Final Fantasy VII Remake is definitely one of the best games to come out of 2020. This review of Final Fantasy VII Remake is not told from the perspective of someone who has played the original, and I will not be making comparisons to it here. As an uninitiated gamer who has only heard of the legacy of Final Fantasy VII through the internet, Remake was an enjoyable experience.
With engaging combat mechanics, loveable characters, and an interesting plot all taking place in a reimagined Midgar, Remake is a very enjoyable experience and is definitely worth playing. Those who have never played or even seen gameplay of the original Final Fantasy VII in any form will have no problems being introduced into the Final Fantasy VII subseries through Remake.
Players will find themselves immersed in the dystopian setting of Midgar, enjoying the battle mechanics, and enthralled by the journey our protagonists endure. It is an exceptional game with flaws, but overall, a scintillating gaming experience.
Now, to start, the gameplay is absolutely jamming. The combat system is fun, fluid, flashy, and is overall one of the strongest points in the game. Normally, in other games, I only really go out of my way to kill enemy mobs if I need to level up, but in Remake, if I get the opportunity to, I actively seek out combat because I just have so much fun in battles.
The Active Time Battle system is really well implemented and switching characters or commanding the other characters mid combat just feels amazing. The game rewards you for being efficient and constantly swapping between characters to build up their ATB gauge, allowing you to use more abilities and spells within the same timeframe as opposed to just staying with one character and occasionally giving out commands to the others.
The only complaint I really have is that not all characters were given fair treatment. While I had a lot of fun playing as Tifa, with her flashy and vigorous attacks, and utilizing her Unbridled Strength ability, Barret wasn’t all that fun to use. Although, that’s to be expected; when it comes to having streamlined, fun combat, it’s usually hard to make gunner type weapons or characters look flashy or engaging.
For instance, it wasn’t until Monster Hunter World did the Bowguns from the series become just as fun to use as the melee weapons.
Later on in Remake, Barret does have options to use close combat weapons, but he still didn’t click with me as well as Cloud, Tifa, or even Aerith did, and Aerith is also a ranged character. Perhaps it’s due to Aerith’s more fluid animations and her identity as a “white mage,” and has generally a more intriguing amount of options in her equipment.
Overall, Remake’s combat system is definitely the highlight of the game, which makes certain parts of it–like the repetitive sidequests–much more bearable.
The proficiency mechanics are also a strong point of the game and allows versatility and freedom over what the player can use. Each weapon has a unique ability, but if proficiency with that weapon is maxed out, that ability is permanently unlocked without requiring that weapon to be equipped. So once you have that ability unlocked, you can swap weapons that, let’s say, have better upgrade options.
Each character can only use one type of weapon: Cloud with swords, Tifa with gloves, Barret with guns, and Aerith with rods. Progressing through the game, you will find more weapons for each character and each of them can be upgraded to boost its stats, give passive bonuses, or add in materia slots.
As the character levels up, they earn SP, which can be spent on these upgrades, but each weapon has its own pool of SP, meaning that even the starting weapons can still be viable later in the game if the bonuses from it appeal to your playstyle.
On the topic of materia slots, they allow you to place materia orbs into your equipment, and they provide you with others buffs, such as increases to HP, MP, unique passives, or allowing the character to use the spells familiar to the Final Fantasy series, including summoned familiar.
Materia is leveled up through combat and should you wish to change your build around due to discovering a new materia or weapon, you can swap materia between characters and have it retain its experience and level. All of these mean that the player can be extremely versatile in their builds and if they wish to change a character’s role at any point in the game, they can do so without penalty.
Outside of the battles and its combat system, it becomes apparent that Final Fantasy VII Remake extended the Midgar part of the original game to a full length experience. This is both a good thing and a bad thing. Let’s start with the good.
The developers were very successful in fully realizing the setting and bringing it to the modern era and its presentation is truly marvelous. It is mesmerizing to experience the city of Midgar at the beginning of the game and it truly breathes new life into the setting. Its ability to capture and captivate us with just the setting is truly marvelous.
Midgar looks phenomenal and just the opening cutscene establishes the setting quite well. There are NPCs that occupy Midgar that are going about their own business, which adds to the ambience and really helps sell the setting. It is a bit funny, however, seeing how all these NPCs are all wearing regular clothing while the protagonists have anime-style outfits and clearly stick out in a crowd, which does pull me out the story a little bit.
It would have been much more effective in its world building if the citizens weren’t wearing such ordinary clothes so our protagonists didn’t stick out like a sore thumb–which is made even more noticeable because there are times where they needed to blend into the crowd, and yet the ex-SOLDIER with the blade sword on his back and the large, gruff man with a minigun for an arm, or the athletic girl in a biker outfit don’t seem to turn any heads.
Now comes the bad part of extending the beginning part of the original: a good portion of the game feels like filler, which makes the expansion of the game feel artificial. The side quests are great for earning money and levelling up and experiencing life in the slums of Midgar, but they ultimately don’t contribute much to the story and feel disconnected from the rest of the gameplay.
Part of the problem is that many of the side quests are more or less pretty much the same: going from point A to point B and killing monsters on the way, so there’s really little variety in how the side quests are experienced and they end up feeling repetitive.
It’s little like how the very first Assassin’s Creed game was really repetitive, but in Remake, it’s a lot more bearable because the combat is really fun. Also, the game features several minigames that keep a game slightly less repetitive than it could have, such as playing darts while waiting for Tifa or exercising minigames while waiting for Aerith.
Although certain sections of the game feel very railroaded, it isn’t too bad, since it doesn’t happen too frequently and for extended periods. I think the most noticeable example is when we meet Aerith after defeating the Airbuster.
There’s a nice sequence of dialogue between the two, which I really like since we get to see more of Aerith’s personality and how she and Cloud relate to each other, and while the whole scene was really lacking gameplay wise, seeing as how it consisted of just navigating through the rooftops starting from the church, it was still really engaging because of the interactions between Aerith and Cloud.
At first, I didn’t like these parts and they could’ve been better off as cutscenes, but looking back on it, the decision to do it like this was likely to prevent players from just skipping it and so they can actually see these character exchanges. And I’m really glad the developers gave us these moments of character interactions, as they quickly became one of my favourite things about the game.
Also, Remake has dialogue during combat, which gives them more personality. This is an excellent way of integrating character development and story progression into the gameplay. It’s not as implemented as well as a game like Kid Icarus: Uprising, but Remake has a completely different tone, so it works really well in this case.
While we’re talking about the story, as a person who never played the original game, I really like the plot of Remake. My biggest fear when starting this game was that the plot would be overly convoluted and I wouldn’t understand it. I normally don’t have a problem with it as long as the game itself is fun–like Metal Gear Solid.
Remake’s story is somewhat straightforward, at least near the start of it, and it does get clouded (hah) with some of the branching plot points and side missions that makes the plot convoluted and hard to follow.
For instance, there’s an entire chapter that takes place inside Wall Market. I ended up doing several missions to reach the chapter’s main goal, and before I knew it, Cloud was taking part in a dance competition, presenting itself in rhythm game format before he gets a makeover and is put in a dress.
In the end, these plot developments all do tie in together, but while progressing through it, I was questioning what was going on. At the very least, these still felt rewarding if only just for the end products we receive for completing them (and of course, seeing Cloud in a dress is a reward on its own).
So, overall, the story was quite enjoyable with some stumbles along the way. The ending itself was rather confusing, which is my biggest issue with the story.
As for the characters in Final Fantasy VII Remake, their designs and performance are also top-notch. Square Enix did an amazing job at taking the character’s design and balancing them between realism and anime-style. Their performances are amazing; the casting choices for the English version of the game were spot-on and never during my playthrough did I ever feel that any of the voice acting was off or miscast.
Although, I will admit that Wedge’s voice actor was incredibly recognizable, due to the unique rasp he has in his voice. Fans of the hit TV series, Breaking Bad, will recognize the voice of Matt Jones, who played Badger.
Some of the lesser known talents, such as Brit Baron as Tifa Lockheart did a great job as well, though I would say that her performance was weaker than the others. This may have been intentional, seeing as how Tifa, despite her looks, is rather shy and the performance fit her character well. It’s honestly hard to say, but the bottom line is that I personally enjoyed her portrayal.
I also quite enjoyed the writing in this game. The characters all bounce off each other well, and they each have their own distinct personalities. Barret is a man who lives true to his ideals, and while he may seem like someone who is only characterized by his obsession with Avalanche, he has a lot more to him as a character. He has a daughter that he would die for, and he cares about the residents of the slums in Midgar.
Maybe I’m just a sucker for certain character archetypes, like the boisterous girl white mage and the shy, badass brawler, but I was really invested in these characters’ journey. They’re appealing and interesting characters, which make the cutscenes more entertaining and really helps alleviate some of the cutscene fatigue. The writer also didn’t hesitate to add in some fun to the dialogue, and it really made the scenes more pleasant.
Cloud’s character arc was probably my favourite one. He goes from being a stoic, selfish loner who only helps people with expectations of a reward to a guy who would risk his life for the friends he’s made along the way. And this change in his character occurs so naturally over the course of the entire game that it actually leaves an impact when he stays behind to help the others escape.
My only criticism in how the characters are presented would be the lip syncing. While the action cutscenes are phenomenal to watch, the lip syncing (outside of CGI cutscenes) leaves a lot of room to improve. Now, this isn’t really a big deal, however; after getting used to the Life is Strange and Fire Emblem: Three Houses lip syncing, it isn’t a deal breaker for me since it’s really only bad during the side quest.
Because of this, many of the throwaway NPC characters just have awful facial animations, with some of the lip syncing overly exaggerated and contrasting their lifeless eyes, which kinda gives off an uncanny valley vibe. The main characters, at the very least, have life in their motion capture performances and facial animations, which is really what matters, since they’re the characters we’re supposed to care the most about.
The music for Remake is phenomenal, which is to be expected. It’s really hard to go wrong with Final Fantasy music, but the best part about it is the adaptive music that Remake uses. You know how I said that the story could’ve been better employed when integrated more into the gameplay? Yeah, the music actually does that in this game. The music changes dynamically with the current events in the game, which really pulls you into the action and does a good job at hitting emotional beats.
The battle music is hype, and definitely helped in elevating the already awesome combat experience to greater heights. And during the really emotional scenes where all feels lost, the soundtrack just does a really good job at evoking all the right emotions. Again, I haven’t played the original, so I don’t have nostalgic attachments to the characters or the story, yet I felt really emotional during the times when our protagonists go through despair and loss.
As a last note, I would like to comment on replayability. Remake has a chapter selection feature after finishing the story. Furthermore, hard difficulty is unlocked, which allows you to gather new collectibles called manuscripts.
The chapter select feature is also excellent for going back and grabbing missed items or collectibles, like music CDs, as well as a convenient way to unlock alternate cutscenes, most notably the 3 different resolution cutscenes that occur during chapter 14. These features help enhance the replayability as opposed to the typical New Game Plus other games feature.
In conclusion, Final Fantasy VII Remake is a solid game and is definitely one of the strongest games to come out in 2020. It is a riveting, compelling work of art that effectively invokes all the right emotions and still manages to be a game with a great amount of fun factor. Anyone who has always had an interest in getting into Final Fantasy VII can find an adequate start with Remake.