Platform: PS4 Pro
Time played: We played 40 hours of Final Fantasy 7 Remake, finishing the Story on Normal difficulty, and finishing most, but not all, of the side quests.
Like with any other art form, there are certain games that are so beloved that they become ingrained in the collective unconscious, and Final Fantasy 7 is definitely one of them. With some of the most memorable moments of its generation, along with a beloved story line and a cast of characters that arguably hasn't been matched in a game yet, it was only a matter of time before Final Fantasy 7 was remade for the modern age.
And Final Fantasy 7 Remake has finally arrived, and it's definitely an experience that lives up to those years of hype. You should remember, though, that by undertaking something as gargantuan as a remake of Final Fantasy 7, there are really only two ways it can go: either a perfect recreation that doesn't change a thing, or making drastic changes to a 23-year-old game to bring it more in line with modern game design.
Final Fantasy 7 Remake goes pretty hard in the latter direction, adding a ton of story detail, along with a completely new combat system. We were absolutely enamored with everything that was done in this sense, but just keep in mind that if you didn't want Square Enix to touch Final Fantasy 7's story, well, you're going to be in for a rude awakening. And, of course, there will be some slight spoilers ahead.
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The planet's crisis
If you've somehow avoided playing Final Fantasy 7 for the last 23 years, the basic gist is that you're playing the shoes of Cloud Strife, a mercenary that's been hired by Avalanche, a group of eco-activists that is fighting against a giant energy mega-corporation called Shinra.
In order to power the city of Midgar, where the entirety of this game takes place – remember, this is only the first episode of the game – Shinra harvests Mako and processes it through giant reactors. There's only one problem with this – Mako is quite literally the lifeblood of the planet, so by powering this gigantic metropolis, this corporation is killing the planet for profit.
So, while you're initially helping take on Shinra for a paycheck, you eventually become part of the cause, once you see just how nefarious the company really is and the lengths it will go to in the pursuit of profit and power.
But this is a Final Fantasy game, after all, and you're not in it alone. While you are a mercenary, you're accompanied throughout virtually the entire game by two members of Avalanche, Barett and Tifa. And, of course all the fan-favorite characters for the first 20% of the original game are back, and many of them have extremely expanded story lines.
This is most evident with Jessie, Biggs and Wedge, the three other Avalanche members that you'll be dealing with the most. In the original game, these characters had the barest story, being there essentially as props. In the Final Fantasy 7 Remake, however, all three characters get fully fleshed out with their own unique backstories and motivations.
It's basically Final Fantasy tradition to have a Biggs and a Wedge in a game – even if they are technically different characters each time – and ironically, this is the first time in the entire series where we actually felt attached to them.
That's not all that was added, however. Throughout the Final Fantasy 7 Remake, we were constantly surprised by entirely new story beats that weren't even mentioned in the original game. Entire chapters – which are used to divide the story up – contain entirely new story details.
This is essentially what makes a section of the original game that was just around five hours long stretch all the way out to a full 40 hours, but we promise that none of it really feels forced.
In fact, the story is all the better for this added detail, engrossing us with detail that just wasn't there in the beginning of the original game. Don't get us wrong, we're not saying that the original wasn't complete, it's just that this is basically the extended edition.
It took us a while to even realize how much the story was being stretched out. The moment we noticed the sheer scale of the added content was when we finished the Sector 5 Reactor section, which FF7 veterans will know is around 30-45 minutes into the original game. Instead we didn't finish that particular section until 12 hours in.
If you love Cloud, Tifa, Barett and Aerith as much as we do, you're going to love the fact that you can spend so much more time with them this time around, with them bantering along with each other while playing the game.
Let the battles begin!
Of course, it's not the story that sees major overhauls and additions, the combat is all-new here. The original game is, to some, the pinnacle of JRPG combat design in all its turn-based glory. However, Final Fantasy 7 Remake is instead action-based, while retaining some of the flavor of the original game.
You see, instead of just waiting for your ATB meter to fill up like in the original game, you fill up the gauge by attacking with one of the, up to three, characters in your party. Each character has their own ATB gauge, each filling up when the individual attacks.
The player only controls one character at a time, though you can switch between them whenever you feel like it or when the current encounter calls for a change in strategy. For instance, there are a lot of floating and flying enemies throughout the game, which aren't exactly great for Cloud to swing at with his gigantic sword. In those situations, just hit up on the d-pad and switch to Barrett, and use his gun-hand to blow those floating enemies out of the sky.
Playing the game like that probably won't be enough, though. Combat gets pretty intense just a few hours in, and you're going to be switching between your characters a lot. Status effects are handed out like candy in Final Fantasy 7 Remake, which means you're going to lose control of whatever character you're helming. Now, you could just sit there and wait for the status to wear off, but you're probably going to die.
Instead, in practice, once you start getting used to the flow of the combat in Final Fantasy Remake, you'll find yourself constantly shifting between the three characters in your party. Whether it's because you equipped that character with Materia that will be useful for the current encounter and you just need them to get off their ass and generate ATB charges, or whether you need to avoid a mechanic or interrupt an attack, combat never feels slow or even repetitive.
There was not a single encounter through the entire 40 hours we spent with Final Fantasy 7 Remake where we dreaded going back into combat. Even when the game gets pretty challenging near the end – this is no Final Fantasy XV – our game over screens just got us excited to swap around our Materia and equipment so we could jump back in the action and come out triumphant.
Final Fantasy 7 Remake takes the best aspects of the progression of the original game and marries that with some modern RPG design. The game manages to be incredibly nuanced and complex but somehow manages to be accessible.
In the original game, you would level up and that would boost up your base stats. Any further progression came down to your equipment and Materia. It's kind of the same this time around, in that progression is built completely around your Materia and equipment, but progression goes deeper this time around.
For the uninitiated, Materia are these little colored balls of energy that you can slot into your weapons and armor to give yourself spells, abilities and stat boosts – some can even summon giant monsters to help you in battle. After each battle, you'll gain AP, which will level up all the Materia your party has equipped, leveling it up and giving you more powerful abilities.
Because you can swap between whatever Materia you want whenever you're outside of combat, Final Fantasy 7 Remake, like the original, encourages you to constantly experiment with your build. We promise that you won't find just one loadout for a single character that will last throughout the game – and you'll never have enough Materia slots, and that is by design.
Luckily, you can add Materia slots to your weapons through using Skill Points, or SP. You'll get some of these every time you level up, and through some side quests. The best part? These points are shared between all your weapons, and you can reset the points whenever you want, encouraging even more experimentation with your builds.
Everything about this game is built for you to constantly reassess how you're playing the game. You won't unlock everything your first time through the game, either, and this will make you want to go back again and again to see how much stronger you can make your party – at least until the second installment of Final Fantasy 7 Remake comes out, which will hopefully be soon.
Good night, until tomorrow
One thing that we should probably make abundantly clear is that Final Fantasy 7 Remake is not this giant open-world game like Final Fantasy XV. Like the section of the original game that is recreated here, this entry is a very linear experience – but that's not to say there's not extra content.
There about three times in the game where you'll have to wait for something to happen in the story, and during these times you can take on mercenary gigs to make some extra cash and help out the communities in the slums. These side quests aren't like something you'd find in, like, The Witcher 3, but they add so much flavor and character to the world.
And, of course, it wouldn't be a Final Fantasy game without super-hard optional fights and bosses, and this game definitely has that. They're framed as VR missions you'll take on, rather than having giant monsters roaming around the streets of Midgar, but if you're looking for that classic Final Fantasy post-game challenge, it's definitely here.
You can even access them after finishing the game by going through a chapter select screen that unlocks after you beat the game. When you pick a chapter here, you'll even keep all your abilities, levels and equipment, so in a way it kind of works as a Final Fantasy 7 Remake new game+.
Once we completed the main story, we went back and looked at a games stat page that also unlocks after the credits roll, and saw just how many things we had left to do. And, you can bet that we'll be going back to finish all of it – no matter how many more hours it will take.
Square Enix had a heavy task on its hand when it set out to remaster one of the most beloved JRPGs in history. Final Fantasy 7 Remake could have easily been a trainwreck – thank goodness it wasn't.
The story has been completely fleshed out, adding so much flavor to what was essentially a tutorial of the original game. New characters, expanded stories and character growth for side characters, it's all here.
But, more importantly, Final Fantasy 7 Remake isn't just a respectful recreation of one of our favorite games – it might just be the best Final Fantasy game we've seen since Final Fantasy X hit store shelves all the way back in 2001. This game is so good that it should be considered the standard by which modern Final Fantasy games are measured, and for that it will probably stay installed on our PS4 hard drive for a very long time. Now, we just have to wait a hundred more years for Part 2 to arrive.
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