A realm reborn…
The Final Fantasy series is heavily renowned as not only one of the best JRPG series, but also one of the best video game franchises of all-time. Its integral significance and cultural impact are simply indisputable as its DNA is conspicuously woven into the foundation and framework of the video game industry. Its single entry, Final Fantasy VII, not only popularized a relatively niche genre in a foreign territory but also paved the way for emotional storytelling in a constantly evolving medium. To many a gamer, Final Fantasy VII is the greatest video game of all-time. My perception and experience with franchise is relatively mixed in comparison to the general populace. Final Fantasy VI is one of my favourite video games of all-time and is a masterfully crafted turn-based experience. My affinity to VII is notably removed as it is heavily overrated and has been surpassed on multiple occasions. I acknowledge and respect its revolutionary impact in 1997 and its inaugural mechanical prowess and technical achievement, however Final Fantasy VII is unable to withstand the test of time. Its 3D polygonal character models are downright ugly, the prerendered backgrounds are visually repulsive, and its narrative – while intriguing – is laughably convoluted and poorly written. I admittedly played Final Fantasy VII long after the fact and was imbued with an insurmountable level of expectation given its legacy. Flashforward to 2020, Final Fantasy VII Remake is a remarkable reimagining of the legendary title and is undoubtedly the definitive experience. As someone who didn’t get the chance to play the original back in 1997, I would assume the level of graphical fidelity and technical prowess displayed in this remake would mirror that initial enthralling sensation of wonder to the original’s 3D world. Its newly introduced voice acting adds a welcomed layer of tangibility to its surprisingly engrossing narrative and emotional character building. Combat in this remake respects the original’s legacy – with certain elements paying homage to the foster mechanics – but ultimately revamps its technical structure to mirror the responsive action-based system of Final Fantasy XV. From the complete graphical overhaul to the exceptionally versatile musical score, Final Fantasy VII Remake excels in revitalizing the original’s best elements, while taking huge creative leaps and risks in developing an experience that feels intrinsically familiar but wholesomely different from both a narrative and gameplay perspective. However, its uninspired mission design, gratuitous inclusion of underwhelming side quests, and notable portion of filler content damper the seamless flow of this established experience. Additionally, Final Fantasy VII Remake only includes the initial thirty percent of the original’s narrative, with multiple segments being extraneously stretched out. Final Fantasy VII Remake is an enchanting reinvention that left me dumbfounded with palpable intrigue and tantalizing uncertainty.
I always felt a relative disconnect to the original narrative of Final Fantasy VII – its true layer of intrigue and complexity is not fully realized until its latter half, with the events surrounding Midgar leaving me apathetic towards the whole ordeal. Given the remake’s episodic structure and limited narrative material, my least favourite part of the original’s narrative was stretched out into a 35-hour experience. Despite my expected trepidation, I was pleasantly surprised with the engrossing and poignant nature of its reinvention and the narrative’s transformative progression. The level of character nuance and accessible growth displayed in this remake is emotionally palpable and its overall quality in writing, while questionable at times, shows a pristine level of care and depth that the franchise seldom boasts. Not only does the main quartet – Cloud, Tifa, Barret, and Aerith – receive an immense character development overhaul, but the Avalanche members – Jessie, Wedge, and Biggs – have significantly more screen time and their characters are properly developed, bringing tangible weight to their established motivations. Relationships are organically developed and establish a captivating flow that is believably compelling and exceptionally moving. These quaint, character moments of tranquility are undoubtedly Final Fantasy VII Remake’s strongest element and highlights the maturity and emotional nuance developed for this iteration. On top of its strong emotional centerpiece and excellent character rapport, monumental creative “changes” were made to the core narrative which drastically change the predated events of the original. Despite Final Fantasy VII Remake delivering a fraction of the original’s narrative, its state of affairs end on such an unpredictable and enthralling note that simply left me awestruck with provocative intrigue. Action set pieces are also sublimely riveting, mirroring the excellent direction and visceral framework of Naughty Dog’s repertoire, resulting in one of the most jaw dropping and spectacular JRPGs of the generation. With its invigorating set pieces, continuous display of tremendous heart, and groundbreaking reinvention of the original narrative, Final Fantasy VII Remake is a masterful staple in the realm of recreation, retaining the essence of its beloved original while embracing creative nuances to provide a wholesome experience that separates itself from the established notion. Each element that made the original great is amplified to the nth degree, mirroring that iconic level of charm and whimsicality you would expect from its idiosyncratic subparts. However, since a minute section of the overall story is stretched out over an egregious amount of time, key components in between pivotal narrative moments feel extraneous and ultimately superfluous, with a conspicuous focal objective to extend the longevity of the overall experience.
From a graphical standpoint, Final Fantasy VII Remake is astounding; the conceptual renaissance of the original 1997 framework is brought to life in its intended form. Character models retain their original’s stylized essence with a modernized coat of paint and its visual fidelity and illustrious particle effects are a sumptuous spectacle to behold. Environmental textures and NPC models lack the proficient level of detail displayed elsewhere, rivaling the blurry framework and visual technicality performed on 7th generation hardware. Additionally, there is notable texture pop-in and character models can take an awkward amount of time to fully render and begin their triggered dialogue. Its environmental stagnancy and other minute limitations occasionally break immersion, lacking the exceptional graphical detail and exquisite lighting I have come to expect because of the Resident Evil remakes. Regardless, this stellar reinvention is technically adroit, with little to no graphical discrepancies or performance issues displayed throughout the 35-hour journey. Final Fantasy VII Remake’s auditory factor is where it truly shines from a presentation perspective; both its musical score and voice acting are wonderful, with the former boasting some of the most versatile and electrifying tunes to ever grace the medium. From the elegantly melodic themes that accompany each tranquil character moment to the wide assortment of idiosyncratic battle themes that are addictively bombastic and exceptionally groovy, Final Fantasy VII Remake is an absolute masterclass in its melodious design and nearly matches the legendary melodies of the symphonically masterful Persona series. The voice acting in VII Remake is also notably impressive; each respective voice actor lends a remarkable level of personality and tangibility to these established characters, providing a remarkable layer of depth and complexity to their developing personas. Each character’s voice is personified appropriately and translates efficiently to their established personalities. Yes, some lines and performances are undeniably over the top and overexaggerated, but the overall sense of quality is a notable improvement over the usual JRPG flair.
Stepping outside the comfort level of its turn-based foundation, Final Fantasy VII Remake adopts a similar action-based combat system that feels heavily similar to 2016’s Final Fantasy XV. Despite my negative qualms with Final Fantasy XV’s creative implications, its combat system was undeniably satisfying and exceptionally engaging. VII Remake takes the intrinsic foundation of XV’s combat system and revitalizes its structure with a few shiny bells and whistles. Combat in VII Remake relies heavily on real-time action for normal attacks and unique skills. Cloud’s unique ability allows him to switch to his Punisher Mode – where he will have limited movement but is able to unleash a barrage of viscerally swift heavy attacks. He is also able to unleash a powerful counterattack when he blocks against any melee attack. Barret is able to perform decent ranged damage and can deliver a powerful heavy-hitting Overcharge blast that fills a nominal portion of the ATB gauge. Aerith primarily focuses on ranged magical abilities and her unique ability, Tempest, allows her to channel magical energies and release it to unleash chain barrage of magical attacks. Lastly, Tifa is a visceral powerhouse, unleashing a furious frenzy of martial techniques that can be enhanced through increasing her chi level. Each character controls and excels in a different manner and can be changed on the fly, crafting a fluid action system that separates itself from the established conventions of the original, cultivating into its own novel construct. Paying homage to its turn-based roots, Final Fantasy VII Remake includes a tactical mode, which will drastically slow down time and allow you to perform spells, special character abilities, and use items. Additionally, the ATB (Active Time Battle) gauge returns in VII Remake, which is filled by performing attacks, guarding, and executing unique character skills, and is used for performing special character abilities and spells. The level of depth, progression, and nuance established in the original’s mechanics and systems is conspicuously evident in the remake. Materia continues to be one of the greatest, customizable systems in the video game medium. A fully progressive and developed ability system that is completely customizable and fine-tuned to fit a plethora of different playstyles is a remarkable implementation that has surprisingly never been replicated. These combat, magical, and passive abilities also improve based on their consistent usage, creating a dynamic semblance of reward and progression. Materia is slotted into the equipment and weapons your characters utilize, with all weapons having isolated and robust upgrade trees that increase a bevy of delightful stats and increase the number of Materia slots. Summon Materia and Limit Breaks return in this iteration, resulting in some of the most extravagant and visually stunning abilities to have bless this renowned franchise. VII Remake also introduces a stagger mechanic that works in a similar fashion to the stamina-based conventions popularized in the modern era of action games. Exploiting an enemy’s weakness and delivering a monstrous output of damage will cause its stagger meter to rise; once completely filled, the enemy will be temporarily stunned and become susceptible to increased damage. There’s a layer of strategy introduced with this mechanic as it is not only a fantastic way to deal significant damage to boss enemies, but it enforces strategic character and ability combinations to achieve the most efficient result. Complementing its engaging combat and complex systems of progression, Final Fantasy VII Remake’s boss battles are equally as enthralling and invigorating, requiring a welcomed dose of strategy and delivering a proficient level of difficulty. These alluring fights also provide the aforementioned spectacle and adrenaline inducing set-pieces that rival the profound action genre.
The formulated structure that propels its excellent combat system forward is notably less impressive and borderline archaic. Final Fantasy VII Remake’s banal mission structure is one of the only dated elements from the original that makes an unwelcomed return. Whether if you’re tasked with activating a bevy of poorly placed switches that provide no systemic value, taking part in a questionably dull virtual tour that is littered with gratuitous exposition, or any other example of uninspired game design that simply exists to extend its central longevity, so many fundamental elements outside of its illustrious combat feel antiquated, superfluous, and lack any sense of creativity. Further cementing its lack of innovation and redundant structure, Final Fantasy VII Remake’s side quests are egregiously designed and are delegated as nothing more than tiresome filler. While their intent for established world building is commendable, their structural design is haphazard and uninspired, leaving behind a void for substance and articulate deliberation. The unimaginative display and lazy design of its egregious fetch quests, derivative hunting lists, and all monotonous subject matter in between highlights Square Enix’s obtuse inability to evolve and adapt. The clear lack in quality and dedication of Final Fantasy VII Remake’s side missions make me truly admire and appreciate the elaborate design intrinsically woven into Rockstar Games and CD Projekt Red. The only side missions worth any prominent interest would be select few that offer various mini games. The mini games act as a silly pallet cleanser that offers a nice array of gameplay variety, adding a harmonious semblance of flow to the established moments of character tranquility and enthralling combative action. Whether if it’s a hilarious workout competition, a rhythmically engaging dance number, a provocatively intense combat colosseum, or a friendly game of darts, mini games are undeniably enjoyable and alleviate any trace of developed repetition. In cadence with the underlying formula of its established series, Final Fantasy VII Remake incorporates an evocative level of lite exploration and rewarding collection. In a similar, yet less impressive, design to the excellent Resident Evil remakes, minor backtracking and deviating paths offer alluring exploits of discovery and exploration, with tantalizing rewards and goodies unraveled around each and every hidden corner. Veering off the beaten path or completing optional objectives can provide collectible rewards such as playable music discs, new types of equippable Materia, improved character weapons and equipment, or enhanced Limit Break abilities. Despite its underwhelming and archaic structural design, Final Fantasy VII Remake’s execution of extrinsic reward is profoundly robust, crafting an exquisite role-playing experience that provides an intriguing layer gratification in the midst of inconsequential monotony.
While flawed in a number of questionable ways, Final Fantasy VII Remake is a spectacular reinvention that manages to shine more often than it falters, crafting a magical ensemble that is more than the sum of its parts. From its nuanced implications of flexible storytelling to its serene moments of palpable tranquility, this reimagining evokes the necessary scale of evolution and maturity required to surpass the original’s framework. Character interactions and intricate relationships are so exquisitely developed, instilling a tangible weight to its thoughtful writing and established connection. The revamped combat system is profoundly robust and technically intricate, with a bevy of complex elements that pay homage to the original’s formula while harmonizing into a novel implementation of tactical nuance and reactionary input. What separates Final Fantasy VII apart from the established conventions of the contemporary remake is its audacious display of creative flexibility and continuous ability to defy preconceived notions and expectations, with unprecedented levels of uncertainty and fascination entrenched in every passing moment. While its blatantly lazy side quests and monotonous mission design leave a colossal void for improvement, its fantastical elements of revitalization and improvement drastically make up for its unfortunate disappointments. To recreate one of the most beloved and culturally significant video games of all-time is an undeniably surreal and terrifying task. Square Enix not only captured the essence of what made the original so special to many but also improved on the original’s notorious shortcomings and limitations, establishing an unpredictable and euphoric rebirth of this fantastical realm. As the first slice into this newly developed renaissance, tantalizing mystery and uncertainty lie ahead for this branching universe and I absolutely cannot wait for the next instalment.