"...it's an interesting and exciting time to be a Final Fantasy VII fan."
Ever since the tech demo for the PlayStation 3 was shown in 2005, it's fair to say a remake of Final Fantasy VII has been a dream of many. For lots of us, it was our first RPG. It's also still many people's favourite game over two decades later. I've beaten the game three times and each time found many new things to love about it. I've made friends through my experiences with Final Fantasy VII, and it showed me just how different RPGs could be from each other. With a legacy like that, it's easy to see why Final Fantasy VII Remake is so anticipated, and why there's so much pressure to meet fan expectations. Fortunately, it just about makes it to First Class. It feels like a fresh new experience that fans and newcomers will enjoy and pushes the boundaries of what a 'remake' actually is.
This is only part one in what's set to be a series of games based on Final Fantasy VII. This instalment is a re-imagining of the first five hours of the original game, set solely in the sprawling metropolis of Midgar. Events largely follow the course of the original game, but there are entire chapters dedicated to new content. How you get to events, or how things play out, doesn't always follow the 1997 classic beat for beat either.
Some of the expanded content is extremely good. Biggs, Wedge, and Jessie all have much bigger roles to play throughout the game. Rather than being bit-parts, each of them has a backstory, they bring something to the plot, and they even get an entire chapter to shine without the other big players in AVALANCHE. It's not simply expanded scenes and characters, however: I called this a re-imagining, and I stand by that because Remake slowly drip-feeds some new story content throughout that comes to a head as you approach the end of the game. I can't say anything more than that, but it's bound to divide fans. At times, it felt unnecessary, but others I felt nervous and excited about what was happening.
As well as story content, there are many new additions that I don't think work in Remake. There are multiple new characters, either created for Remake or included from the Compilation, that feel shoehorned into the plot. Leslie, who is a bodyguard for Don Corneo in the game, is from the novel The Kids Are Alright
, and here he has a one-note personality and seemingly exists to push the plot along. Roche, a character brand-new to the game, appears simply as a challenge for Cloud and nothing more. And while some chapters allow for meaningful character development or expand on story events in a good way, there's one chapter in particular which requires you to return to a previous dungeon just to go on a wild goose chase to retrieve an item and re-fight a boss. While some of the new content justifies its inclusion, this, along with a few other cutscenes and sections, felt like unnecessary padding to stretch out the game's length.
Fortunately, already-established characters are fleshed out considerably, and for the better. I'd go as far as saying this is the best characterisation we've seen for the main cast. Cloud, Barret, Tifa, Aerith and Red XIII all feel true to their original interpretation but more realistic than ever. Cloud's snarky but aloof nature is intact here, and I felt so warm every time Barret talked about his daughter Marlene. They're also funny
, just like in the original. As for voice acting, Britt Baron as Tifa is the star here, and she makes the character sound mature and conflicted while being kind and warm more than any previous portrayal. Outside of the main cast and a few major characters, I found most of the voice acting to be hit-or-miss, not helped by awkward lip-syncing or exaggerated performances and voice direction. Regardless, this is the most alive these characters have ever felt, and exactly how I imagined them as a kid.
Getting to Midgar itself, the Mako capital of the world has never looked or felt so real. Remake's landscapes are utterly stunning to look at. Every time I reached a new location, I spent ages slowly walking around, taking in the sights. I'd always make a point of looking up at the underplates at night, and each time my breath was taken away. Even walking through the scrap heaps of Sectors 5 and 6 is wonderous. Never has trash looked so good. The game runs smoothly as well, with no slowdown and a consistent framerate, even in combat. Characters look amazing in motion, and attacks from spells to summons all look impressive. The seamless transitions between cutscenes and gameplay never get old, either.
It's a shame this consistency isn't applied to NPC character models, which often look far too shiny and are animated awkwardly. All the main characters look vibrant, with so much detail in their hair, clothes, and skin, so standing next to an NPC definitely makes those models stand out in a bad way. And while large set pieces look incredible from a distance, there are several blurry textures throughout, particularly on doors, signs, and scrap heaps. These will hopefully be fixed by a patch very soon, but it's distracting to see a big, looming pile of trash from a distance only to walk up to it and realise most of it is flat.
As the game is split into chapters, there are restrictions on how much you can explore; once you've moved onto a new chapter, you often cannot go back to the previous area. The game gently nudges you along in one direction, just like in the original, so this didn't bother me much. There are some chapters, however, which encourage you to explore by taking on sidequests. These are pretty typical of modern-day RPGs, involving rescuing cats, monster extermination, and finding ingredients for medicine, so they don't really offer anything exciting. The battle arena, and VR simulator, which pits you against summons to gain a new summon materia, at least offer you something to test your skills against. Most rewards, however, didn't make doing these worth it in my opinion.
The most exciting, and sometimes scary, thing about a remake is the new music. Nobuo Uematsu's score to the original is iconic. Remake's soundtrack is headed up by Masashi Hamauzu and Mitsuto Suzuki; there's no need to be worried about the quality here, as it's wonderful, full of arrangements of the original's soundtrack and new compositions inspired by music from the Compilation. There are also multiple tracks that were never originally heard in the Midgar portion of the game, but are all instantly recognisable. Many tracks get multiple arrangements, and if I'm being really picky, there are a few that have too many. Still, I can't deny that the quality is consistently excellent. As soon as the soundtrack comes out, the new arrangements of Under the Rotting Pizza are going on repeat for the foreseeable future.
Customisation is more than just materia now, too! Characters get multiple weapons throughout Remake, and these can all be upgraded. Whether a weapon is equipped or not, it gains experience and, as it increases in levels, gains Skill Points which can be used to increase the weapon's stats or provide new supportive skills, such as healing your character when they defeat an enemy. Every single weapon has a speciality, whether it provides big defensive boosts or greater magic attack, and each comes with a new ability which, once mastered, can be used even after changing weapons. No weapon ever outlives its usefulness, and I really enjoyed playing around and adapting my weapons to suit my playstyle.
Something else I truly adored throughout the game was the combat, which just kept getting better the further into the game I got. Attacking with standard attacks gradually builds up an enemy's pressure gauge and increases your ATB charges; once the enemy's gauge is full, they will stagger, which makes them more susceptible to damage. ATB charges can be used to cast magic, use abilities, or use items. My favourite thing is just how different everyone feels to control. While Cloud is your heavy physical damage dealer whose skills can deal a large amount of pressure in one go, Tifa is much quicker and chips away at an enemy's pressure gauge with her fast attacks. And each character has their own specific skills. Tifa can use Unbridled Strength to change her special attack from a mighty uppercut to an earth-shattering punch, and Barret can either reserve his Overcharge skill to ensure his abilities only use one ATB charge rather than two, or use it to deal heavy damage.
Figuring out how to take down enemies is what makes fighting so joyous, and this is no more apparent than in the game's bosses. A lot of the time, putting your enemy under pressure by simply attacking them will not work, so you have to learn their attack patterns, know when to guard and dodge or when to exploit their weaknesses and use up your ATB charges. Every single one of them is memorable in the best possible way, and most test your skills and understanding of combat to the limit. They can't be approached with the same tactics. Each fight feels like a big spectacle, and while some fights do outstay their welcome a little, they feel like a true obstacle for you to overcome and present a fair challenge.
Final Fantasy VII Remake does so much right. Being more than just a by-the-numbers remake of the opening five hours of the original, the game feels like a brand-new experience that tugs on the heartstrings of fans. It's, of course, not perfect: the occasional lack of visual polish was jarring, and there was a lot of padding in some chapters that struggled to justify its existence in-game. There's stuff here that's bound to upset some, and it certainly doesn't play it safe, but I found the game to be an utter joy to play and look at, irrespective of flaws. One thing I can confidently say is, however you feel about Remake, it's an interesting and exciting time to be a Final Fantasy VII fan.
This review is based on a free review copy provided to RPGFan by the developer. This relationship in no way influenced the reviewer's opinion of the game or its final score.