THE PROMISE FINALLY FULFILLED.
History lesson, everyone! The year was 2005, the world was eagerly anticipating the next evolution of what was to become the 6th console generation and all the Sony faithful wanted to know was what the successor to mighty PlayStation 2 (aptly named the PlayStation 3) was capable of. Once that year’s E3 convention came around, Sony revealed their ace up their sleeve to combat Microsoft’s already ravenously anticipated Xbox 360, and that was a very special tech demo, one that would set the gaming world ablaze and keep them talking for almost 15 years, a strikingly glorious, high definition, 60fps recreation of Final Fantasy VII’s iconic opening scene. Fans all around rejoiced at what seemed like a promise that we’d be getting a full remake of the archetypal role-playing title, and that promise would have to wait until 2015 when after years of fan requests Final Fantasy VII remake was finally announced.
Fast forward to 2020 and it’s finally here, after all the waiting, rumours and speculation the full-blown, super awesome, bombastic, fan-bloody-tastic, limousine riding, jet flying, record-setting, leaves fans sweating remake of Final Final VII!…..but how is it? Well after hours of exploring and battling my way through this newly rebuilt Midgar I can assure you all that Final Fantasy VII remake provides the experience that the black pile of sludge in my chest has been longing for. With its fleshed out and reimagined plot, satisfying combat system, open-world aesthetic and stunning visuals, Square Enix took the best aspects of the franchise over the past years and has gone full gung-ho to create one hell of a game.
Many are aware of the premise of Final Fantasy VII, but if this is your first venture into the world of Final Fantasy (the franchise as a whole not the game ‘World of Final Fantasy’ that something completely different and that’s ok!) let’s get you up to speed. Final Fantasy VII Remake takes you to the dystopian metropolis of Midgar, a double-tiered social hierarchy where the wealthy, well to do citizens and employees of electricity tycoon Shinra live on the top plate and the less fortunate live below in the slums. You then meet Cloud Strife, a former member of the elite fighting force SOLDIER and now a merc for hire working with eco-terrorist group AVALANCHE, a group looking to stop Shinra’s exploitation of Mako, a substance taking from the Lifestream which acts as kind of the heartbeat of their planet. AVALANCHE plans to do this by destroying all Mako rectors within Midgar and bring an end to Shinra’s tyranny. The Final Fantasy VII Remake takes the opportunity to create a sort of reimagining of this cult classic, making slight changes from the original and even creating new sections of its story creating a new experience from something that is so familiar to many, over the years I myself and surely many others know this tale back to front and these little curveballs and detours keep things fresh and exciting what’s even more delightful is the added exposition to characters like Wedge, Biggs, and Jessie who we hardly got to all the way back in 1997. Now to the elephant in the room, as I’m certain you’re are all aware by now, you do not get the full story of FFVII beginning to end in this game, which let’s face it, isn’t what we were expecting but think of it more like part one of an oncoming saga and how Square Enix has made a 30 hour plus, 90GB, Action RPG out of one section of the original which is a ballsy move and shows the ambition the developers have for this project as a whole but for now, you’ll just have to wait to see some of your favourite parts in all their splendor.
When it comes to gameplay, Final Fantasy VII Remake contains some of the most satisfying, hard-hitting and tactical mechanics in recent memory for the famed franchise (with only minimal moments of Bethesda style wackiness). Though the days of turn-based combat may seem like a thing of the past, the FFVII Remake’s layout and execution keep it from being just another button-mashing hack and slash. Physical attacks fill your ATB gauge which allows you to use magic and character-specific abilities so you can wreak absolute havoc against those that displease you. Causing enough damage and exposing enemies to their weaknesses will eventually leave them staggered (a welcome return to one of FFXIII’s better mechanics) causing them to become prone and defenseless. Each character also works differently with their own styles of attacks and abilities giving you numerous ways to take on a battle with Cloud being your heavy hitter, Tifa-your agile hand to hand specialist, Barrett-your long-ranged gunner, and Aerith-an all around close and long-ranged magic user, this makes each skirmish exciting making you think what will work in which situation. Materia is also back, providing you with magic spells and buffs giving you more incentive to plan ahead before each fight. All this together creates one of the most intense combat systems I’ve seen in a video game, keeping your fingers busy with an easy to master yet intricate button layout and giving your brain a damn good workout in the process. You can also take on various side quests throughout the game ranging from the simple and light-hearted to coming face to face with some vicious foes to gathering battle and enemy intel to create different kinds of materia, all of which are balanced out nicely allowing you to give the main story the attention it deserves while taking on jobs at your leisure. FF7 Remake also has a truly unexpected difficulty curb. Underestimate your opponent and you’ll find yourself in the red before you know it and Boss fights will waste you in an instant if you charge in unprepared.
Unreal Engine 4 rarely disappoints when it comes to creating lush, vibrant character models and environments and FF7 Remake certainly is no different. Midgar seemed like a world of its own back in 1997, and here we are 23 years later and it has been rebuilt from the ground up to near perfection. From the dismal, cobbled streets above the plate to the filthy slums below to the foreboding and baleful halls of a Mako Reactor, all these familiar locations have been reborn anew, beautifully crafted and rendered in ways that are picturesque in some locations. Characters models are also great for the most park with a surprising amount of detail going into them, particularly in cutscenes with life being brought to not only the core characters who we’ve seen already done in Advent Children and Kingdom Hearts but to every part big and small as well as the iconic moments from way back when brought to a new light. This along with a skilled voice cast creates investment in our heroes, from Cloud’s PTSD fuelled stoicism, Tifa’s warmth and firey resolve, Aerith’s beautiful innocence, and Barrett’s scowling judgment and erratic behaviour (he’s also the fourth wall guy, who’d have seen that coming?). Lastly, how could we forget about the soundtrack? Nobuo Uematsu’s masterful compositions in the original and along with Masashi Hamauza and Mitsuto Suzuki have recreated what, for the most part, a newly arranged and orchestrated reimagining of the original. With each piece coming in, its a joy to recognize it and compare it to its counterpart from two decades ago, though some styles may seem out of place when compared to its environment.
Final Fantasy VII Remake is available now on PS4.
The game code was provided by Square Enix.