Final Fantasy VII was a groundbreaking game for a lot of reasons. The ‘modern’ Final Fantasy, it thrust the series into the realm of 3D, and with it, brought along a completely different direction for the more heavily fantasy based series. A ‘modern fantasy’ setting, the standardising and averting of various tropes, like the amnesiac hero and lead girl/love interest. It was a super important game I could talk about for a very long time.
Instead, I’m going to talk about the remake, which is, as it turns out, also a very good game and a strong contender for GOTY 2020.
I’m sure a lot of people’s biggest worry with Final Fantasy VII Remake is that in the original game, Midgar, the opening portion, takes all of about 5 hours to get through. I know, because I replayed the original recently, and taking my time, that was how long it took me to get out into the larger world. How then, does Final Fantasy VII Remake turn this portion into a full 30-40 hour game without feeling like it’s been padded out?
Extremely well, it turns out!
Players take the role of Cloud Strife, a mercenary and ex-SOLDIER (really cool fancy army guys), who has taken on a mission for a fringe eco-extremist group, AVALANCHE. This game really, really likes throwing acronyms that are definitely not acronyms at you. Anyway! The mission is successful, only the bombing was much larger than first thought, and AVALANCHE soon becomes enemy number 1 and Cloud is swept up in all of it, much to his annoyance.
Bit characters like Jessie, Biggs and Wedge who were only there to be killed off anti-climatically in the original, here are fully fleshed out characters. The slums are now also fully fleshed out, with Cloud spending a lot of time there, and even having his own apartment. Iconic locations, such as Wall Market or the Church in which players first meet Aerith are absolutely massive, each slum is now a fully fleshed out city area full of sidequests, people to talk to, and things to look at. Including iconic locations like that weird building in Wall Market that has a gun in the roof that shoots you for no reason.
The game takes pride in recreating areas from the original Midgar, down to the smallest detail, and then fleshing them out and adding a heap of new content. All the sidequests are new, and players will regularly encounter new story beats along with the old ones that blend in seamlessly to create something new, but incredibly familiar. Where players come to expect one thing in the story, the game might deliver that, but then it also might take a bit of a left turn.
For example, after the first reactor explosion, players meet Aerith. Then some weird unexplained ghosts appear, things get absolutely crazy, and it ends with Cloud battling Shinra forces all throughout the bustling arts district of Midgar.
Not your average turn based battle
The other big addition, of course, is the combat system. Players of Kingdom Hearts 3 and Final Fantasy XV might feel more at home here than an older player coming in expecting things to be exactly as they were. The combat is now action-based, with players using X to attack while dodging, blocking and using spells, among other things. When a player wants to use an ability or command, time slows to a near-stop, and players can use the menu as they see fit. Players who want a classic system can even use this and only this to control the characters, which is even included as a difficulty setting under ‘classic difficulty’. So it can be kind of turn based, if you really want it to be.
Though the fast-paced action is fun, and it’s a shame to miss out on. However, where the combat falls is for players who aren’t good at managing their entire party. Control can be switched to any character at any time, with each having unique methods of fighting (Aerith uses magic, Barrett has his gun, etc.) and this works great, but the AI works entirely on the assumption that you will regularly switch. Which didn’t work out great for me.
Any character controlled by the AI will auto-attack. Which is great. But also, they’re never going to use magic or abilities unless you give them the command, and there’s no option to set a better, ability-based AI for the party. So it’s either get really, really good at one character, or accept the need to regularly multi-task, and as a result, regularly slow the battle down.
Though to get around this, battle difficulty is able to be changed at any time, with easy a great option to help players into understanding the system before being able to later switch to normal, with no penalties or dramatic changes.
Materia is also back, and functions largely in the same way. Weapons and armour have materia slots. Put your materia in there, such as your fire, or your cure, or what have you, and then use the menu to cast it in battle. This comes out of both your MP and your ability bar, though. The ability bar is central to every decision, as it needs to fill in order to use items, abilities or magic, basically anything that isn’t a standard attack. This does help with the pacing issues somewhat, because it ensures players will have to think about their next moves and build up their ability bar as per usual. Of course, there’s also limit and summon bars, which both work separately from the ability bar, so all the coolest stuff you can do isn’t in any way impacted.
Not just a fresh coat of paint
Remakes are popular at the moment, and they seem to come in a few different styles. For example, something like Crash Twinsanity is fun, but it’s the same game, down to the finest details, it just looks better. And this is fine, for what it is. The Resident Evil remakes are also a lot like this, though they also start to play with things a little, updating it for a modern audience.
Final Fantasy VII Remake is a third type, that I hope becomes a new standard we see more of. The same old game, the same story, but with twists and turns. New characters. Fleshed out ideas. Taking one part of the game, that was once just five hours, and making an entirely new experience out of it.
It’s a game that seems to know how long players have waited, and for true fans, in that there are certain moments that the game likes to make a big deal out of. Certain enemies, meetings, musical moments. They’re redone, sometimes fairly similar, and sometimes with a huge swerve in the expectations of players.
For example, Jessie, the throwaway character in the original, now has a complicated back story, a family that we go visit, and is a legitimate third party in Cloud’s love triangle (now a square, I guess?). The new characters are also absolutely a delight and fit in well with the overall theme, to the point where there are times where they could have played a similar role in the original and not been at all out of place.
It revels in giving fans what they want, while also taking steps forward for the series, not wanting to stagnate on what could have been an easy one for one remake.