Nostalgia can be THE most powerful tool in the right persons hands. Playing on the expectations of a person’s memories of something they once loved or cherished in order to have them appreciate something new drives so much of popular culture these days. Remember that movie or tv show you once loved? Here it is again…but modernized!!! Remakes and re-imaginings lean on this trope most primarily. A remake by definition is taking a well-known IP and throwing it back out into the world for people to revel in what it was based on. Sometimes this works perfectly and sometimes it goes over like a fart in church. The recent Resident Evil remakes are prime examples of taking the nostalgia of something that people revere as a classic and modernizing it in a way as to include both the old and new fans alike.
A good remake pays homage to the thing it’s re-imagining while trying to blaze its own path forward. An example I always find myself going back to is Zack Snyder’s Dawn Of The Dead. Zack took the title and core concept of a popular horror film with name recognition and largely fastened his own film off its back. This concept works because while the remake might not be seen as a classic along the lines of Romero’s original, it stands as a truly exciting piece of zombie horror cinema with a few fresh ideas up its sleeve. It exists with the 70’s film, not in spite of it.
All of this is pre-amble leading up to a proper review of Final Fantasy 7 remake. This is simultaneously the hardest and easiest review I’ve ever written. Hard because I want whatever it is I have to say to live up to the monumental legacy this game leaves in its shadow. Easy because I have so much love and passion for this release that the words are just pouring out of me at this point.
Final Fantasy 7 remake is a game that the vast majority of gaming nerds have been wanting for as long as I can remember. The Final Fantasy series in general is one of the most revered series in all of gaming. Its vast library of titles and expansions and spinoffs come together to create less of a franchise in the traditional sense and more of a genre unto itself. Final Fantasy 7 specifically could quite possible be one of the most beloved video games of all time. It features memorable characters, catchy as all hell music, addicting old school turn based combat and beautiful cyber punk style graphics. This is a game that has defined the RPG genre for many out there.
Despite its classic status, it hasn’t held up super well under the modern gaming limelight. Everything on the periphery still screams classic, but the core mechanics and technology when compared to the current landscape leaves a lot to be desired. Still, it says something about a game’s legacy that despite the hardware limitations at the time of its creation, it’s still held up as highly as it is these days even against some more modern titles.
Even through the love and admiration for the original FF7, many fans were clamoring for a remake with modernized graphics and technical prowess. A modern version of FF7 has been in the gaming conversation for a very long time. Flash forward to last week and we’ve finally arrived at the day that many for a long time had considered a pipe dream. Final Fantasy 7 Remake in all its Midgar glory finally hit home on April 10th,2020 and holy shit I was not prepared for this game.
If you’ve read any review at this site whether it come from me or one of the other writers, you’ll notice that we don’t tend to put numerical values at the end. A lot of work goes into the movies we watch and the games we play, and giving it pass or fail evaluation seems to do more harm than good if you ask me. You can’t sum up years of hard work in a fleeting grade meant to deem whether or not that particular thing Is worth your time and money. The whole review process in general is a subjective thing. I’m here to give you my opinion of something and its up to you whether to take my words to heart or ignore them entirely. Art is art and its very nature is subject to differentiating opinions. So keep that in mind when I make the next very bold and controversial statement.
Final Fantasy 7 Remake is a perfect video game through and through and had I graded it according to traditional scale… it would absolutely get a perfect 10 out of 10. This is hands down quite possibly THE best video game I have ever played.
With that out of the way, allow me to try and take you through my thought process and how I arrived at this conclusion.
I don’t think there’s been a single video game release in recent memory that comes saddled with bigger expectations. When you tread the very hallowed ground that the original FF7 exists within, you teeter on a very fine line that could tip the scales in either direction at any moment. FF7 is one of those hallmarks that one would put up for Hall of Fame consideration should such a thing exist for video games. Even with the whole subjective nature of things I brought up earlier, this is one of those rare titles that seems to have garnered fairly universal praise from just about every type of gamer that exists. It’s one thing to remake a cult classic and bring it into a new light for people to try and appreciate. It’s easier to let idiosyncratic shortcomings fall by the wayside when its something that has room for successful interpretation. If it can be improved upon by a remake or “re-imagining” then bully for whoever decides to take on that endeavor.
FF7 was not a game that needed to be remade. Sure, there are some things that could probably be improved upon. The games Japanese to English translation left a lot of incoherent dialogue and plot options very hard to discern. The blocky character models were sometimes very hard to look at and required a lot of imagination to bring to life. In hindsight these things are nowhere near deal breakers and even lend the older game a sense of personality but it was still something that could benefit from a fresh coat of paint. The stuff that matters, the heart and soul of the story, the emotion one experiences when taking part in this adventure for the first time… these are things that still stand as perfect and can’t be replicated or reproduced in anyway. People claiming to be nervous about a new remake of this veritable institution in the gaming landscape had a right to worry. Step too far in either direction and you risk sullying the reputation of what came before.
So how does Square Enix navigate the tricky waters of giving the fans a remake of a classic game without betraying the MANY expectations everyone had going into this? Well… they don’t remake what came before… they give us something new within the framework of something we’re familiar with. All the classic things you fell in love with about this game are still there, but are greatly expanded upon in ways you didn’t think possible. Yes, the advances in hardware have given us some jaw dropping visuals but it’s the more subtle tweaks and enhancements that really make this stand toe to toe with the original and surpass it even.
Let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way, this isn’t the “full” FF7 experience you remember from back in the day. Square Enix has decided to release the new FF7 in episodic form. What does this mean? Well this game you have before you takes place across the Midgar section. In the original FF7, the Midgar storyline only really accounted for maybe 3-4 hours of playtime. The game itself didn’t really become the open world masterpiece we remember it as until we leave Midgar and traverse the neighboring lands. While I’m sure that makes more than a few purists a little mad they’re not getting the full game up front, I think the breaking up of the story into separate episodes will ultimately work in this story’s favor. By limiting FF7 Remake to just the Midgar portion of the story, the developers are given more room to flesh out non existent characters that didn’t really leave much of an impact in the original title. You play the game through the perspective of Cloud Strife, a merc hired by rogue eco-terrorists AVALANCHE whose mission is to take down the mega evil Shinra corporation and their desire to sap the planet of all its mystical Mako energy.
In FF7 original, the story painted the heroes and villain as fairly black and white. The bad guys were bad and the good guys wanted to stop them from destroying the planet. There wasn’t a whole lot of room for nuance. In FF7 Remake, the good guys exist in a greyer area. Their goals are ultimately for the betterment of the planet, but their actions cost a lot of people their lives and sometimes cause more damage than anything else. An early portion of the game has you wandering in the city after a successful bombing run. As you walk around, the citizens are out and about and you get to hear their various reactions to the explosions that just rocked the whole town. You see people on the street injured and fearing for their safety. They’re normal every day folks just trying to make a living to survive. Not many video games stop to examine the human quotient of the bombast and huge action set pieces you probably just had a hand in creating. I had a visceral emotional response to this games story on more than one occasion.
This isn’t just about beating up monsters and learning new magic tricks. The world isn’t some idyllic paradise for everyone to be a part of and have adventures in. FF7 Remake casts a light on the very real-world issues of class divide and racism and sexuality. It’s a game that has important things to say but never at the sacrifice of being a video game. For all the important nuance and progressive things Square Enix does with the story it never forgets that video games are meant to be fun and engaging on top of having something to say.
FF7 original is one of the greatest RPG’s of all time. The sense of progression from one quest to the next, the level of customization and ability to tune the game to your playstyle, the mix of sci fi and wizardry all come together in this cornucopia of awesomeness that really hasn’t been matched since. FF7 remake has an even bigger and more grandiose sense of progression than before. In the original, you could level up your character, his or her stats, the potency of the Materia (this games version of magic). Your weapons all came with Materia slots and as you got further and further into the game, new gear and Materia would be unlocked that would come with more available slots to further enhance your badassery. In the remake all of that remains true but now with the added benefit of being able to upgrade your weapons themselves as well. The more you use a particular weapon, your proficiency will increase granting you new attacks as well as buffing that weapons stats.
The combat itself is actually quite different taking on a more free form action style that is similar to what came in Final Fantasy XV. Its not turn based per say, but it’s not just button mashing garbage disguised as deep combat. FF7 remake is very heavily built around the notion of strategy. Knowing your enemy’s weakness and exploiting that to ensure your victory in battle provides for combat that never feels simplified or too easy to master. There are layers upon layers here that provide for endless hours or replayability. Sure, you could go in and spam your highest-level attack and hope that’s enough, but your enemies are as smart as you presumably are. They don’t just mindlessly hack and slash at you either. They play to your weaknesses the same way you do to them so mastering your knowledge of what Materia and weapon to use in what encounter becomes paramount to success. There are some enemies in the game that will take multiple tries before bringing them down, you will die quite a bit if you’re not careful and pay attention to the ebb and flow of combat. However, whereas dying over and over again because of an insane difficulty spike for no good reason sounds like a frustrating design choice… that’s not the case here. I have died multiple times throughout my play time but I never felt the need to rage quit or that the game was cheating me out of a victory. It was because of my poor strategy choices that resulted in my death. So, I would regroup… re-balance my weapon and Materia choices and try alternate forms of attack. The game is challenging but not unplayably difficult and requires the player to get creative as no fight or boss battle was ever the same. Another layer of combat that needs to be discussed are the Summons. This is a particular subset of Materia that allows you to “summon” extra help in the form of giant magic wielding creatures. These could be used during a battle that could be deigned as being more difficult. Only a few of these Summons Materia are unlocked during natural story progression with the rest being rewarded through option side quests where you have to fight the giant beasts themselves before being able to wield their power.
You know what really hooked me though? The thing that really pushed this game into the rarified air of being a 10 out of 10? All the in-between moments that took place around the big battles and bombastic action set pieces. The human moments you’d spend with your teammates and the people that live in the world not involved in your fight against Shinra. Some of my favorite moments exist in the side quests where the biggest thing you need to worry about is collecting flowers for the local orphanage or helping an old man visit his dead wife’s gravestone on her birthday. These side quests don’t always push the story itself forward in a super meaningful way but the lore that exists in this universe is made all the deeper and more enriching because of it. The more you interact with the cities and towns around you, the more they become aware of your presence and impact. Early on, there’s a side quest that tasks you with finding some missing children scattered about the area. It’s a fairly simple “fetch” quest by design but when you later revisit the area and have to interact with those same children again, you’ll see them carrying around mock paper versions of Cloud’s famous Buster Sword idolizing your every move. Most video game worlds serve as a backdrop for your adventures, here Midgar and its surrounding slums react to your every move and decision made. The world isn’t a static background wallpaper…it’s a living breathing thing and it’s very reactive to everything you do within. Cloud is the center of this particular story being told but he’s not the center of the world or universe.
There’s so much more I could talk about and I’m sure there is plenty I HAVEN’T covered, but if I were to try and talk about EVERYTHING this game had to offer… this article would be the length of a novella. So, let me try and wrap this up so you guys can get to playing the game.
Final Fantasy 7 Remake is the type of game that only comes along once or twice in a life time. It Is the absolute pinnacle of what the medium of video gaming can achieve if produced in exactly the right way under the right set of circumstances. Lightning struck in every single way it needed to and them some for this game to come out as perfect as it did. When I first booted the game up and the title music came through the speakers, a single tear rolled down my cheek. I was instantly transported back to my 13-year-old-self playing the original when it first came out. I remember many a weekend getting lost inside the world of Final Fantasy 7. It captured my whole imagination and I played it over and over again even after beating it multiple times.
FF7 Remake does the same thing for me in my 30’s that the original did in my early teens. It has managed to yet again shake up everything I know and love about gaming in the best way possible. Yes, the updated graphics are a sight to behold for sure but it’s the spaces between that are the most beautiful and vibrant. The smaller quiet moments where these characters are allowed to exist as human beings and not pawns in a plot against the big bad Shinra corporation. FF7 Remake astounds because it doesn’t lose focus of the people at the center of the war being fought over the planet’s lifeblood. It allows you to live and laugh and love and feel pain while also swinging a giant fucking sword at a horned pig beast shooting fireballs out of its hands. It has spectacle but also human cost in equal measure. Everything has a price and though you’re waging war on the behalf of the planet and its inhabitants, the human cost of what you’re doing weighs heavily on what comes next.
This game isn’t a miserable slog despite all this seriousness. It has equal amounts of fun and excitement to balance out the serious and mature tone. It’s the complete package and has just about everything anyone could ever want out of a video game. At a time when the country is more divided and scared than it ever has been before… we need more games like this. Final Fantasy 7 Remake is a beautiful work of art that is happy to revel in the best that humanity has to offer. It reminds us that though things might be bleak and seem helpless… we all have the power to be good and to do good things. Final Fantasy 7 Remake is a perfect video game. Its also a perfect work of art. It’s a beautiful achievement that deserves to be experienced by everyone.