As the previously illustrious Final Fantasy 7 Remake finally makes its way into the hands of players, many are rediscovering a lost love. It’s been decades since gamers – or indeed those who haven’t touched a video game in years – have interacted with the dystopian city of Midgar in the world of Gaia, and many are itching to delve right back in and rekindle a long-extinguished flame from their childhood.
I feel that I’m in a particularly spotty position with the release of Final Fantasy 7 Remake. I wasn’t raised with the original – instead of paying £40 for a busted-up copy at a car boot sale in the arse-end of a Welsh high-school field, I smartly departed with an awesome deal of Mortal Kombat Trilogy and Digimon World all for a tenner. Money well spent. And so I’ve dived into Final Fantasy 7 Remake as blindly as many of the new generation of gamers today might very well be diving into it and, well, it’s pretty good.
Square Enix’s return to Midgar starts off strong: like the Final Fantasy games of yore, a lavish CG opening introduces you to its world, this time with so much detail that the PlayStation original can only gawp in awe at how technology has evolved. The camera swerves through the city, follows a train through a thick plume of smoke and – gameplay.
As two guards come in, spiky-haired anime protagonist Cloud Strife, who wields a huge f-off sword, slices them to the ground with just a few mashes of the square button. As you move throughout the building you’re infiltrating you’ll learn how to block, dodge and use spells or abilities or items – the latter three tied to an ATB bar that recharges over time. Eventually, you’ll even learn how to use Limit Breaks, huge all-out barrages that cripple opponents.
To say that FF7 Remake is flashy is an understatement. Our opening mission, that commenced upon the slicing of the aforementioned guards, is to help the Eco Terrorist group Avalanche destroy a Mako Reactor owned by the evil Shinra Electric Company. As we’re told repeatedly by Barrett, a buff man with a Gatling Gun instead of a right hand, “Mako is the lifeblood of the planet!” Avalanche needs to stop them; we’re just there for the money.
For the next hour or so, Square Enix’s RPG epic throws fight after fight, explosion after explosion, and flashy set piece after flashy set piece. For the first hour or so, you’ll find yourself being ushered down narrow hallways until the next cutscene, fight or explosion-filled set piece can come along to sweep you off your feet and feed you a dose of ecstasy.
With that said, as Final Fantasy 7’s return finally clamps down its brakes and slows down to breathe, the overbearing sense of linearity and handholding never disappears. Wandering from the pristinely laid out path oftentimes results in the game yanking you by the scruff of your neck, pulling you back and pleading, “Oh, don’t go over there! This way is way more fun and interesting! And pretty, too!” It’s often right; areas outside of main events suffer from strikingly low-resolution textures and shockingly low quality models and side quests are uninspired.
That’s not to say there isn’t anything to do outside of the main narrative. Side content in FF7R is plentiful, side quests are not, and the latter feels bolted on because an RPG should have them, right? While you can play darts, compete in squatting contests, or fight unique bosses in various fighting zones in optional areas, the side stories are barebones drivel that simply ask you to fight someone or find someone/something. The game’s best side quest – which features Cloud running around with side character Johnny to help a drunken man “find his inspiration” – makes you run around a small hub area looking for clues. The small handful of side quests feel more like filler content.
However, staying true to Final Fantasy 7 Remake’s linear rollercoaster ride does result in a lot of thrills. While some chapters run on about twice as long as they should – looking at you, sewers – the game’s main narrative is remarkably entertaining. There are parts that drag on and parts that are less interesting, but by the time I reached the story’s epically bombastic conclusion, I was rather sad to see it end. I wasn’t sad because I wanted to explore more – although I definitely would have liked to roam Midgar more freely – but because I had fallen for the game’s delightful cast of characters.
Some parts could have been left on the cutting room floor and a more open experience would have been appreciated
Jessie, Wedge, Biggs, Barrett, Tifa, Aerith and Cloud: the protagonist team is one of the most lovable ensembles in an RPG. You’ll only play as four of the group – Jessie, Wedge and Biggs offer a more supportive role – but every character is given their own time to shine. Each playable character is undoubtedly more important to the main narrative and you’ll be spending most of your time with them. Thankfully, each of these characters have their own hidden depths – narratively and mechanically – to keep you hooked in.
All in all, Square Enix has done a solid job bringing Final Fantasy 7 to a modern audience of new and old. It’s not the same game that blew minds in 1997: this is a more modern, condensed affair that doesn’t always land its mark. Some parts could have been left on the cutting room floor and a more open experience would have been appreciated. As it is now, you’ll likely find yourself satisfied with the final product.
Final Fantasy 7 Remake is not flawless. In fact, it’s a game that proactively attempts to guide you past its flaws every step of the way, but it is still a game I’m glad I played. It’s likely to bring the ire of hardcore fans: as someone who only has a passing knowledge of original I know for a fact where this story has massively altered. However, if you play FF7R, you will fall in love. Not with the game, and not necessarily its museum-exhibit world, but with its cast. In that sense, Final Fantasy 7 Remake is pretty darn great.