Ever since the announcement of the Final Fantasy VII Remake in 2015, fans have excitedly dreamed about seeing their beloved turn-based game fully realized 1:1 in realistic, HD graphics. However, with the news that FFVIIR is being produced as a multi-part series with action-RPG elements, that excitement quickly turned to trepidation.

From gameplay to story, FFVIIR will be taking liberties with the foundation set by the original FFVII. But do these deviations from the original diminish the experience in any way?

The Steel Sky Has Never Been Bigger

1997’s Final Fantasy VII has an opening unlike any other game in the franchise. We’re introduced to Midgar, a dystopian metropolis that serves as the game’s starting town. What’s unique about this place is that Midgar isn’t merely a backdrop for tutorializing the game; it also establishes the game’s themes of anti-capitalist environmentalism and loss. So much time is spent here setting up the major conflicts of the story alone. However, for all that time spent here, players actually see very little of Midgar before the escape sequence at the end of the Midgar scenario.

2020’s Final Fantasy VII Remake is set entirely in Midgar. While some may feel this is done with malicious intent, to nickel and dime players who want the full story, I promise you this decision isn’t without merit. Midgar is now realized on a scale that wasn’t possible in 1997. Sectors have been fleshed out, and more opportunities are given to see aspects of life in the city that were glossed over previously.

Midgar in the original FFVII was a 4-5 hour experience, 6+ depending on your pace. To compensate for that limited run-time, the story and characters have been expanded. To do this, new characters and scenarios have been created, as well as re-purposing concepts and characters from the compilation of Final Fantasy VII. Fans who’ve kept up with the entire compilation will be pleasantly surprised to see the extended AVALANCHE cells of “Before Crisis,” and the Deepground labs from “Dirge of Cerberus”. Even Leslie and Kyrie from the short novel, “The Kids are Alright” appear. While the response to the compilation is mixed, the inclusion of its concepts feel natural, and add history to Midgar that exists outside of our protagonists.

Roche is one of the new characters you’ll encounter, a renegade Third-Class SOLDIER that has little care for anything other than thrill-seeking. His role is that of an intermediary rival to Cloud. He isn’t around for very long, but I appreciate his character. SOLDIERs in FFVII, outside of the main characters, have always been faceless enemies. It’s refreshing to have one that has enough personality to stand out. I’m excited to see the character return in future installments.

My favorite of the new scenarios is in Chapter 4, where Cloud helps Jessie, accompanied by Biggs and Wedge, break into a Shin-Ra facility. We get to see life on the upper plate for Shin-Ra employees, even Jessie’s home and parents. These are things missing from the original that just feel appropriate here. Jessie, Biggs and Wedge are characters that we spend little time with in the original, but FFVIIR does a great job of making you feel genuinely attached to them instead of insisting that you feel something for them like the original did.

Aside from the new events, the story is largely the same as any fan of the original would remember it. It brought me so much joy being able to call when events would play out. However, I was always taken aback by the quality and scale of those events as they happened. Seeing bosses turned into these huge, spectacle battles, seeing incredibly choreographed cutscenes, seeing moments that I expected to be cut out… Experiencing FFVII through this new perspective constantly brought me to tears as I played.

There’s an abundance of cut-scenes that aid in the character-building here. This is my favorite thing in the remake as my biggest contention with Final Fantasy XV was that it lacked real cut-scenes. Watching these characters interact, emote, and fight with this level of graphical fidelity is jaw-dropping. Nomura said that he wanted to draw inspiration from Advent Children for the look of this game, and I believe he’s surpassed it.

Just like the original FFVII’s Midgar, mini-games aren’t a huge part of the experience. But for the sake of being a fully realized game, they show up in a greater capacity in the remake. It’s quite clever how they’ve incorporated these mini-games into the new Midgar. All the mini-games of the original are still present, Wall Market’s gym mini-games and the G-bike segments. But what’s new are the combat simulations/Colosseum, 7th Heaven darts, and Idol dancing (Yes, dancing and it is great). As I said before, these aren’t huge parts of the experience, but they’re a nice break from the gameplay loop.

The soundtrack…. I can’t say anything about this game’s music that hasn’t already been said. It’s Final Fantasy VII, but re-orchestrated. It has never sounded better. Uematsu is involved in this project, but his only contribution lies in creating the game’s theme song, “Hollow”. The credit for the soundtrack overall goes to Masashi Hamauzu. For those unfamiliar with the name, you may be familiar with his work in games like Final Fantasy XIII or World of Final Fantasy. Uematsu’s compositions for FFVII are timeless, yet Hamauzu is able to arrange his compositions in a way that feels distinctly Hamauzu. His original compositions for FFVIIR’s soundtrack are also some of the most memorable pieces of music in the game.

What impresses me most about the soundtrack is the utilization of the music. During boss battles, music will go through several transitions as you enter new boss phases, gradually becoming more orchestrated until there’re full-blown choirs involved. Fans of the original FFVII’s music will also notice that songs in FFVIIR often allude to each other. The earliest example of this is in the intro melody to the song “Opening ~ Bombing Mission”. FFVIIR’s arrange of this song incorporates bits of “Those Chosen by the Planet”, a theme that alludes to the presence of Sephiroth. The music is just as important as the visuals when it comes to telling FFVIIR’s story, and that is its greatest strength.

Presentation is another one of the remake’s strengths, and it helps immensely in defining the scale of the city. One of my favorite moments while playing was getting off of the train to Sector 7, panning the camera up, and seeing the steel sky stretched overhead in every direction. Environments in FFVIIR adhere to the same design philosophy of the original. Midgar’s slums are characterized by its clutter, graffiti, and make-shift signs. Denizens populate every corner of the under-city; the chatter of NPCs keeps the lower sectors bustling, even at night. The upper-city is a sterile, quiet place, a stark contrast to under-city life.

I can’t talk about presentation without bringing up the stellar vocal performances in this game. The recasting of these characters was a huge point of contention for many people because of their attachment to them, but the new cast does such a great job that it doesn’t make me miss the legacy cast at all. John Eric Bentley’s performance as Barret was something I didn’t know I needed until I played this game. These characters have been brought to life with so much personality and realized with a passion that no other actor has been able to capture before. While some of the legacy VAs were great, the new cast just feels… right.

The Hybrid System + more

The original FFVII utilized a standard ATB combat system, FFVIIR does not, opting for an action approach to combat instead. With the unsatisfying combat of Final Fantasy XV still fresh in peoples’ minds, this was disappointing news for many, fearing that FFVIIR would end up a shallow Kingdom Hearts clone at best, or a brain-dead spam-fest at worst. Thankfully, it is neither. Fundamentally, FFVIIR’s combat has more in common with Crisis Core than anything else. It’s more of a grounded game. The combat requires careful consideration of movement, positioning and attacking as you have to commit to any actions you take during battles.

Kitase and his team endeavored to modernize FFVIIR while holding onto the gameplay aspects that gave FFVII its identity. To do this, they’ve created a unique hybrid system that incorporates both the ATB system of the original alongside action combat. By attacking and defending, you fill your ATB meter, granting access to ATB options (Called Tactical/Wait Mode) where you can easily access your abilities, spells, or items.

By entering Tactical Mode, time slows down, giving you a respite to assess your current situation and make decisions comfortably. You get two ATB bars (3 with Refocus), and each action you take from the menu costs 1 ATB. For more skilled players who don’t want breaks in the action, shortcuts are available (similar to KH). Shortcuts are easy button combinations that trigger ATB or Limit actions in real time.

Abilities are your mid-tier attacks and situational skills, some you might notice are Limit Breaks from the original. You learn abilities from weapons, equipping a weapon grants you access to that ability, and each use of that ability grants proficiency until the ability is learned permanently.

The Materia System makes a return in almost all its glory, allowing players to mix and match different skills/abilities to better suit their playstyle and characters. Unfortunately, the materia system of this game lacks the nuance of the original. Some of the materia combinations from the original just aren’t possible here, but this is more of a trade-off for the action gameplay.

New materia have been created in accordance with the hybrid system, providing new combat or passive skills upon equipping them. Surprisingly, some of the more unique materia, like Enemy Skill, return in FFVIIR and work as they did before. It’s the materia system as you remember, but through the lens of an action RPG.

New to FFVIIR is the Stagger System, borrowed from FFXIII, a mechanic that grants a window to do massive damage to a target when you fill the stagger meter. By filling the meter, you also provide a significant boost to the limit gauge of the character who dealt the staggering blow. Staggered enemies take a 160% damage bonus from any attacks during this period, and you can increase the bonus by use of specific character abilities.

Weapon Augmentation is another new system brought to FFVIIR. It’s core concept has roots in the crystarium of FFXIII. You earn SP from fighting, and this SP can be used to purchase weapon skills. Weapon skills range from Attack/Defense bonuses, Critical chance increase, or boosting the damage of Limit Breaks and secondary abilities. You can also purchase new materia slots for your weapons with SP, keeping your weapons viable and ensuring that you can use the materia builds you want.

The best thing about this system is that every weapon has its own bank of SP. You won’t be penalized for not using a weapon as every weapon gains SP equally, and any new weapons you pick up will automatically gain the total SP you’ve earned up to that point. (That “Buster Sword only” run you’ve dreamed of doing in the original FFVII? It’s now feasible to do.)

There was a growing concern among fans that action combat meant that only Cloud would be playable, or that the others would be playable, but not as fleshed out. Character switching is possible (except with Nanaki, sadface.), and it’s one of the highlights of the combat system. Switching is fluid and feels great to use.

Each character contributes something important to the battles and there’s incentive to switch between them often as many of the enemies are designed with each characters’ strengths in mind. Barret and Aerith are strong against flying enemies due to their ranged attacks. Cloud is great at clearing groups of enemies with his wide-sweeping attacks. And Tifa is great at pressuring enemies and filling the stagger meter.

Character switching also requires the player to make use of good positioning. You’ll want to exercise situational awareness against enemy attacks to keep your characters from taking unnecessary damage. Keep in mind that the player-controlled character will always be the one to pull aggro from bosses. In a way, the character switching feels like the same concept of managing front/back rows in classic Final Fantasy.

Ailments have been made significantly more useful in FFVIIR as many enemies, bosses included, can be afflicted with them. Debuffs were almost non-essential in the original FFVII unless you were doing restriction runs, so to see them given this much importance in remake is nice.

Elemental magic is extremely important as well, particularly in boss fights, as exploiting elemental weaknesses can provide openings. Exploiting these openings leads to more stagger opportunities. You won’t want to neglect the RPG half of FFVIIR’s gameplay as it can make the difference between a quick boss fight, and a boss fight that lasts 20 minutes (see: Hell House).

FFVIIR has drawn inspiration from many sources for its gameplay, but has adapted them all in a way that compliments the fundamental combat mechanics of the original. Overall, it’s an extremely layered combat system that engenders highly strategic play and discourages mindless button pressing.

The Not-So Good

Final Fantasy VII Remake is not a perfect game, like any other, it has its fair share of problems. The first of these you’ll encounter is the wonky texture work. FFVIIR is simultaneously the best and worst looking game released this console generation. Character models, lighting, and environments are EXCELLENT, some of the best on the market. Sadly, some textures in the game don’t render properly and stand out against the detailed character models. The door textures of Stargazer Heights in Sector 7 are an example of this. Also, in a later chapter, as you’re climbing your way to the upper-city, Barret will take a look at the destruction below. He’ll tell you to never forget the view, and you won’t, but not for the reason he wants you to. What’s supposed to be a horrific landscape of debris is turned into pure comedy as you realize that the entire backdrop is a poorly rendered JPEG.

Character dialogue is one of my favorite things about this game. Dialogue is abundant and there’s no shortage of interesting conversations between characters. And while you can’t talk to most NPCs, they have a lot to say. NPC conversations can be heard as you walk around towns. These conversations are great, and are always relevant to your place in the story, much like the original. The issue is that the NPC audio is just as loud as the character audio. Conversations between characters tend to get lost in the NPC chatter, ruining any sense of immersion. Options to control the dialogue volume of NPCs would’ve been nice.

Similar to the original, FFVIIR has a linear level design. This isn’t inherently a problem, but the issue arises when the game forcibly funnels you down paths. It can prove a bit frustrating when you try to take a detour for an item and are completely stopped in your tracks.This is an obvious trade-off for being a story-rich, cutscene-dense game, but it does wear on you after a while. Exploration does open up in certain chapters though.

There’s tons of meandering in this game, pace-breaking events that bring any sense of forward progression to a halt. FFVIIR makes frequent use of slow, walk and talk segments for brief character building moments in between areas. I’ve never liked these, in any game. While they’re tolerable at first because of how much I love seeing the characters interact, on subsequent play-throughs, they do nothing other than slow the pace of the game down. If these were skippable moments, it wouldn’t bother me, but unfortunately you’ll have to sit through these on every play-through.

The dungeons and puzzles are also guilty of meandering. Dungeons are simple and repetitive; dungeons are comprised of similar-looking rooms, with puzzles that take no effort to complete, but need to be done multiple times. The robot arms in the collapsed expressway are the greatest example of this. What was once a minor background detail in the original now becomes a tedious setpiece.You have to maneuver these slow moving arms to get Aerith over to a ladder, so she can drop it down for Cloud. However, you need to do this 3 separate times, each time getting slightly more complex, yet adding nothing to the dungeon other than the time spent in it.

Sidequests in FFVIIR are not good. I didn’t have high expectations for them, but I hoped that they’d at least have the quality of Lighting Returns: FFXIII’s sidequests. After completing the first few chapters worth of them, I realized these weren’t going to evolve from simple fetch missions. For what’s such a linear game, sidequests shouldn’t feel as generic as they do here. Fortunately, there’s not too many of them, but the standard for sidequests is so much higher than what’s on offer here. At least FFVIIR’s sidequests have the fun combat system to fall back on when they require you to fight something.

Chadley… I like and dislike his inclusion into the world of FFVIIR. On one hand, I enjoy his role as a sidequest NPC that grants you access to unique materia. On the other… I can’t help but see him as a cop out. In addition to creating unique battle materia, Chadley eventually “learns” how to produce Summon materia. All it takes is for you to defeat a VR simulation of the respective Summon, and then he’ll be able to recreate it as a materia. I HATE this concept. Summon materia in the original FFVII were the objects of prominence, powerful materia that could only be found through exploration, or by witnessing story events. In FFVII, Leviathan is tied to the country of Wutai, and can only be obtained as a reward for completing Yuffie’s sidequest there. FFVIIR disregards all of that as you can now obtain Leviathan simply by playing a VR simulation. Summons would’ve been a great way to contribute to the world-building, or give incentive to exploring. However, in FFVIIR, they’re treated as easily accessible materia that exist outside of the world.

Action games for years have struggled with camera controls, and FFVIIR is no exception to this. Due to the tight, linear design of the maps, the camera sometimes gets tangled up in the surrounding areas when fighting. It doesn’t happen too often, but it DOES happen. Against flying enemies, the camera may struggle to track them properly depending on where you’re fighting. By using default control schemes, the camera is even worse because locking onto enemies restricts camera control. Luckily, there’s a decent amount of in-game options to reduce the camera issues.

Boss battles have a bit of Yakuza influence, they use stylish, cinematic transitions between phases. This is something I appreciate as it adds to the hype factor during these moments, but FFVIIR implements it in a slightly annoying way. In Yakuza, phase transitions were pretty much instant once you hit the HP threshold. FFVIIR doesn’t do this. Before a transition, the game will lock the Boss’s HP, making any attacks do zero damage while the transition loads. You can still input commands during this time, but if you’re not paying attention you could end up wasting ATB or Limits. Bosses tend to have 1-2 different phases, so you’ll have to be cognizant of that as you play. It’s not the best way to include phase changes as it discourages you from spending resources outside of the final phase.

This combat system lacks real AI-control options. Options on the level of FFXII’s “Gambit System” would be unnecessary here, but this game needs more than what’s given. At the very least, a simple Tactics menu would’ve helped tremendously.There’s a few AI-specific accessories and materia to help improve their performance, but the AI-controlled characters are generally so bad that you’re just playing inefficiently if you’re not constantly switching characters.

I know I’ve rambled on a lot here about FFVIIR’s shortcomings, but its lowest lows can’t even hope to color the experience as much as its highs do. For everything I disliked about FFVIIR, the parts I loved kept me thoroughly enjoying the game. Anyone who loves Final Fantasy, or has ever been curious about it, owes it to themselves to play this.

The Unknown Journey Will Continue…

FFVIIR ends with a massive twist, making use of the new Whispers of Fate concept introduced in this game. I’ve written about what the ending means here. While I’m confident in my deductions about what the Whispers symbolize, I’m at a loss for what the ending could mean overall.

FFVIIR was such a faithful retread of the original story, but the ending shakes things up a LOT. Characters that were supposedly dead that are shown to be alive, obscure glimpses into parallel realities are shown. These things are at odds with the themes of the original FFVII. Longtime fans will have the hardest time coming to terms with these changes. It’s an affront to the comfort they had in knowing all of what FFVII had to offer. However, these changes don’t seem to be without purpose. The ending acts as a reset for the story, it means that fans and newcomers will be on a level playing field. The writers can now shock and wow fans in the same way that they did in 1997.

As a longtime fan myself, I can’t help but worry, especially knowing the track records of the heads of this project. Despite my fear, I’m also excited for what’s to come. Going on a journey with these characters again, not knowing the road that lies ahead is an interesting prospect. And I feel this was the intent of the ending. I’m not here to convince anyone to accept the ending, I simply do not care. But I will say that anyone who feels betrayed by the ending should replay the original, then come back to FFVIIR. Remembering that you’ll always have the original makes it easier to treat the remake as its own thing.

For years, Nomura has stated that FFVIIR is not meant to be a replacement to the original, and this all falls in line with that. And despite all our speculations, we’ll never truly know what this ending means until FFVIIR-2, or the Ultimania, are available.

Post-Game 

After completing the game, you’ll unlock Chapter Selection and Hard Mode. Hard Mode is a difficulty option that ramps up the damage enemies deal and their HP. This difficulty restricts item usage and nerfs the rest areas. Rest areas on Normal/Easy heal HP and MP, but on Hard Mode they only heal HP. Hard Mode essentially is a balancing act, requiring you to properly utilize your materia and preserve MP until you reach the final boss of the chapter. You can fully recover HP/MP between chapters.

First-time completion also unlocks two new sidequests, as well as a few new combat simulator trials and Colosseum battles. Two of these trials being gateways to the two “Superbosses” of the game. I’ve placed superbosses in quotes as they’re not very super. Pride and Joy (Proud Clod prototype) and a Malboro are the superbosses of this game. But the caveat is that while they themselves aren’t difficult, the path to get to them is, as you have to fight your way through a gauntlet before you can face them at the end.

Tying the superbosses to combat arenas instead of making them their own proper boss fights is a little disappointing, but at least you’re rewarded nicely for completing them. Some of the fights in those special arenas can be pretty challenging too, it just sucks that the challenging fights aren’t the superbosses.

Once you’ve completed these, you may want to revisit previous chapters via Chapter Selection and see the alternate scenarios such as Cloud, Tifa, and Aerith’s different dress scenes, or the resolutions of Chapter 14. Unlocking all of the events requires you to complete specific chapters multiple times while doing sidequests to a varying degree each time. The game provides a checklist of items to look for once you’ve finished the game, but unless you’re a completionist, those won’t matter too much to you.

Outside of these, FFVIIR doesn’t offer much else in terms of replayability. But this is already a lot more than what the original offers.

In Short…

I 100% completed FFVIIR and I love the game immensely. Combat is extremely fun, the presentation, story and music are all unforgettable. However, the game can feel bogged down by repetitive dungeon design, slow walk and talk segments, and, depending on your comfort with change, the ending may be a mixed bag.

By the time I’d finished everything, I had 90+ hours logged. And I’ll certainly be replaying it several times after this. For a $60 game that I purchased multiple times, $300 1st Class Edition included, I feel like I got my money’s worth and then some.

REVIEW OVERVIEW
Story
Gameplay
Graphics
Presentation
Soundtrack
FinalWeapon's resident "never shuts up about Final Fantasy" guy