Developer: Square Enix Business Division 1 | Publisher: Square Enix | Release Date: April 10, 2020 | Genre: JRPG | Reviewed On PS4 Pro
Review copy was purchased at retail by the reviewer
Final Fantasy VII holds a special place in my heart as it does for a lot of gamers. For me, not only was it the first Final Fantasy I had ever played but it was also my first full RPG. I can honestly say that my current love of RPGs is a direct result of the first time I dropped 40 hours into Final Fantasy VII. The original Final Fantasy VII was not the best looking game even for its time. The small blocky characters were not without charm but I found myself playing the game while imagining the characters were more realistic. I honestly was not one of those fans begging for a remake and was pretty satisfied with the original game and the Advent Children movie. However, once Square Enix announced the remake was a reality I have been excited as hell to play it and it has lived up to most of my expectations.
Final Fantasy VII Remake is split into episodes in the same way that Final Fantasy XIII was split into three separate games. This release is the first episode and focuses on what was the first disc of the original game. The good news is that while the entire PS1 game could be finished in 40 or so hours, the same can be said about this first episode. FF7R is not just a simple shot for shot remake of the original. The story has been fleshed out to give players more insight into the characters and a better sense of the world they inhabit. The core of the story is still the same. You play as Cloud Strife (no re-naming this time around) former SOLDIER first-class, of the Shinra Electric Power Company. Shinra uses reactors to extract energy to fuel everything directly from the planet. This energy is called Mako and it is considered to be the lifeblood of the planet. Cloud, no longer under the employ of Shinra has become a mercenary for hire and will take on any job if the pay is right. The game begins as Cloud is hired by a group called Avalanche that seeks to take down Shinra before they end up destroying the planet by sucking up all of its energy. Together they go on a mission to blow up one of the Mako reactors and stop Shinra from doing any further harm from the planet.
The city of Midgar has been recreated spectacularly. It is almost like walking around in the world that was created in Final Fantasy VII Advent Children. Walking through the slums of the city and especially through the church for the first time is a surreal experience and I appreciate the level of detail that the developers put into every area. Enemies now appear in the world replacing the random battles of the original. The combat has received an overhaul as well. Turn-based battles are now a thing of the past and replaced with real-time combat. There is an option closer to the traditional combat system in place but I prefer the more modern system. During the realtime battles, attacks are performed by pressing or holding the square button. The ATB (Active Time Battle) meter fills up during combat and once it’s full you are given access to your items, magic, and special abilities.
Finding and using Materia functions pretty much the same as before. Materia are glowing orbs that are placed in slots found in your weapons and armor that grant you access to new spells and abilities. Weapons are leveled up via an upgrade menu that allows you to take skill points and spend them on bonuses like increased attack power or additional Materia slots. You can also automate this feature and allow the game to distribute points for you with a focus on offense, defense or balanced. A new feature added to combat is the Stagger Meter which is underneath the enemies’ health meter. Each enemy type has different requirements for filling the Stagger Meter. Some are as simple as attacking them with a spell they are weak against and others require a bit more work. When an enemy is staggered they take increased damage making the battles a bit more strategic over just taking turns to attack. Combat is just fun and satisfying which makes grinding for experience seem like less of a chore.
One of the best aspects of this game and frankly any Final Fantasy title is the sound. The characters are fully voiced and each voice actor does a great job (some a bit more than others) voicing their characters. Barret is not the walking mountain of stereotypes that he was in the original. His performance is still way over the top keeping in spirit with the original but his dialogue has been reworked which I really appreciate. The soundtrack to Final Fantasy VII composed by Nobuo Uematsu is among the best and widely loved soundtracks in gaming history. He left Square Enix years ago to pursue his own avenues but it is a great thrill to see that he decided to contribute music to the remake along with Masashi Hamauzu and Mitsuto Suzuki. The soundtrack is incredible with re-orchestrated versions of original songs and some new tracks are thrown in for good measure. The Deluxe Edition of the game includes a mini soundtrack but I will definitely be adding the full OST to my library.
Square Enix has proven that there are still stories to tell within the world of Final Fantasy VII. While I am slightly disappointed that this is not the entire Final Fantasy VII game, I am excited to see what is in store for the next installment. I am already finishing up my second playthrough on the Hard difficulty setting and I suspect I have a few more playthroughs in me before the year is up. FF7R turned out to be a very enjoyable and nostalgic journey that I recommend for all Final Fantasy fans and RPG lovers in general.