It’s funny how I’ve only been running this blog for five years, and for a good chunk of those years I wasn’t even covering games, and yet here we are once again covering a PS4 remake of a PS1 game I’ve already covered on the site! Admittedly, this is less a complete remake and more of a partial remake… that’s also a sequel? Sort of? Well, either way it really fun to play, and that’s the main thing! Let’s take a closer look!
If you thought just walking around with such a large sword was a problem, trying riding a bike while swinging it!
A Final Fantasy VII Remake has been on a lot of people’s minds for many, many years. It was first revealed in 2015 and then everything went quiet for a while before the big reveal last year. It was released worldwide on April 10th 2020 for PS4 exclusively, though that exclusivity deal runs out after a year…
Even though it’s a modern remake, a good majority of those involved in the original were brought back for the project, including character and story designers, composers and the like. The Remake only covers the first few hours of the original game (the “Midgar Chapter”) but greatly expands it so it’s a good 30-ish hours for your first play through, with plenty of reasons to go back…
Cloud and Tifa give Eligor a push start.
The core of the gameplay is similar to Final Fantasy XV, but made more in-line with classic JRPG (like Final Fantasy VII!). Basically the fights take place in real time, meaning you can hammer square to attack foes, roll out of the way of attacks, block and switch between your two other party members on the fly. Each party member has a unique gimmick or two, normally assigned to the Triangle button (Cloud switches between light and heavy attacks, Barret unleashes a heavy machine gun blast that has to be charged up, etc) where as the X button with bring up a traditional menu. In this menu you can pick between special moves, Materia attacks, using items, summons and limit breaks, the latter two are situational and aren’t always available, obviously. You can only do one of these actions if a segment of your ATB gauge is full, a gauge which charges up as you attack, or very slowly as you do nothing. You can also assign some of these attacks/Materia to a quick menu if you don’t want to slowdown the action.
This works really well, as not only can you attack and dodge freely but you still have to wait for a chance to do a more impactful move via a menu like the original. With each enemy and especially boss having a trick or two to defeat them, there is a lot more strategy involved than you’d think, like the lesson of the AI nearly always targeting whichever character you’re controlling meaning getting the two characters the AI is controlling to do healing spells or attack certain parts of a boss while it focuses on you became a needed strategy. Each enemy has a “Stagger Meter” underneath their health bar which when maxed out, well, staggers them, making them not only open to attack without countering, but increases the damage you deal. What makes your enemy stagger becomes needed information, especially for some of the later bosses.
Barret shows off one of the few plus points to having a large gun for an arm.
I mentioned Materia earlier, and yes, that’s still here in full force. All your weapons and armour can hold a certain number of Materia, from offensive magic like Fire, Lightning etc, to healing magic, barriers, resistance to certain elements and even the ability to assess enemies to find out their weaknesses. One key difference here is in the weapons, as each weapon can be upgraded using SP (literally “Skill Points”) that can increase a weapon’s attack power, defence, resistance to elements and, most importantly, add Materia slots. Each weapon also comes with a new attack that has to be used several times before the character masters the move, but once they master it, they can use the move with any weapon. This means, beyond a few small differences in max health or attack power and the like, you can pick your favourite weapon and stick with it for the whole game with little issue, especially if you spend a few minutes with the other weapons just to learn their unique attacks.
So that’s a basic breakdown of the actual combat, but how is the game structured? Well, it’s broken down into 18 chapters, most of which are pretty linear, but a few of them allow your to explore Midgar (or at least parts of it ) openly, taking side quests and visiting various shops to buy equipment. It works, I wasn’t expecting a full open world for this part of the game anyway, that only really came in the original game later, when you get the airship. My only issue comes from some of the chapters being so very blatantly padded. One entire chapter sees Cloud, Tifa and Barret on the way to the second reactor and having to go across a maze of walkways and lifts turning off lights to redirect power, or a chapter which was mostly Cloud and Aerith slowly going through the collapsed highway using cranes and boxes to solve puzzles to get ladders to descend so they could get through. Moments like those were the only times I felt genuinely frustrated, I just wanted to either get to the next major plot point or at least to an open world bit so I can do… interesting things. Thankfully these were few and far between, and beyond them and some unnecessary “hold Triangle for 10 seconds to open this door” or “slowly shimmy down a tight alleyway” moments, the pacing isn’t hurt too much.
I have a feeling that went time returns to normal speed, this isn’t going to end well…
There are plenty of mini-games to have a go of when you’re not doing side quests, like darts, squats in the gym, breaking boxes in a special assault course, that sort of thing, plus an arena and battle simulator where you can face increasingly more deadly foes for bigger rewards. One of the side quests I should mention is a Shinra intern called Chadley, who, among other exclusive Materia, can grant you the chance to fight a summon and gain it after victory. There are also moments in a couple of chapters where you’re riding a bike as Cloud and have to battle other foes and bosses. These moments act like the regular battles but you’re limited to Strike Left, Strike Right, and Long Distance Attack, with the latter needing to charge between uses.
Graphics and Sound:
The most beautiful yet depressing background you’ll ever see.
The graphics are properly stunning, so much so that sometimes my PS4 Pro struggled to load in all the hi-rez textures quickly enough. It really feels like this should’ve been a PS5 game given that’s console’s apparent ability to load things in super-fast and have more of them on screen at once with no effect. Still, beyond those few hiccups, it’s a beautiful game to look at, the character models are super detailed and full of life and expressions, the backgrounds are beautifully rendered (with the possible exception of some far-away Midgar shots, which is a little… 2D) and the cutscenes are fluid and a sight to behold. I remember watching Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children and wondering when gaming will end up looking like it, but now Remake looks far better!
The sound, as you’d imagine, is top-tier. The background music is amazing, the voice acting great and the soundeffects satisfying. The original OST still stands as one of the best of all time, and the remixes featured here might be better, or at least more modern in their multi-layered execution. Top stuff.
Yep, this was a thing. I’m not even going to mention it below… because I did a really quick recap. It was fun though, for the record!
A lot of the story stays the same: the game is focused on Cloud Strife, a former member of SOLDIER (or so he thinks!), a high-level group belonging to the corporation Shinra, who are in charge of the city of Midgar and using technology to drain the planet of its “life stream”, a place where departed souls return to after death. Cloud meets up with his childhood friend Tifa and ends up helping Barret and his AVALANCHE eco-terrorist group try to take down Shinra by attacking their Mako Reactors, the devices that are directly harming the planet.
As time goes on he meets Aerith, a descendant of an old group of people referred to as Ancients, who later gets captured by Shinra leading to Cloud, Barret and Tifa to attack their HQ to retrieve her (Shinra at this point being responsible for wiping out an entire sector of the Midgar slums Tifa and Barret called home). They manage to rescue her and a fellow captured experiment named Red XIII, as well as meet the main antagonist, Sephiroth, before making their escape.
That’s an extremely brief recap of what’s THE SAME. There are some rather key differences I’ll get into now, so…
This isn’t actually a spoiler in as much as its an hallucination, but hey-ho…
Throughout the game we see floaty spirits called “Whispers” that seemingly attack Aerith and the cast throughout the game. As it turns out, these are part of the planet’s defences, much like the Weapons we see in the original game, and have a sole purpose of preserving destiny so the history plays out as it should. So basically they only appear when Remake starts to deviate from the original game, they’re an on-the-nose analogue for the fans who don’t want change. At the end of the game Sephiroth opens up a portal and invites his foes to follow him, and with Aerith’s help, they do, entering a weird dimension where they battle a huge, Weapon-sized Whisper and three off-shoots from it, the three roughly human-sized foes having a Sword, their fists and a gun, respectively, and the large Whisper Harbinger (as its known) also has a swirling mass of purple energy inside it.
The party manages to defeat it and Sephiroth appears and absorbs the purple energy from it before taking you on. When you “win” Sephiroth seemingly takes Cloud into the Life Stream to the place where their final battle took place in the original game and teases him (and the audience) by quoting himself from the original before pondering what Cloud will do “this time”. So, what I take away from this is that the Harbinger is literally guarding the fate of Sephiroth, and the avatars are representations of the future versions of Cloud, Tifa and Barret who have defeated the villain in the original / Advent Children and trapped him with in the Life Stream / Harbinger. When you destroy it you’re freeing Sephiroth from his fate, meaning the Sephiroth who has been appearing where he shouldn’t and the causing Whispers to appear is most likely from the future, somehow manipulating past events so destiny changes and he can escape his fate. His taunting of Cloud at the end was literal, he can’t wait to see what happens now destiny has changed. The next chapter in this remake can go in whatever direction it wants because the destiny we all know has now being shattered. It’s pretty crazy, very meta, and I loved it!
Hojo being his usual calm and not-at-all-creepy self.
We also see Zack (who I can’t be bothered to get into his long history here) about to be killed as seen in the game Crisis Core, but he instead lives, and walks towards Midgar with the unconscious Cloud. Now, thanks to a flashing image of the Shinra dog mascot being a different breed to the one we see throughout the game, it’s safe to say the writers are telling you this reality where Zack is alive is an alternate timeline to even the Remake’s alternate to the original, but there is a moment where the two timelines seemingly interact for a brief moment, Aerith somehow aware of it for a brief moment. In general Aerith, and to a degree Red XIII, seem to be aware of their original destiny, and are aware they’re changing their fate. It’s all very interesting and makes me really excited to get my hands on the next chapter!
I’ll also mention that we spend a great deal more time with Biggs, Wedge and Jessie of AVALANCHE in some really great new scenes and scenarios, which makes their fate all the more impactful (well, Biggs is seemingly alive in this version, revealed after the Whispers are defeated, a good indication that defeating the Harbinger has changed history…) and there are a few new characters, like new motorbike-obsessed SOLDIER Roche, or really… REALLY annoying friend of Tifa named Johnny, who in the English version talks like a complete knob, all “Bro!” and “Dude”. *shudder*.
In general though, very happy with the story, both as a retelling and something new.
In terms of after-release DLC, there isn’t any. At least, not that we know of (and I’m pretty sure we would’ve heard by now…) but there were several pre-order DLC in the form of special Summons, specifically Chocobo Chick, Carbuncle, and Cactuar. Hopefully you’ll be able to get them later, though if not it’s not the end of the world…
Final Thoughts (Now):
A dangerous ladder climb that’s worth it for the view!
Final Fantasy VII Remake far exceeded my expectations. I was thinking it would be like Final Fantasy XV (a game I enjoyed more than a lot of people, seemingly…) but covering the Midgar portion of VII. What I got instead was a greatly expanded Midgar section plus hints that this will be just as much a follow up to the original game than a pure remake, on top of the fun and far expanded combat, great graphics and stunning soundtrack. There are slow bits here and there, but overall I highly recommend the game as I had a real blast playing through it.