Final Fantasy VII Remake Review: The Best of Square Enix in One Package

How long would you be willing to wait to have a promise kept? A week? A year? How about five? Seems long? Well, turns out a fanbase can be really, really patient. Back in 2015, Square Enix made an announcement to the public that they were going to remake that pretty much defined the jRPG experience on the PlayStation. A few weeks ago, they finally released the promised game. The only question now is if they make good on the promises and if it’s truly worthy of being called the remake of a generation’s favorite game.

As I closely followed the days up to the release, I already knew that the developers behind this title were pretty much on the right track. When I finally picked up the game, I kept playing through it and continued to ask myself one thing. How can they possibly top this? Then, a minute later, they take it to the next level again. How exactly they did this and how I experienced it, let me share with you what I found.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you my review for Final Fantasy 7 Remake.

 

Production (4.9 / 5)

Square Enix being the kind of developers they are, having great models and animation would be pretty much a given. And while we could say that some of the graphics don’t look as sharp as they can be or textures have a tendency to pop, which can actually be a bit distracting, every part of the game felt very detailed. Nothing felt too blatantly copy-pasted except maybe the breakable crates littered around dungeon areas. 

Random NPCs looked convincing enough and weren’t obviously lower detail unless you really looked, the main cast though had an impressive amount of attention given to them when they were put together. They added a bit of a flare to each character to have their designs make more sense and once put under higher fidelity and modernized their fashion sense a bit without dropping key elements from their look. Cloud for example didn’t have hair as exaggerated has his low-poly counterpart, Barret had an interesting covering around his gun-arm to hide what was probably more gruesome details, and Tifa’s design was changed to look more sporty and probably to look better and more consistent in animation.

Transitions between regular movement and battle are now just the appearance of the status bar, fights can take place anywhere, to the camera’s occasional dismay. Dealing with flying enemies or being pinned against walls is produces the camera problem that every 3D game seems to have failed to solve so far, and I suppose FF7R isn’t going to be making any strides in this direction. But they do succeed in many other areas, such as the transition being a near time-stop when activating tactical mode while in the fight.

The same can be said for the audio experience, where it’s almost as if several versions of the song are constantly being played and simply switch between each other depending on the context of the situation, this sticks out the most during boss battles, where a the song playing may grow more intense  as the big bad shifts to the next phase. This seamless experience made everything a joy and just made me want to keep playing.

The voice acting in this game, at least for the English version I would say around the level of a Disney movie. I particularly enjoyed the performance of Barret, I even prefer the English voices to the Japanese ones as it just sounds more unique. There’s also all the side-conversations you might not catch if you don’t exactly speak the language.

All in all, save for a few technical nitpicks, this game’s production values both in visual and audio dimensions is just the best I’ve seen from Square Enix.

 

Mechanics (5 / 5)

A good design for combat would be something where everything you’re doing feels like it matters. That’s exactly what keeps you engaged, this is why Dark Souls had taken off the way it did. Even waiting and watching your enemy could be a viable action to take especially if you don’t know what it’s capable of yet. Persona does something very similar but in the complete opposite way, instead of holding you accountable for every second you’re spending fighting a boss, you’re free to take all the time you need to consider your next action as you are constantly a few turns away from being completely annihilated. One focuses on you thinking on your feet and quickly reacting to any situation, the other focuses on thorough analysis and planning. Both of these approaches have their respective merits and audiences, and Final Fantasy 7 Remake has nailed making an unbelievable balancing act between them.

The first thing you’ll be able to do in battle is active combat, where you can attack, guard, or dodge. It pretty much feels like an action-rpg from the Dark Souls genre, except you can’t dodge or guard everything. You’ll have to know the appropriate response to each attack if you want to manage through the battles without having to use precious MP for spamming heals. You’ll also want to attack as much as possible to charge your turn bar faster, which allows you to enter ‘Tactical Mode.’

Tactical Mode is pretty much the traditional FF7 combat you may be well acquainted with, you use a menu to choose an action you want to take that’s not within active combat, it can be using a skill, casting a spell, calling a summon, or using an item. Commiting to an action means consuming a turn charge, where each character can have a maximum of 2 charges.

To top it all off, you have a maximum of 3 party members. Which you can freely swap between for control. The game paces you in such a way that you’ll have time to get used to every character before it tests you if you understand how to really make use of them. You’ll also want to swap between them their AI basically makes them attack at a low frequency, but generally manages to capably defend themselves. So while one of your party members may run out of things to do or is charging for the spell you just committed, you’ll want to swap out to the next guy who may be in a much better position to mount an attack.

Even with the capability to put time to a near stop, battles, particularly ones with bosses, can quickly get hectic. You have to make sure you’re ready to dodge the next big attack. Do you want to cast that spell now? What if it gets cancelled? You can use your turn now but you may need a heal a few seconds later.

Correctly analyzing the enemies and matching up the proper method of attack against them puts them in a stagger state, which is basically your chance to freely wail on them and even get boosted damage. This is likely where you want to commit your big damage attacks, and even Limit Breaks that don’t even need to consume any turn charges. You don’t want to really waste time doing nothing because that means more time enemies have to take you down, and they will if you’re not paying attention. Everything you do or don’t do matters and it does this while balancing a turn-based and action-rpg approach. Quite honestly it’s pretty amazing.

Progression systems are also a mix of things. While there’s the standard levelling up for stats and the materia development, there’s also the weapon customization system. The former two is easy enough to understand, you grind to have better stats for each character and have access to stronger effects or spells from materia.

The weapon customization deserves a bit more looking into, your characters gain Skill Points (SP) mainly through levelling up but you can also find items or complete quests that reward one of your characters additional SP. These points are then used to buy upgrades within a weapon, it could be more stats, a special interaction or buff, or increased materia slots.

 

Content (4.7 / 5)

Each weapon will have their own amount of skill points to spend, so you won’t have to worry about using too many of them in one weapon only to find one you like better later. Each weapon has a skill set and stats that changes how the character equipping them should, effectively making each weapon a sub-class of each character. Maybe you prefer Tifa to be more of a spell caster that cast haste on everyone so she can spam stun moves? Or watch Barret do a Lariat with a melee weapon? Or for some reason you like to watch Cloud play baseball? There’s a lot of options to take. I really liked that they made it so that every weapon is viable at any point of the game, maybe it’s just their excuse to be able to wear the Buster Sword all the time, but hey I l really like it.

While the game only presents you with 4 playable characters, it becomes easy to see why when you consider how much work they put into making each character. Cloud basically plays out as a vanguard type, Barret being the ranged attacker, Tifa takes on the role of a quick-attacker, and Aerith becomes the spell caster. Along with the three basic actions of combat they also have an alternative attack function, the most interesting being Cloud’s stance change to Punisher mode, allowing him to counter when hit by a melee attack.

The game plays in a pretty linear manner save for stops at three towns where you get to play ‘odd jobs Cloud’ for a day. While usually open world segments generally are designed to pad the game, each town felt very dense and lived-in, Wall Market being a particular stand out of the three. Flooding with people talking about their daily concerns as you pass them by, each place detailed in a such a way that they faithfully recreate significant settings within the old game and adding a bit more for you to explore. Each sub-quest also contributes a bit to your main story, either in loot rewards or slightly changing the result of the next few scenes after the town section.

The game runs for 18 chapters where I clocked about 38 hours on my first playthrough, which is a lot for a linear game that takes no interest in repeating areas if there’s no big change to it. They try to make every moment significant as you play, so they make scenarios play out in a very intentional way. Characters and their relationships are better explored and even some side characters are given a chance to win you over. This also means that you don’t ever get a chance to actually pick who your party members are, in exchange for that freedom, Square Enix made encounters designed for the specific party you have at any given time.

Another thing of note is how FF7 REMAKE has a bit of a play on words on it, because Square Enix likes to be coy sometimes. Yes, it presents the same old story, for the most part. Without getting to heavy on spoilers, I’d like to say that it certainly looks like they’re not just remaking how the game plays. It’s not that big a surprise considering the guy behind Kingdom Hearts is one of the big wigs behind the production of FF7R, what’s a bigger surprise is that they managed to keep this under wraps until now.

 

Features (4.3 / 5)

Aside from the challenges hidden within the game, you unlock Hard Mode once you clear the game for the first time. Generally enemies have stronger stats, and bosses gain a few new attack patterns or have a new rule to fighting them. You also gain levels and master materia much faster in this mode.

You also freely get to pick which chapter to revisit, having all of your character progress intact. Some challenges may or may not have been accessible beforehand, or you can now come back to them if you didn’t manage to complete the first time you busted through certain stages.

 

Conclusion

Back in 2015, another game was announced along with the Final Fantasy 7 Remake. And that game was Shenmue 3, but their reception upon release turned out to be quite different. However objectively speaking, they both set out to keep their promises, both took a long time to develop but they ultimately delivered. So why did the public view one as making good on that promise and the other one utterly failing? Leaving out the issue of the platforms they were launched on, maybe it wasn’t just a sequel or a remake that was promised, but a game everyone would love and enjoy.

While Shenmue 3 tried to pursue the logical next step for the game, the people behind FF7R realized that simply remaking the same game on higher graphics isn’t going to make what the original jRPG do back then, and that was shake up the idea of what a game like that should be. They’ve gone above and beyond what we could expect, made sure every detail a fan would remember would be in there yet make enough new things within the game that the experience constantly felt new instead of revisiting a beaten path.

Now, I don’t exactly agree with everything they’ve changed, particularly with some key points along the ending, but that does little to take away from the experience I had for so much more of the game, and I certainly look forward to their next installments.

You should play this masterclass of how to make a remake.

Final Fantasy 7 Remake certainly broke the limits of jRPGs scoring a 4.73 / 5.

 

Available on PS4.

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