Engine: Unreal Engine 4
Writer: Kazushige Nojima
Series: Final Fantasy
Platform: PlayStation 4
Composers: Nobuo Uematsu, Masashi Hamauzu
Developers: Square Enix, Square Enix First Development Division
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1997 was the year that changed the gameplay landscape by making for the first time by having a JRPG become a mainstream success brought to us by Square Soft (Now Square-Enix) with Final Fantasy VII. That JRPG was my first foray into JRPGs and was the game that helped me become better at reading and English; and now in 2020 roughly 23 years later we are FINALLY graced with a remake of what is the defining game of the RPG genre that along with Metal Gear Solid changed what and how we experience both games and their narratives. Is Final Fantasy VII Remake the game to bring back the historic honor and redeem the franchise or is it just another blunder in Square-Enix’s library the way Final Fantasy 13 and 15 were? Let’s find out!
The story of Final Fantasy VII kicks off with a breathtaking cinematic that shows most of Midgar as well as a Aerith and then makes a few transitions of scenes with the music shifting from the classic original to aspects of Sephiroth’s theme and then the camera focuses on a train and transitions to Biggs, Wedge, Jessie, and Barret and then our story’s hero: Cloud Strife. Cloud is an Ex-SOLDIER 1st class (or so it seems) and has taken a job to work with the eco-terrorist group known as AVALANCHE lead by Barret Wallace to stop the various reactors from draining the planet’s life force known as Mako which powers the metropolis of Midgar.
As Cloud and Avalanche brave the onslaught of Shinra Electric Company and their elite soldiers, you eventually end up blowing up one of several Mako reactors; in the original this would have you heading back to the AVALANCHE HQ and get a drink from Tifa but in this re-imagining of a classic tale you are forced to walk the streets and see the consequences of what you just did and see the destruction and chaos and lives lost due to what you’ve done.
This all hits even harder due to the OST that accompanies you as you proceed forward in the streets and makes it hit hard and realize that while you may be a hero to some, to others you are a murderous villain and perfectly showcases the duality of extremism and the shades of gray of perceived right and wrong.
As the story goes on and expands, it goes from a simple extremist group like AVALANCHE against Shinra to being about saving the very world from the greater threat that is the One-Winged Angel: Sephiroth.
The story of Final Fantasy VII Remake takes a classic tale and re-imagines it with modern graphics, soundtrack, and generally without the limitations of the PSX era of hardware and includes more details in the story that were previously unanswered and or were ignored or even cut out to flesh out the story for both fans and a new audience bringing new life to this age old characters with new looks into them, their mindset and motivations, as well as giving previous throw away characters new more fleshed out roles and personalities.
The characters are so well written and lovable and relatable in a way that no Final Fantasy has ever done before with so much personality and charisma and so well acted and just…………. GOD I LOVE IT!
You will see characters from various media of the extended universe of Final Fantasy VII such as Crisis Core, On A Way To A Smile, Before Crisis, The Kids are alright, and more which basically showcases that the Compilation is so much as obsolete as it is being better utilized and like the current Resident Evil 2 and 3 Remakes, reimagined.
The gameplay has undergone a significant change in both style and structure with it shifting from the previous turnbased style to an action focused combat akin to a mixture of Final Fantasy XV and Kingdom Hearts yet it retains the strategic and methodical gameplay of the original. The way the combat seamlessly flows from field to battle is so perfect and you’re able to at the touch of a button switch to different characters in battle easily to control a specific character. All attacks are carried out in real time if you choose that style and allow you to attack, jump, guard, and evade.
You can select commands for none controlled characters as well as your own to topple any foe that gets in your way and this is especially helpful as you fight bosses that have you needing to use specific skills to either damage them or break their defenses. The previous ATB or Active Time Bar now allows you to use specific actions depending on how filled it is and is segmented into spells, special abilities and item uses which have costs associated to them. The gauge fills slowly initially to encourage you to shift between your available characters and will grow as you attack your enemies more. Your party members will rarely, if ever, use higher tier skills and abilities on their own so it is important for you to asses the situations of battle and switch accordingly to the needed character as the demands of the moment to moment combat are incredibly high and your enemies will often show no mercy.
You can also select Classic Mode which is close to the original but not really and allows you to slow time to plan out your next attack and strategize.
Each character has a specific and unique skill that they can use which doesn’t cost them anything to use and is strategically advantageous for them to use in key moments and situations such as Aeriths’ Tempest ability which fires off crystals or Cloud’s Punisher mode which ups his damage output yet limits his mobility or Tifa’s martial arts techniques with Unbridled Strength or Barret’s powered up blast from his gun arm. Each of these abilities has their own advantageous and disadvantages and it falls on you the player to read the battle situation and use them wisely. You still get your various spells for offense and defense with the usage of what Materia you have slotted into your weapons which brings us to….
Materia was such a huge aspect of the original game that you couldn’t hope to get far if you didn’t learn the importance of what Materia to equip, how many slots your weapon had, or the various buffs the weapons gave to the growth and mastery of said Materia. In the original you had Materia that could give you various buffs, give you access to certain spells and summons, as well as resistances to certain statuses and elements when paired with the right Materia and in this remake this doesn’t change at all. While each character has a certain classical class or job that they are assigned by default; the ability to outfit your character with various Materia will allow them to play substantially different from others and it’s this level of customization that allows you to make your character builds be whatever you want such as having Cloud be a healing mage with healing Materia spells or Aerith a black mage with destructive offensive spells; the opportunities are endless.