with perfection in my eyes, and I simply didn’t want them to ruin it.
It’s taken so long for this game to actually come out that I’ve since become very excited for its release. And while I was still a little sceptical following the ‘meh’ that was Kingdom Hearts 3, I’m pleased to say that having finished my first play through my initial fears were completely unfounded and it’s bordering on perfection.
So, here’s my review of the first part of a game that’s been five(ish) years in the making. This review contains minor spoilers, so please only continue reading if you’ve already finished the game. All images used were captured on my PS4.
I was one of the lucky ones that managed to get their copy of the game a week early, but this didn’t necessarily give me a head start. Having played through the demo twice a few weeks prior, it was somewhat frustrating that this progress didn’t carry over to the final version of the game, but this didn’t make jumping back in any less fun.
The drama of the classic Opening Bombing Mission track booming through my TV as I jumped around the screen, chaotically waving Cloud Strife’s trademark buster sword around to take down Shinra soldiers, gave me instant nostalgia. In that moment it didn’t matter how many times I’d played this part of the game (both original and remake), it felt like I was playing it again for the very first time. My adrenaline was pumping and I wanted more. And that feeling of wanting more translated into 40 hours of amazing gameplay, with much more to come.
Since unlocking chapter select, I’m planning to return to it and complete as much as possible in order to keep me going until the next part is released. I’m trying so hard not to think about the fact that we don’t know when that is.
Playing the remake as a long-time fan of the 1997 original was an interesting experience when it came to plot, and it was incredibly difficult not to compare the two throughout. There was a constant awareness that I knew what was coming up next, and an impatience to get to my favourite parts sooner than the game would let me, but the subtle tweaks to the story kept me on my toes and meant that it didn’t feel like I was just playing an updated version of the original.
Some of these changes were in the interest of character development, with Jessie in particular getting a lot more screen time than in the original game which was great. It was amazing to see her and the history of Avalanche fleshed out more, really letting me build a relationship with all of those characters that I’d never had the chance to before.
There’s also a lot of fan service in this game, and I’m not going to lie, I’m totally here for it. Whichever characters you ‘ship’ from the original, there’s characterisation and character building aplenty here. If you’re anything like me, be prepared to mentally regress to a teenage-like state any time something particularly interesting happens with the character’s relationships. Oh, and the Honeybee Inn is amazing. That’s all.
Other changes seemed a bit unnecessary, and were often mixed with one of the biggest negatives of the game overall; side quests. I’m actually a huge fan of the JRPG side quest, and more often than not will ignore the main plot entirely for as long as possible in favour of running around the world map and completing fetch quests for every man and his dog. But some of these were a major drag, and probably not just for someone like me that simply wanted to get on with the next part as they knew there was something juicy coming up.
It wouldn’t be a JRPG without a side quest, but the formula of big chunks of plot and then a similarly sized chunk of usually compulsory side quests and general faffing was a bit grating and at times ruined the pace. However, this would have been a very short game without them, and completing them gave you some great gear so in a way I suppose I’m glad they were there.
Let the Battles Begin
The battle system was always going to be controversial, and adapting a traditional turn-based battle system from the golden era of JRPGs into a live action system is a tall order for any developer. It would have been easy for Square Enix to use the live action battle system from Final Fantasy XV and call it a day, but thankfully they didn’t.
I won’t lie and say that I didn’t miss the turn-based battle system (praying for the option in the next part), but this new system somehow managed to be a perfect hybrid. It was pretty chaotic at times, and I died more than I care to admit because of my gung ho approach, but it worked. Tactically hacking and slashing with your lead character, while making sure your healer was keeping everyone alive was fantastic and an absolute dream for the tactics-obsessed among us.
But it’s not the easiest battle system to get used to, and it took some time and patience to understand when to block and when to go all out. Let’s just say, if I had a swear jar it would be pretty full right now. This is where playing around with different weapons, equipment and Materia really pays off. Go into a boss battle unprepared and you’ll know about it. But spend a few minutes optimising your Materia and making sure you’ve got the best equipment for the job makes a huge difference between what could be a five-minute battle, or an unnecessary slog rinsing you of all your Phoenix Downs.
I remember when Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children came out, and how beautiful it looked. Compared to Final Fantasy VII Remake Advent Children looks amateur, and I never thought that’s something I would say. Recreating and enhancing such beloved characters was never going to be easy, especially when they started out as pretty low-res polygons, but they’ve only gone and done it. They all look beautiful, and I don’t know what more to say than that without turning into a fangirl.
And it’s not just the character models that are stunning. The sprawling steel metropolis of Midgar was somewhat ironically beautiful, despite its overall rundown appearance. And although I’ve walked these roads hundreds of times before, Midgar felt both familiar and fresh thanks to the upgrade to three dimensional graphics. From the run down streets of the slums, to the beautifully vibrant flower fields around Aerith’s house, the scenery was absolutely gorgeous.
Yes, there were some texture pop-in issues, but I can forgive that overall as they were so few and far between for me. Knowing what should be coming next, I can’t wait to see what the rest of the world looks like when we’re able to experience it.
My inner purist is also a massive fan of the original Final Fantasy VII soundtrack (if you’ve been here before, you’ll know my love of video game music overall), and again I was somewhat sceptical about how they could improve on this. I’d previously fallen in love with the rock and jazz adaptations from Nobuo Uematsu’s The Black Mages, and cried when I saw the orchestral Distant Worlds concert at The Royal Albert Hall several years ago, but there is a special place in my heart for the original midi files.
However, once again, I’ve been proven wrong with some absolutely incredible renditions of classic tracks that truly evoke a feeling of nostalgia, raw emotion and adrenaline. Not all of it is perfect (Lay Down Some Rubber ruins a great track in my opinion), but it’s about 90% of the way there and I’m incredibly excited to see what the next part of the game has to offer.
Being able to purchase individual tracks and play them on jukeboxes as you made your way through the game was also nice touch. It was always a lovely surprise when you heard a familiar sound in the distance, only to discover a vending machine with a much loved and updated classic available for purchase.
The voice acting is also fantastic. Well, at least the Japanese voice acting is. The English dub isn’t terrible, I had to play through it in the demo, but you can bet that was the first thing I changed when I loaded the game, and I don’t regret it. Sure, it meant I had to concentrate a bit more, but as someone who has a really bad habit of doing several things at once and not really paying full attention to anything, this made me give the game my sole attention and that can only be a good thing.
It’s also incredibly hard to find voice actors for a game that had no character audio at all back in 1997. There are certain expectations from the fans on what these characters sound like in their head, so matching that expectation is nigh on impossible. If you saw Advent Children then you will have had 15 years to get used to these characters actually talking, so it should be less of a shock to the system when playing the remake.
On Our Way
The ending caused a fair bit of controversy and to be honest I’m quite surprised that I’m not feeling the same way. I won’t go into the ins and outs of it in this review, mainly because it’s a bit complicated, but I will say that I’m very excited to see what this means for the future. The cautious side of me hopes that they don’t use this opportunity and take it too far from the heart of the original game, but the optimist in me hopes that they know what they’re doing.
Overall the Final Fantasy VII Remake has impressed me, and I think the majority of the world. Given Square Enix’s recent track record I think they knew that they really couldn’t mess this up, and I’m so glad that they didn’t. I already can’t wait to get stuck back in and grind back through some of the bits I missed on my first play through. I won’t be going anywhere near hard mode though. My neighbours have suffered enough swearing as it is.