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
Links to Purchase:
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.
Taking on odd jobs is a new aspect of the game that has you working with characters like Aerith and Tifa which also weaves in more plot and showcases certain characters in ways that they either weren’t shown in the original or just weren’t at all shown at these points in the original and I love it all the more for it. The fact that they made the dynamics of the characters and the banter between them in not only combat but odd jobs so real and helping to establish the relationships and lore more is awesome. How the game uses these events to explore the fractured psyche of Cloud and his relationships with Tifa, Aerith and the others is so well executed that on more than1 or say 40 occasions wills you find yourself in tears.
To say that I am again stunned at how amazing Square-Enix has been able to showcases these characters is an understatement. When I first saw the CG of the characters in the original game I was blown away and thought they looked life like and then I was blown away again when I saw the trailer and eventual movie of Advent Children/Complete, and I was AGAIN blown away when I saw the Final Fantasy VII tech demo for PS3 that was just jaw dropping back in 2006; and now here we are in 2020 with this game having what may be some of the most realistic looking amalgamations of real life meets fantasy style of graphics I have ever seen.
Cloud is one GORGEOUS looking man in this remake and the detail from his hair to the individual strands of hair to his facial structure and details in his eyes and more are simply amazing. The detail in each characters is beyond anything I’ve seen showing that the Crystal engine that Square-Enix uses rivals that of the RE Engine of Capcom. The way the lip syncing is done is so spot on with only a few instances where the audio and syncing are off and yet even with that you have to pay very close attention to catch it being off.
The details of the skin and blemishes of the characters is impeccable and the detailing down to the fibers and stitching in the clothing is beyond anything I’ve seen in gaming and its something that even rivals what capcom has done with both Devil May Cry V and the Resident Evil Remakes of 2 and 3. Even details of battle scars in characters like Barret and even tattoos have such levels of detail that it makes me wonder how much power did this game stress on the PS4 to achieve all this.
Each environment is incredibly detailed and the bloom effects and lighting and ambiance work in perfect sync to create a world that looks and feels lived in and beckons to be explored, Details such as rust and age damages to buildings and walls look scarily real and lets not mentions the way water and water physics are done as it is near impossible to tell it apart from real life water. What baffles me is how amazing this game looks regardless of whether I played it on PS4, Slim, or Pro with some added details and benefits of playing on the Pro; the game had no slowdowns whatso ever although on the Pro it did make the PS4 sound like it was about to blast off into the cosmos the way Jenova does…..opps shouldn’t have said that. Square-Enix, you guys are technical WIZARDS!
What can I say for the audio other than the fact that they brought back the legend himself, the icon, the musical maestro and genius that is NOBUO UEMATSU!!! The man that created all these classic themes in the original as well as many of the classics of Final Fantasy up until Final Fantasy X is back at the helm of this games soundtrack and it is simply a marvel to listen to his new renditions of classic themes such as “Let The Battle Begin!” in it’s grand orchestral style and its EDM inspired remix called “Those Who Fight Further” that is played during the Squat mini game and more.
The music in this game is a more than just video game music but is art in and of itself and something I find myself listening to when I’m not playing the game such as “Those Who Fight Further” when I’m working out as it pumps me up to crush those sets at the gym or when I workout at home or atmospheric and symphonic theme of Bombing Mission which has such a grand sound stage to it that makes you feel like you are taking on the grandest mission of your life with the most utmost of urgency. The music is truly in a league of its own.
The voice acting is so well done that I can’t even imagine anyone else in these roles now and while yes I do miss Steve Burton as Cloud and George Newbern as Sephiroth; Cody Christian and Tyler Hoechlin as well as the rest of the cast pay so much homage to the previous takes on these characters all the while making their own renditions sound not only organic but alive which is something the original cast didn’t do so well at as their renditions were at best….stilted. But Rick Gomez’s take on Zack Fair (my all-time favorite character and role model) is missed however but compensated for.
Everything from the sounds of attacks to the sword on steel and flesh and fires of guns and explosions all sound INCREDIBLE! How this sound team were able to do all that they did is beyond me but man am I impressed by what they have achieved here!
I actually can’t think of a downside other than I WANT MORE NOW!! Many may lament that this is only the first Act of the original and is going to be an episodic take on the original story but honestly its beyond that is this game is the effective start of a Marvel Cinematic Universe-esque universe that is going to bring in A LOT and reference more and if the subsequent entries are anything like this then please GIVE ME MORE!
With so much firing off on all cylinders from the graphics, gamplay, OST, voice acting, story, and new surprises and just the astounding achievements of what Square-Enix was able to do and the fact that they not only lived up to the original but also EXCEEDED it with a game that will appease old fans and bring in newer fans and a newer generation, it’s safe to say that Final Fantasy VII Remake DELIVERS and it is incredibly generous in it’s delivery. The game pays so much respect to the lore and the original that you will be hard pressed to find a game that will top this not only in 2020 but ever. In a time of remakes and resurgences of classic franchises, Final Fantasy VII Remake is the 1 game that no matter what kind of gamer you are, YOU MUST OWN! GET THIS GAME NOW!