Back in 1997, my family acquired a PlayStation and it came with a disc that had a demo for this game called Final Fantasy VII. I had some cursory knowledge of the franchise but didn’t have any experience with it at that time as I really didn’t care for role-playing games as a young child. That all changed as I went through the demo. As soon as we possibly could I made sure to get a hold of the full version and spent hundreds of hours on it. It became one of my all-time favorite games. A few years back I was sitting in the audience at Sony’s E3 press conference when this remake was announced. To say I was excited would be an understatement and now, finally, I have been able to go through Square Enix’s modern vision for Final Fantasy VII and it was damn near a religious experience.
Final Fantasy VII Remake starts off the same way as the original. There is an opening cinematic and then you swoop down to a train where you see members of Avalanche and a merc named Cloud getting ready for their mission. The first mission of the game is to blow up one of the Mako reactors in Midgar, just like in the original title. It should be stated that even though the two open up the same way, they have some definite differences. Final Fantasy VII Remake is actually going to be a number of different episodes and this one focuses solely on Midgar. Square Enix has done an amazing job of building up Midgar and making it a place where you will spend 40 hours exploring, going through the story, and checking out the additions and changes that have been made to the story. The story spoilers will be kept to an absolute minimum in this review however, so you don’t have to worry about that. The first change in the story from the original Final Fantasy VII takes place towards the end of the first mission. I won’t give away any details but circumstances of a certain situation seem to have changed. It is interesting to see what the consequences of that are both during my time in Midgar and in future episodes.
The original Final Fantasy VII had a turn-based fighting system like many J-RPGs of that time. You can still play that way via the game’s “Classic” mode, however, the main focus is on the brand new, action-packed system that is in the remake. This new system is a bit of a hybrid between what we saw back in 1997 and what is more prevalent today in 2020. The moment to moment combat has you running up on enemies and attacking them similar to what you would see in an action RPG. A good example would probably be thinking of the battle system in Kingdom Hearts where you can run up to an enemy and smack them in the face with your weapon, however, there is also some menu-based combat. This can come in the form of using materia, the magic system in both the original and the remake. By pushing the “X” button you can bring up a small menu system that will allow you to cast cure on a member of a party that needs it, lightning magic against a vulnerable enemy, begin summoning a monster to help you, initiate a limit break, and much more. This makes for fast and fluid battles where you will need to pay attention to what is going on or suffer the consequences. The Final Fantasy VII Remake has a pretty good difficulty curve to it as well so you aren’t going to want to be complacent when you are battling a group of enemies. There are four different modes to choose from including Easy, Classic, Normal, and Hard. The hard mode does not unlock until you beat the game, however, normal mode will give you a pretty good challenge itself. Once you beat the game you will be able to go to any chapter you want thanks to Chapter Select becoming an option. If you so desire you can start back on Chapter 1 and then put it on hard mode and see how you fare. When you do this everything you earned in your first playthrough (weapons, materia, etc) will still be there so you won’t be starting from square one, so to speak. In addition to enemies being more resilient to your attacks and being overall more powerful, the thing that is going to make it difficult for people is that on hard mode you can not use items. Any Final Fantasy fan will tell you that is a huge deal and it adds a layer of difficulty to an already difficult game. With that being the case you are going to want to plan out your materia use carefully making sure at least one person always has a Heal materia (or Prayer materia) since you won’t be able to use any potions, for example. If you are someone that is looking to get the platinum trophy in the Final Fantasy VII Remake you do have to beat it on hard but if you are someone that is just looking to experience the story you can avoid it altogether.
All of the characters that you expect to find in Midgar are there in the Remake, in addition to a bunch of new people you will meet. You’ll still see Cloud, Barrett, Tifa, Aerith, Biggs, Wedge, Jessie, and more throughout the adventure. The city of Midgar has also greatly expanded and is far denser. After you blow up the first reactor you will be able to explore Sector 8 a bit, for example. You eventually make your way to Sector 7 and Seventh Heaven but then, later on, see a different part of Sector 7 that wasn’t in the original. The iconic landmarks are still there, of course, such as the park in Sector 6, Wall Market, Don Corneo’s mansion, the Honeybee Inn, and more. Characters that filled secondary roles in the original are more fleshed out in the remake which means you will most likely grow more attached to them as you learn a bit about their backstory and who they are as people. Then there are some new secondary characters that all play a role in your adventures such as your landlord in Sector 7 and the Trio in Wall Market.
In addition to some of the quests Final Fantasy VII fans know about from the original, there are a number of new ones in the remake as well. One such quest is saving someone from some Shrina soldiers because he is a talker. He isn’t a member of Avalanche but has his suspicions about what they do and you need to save him before he spills the beans to Shinra. There are Merc quests too (a.k.a. side quests) that you can do throughout different chapters in the game. You will want to do these side quests when possible. If you do all of them you will be rewarded later on in the game. For example, if you do all of the side quests in Chapter 3 with Tifa then she will say she wants to go out on the town and celebrate with Cloud and you will get to pick the dress she wears for that evening. If you don’t do all of the side quests then you won’t see that cinematic and a dress will be automatically chosen. This is important if you are trying to get the trophy for acquiring all of the dresses in the game for Cloud, Tifa, and Aerith. Later on when it is you and Aerith in the party the number of side quests you do with her will determine the dress she wears during a famous scene in Wall Market that I won’t spoil (but people who have played the original will know what I am talking about).
I briefly mentioned the Materia system up above and it largely works the same way in the remake. Your weapon and armor have a set number of slots where you can put Materia. As you progress in the game you will earn SP points that will allow you to upgrade the weapon you are using. This part is new to the Remake and adds a nice layer of customization to your weaponry. Some of the upgrades you can unlock for your weapon are additional materia slots, higher HP when using that weapon, raising the maximum amount of magic points you can have, and more. Obviously, it should go without saying that you want as many materia slots as you can get so that is always what I upgraded first. By the time I was at the end of the game and I had the most powerful weapons and had them upgraded, I was able to have six different pieces of materia slotted into my weapon, six different pieces of materia slotted into my armor, and then one summon. As you can imagine there are a number of different combinations you can utilize depending on your play style. I almost always had Healing materia ready to go along with Lightning, Time, HP Plus, Elemental, First Strike, and more equipped. If you are having problems with a particular enemy you also might want to equip the Assess materia. By doing this you will receive details about the enemy, including any known weaknesses. One of the changes that fans of the original will notice is that you can only equip one Summon materia at a time. In the original, you could stock up and have three or four at your disposal at any given time but in the Remake, you just have one. The way you use it in the Remake is different too as it works a bit more like a limit break. What that means is there is a meter that needs to fill up and you can only utilize that summon when that meter is full and you have the ATB slots to perform the action. You can’t just use it as a normal function like you do with magic materia There is also brand new materia such as First Strike, Deadly Dodge, Parry, Prayer, and more.
Another new part of the remake is the Battle Intel quests. Fairly early on in the game, you meet this Shinra intern who is trying to take down the company from the inside. To do this he needs to gather all kinds of different information and he needs you to do it for him. In the beginning, the first report you need to do for him is simply assessing two enemies. When you have done that you can return to him and he’ll have new materia available to you. This is a quest line that runs through a good part of the game so you can’t get it all done it once. The reports also get more complicated and require more work. One report needs to max out every Magic materia in the game. I won’t spoil what you get if you accomplish this but it is pretty cool and can help you in the game. These Battle Intel quests are also a way to get some new summons in the game. There are a few instances where you will acquire Summon materia simply by exploring different environments, however, some other notable and popular Final Fantasy summons can only be acquired here. After you complete a certain number of Battle Intel reports you will see a VR quest pop up. These quests are a big battle with one of the summons. So, for example, you might have to battle Shiva. If you fight her and win then you will acquire Shiva as a summon that you can utilize. So while the Battle Intel reports are largely optional, you really will want to complete all 20 of them if you can.
The only issue I had throughout my entire time with the game was some of the textures didn’t look right at times. It wasn’t a prevalent problem but I did notice it from time to time. I wonder if that is a limitation of the PlayStation 4 and whether or not we will see the same thing playing this on a PlayStation 5 next year at this time (or on Xbox or PC when it is released there). It should be interesting to see what the differences are if any.
Final Fantasy VII Remake is a truly special game. It is a blueprint, in my opinion, of how you can take a beloved classic and bring it on to modern consoles. They greatly expanded on the original title in ways I probably wouldn’t have thought of and created a tremendous experience. I enjoyed all of the characters whether they were the main cast or ancillary figures. Seeing iconic locations like Sector 7, Wall Market, and the Shinra building reimagined was great and I had this huge nostalgia trip going through the adventure. Changes were made to the story which I found very interesting and I am really excited to see how it plays out in future iterations. If you are a Final Fantasy fan you really need to check this game out. If you are new to the series but have been curious about Final Fantasy VII this is also a great place to jump in. There is even a demo available on the PlayStation Network that you can download and check out free. The Final Fantasy VII Remake is a memorable return to Midgar and I can’t wait to see what Square Enix has in store for us next.
Originally posted on Gaming Target