Final Fantasy VII Remake (PS4) - ReviewThomas Froehlicher , posted on 03 May 2020 / 2,136 Views
Final Fantasy VII is undoubtedly one of the most iconic JRPGs of all time. So when Square Enix decided to tackle a remake, it was clear the company was taking a big risk. But like they say about derivatives markets: high risk, high return. Ever since the Midgar tech demo in the early PS3 days, Final Fantasy VII Remake had become some kind of utopian, unreachable dream in the minds of many. That's how important this moment is for both the publisher and its millions of fans.
There were protests and confusion when it was announced that Final Fantasy VII Remake would be an episodic series. After playing that first part until the end, I can say definitely say that it was the right thing for Square Enix to do, for numerous reasons. Final Fantasy VII (and almost every early Final Fantasy title) is an extremely dense game, so remaking it with state-of-the-art graphics is a titanic challenge, and it's clear that Square Enix was fully aware of what it needed to do in order to preserve and elevate the experience.
The story of Final Fantasy VII Remake, or more accurately the Midgar part of Final Fantasy VII, revolves around the struggle of a group of ecologists called Avalanche against a giant corporation, called Shinra, which is accused of wasting natural resources and jeopardizing the whole planet. In order to strike the enemy hard, Avalanche hires a former Shinra elite guard - Cloud. Together, Cloud and Avalanche not only discover much darker plans on Shinra's agenda, but also a wider threat that Shinra triggers. Square Enix has taken the time to rework every major scene, so much that the storytelling feels even better than before. For example, Cloud having flashbacks of his former life (and sometimes visions of the future), or the final showdown on the top of Shinra building, are breathtaking moments. The episodic format allows the publisher to offer its absolute best while rebuilding the narrative.
Equally important are the various sub events that were not forgotten in Final Fantasy VII Remake, such as Barrett arguing with Shinra employees, Mayor Domino offering his help, and Elma's past. All of those elements are key to ensure the world you perceive in Final Fantasy VII Remake is as rich as you remember the original being, and ensures the same overwhelming feeling of being part of an adventure like no other. Square Enix could probably have skipped certain elements and launched the game earlier, but the company didn't. It wanted to ensure that 100% of Final Fantasy VII is in Final Fantasy VII Remake, and that's a truly laudable goal.
Final Fantasy VII Remake feels compelling not only in terms of narrative, but also in terms of its general atmosphere. If you look at recent Final Fantasy games (probably starting from Final Fantasy XII), the series has had a tendency to bear a more serious tone and put aside traditional JRPG humor, flashy characters, and generally speaking all of the weird little things, all for the sake of "westernization". While I feared Square Enix would transform Final Fantasy VII Remake in that way, it turned out not to be the case - in fact, it's the opposite. The development team kept the silly jokes, the crossdressing, the quirky characters, the endless Shinra stairs, the odd mini-games, and so on. Speaking of mini-games, there are tons of them, and they're very fun and addictive. The bike chase is included and has been expanded, making it more dynamic and impressive. And some, like Tifa's pull-ups or Cloud's crate crashing, are very challenging but feel so rewarding that I spent countless tries attempting to master their hardest difficulties.
Final Fantasy VII Remake also features quite a few side quests. You get a new set of side quests every four or five chapters, which really helps to keep you entertained. That's important, because the truth is that this remake lacks a sense of exploration. The paths are very straight, so much so that painful memories of Final Fantasy XIII surface at times, and the game's architecture, including the choice of distinct chapters, limits the sensation of freedom. But the quest system is really good, as for example some are very extensive and will ask you to go back to certain places and meet several different characters, as well as defeat distant monsters. Another nice thing about the side quests is that they aren't overly rote - the game doesn't pin-point their exact locations and so requires you to look about and think for yourself, which is appreciated. Some of them are also hidden, which really encourages you to go back to every town, shop, and station to make sure you haven't missed anything.
When I said that Final Fantasy VII Remake is 100% of Final Fantasy VII, that's not entirely correct. It's more 120%, because Square Enix didn't just remake the PlayStation original, it fully enhanced the JRPG experience by adding novelties like extra scenes, new characters, and revamped locations. Madam M, Kirie, and Johnny, among many others, are charismatic new faces that completely renew the story and quests in Final Fantasy VII. Certain characters that were included in the original PlayStation game play a much larger role in the Remake as well. For example, Avalanche members Jessie, Wedge, and Biggs have something like ten times more screentime in this entry. You get to know them much better, finding out about their lives and families in the flurry of extra content that's centered on them. Needless to say, it makes it considerably more emotional watching their fates in the heat of battle against Shinra and beyond.
The major change of course lies in the top notch graphics and visual redesign of Final Fantasy VII. I think it's safe to say that there's no disappointment there. Midgar's recreation blew my mind throughout. Every home, shop, and dirty path gives a strong artistic identity to Final Fantasy VII Remake. The towns are especially lively, with many NPCs talking and moving about around you, all set against a backdrop of flashy neon signs and lavish decorations. Wall Market, for example, perfectly transcends the design of the original, thanks to its conflicting architecture (an unlikely mix of Asian and modern influences). The Shinra building is also great to explore, as its new structure gives a totally different and fresh image to the company; you see average employees going about their duties, the cafeteria, the strange museum, and even Shinra promotional videos, all of which give it a new vibe. The tremendous work achieved by Square Enix in world building produces a constant wow effect on the player, with surprises and beautiful sceneries around every corner.
Final Fantasy VII Remake features the best character modeling in the genre - no other JRPG even comes close. But the true genius lies in characters' behavior, facial expressions, and the general direction given to their interactions. Aerith turns out to be a true little demon, always teasing Cloud, which is absolutely adorable. The Turks are cooler than ever; it's almost like playing Final Fantasy VII Advent Children, especially with Rude twiddling his famous glasses. The Shinra leaders look even more evil and/or eccentric (in Palmer and Scarlet's cases). Red XIII is particularly well designed and well animated too. The dramatic visual improvement and the meticulous direction of virtually every cutscene makes Final Fantasy VII Remake incredibly emotional too; sad moments strike more deeply, plot twists always impress, and silly jokes never fail to make you smile.
I'd also like to point out the strong Japanese voices, led by Takahiro Sakurai (Crow in the Trails of Cold Steel series), who was a wonderful choice for Cloud. The whole cast is remarkable though. Characters' lines and expressiveness correctly match each personality, which is basically the secret of any good dubbing. The music was good as well, but outside of a few exciting battle remixes I found it to be rather discreet compared to the original soundtrack.
When it comes to the battle system, Square Enix faced a tough challenge and passed it. The development team decided that a simple turn-based system wouldn't be dynamic enough for modern audiences, but at the same time wanted to retain the spirit of the original. So they went for a hybrid combat system. You can slice or punch your foes with a combo set on the square button, just like you would in an action game. Your character can also move freely within the battle space. But every fighter has an Active Time Battle bar of two slots and you can stop the battle at any time and choose from the magic and special skills your characters have learned. It's a clever system, because it retains the strategic approach specific to the original game while also being more vigorous and engaging for players.
To spice things up a bit, Square Enix also added a "stagger" system. When you hit an enemy with certain skills or on its weakness, it can be "staggered", which leaves it unbalanced for a short time and ensures it takes more HP damage. It makes battles more complex, varied, and ultimately more interesting, because opponents have very different types of weaknesses. What's also striking is the incredible variety of enemy behavior - foes are highly mobile, some being faster than you, others crawling on walls, flying above you, shielding themselves, and so on. Boss battles are extremely frequent, but each boss has a strategy and special skills of its own, forcing you to take up a new challenge every time. There's such constant renewal in terms of battles that you should never get bored or overly complacent.
Despite the action-RPG focus, the materia system returns unchanged, and the equipment system in general is faithful to classic Final Fantasy games. Materia are little orbs you can place on weapons and armor, which have a varied amount of materia slots. Each materia grants you some kind of magic (healing, thunder, fire, etc.), skill (wider attack range, possibility to leech HP from foes), or other advantages (such as more HP or MP). The choice of materias for your characters (you can have up to a team of three) is key because you need to find a good balance between attack and defense, as well as gather multiple elemental spells.
Here, again, the strategic side of Final Fantasy VII remains intact and it's very pleasant to go through tough fights with a strategy of your own. Equipping new weapons is also the occasion to learn attack and support skills for your characters. It's actually a great addition compared to the PlayStation game because you now have a range of cool moves to use, not just traditional magic. Aerith's gameplay is, for example, totally transformed thanks to this, allowing her to be played more aggressively and not just as a support character. You can really fight the way you want now and make it your own Final Fantasy VII adventure.
While I've been incredibly positive about Final Fantasy VII Remake and its gameplay so far, some aspects are a bit disappointing. Normal difficulty feels alright for a first walkthrough, as combat is challenging enough to keep you engaged... up until the very last chapter, where not only do the monsters get suddenly several times stronger and more aggressive, but you also have to start the whole chapter from scratch if you lose.
This abrupt surge in difficulty leads me to have some doubts about the new ATB system. It's great for attacking, but it becomes a nightmare if you take a defensive stance. ATB is filled quickly when you attack, but very slowly otherwise. So, if your team is in bad shape and takes a defensive posture, it will have less occasion to heal and then little chance to survive. If you compare it to the original Final Fantasy VII, the standard ATB speed is now slower but foes attack at a much higher pace than before. You should also be able to revive allies with full ATB, because currently they just get killed immediately after revival. I also noticed that large groups of enemies tend to focus on your controlled unit, which is flatout frustrating at times because you won't be able to catch a break. In short, the difficulty balancing isn't perfect, and that's especially felt towards the end.
Strangely, Chapter 18 in this remake doesn't correspond to anything in the original game (the Midgar part of Final Fantasy VII concludes at the end of Chapter 17) and doesn't really makes sense at present. Hopefully it does in the next entry, but right now it's more a source of frustration thanks to its difficulty spike than anything. After clearing the game, you can choose to revisit any chapter you like and search for missed quests, collectibles, or Trophies. You also gain double experience, which is so convenient that I wish it had become an option at the end of Chapter 17 instead.
The one area I feel Final Fantasy VII Remake totally fails at is summoning. As in nearly all Final Fantasy games you can call summon beasts to help you in battle. Unfortunately, I honestly think this is the poorest implementation of the summon system since Final Fantasy XII. For one thing, summons are allowed only in a few boss battles, so you simply don't see them a lot in Final Fantasy VII Remake, which is a shame both because it goes against the tradition of the series and also because they would be a massive help against large groups of enemies. Summon beasts are far too minor an aspect of Final Fantasy VII Remake, especially when you factor in that they've always been a major trademark of the Final Fantasy series.
Final Fantasy VII Remake is a fabulous revival. Square Enix's dedication in staying true to the original game while dramatically improving the whole experience is admirable. This Remake lives up to some truly great expectations in terms of gameplay, narrative, side content, and characters throughout the 50-60 hours needed to clear it. There are a few weak points, like an out-of-place and frustrating chapter 18, the forgotten nature of summons, and Red XIII not being playable, but Final Fantasy VII Remake is nothing less than an ambitious and stellar JRPG that any fan of the genre should play. Hopes and expectations have turned into sheer delight, because the dream has finally come true.
After graduating from a French business school, Thomas felt an irresistible force drawing him to study Japanese, which eventually led him to Japanese Profeciency Test level 1 in 2012. During the day, Thomas is a normal account manager. But at night he becomes Ryuzaki57, an extreme otaku gamer hungry for Japanese games (preferably with pretty girls in the main role). His knowledge now allows him to import games at Japanese release for unthinkable prices, and then tell everyone about them. You may also find him on French video games media. Feel free to contact on twitter at @Ryuz4ki57
This review is based on a retail copy of Final Fantasy VII Remake for the PS4