When someone asks me, “what is your earliest memory of video games?” I remember playing as a blonde-haired dude waking up on a flower bed in a desolate church. Final Fantasy VII is probably not the first video game I played, but it was the first one I loved. I was really young when the game came out, so I didn’t play it then, but my brother owned it on his Playstation and every now and then I would boot it up. Being young, I had zero clues as to what was going on, I just really appreciated the story-book art style as a kid.
Amazingly enough though, it’s been around 20 years since I first tried Final Fantasy VII and still to this day I have yet to complete the game. I have come very close many times on a number of different platforms but I just didn’t make it. As the years went on, I could no longer stomach the clearly dated product – some people love that about the game, but I cannot play a game that is nearly as old as me and expect to love every second. However, with the release of Final Fantasy VII Remake in 2020 an opportunity finally came for me to experience the world of Gaia in the best possible way.
“Sorry Joey, I hate to inform you but the Final Fantasy VII Remake will only cover around 5 hours of the original story – so expect endless filler…”
Initially I was furious with this fact. “How can you remake a game as iconic as FFVII (which I never finished) and split it into parts?!” Oh, how I was wrong to think that.
Initial story thoughts
Final Fantasy VII Remake is around the 30 hour mark. Now, that’s a lot of story considering what it takes from the original release. The main story that we knew, is no longer the same story. Remake focuses entirely on the city of Midgar. Fleshing out the different slums, reactors, plates and breathing life into what was once just a painting on a screen. I love what they have done here, the original release was the first attempt in the Final Fantasy series to capture a more gritty, steam-punky theme. To finally see it alive is a sight to behold.
The cast is brilliant and the extra story details given to Biggs, Wedge and Jessie is so welcome. In fact, this probably makes the game for me. Where they were only minor characters in the original, the impact they bring here is very noticeable. Jessie especially, her whole character arc is one of my favourites throughout the game. While I am writing about the cast however, I do need to mention my biggest gripe with the game. Cloud Strife. He’s arrogant, boring and lacks a lot of flavour – especially in the early hours of the game. I know, I know. That’s a design decision, Cloud was a seemingly heartless Merc in the original game and it should be no different here. But when you are spending so much time with one person, their dampening personality can have a negative effect on you. Where Cloud really shines is in his development as a character through his interactions with Avalance, Aerith and Jessie. You see a new side to a slightly dreary character which does make the game easier to keep playing.
The changes to the overall pacing of the story are much appreciated. The original really did feel like you were rushed out of Midgar too early and into the overworld. Having side quests given to you by the citizens of the slums is also a nice touch. Although they do not offer any real story implications, they do assist in gearing you up for the story content. If you ask me (not that you would), I really do think this is the best way to now experience the story of Final Fantasy VII. I personally am quite impatient, so maybe I will give the original another go on my Nintendo Switch. But, the overall rounding and padding out to the story of the Midgar arc here is really something.
Not only is the story better paced, but so is the gameplay
I love turn-based RPGs. They really give you time to think about your strategy – it is one of the things I love about the Final Fantasy series, especially Final Fantasy X. The slow changes the team brought in after FFX and ending up at the most recent main franchise entry, Final Fantasy XV are reasons why many people stopped with FFX. When we first learned that Remake was also going to feature a different combat-system, I was also hesitant. I worried that although it would be the speed of Final Fantasy XV’s more action-combat focus, it would lose the depth held in the original formula.
To a degree, I was right. The combat system does feel much more simple now. It is much faster and you need to make decisions on the fly. You can briefly slow down combat to use the ATB gauge to deliver a powerful attack, but outside of that, not much thinking is necessary. This isn’t what many people wanted, but I sit here now and ask myself: “Would I really want a Final Fantasy VII Remake with the same 1997 combat-system?”
The answer is no, of course I wouldn’t. The combat-system feels more refined than that of FFXV and the pace feels really nice with the clear graphical improvements of the release. I do miss the decision planning of the turn-based system, but the flashiness and impact you feel here needs to be noted. You swing your buster sword and feel like you’re making a big difference in the fight.
If I had to be honest, what I would really have loved to see is something similar to the gameplay switch system seen in Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Illusive Age. The ability to switch between the classic style of the game with the current version. Obviously it is not as simple as a click of a button, but it would have been nice. Not even the entire game, just the combat.
I hate the fact that I only have a small portion of the entire game. The main thing I really cannot get behind here is that I own a PS4, with little intention (if it was even possible) to get a PS5 in the next few years. If the second part of the series does not come to the PS4, I’m gonna be left behind. I want to play the next part, but I won’t be spending £500 to do so.
I understand there was a need to bring something out, the project’s ambitions are way too big to be concealed in a single release. But I also don’t know how I feel about paying upwards of £150-200 to experience a story – is that really ok?
I cannot get behind the model itself. The game is great and deserves your time, but please, play it as a single game before committing to the future of the remake series!