Spanning three CDs filled with cutting-edge graphics, a story that had multiple shocks and twists, and a setting that was far-removed from the usual swords and sorcery of RPGs, Final Fantasy VII was revolutionary for the video game industry. The game is still fun to play today. When it was announced that a full-blown remake was in the works, the Internet (naturally) got bees in their collective bonnets. Things got worse when gamers learned that the game would be released episodically. Eventually, the first episode of the remake finally arrived and it’s…good.
Final Fantasy VII tells the story of Cloud Strife, a mercenary for hire that is hired by an ecoterrorist group called Avalanche. His assignment tasks him with blowing up a Mako Reactor, a generator that sucks energy from the planet to distribute it to the people in the city of Midgar. Cloud doesn’t know that this one-time gig will turn into so much more. He’ll have his hands full with his blurry past, shady gangs, beautiful women, and the Shinra Electric Power company on a voyage through the massive metropolis of Midgar.
In fact, Midgar is just as an important of a character as Cloud. Familiar faces like Barret, Tifa, and Aerith have important roles to play. But, with the entire campaign of this episode taking place in the mega city, Midgar is in itself a character. The slums you spent a few minutes in during the original? You’ll be there for a good three to four hours. The Las Vegas inspired Wall Market? You’ll spend a few hours there with frequent returns to fulfill a number of side quests. The Shinra building you raided to rescue a friend near the end of the original Midgar campaign? Again, get ready to spend at least three to four hours there. A lot of this exposition could have been trimmed; there’s unnecessary padding that doesn’t add to the overall picture. On the other hand, getting to explore more of Midgar while taking a deeper dive into the backstories of some characters both new and old makes the arrival of each location exciting.
Cloud’s journey through Midgar is a linear campaign that spans 18 chapters. In some chapters, you’ll be in a sector of Midgar where you can shop for items, weapons, armor and Materia. The Materia feature is back and grants your characters passive boosts and the ability to use skills and/or magic. Materia combinations aren’t as vast as they were in the original, but there’s still some room for customization. Along with shopping, there’s a hefty amount of side-content and mini-games. Some chapters have Cloud and his team journeying through unsafe parts of Midgar like sewers and scrapyards. This is where you get to experience combat.
Combat is exhausting. Taking an action/RPG approach with Final Fantasy’s Active Time Bar, you control one character while the AI controls the others. You can swap between characters on the fly; a practice you will need to get used to. The square button performs normal attacks, while the triangle button performs a unique attack depending on who you’re controlling. Performing any action (outside of defending, attacking with square, moving, or evading) requires the use of one ATB. Using abilities, which can permanently acquired from weapons, items and/or magic requires the use of one or two bars. While the ATBs build on their own, to really make them fill you need to land hits and successfully defend attacks. Combat mastery requires you to swap between characters and use ATB actions in harmony. The AI controlled party members will be attacking and defending. It’s up to you to command them to user their ATB effectively.
Another key to victory in this new version of Final Fantasy VII is to attack an enemy’s elemental weakness so it becomes Pressured. When an enemy is Pressured, its stagger bar fills up rapidly. A full stagger bar means the enemy enters Staggered status. This is where the majority of damage gets to dealt. Regular enemies are relatively straightforward. Bosses, however, are entirely different matters. They’re damage sponges that require a specific strategy and mastery of the fast-paced battle system. They’re also the most frustrating part of the game. Imagine being pelted from all sides with projectiles, getting juggled by explosions, watching your spells get interrupted and losing your ATB as a result. Hell, even Limit Breaks, a staple of Final Fantasy VII, can miss. That’s a typical boss battle in the remake.
While the satisfaction that comes from toppling a boss is wonderful, the frustration that builds before victory is palpable since restarting a boss fight means unskippable cut scenes. It wouldn’t be as bad if the bosses were on an even playing field, but it feels like the bosses are playing Devil May Cry, whereas Cloud and his friends are playing Final Fantasy Type-0. Things do get better the further you get, but it’s a struggle to get there if you play on the standard difficulty level.
This review is getting too wordy even for me. I’ll start to wrap things up: the game is looks gorgeous, the music (consisting of old and new tracks) is audio perfection, and the voice acting is spot-on. Finishing the game once (usually around 40 hours) will unlock a chapter select option that lets you hop around the story to your liking. There’s also a Hard Mode. Those that wish to unlock all of the trophies will need to finish the entire game on this difficulty. Since you can’t skip a good amount of cut scenes, the total play time to platinum can take up to 55 hours.
Most of my problems with Final Fantasy VII Remake stemmed from combat. There were other niggling issues, but combat was the biggest offender. Part of it was my fault: I chose to get all of the trophies, which meant dealing with difficult challenges. But, even after “mastering” the combat, it’s clear that there was more focus on flash than anything else. If bosses didn’t envelope battlefields with terror OR they didn’t take so long to topple, then it would have been much more pleasant. This is why everyone else will want to proceed with caution, no matter their familiarity with the original. If you’re not watching a gorgeous cinematic movie, then chances are you’re in a grueling battle that will tire you out faster than Cloud and his friends.
Overall, 7.5/10: Cinematic, stylish, and exhausting. At first, Final Fantasy VII Remake will appeal those that enjoyed the original. Just try not to get burnt out from the combat.