Review – Final Fantasy VII Remake

Final Fantasy VII cover shot of Cloud looking up at Shinra building.

If you’ve come to know me as a contrarian or something, then it might surprise you to know I actually like Final Fantasy VII. Just before I started the Game Complaint Department, I finished my first playthrough of it. As much as I saw a number of flaws with the narrative, it still had a lot of style and subversiveness to it. Of the Final Fantasy games I’ve actually completed (I, VI, VII, IX, XV, VIIR at the time of writing), it’s my favourite. Truly, I think it’s a good game, and while I’m not obsessed with it enough to play all the spin-offs and dive deep into the lore, I at least can see how it got its reputation and devoted fanbase.

Honestly, I’m somewhat jealous of that devoted fanbase. I wish I loved anything as much as some people love Final Fantasy VII.

Like with the Resident Evil 2 remake, I didn’t think a Final Fantasy VII remake was ever going to happen, but this is based on now outdated observations of trends. Back, say, 10 years ago, remakes were essentially just remasters. The furthest companies would go would be something like the 2002 remake of Resident Evil or the Pokemon sub-generational remakes. They would never put in this much effort. But recently, publishers and developers seem to have realized that it’s profitable to cater to existing fanbases.

Which is fine. I once thought remakes were a sign of laziness and a dearth of creativity, but that opinion in itself is lazy and lacking creativity. With access to retro games becoming more sparse and isolated, having a game remastered or remade holds significance in keeping even once-popular games relevant in a world that seems to have a progressively shorter memory.

I did think it was kind of lame when Square Enix announced that Final Fantasy VII Remake was going to be the first in a trilogy that remakes the game. Their excuse was along the lines of it being too ambitious. Did it have to be? No. Should it have been? I’m going to stick with no.

Final Fantasy VII Remake aerial view of Midgard
That is some damned good urban engineering.

REAL TOPICAL

Final Fantasy VII Remake retells the story of professional prick and cover model of Hairless Body Monthly, Cloud Strife, as he reluctantly joins a group of eco-terrorists, Avalanche, who are trying to save the planet from the megacorporation, Shinra. It’s really not much of a secret that Mako, a substance they extract from the planet to create energy, is really the planet’s life force.

Cloud joins them on their first attempt to blow up a Mako reactor, and while they succeed, the explosion is much bigger than they expected, and it causes a lot of collateral damage. There’s something of a lingering question about whether or not Avalanche is the good guys, but of course, they are. Shinra is a morally devoid corporation that is literally sucking the planet dry for its own gains. It’s a great choice of antagonist in the present day, where most of us exist under the thumb of some morally devoid corporations that are literally sucking the planet dry for their own gains.

Also – and this seems more explicit in Final Fantasy VII Remake – Shinra is actually the ones causing the most damage, sabotaging Avalanche’s sabotage, as it were. Midgar, a massive city where the rich live in cities built high above the slums beneath them, is their hometown, and they’re willing to see it wrecked if it allows them to spin a narrative and further their goals.

Final Fantasy VII Remake Cloud fighting a Hedgehog Pie
The terrific enemy design is back.

SUCKING THE PLANET DRY

Original Final Fantasy VII kicks off with an extended sequence in a single city, Midgar. It could take players around 6-8 hours to get through it. When I was first trying to get into the PS1 game, a friend told me that the game got so much better after Midgar, so it’s pretty bold that Square Enix would take the boring-est part and make it the entirety of the first part of their remake trilogy.

Yeah, Final Fantasy VII is a 35-40 hour extrapolation on the Midgar portion.

This sounds absolutely stupid – and it is – but there is some logic behind it. First, Midgar is the most visually arresting location in the game. It’s an amazingly scaled, art deco, fantasy cyberpunk city. Out of anywhere in Final Fantasy VII or the series in general, Midgar is the place I would most be excited to see rendered in modern 3D.

It’s also where a lot of the most important characters are introduced, and it makes sense that you’d want to give them more depth. Each one is given time to shine, and you’re given more reason to care about each one. Especially Barret, who you should have already cared about a lot because Barret is the best.

So, yeah, when you think about it, spending more time fleshing out the story in the most narrative-heavy portion of the game is a worthwhile endeavor. However, if you just focused on the story bits, you’d have way too much story and not a lot of actual gameplay. So, Square Enix counter-balanced this by adding way too much gameplay to the way too much story.

On the plus side, you learn to appreciate the story more because the game itself feels like drudgery.

Final Fantasy VII Remake Midgard burning after the reactor explosion
There goes the neighbourhood.

ERRAND BOY

The Midgar area of the original Final Fantasy VII is largely a linear slice of the game where you just move from scene to scene until you’re finally kicked out into the larger world. As I mentioned earlier, memorable scenes aside, it kind of sucked. In a way, it feels like it’s trying to keep you entertained just enough to get you through the boring parts. Despite its length, it moves rather quickly.

Not only does Final Fantasy VII Remake extend sequences that were originally over pretty quickly, Square Enix added these portions along the way where you explore sections of the city and do odd jobs like literally herding cats and children. I guess it’s so the game wouldn’t just be completely linear and would resemble an actual RPG. It’s just so tedious.

So, you’ll spend a few hours going through story sequences that happen over lengthy dungeons and setpieces before being barfed out into small open worlds to do insipid side-quests. It completely wrecks the pacing, going from breezy and mostly enjoyable narrative sequences, dungeons that are a smidge too long, and then into boring open-ish world bits. Start, stop, start, stop.

I’m pretty sure you can mostly skip out on most of the sidequests, but saying, “Well, you don’t have to play this part of the game,” is rarely a compliment. What makes it worse is that it essentially gives you a checklist, which is a part of modern game design that ensures you can’t miss shit. You know exactly how many side quests there are in each area and how far you are into them because they’re listed. It’s inorganic. It’s a chore. It’s literally running errands. I was somewhat afraid that the remakes would be only valuable to fans who are already deeply invested in the subject matter, but this is worse. It’s not valuable at all.

Final Fantasy VII Remake Cloud fighting an evil house while a Fat Chocobo sits nearby.
This housing market is ridiculous.

LACK OF LIFESTREAM

It’s unfortunate because there is still a lot to like about the game. As I mentioned, the narrative is strong. The characters are depicted well, and they’re a lot more well-rounded than they ever were in the 1997 original. I didn’t really care for someone like Tifa in her chunky polygonal form, but here, there’s little to hate. Cloud gradually grows from being an emotionless turd to an emotionless jerk. And Barret is just great. Just great.

Also, rather than just being a straightforward retelling of the story, Final Fantasy VII Remake makes changes beyond just altering things to take advantage of the modern graphics. They’ve positioned it so that even if you’re extremely familiar with the plot, nothing is certain anymore. You can’t expect the same beats. Things aren’t guaranteed to play out the same way, and you can tell because it’s made blatantly obvious by the end.

I mostly enjoyed the new combat system, though it does have a habit of becoming too busy to read, especially since you can’t turn off the fucking motion blur. Some of the bosses have defensive moves that stretch their battles out to infinity. They’re not too hard, at least not on the standard difficulty, but they can stretch on. The Materia system is well integrated, however, and the extra pressured/staggered system of exploiting enemy weakness is a nice bit of depth. It is certainly flashy, as well.

Not bad, but it’s not enough to make the dungeons all that much fun. Since they dropped the random battle nature of the original version, you’re mostly just moving from battle to puzzle to battle. Each dungeon is a microcosm of the entire game: start, stop, start, stop. It even stretches into what should be the climax, ensuring that the pacing never gains much momentum.

Final Fantasy VII Barret telling Cloud that they need to make an employee aware of their employer's evil doings.
I hear that, Barret.

PROFIT AT ALL COSTS

As I said before, there’s still a lot to like about Final Fantasy VII Remake. If you cornered me at the game store and asked me to give a candid opinion, I’d tell you I mostly enjoyed it. I’m just not particularly enthusiastic.

The issue is just that, while the story benefits from a modern touch and the ability to tell it in a more detailed way, the modernized gameplay sucks some of the colour out of it. They just copy pasted stuff from popular games, sanded it smooth, and stretched the narrative over it like a latex mask. What’s good is mostly the stuff that was taken from the original game and the expanded narrative bits. The rest is just tiring.

You’re left with this perfectly good story from a more creative and unconventional period of video games that is padded by the least creative and completely conventional developments from the past few years. Not that the JRPG genre was entirely fresh in 1997, but at least it wasn’t this padded. Which isn’t to say you won’t like it, because I did to some extent. It allows you to experience things from a game you love in a different, more spectacular way. But all that padding really deadens the impact.

6/10

This review was conducted on a PlayStation 5. The author probably got it through the PlayStation Plus games of the month.

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About Zoey Handley 233 Articles
Zoey made up for her mundane childhood by playing video games. Now she won't shut up about them. Her eclectic tastes have led them across a vast assortment of consoles and both the best and worst games they have to offer. A lover of discovery, she can often be found scouring through retro and indie games. She currently works as a Staff Writer at Destructoid.

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