It’s Final(ly) Here!
The Final Fantasy VII Remake is finally here after an agonising wait since it was revealed way back at E3 in 2015. The original Final Fantasy VII was, for many, one of, if not THE greatest JRPG(s) ever made. The hype surrounding its announcement was staggering, with players divided between those excited to go back into a world they grew up playing, and those happy to finally get a chance to experience the game in some way after never having the chance before. I am shamefully on the latter; I’ve never played a Final Fantasy game before so I am far from an expert.
I don’t know anything about the original at all, except that the story is apparently a bit different from the remake. Final Fantasy VII Remake is only the first part of the retelling of the original story, with developers Square Enix set to periodically release the later chapters at some point in the future. For those of you who have no clue about the game at all, Final Fantasy VII Remake is a third-person JRPG action game with an engaging story that will take you anywhere between 30 to 50 hours to complete on your first playthrough, depending on the amount of exploration you engage in and your intention to complete all the side quests.
So, let’s get stuck in…
You play as Cloud Strife, a mercenary hired by a group known as Avalanche who wish to end the tyrannical reign of Shinra. Avalanche believe that Shinra are abusing the use of mako, the lifeblood of the planet. The game begins with you on your first mission with them on your way to destroy a mako reactor, which you soon realise is only the start of a very big job to take down Shinra and their goons. I’m not going to say much more in case it’s very different from the original, or if you don’t want any spoilers at all, but I think the story is told exceptionally well through a combination of quiet character moments and elaborate cutscenes.
The plot ticks along at a nice pace for most of the game, with a good combination of action, puzzles, story, and non-interactive cutscenes. You never feel like you’re meandering around for too long before the next thing happens that catapults you through another section of the game; with most of it being important rather than filler. The cutscenes are of a hugely impressive standard, with some scenes looking like they’ve been ripped straight from a Final Fantasy anime. The action does sometimes border on cheesy but when it’s this entertaining it can be forgiven. Some of the more poignant moments are really special too, with scenes playing out like teenage romance films. It’s very moving stuff.
The characters are what really make the game excel for me though. We get to spend a lot of time with them and learn their motivations, interests and deepest desires. Even the toughest of people are fighting for personal and emotional reasons that fully validate the actions that they/you do throughout. Even the slightly lesser important characters such as Jessie, Biggs and Wedge are fleshed out to an extent that makes you care about every one of them (Rob – These three have a much bigger part and purpose than they did in the original game). It also helps that the voice acting is some of the highest quality I’ve heard in a game to date. The cast of FF7R is staggering, with so many recognisable voice actors playing characters you’d never expect and some newer faces that truly shine in their roles. Aerith and Tifa both really stand out to me and so I think their actors, Briana White and Britt Baron respectively, deserve a special mention. There are some more nuanced characters, such as Johnny, that are truly unique and Yuri Lowenthal (Spiderman 2018) is superb in this chaotic and funny role.
The ending raises just as many questions as it does answers which is both a good and bad thing. It feels conclusive to a degree but it’s just really annoying that we now have to wait to finish the story. I wonder if we even see the rest of the story on PS4? It’s a really strange way of releasing the game and I hope we aren’t going to be asked to keep paying full price unless each part of the game will have the same care, length and detail as this Midgar section of the game does.
While you’re progressing through the story, there are moments of respite where you can take the game at your own pace. There is a lot of Midgar to explore in the Final Fantasy VII Remake and its amazingly pretty and fun to look around. This is one of the best-looking games on PS4 in my eyes, it’s got some really stunning scenery and the character designs are beautiful. There’s a lot of interesting NPCs that say some interesting and funny stuff as you walk past them and there are even side quests to discover in certain chapters which I don’t believe were in the original game. The side quests are quite simple in their design; fetch this, go kill that, etc, but they also introduce you to more characters that are fun to interact with. You learn about local legends, gather some stray cats and have the odd boss fight, so they’re definitely worth doing. I wish there was a bit more variety in what you do but I think there’s the right amount of side quests because any more would fully disrupt the pacing of the game.
Perhaps the most important ‘side’ stuff to do though is for a boy called Chadley. Completing his quests allows him to research and create powerful pieces of materia for you to buy at a discounted rate. Materia is the magic that allows you to cast spells that are integral to your successes in battle. As well as helping Chadley’s research, there are ‘VR missions’ that he has. In these, you must fight god-like entities known as “summons” – if you defeat them, you earn the materia that allows you to summon them yourself in the more difficult fights that you come across. These are excellent boss battles and some of the most challenging fights you will face, but it’s all worth it to summon a Bahamut on your side.
There are also challenges that you can complete in certain chapters that gradually increase in difficulty. In these, you will be asked to fight the hardest enemies in the game, sometimes as a solo party member. The more difficult of these come very late in the game and are required to be completed on hard difficulty. Attempt these when you’re fully levelled though because they will test everything you’ve learnt about the game and how to apply your knowledge. I loved these challenges, they’re very satisfying to complete and a real reason to feel proud of yourself. They’re certainly the most difficult parts of the game but ultimately the most fun.
Although I previously stated that the pacing is great and there’s not a lot of filler, there is some present which does tend to slow things down due to it making some sections feel unnecessarily long. I personally think that the developers had created certain gameplay mechanics which didn’t have a lot of use, so they reused them in order to expand the gameplay time even though it added little to the game, story or situation you’re currently in. If they added some great character moments while you were on these tangents then sure, but instead, they end up just messing with the pacing and slowing things down. An example of this is in the final chapters of the game where you have to keep swapping characters to progress through a relatively short section. I get that it’s supposed to add a bit of variety and is a technically a ‘puzzle’, but it only made me want to just get through it as fast as I can – it’s a load of faff. The other puzzles in the game also feel a lot longer than necessary, they aren’t the strong point of the game.
The way you get around the world I also find a little bit limiting. I’m not sure why but when doing most of the climbing/jumping/balancing sections in the game, you simply push forward and have the game do the work for you. I would have liked to be in more control of these parts, just to break up the simple running around. A couple of platforming sections wouldn’t do any harm. This isn’t necessarily a criticism as it is more a preference of my own that I feel limits the experience a little, but it’s not too important. There are times where you’re sliding down pipes or zip wires, or hopping across narrow bridges that would have felt exciting had we been in complete control – but alas no, the game just does it all for you.
However, the only time the game doesn’t do it for you is when you’re using the monkey bars to cross gaps. Unfortunately, this just feels awkward and slow. Based on this, I don’t know whether it’s a good or bad thing that there aren’t more manual manoeuvres…
Without a doubt, my absolute favourite aspect of the Final Fantasy VII Remake is the combat. It’s an incredibly deep system that has so much freedom it’s hard to fathom just how many possibilities there are for each player and each character. It is a wonderful mix of free-flowing combat and time-slowing turn-based ability usage. It’s tactical, as well as exciting, which is not easy to pull off. It genuinely makes every single fight feel spectacular, even the fights where you’re just grinding little pests, like wererats, are fun to do just because there’s so much you can try and so many ways to deal with the enemies you face.
Each enemy has specific weaknesses and strengths and it’s up to you to learn them and work out the best strategy to beat them. The more fights you have, the more you discover your own prefered playstyle, materia, and how to handle certain situations. On a basic level of customisation, you can choose to upgrade the weapons you find to be defensive-favoured, attack-favoured or neutral, but it goes so much deeper than that if you want it to. If you can’t be bothered, you can have the game upgrade the weapons for you automatically – which is a super handy feature.
Speaking of materia, finding/buying materia is incredibly important as to how you play the game. Sure, on your first playthrough you’re almost led by whatever materia you’ve found or bought up to that point, but once you’re starting a hard playthrough and you have the materia you need, it’s important to level them up to suit the style you wish to play as. Some materia has multiple uses and each character has up to nine or ten slots, so the possibilities of the loadout for your characters is endless. There are materia which have spells that: deal elemental damage, heal your team, allow you to gain ATB, and even affect time.
Figuring out the best materia to suit you (and how to build the best loadout for the current situation) is like an endless puzzle that is fun and exciting. No two people will likely have the same character builds which is testament to how much you can do in the Final Fantasy VII Remake.
As you fight through the enemies in the game (of which there is a wide and fantastic variety) you will build up your ATB (Active Time Battle) gauge. As you fill these up, you are then able to slow down time and use abilities and items with the character that has filled it. Sometimes, you need your healer to have their abilities ready while other times you need to be able to unleash your strongest attacks at the right moment. I love this mechanic because it adds a layer of tension to the fights. In the harder battles, you feel like you’re constantly switching between your characters in order to keep hitting their ATBs and line up the next attacks.
One thing I wasn’t a fan of was that using items uses up your ATB gauge, it felt like they should have been separate, at least on the easy difficulty – but that’s just me.
Use your ATB gauges properly and you’ll be able to stagger your enemies, leaving them in an “exposed” position, allowing you to freely unload all manner of attacks with increased damage. The combat just feels so damn good when you’re pulling it off, but it can be difficult at first as it’s your job to manage the ATBs of your entire party. It makes each engagement a tactical affair as well as a real-time fight. Sure, on the lower difficulties you can simply swing your sword, throw your fists or spray your arm-mounted SMG, but where’s the fun in that? Playing on normal is definitely recommended if you want a true experience of the game, you will have to learn how to master your resources for the tougher fights and experiment by utilising all of your skills and abilities.
Knowing your party is also paramount to success. You can switch between your current three party members at any time (providing they’re with you at that point in the story) and take control them yourself. Each character has their own strengths and weaknesses and each has unique abilities that makes mastering all of them a necessity, particularly on hard difficulty. Cloud is a great all-rounder, Barrett has some serious firepower at distance, Tifa is your close-range stagger expert, while Aerith is your magic queen. It’s a great mix of styles that gives you many options for each fight. It makes every battle feel epic as you jump between them all to land that huge limit break, or to get the heals you need at the moment you’re about to receive the final blow. It’s really exciting. I would honestly say it’s my favourite combat system I’ve played in any game this entire console generation.
It’s not all perfect though as I do have a few issues that made some fights very frustrating. First, there’s a massive downside to the party management in that you obviously can’t control all the characters at one time, which causes some problems on harder difficulties. You can give orders to use abilities on certain targets, but you can’t determine who the AI will attack with their normal attacks or where they are standing. This can get really annoying as sometimes you really need them to focus an attack on a particular enemy, yet you absolutely cannot let go of the character you’re currently controlling. Instead, the AI tends to attack something else.
Also, their positioning ranges from perfect to bizarre and awful. Against bosses, when the enemy charges up attacks that do supreme damage, they’ll move behind cover automatically most of the time, which is really helpful. However, other times they’ll be really dumb and stand inside of AOE attacks, like fire/acid, and just let their health evaporate. I’ve even seen occasions where I’m controlling a character and I see the others run head-first into instakill attacks or ducking behind cover when there’s nothing to actually shelter from. Personally, I would have liked a quick way to alter their position on the fly as this would have removed these frustrations, a process you usually see in actual tactical RPG games (this is more of a hybrid).
These problems can sometimes make managing the team much harder than it needs to be, leading to unfair deaths due to the AI letting you down. They just have to stop being stupid, I don’t want them to be perfect, just not stupid.
Before I continue moaning about certain issues, I just want to give a particular mention to the bosses in the Final Fantasy VII Remake because they’re absolutely brilliant. Each boss has specific ways to beat them making it challenging and exciting trying to figure out the strategy needed to eliminate them. They’re like puzzles that attack you. There is no shortage of them either, with some chapters having up to three bosses. Some of these giant enemies also have smaller foes to contend with before you can attack them, some have specific parts you need to target, and some even have multiple stages.
My favourite boss though has a mechanic that I’ve never seen before in a game. As you build up to the fight, you can “disassemble” chosen parts of the boss, so you’re essentially designing the boss that you’re going to face before you fight it – choosing which strengths and weaknesses you wish to keep within its body. So clever!
Most of the bosses are exhilarating and epic, they are truly the high points of the game for me. You need to manage your party well by switching between them and keeping them all topped up and try to push your advantages, always trying to trigger the stagger! Visually, they look amazing and each has its own animations and quirks that make them feel special and important. No two boss fights play out the same way which is why they are so challenging and spectacular.
In addition to the new combat system, you will really have to learn how to position yourself when facing them (hoping the AI follow suit and adapt as well). Bosses have attacks that can do huge AOE damage or target a single party member with heavy attacks. Therefore, it’s important to learn to use cover. Adding a cover system to an RPG game built on turn-based combat might seem strange but I think it really works. Using the environment to protect yourself is something that is not only clever but super important, especially on the harder difficulties. Some bosses are literally impossible on hard if you don’t use cover and I’m glad it’s a feature that feels fully integrated into making a fight successful rather than something that is a lucky way of escaping.
I do have a big grievance with the boss fights though. This is something that only really affects the harder difficulties though, since the Easy Mode is, well, very easy. Sometimes it can take a really long time to build up your limit break attacks, saving all your ATB charges for when you finally get a stagger and an opening to deliver a chain of attacks. The problem comes in how the Final Fantasy VII Remake throws in cutscenes in the middle of the action. When you get certain named enemies down to a particular percentage of their health, they will undergo some kind of change that for some reason cannot be delayed. Your attacks don’t continue after the cutscene either, oh no. Instead, their health bar gets locked to the point you physically can’t damage them any more until the scene plays out – thus wasting the attack I’ve just saved up the started.
Multiple times I had used all my major attacks, not knowing if or when there was going to be a scene played out, only to waste all my abilities and lose the fight. Don’t get me wrong, the scenes are gorgeous and action-packed but don’t be stealing away all my hard work!
The final niggle I have is with abilities that require you to lock on. If you’re using a continuous attack on a particular target, for no reason at all I found the AI would begin to attack someone else when I intended it to all attack the person that I chose. It cost me more than a few fights on hard difficulty, especially on a certain boss who has lots of little friends with him. I couldn’t even get to the boss because the game wouldn’t let me attack him! Basically, I love the combat system and I feel the real-time mixed with the slowed-down tactical format works really well, but the hybrid combat system feels like a Jack-of-all-trades at times and maybe the developers should have stuck to one format?
I had high expectations for the Final Fantasy VII Remake due to the hype around the game when it was first revealed. I’m happy to say that my expectations were met and then some. I loved every second I had with this game (niggles aside) and was engrossed in its world and its story. The characters are a joy to spend time with and I was with them every step of the way. There were twists I didn’t expect and moments that just had me smiling more than I had in a game for years. As someone who hasn’t played the original, I’m not sure how the Final Fantasy VII fans will feel about its changed story, or how different it plays, but to anyone who is looking for a great JRPG to play then look no further than this.
I think it’s an essential purchase for every PS4 owner for its ridiculously fun combat, gorgeous visuals and captivating story. It easily goes into my top 10, maybe top 5, games of this generation. Well done Square Enix, I think I’m Final(ly) a Fan(tasy) of this celebrated series. Now hurry and get the next part out and remake all the others – Pretty please!
Final Fantasy VII Remake£59.99
- - The combat is super fun and tactical
- - Lots of loadout customisation
- - Story is engaging and the characters are great to play as/with
- - Stupidly pretty
- - Amazing boss battles
- - Wish there was some traversal gameplay (a preference)
- - Some AI issues
- - A bit annoying we have to wait so long for the next part of the game