The 1997 landmark JRPG (Japanese Role-Playing Game) Final Fantasy VII is my favorite video game ever. The characters, story, music, and world of FFVII are some of the most memorable in all of gaming, so my expectations for part one of the remake (as this is only the first chapter in an expansion of the story) were sky high. Miraculously, it lived up to those lofty expectations. We’ve had some great game remakes in the past few years – like last year’s Resident Evil 2 and 2018’s Shadow of the Colossus – but in my opinion, Final Fantasy VII Remake is the gold standard for reinvigorating an older, beloved title.
The game follows Cloud Strife, a supersoldier who joins forces with the Eco-Terrorist group Avalanche as they try to stop the corrupt, sinister mega-corporation Shinra from using the life force of the planet Gaia as a fuel source. That’s roughly the first five to seven hours of the original game, but Remake expands this part of the tale into an adventure that’s over thirty hours long. That extra time is spent exploring the city of Midgar and bonding with the other members of Avalanche, the latter of which is one of the very, very few things I thought the original could’ve used.
Midgar was an already astonishing setting over two decades ago, but being able to further explore it with some of the best visuals in any video game I’ve seen makes it even more impressive. Remake is one of the only two games I’ve ever stopped what I was doing just to admire the view, the other being Horizon Zero Dawn. From the steampunk cityscape to the junkyard-like slums to a certain beautiful garden, each locale in Remake is a sight to behold. And with far more people to talk or listen to as you pass them by, Midgar feels like a real, lived-in place, which made my desire to see it all even stronger. There were some occasional hiccups where textures or background characters didn’t render for a few seconds, but overall this game is stunning to look at and easily immerses you into its world with its sights, sounds, and characters.
The main characters, along with most of the supporting players, each have terrific voice acting and phenomenal model redesigns. No more polygonal, vaguely human shapes and dialogue boxes, as Remake brings the best of today’s Triple-A tech to the Playstation 1 classic. The love that the folks at Square Enix put into it is readily apparent. The amount of polish that’s gone into the visuals and the stellar voice acting give new depth to Cloud, Tifa, Aerith, and Barret, along with virtually every other citizen of Midgar that you spend more than a few minutes with.
The soundtrack – my all-time favorite from any game, movie, TV show, etc – received an upgrade with the same level of care as well. Each re-recorded or remixed song suits the scene it’s in and brilliantly enhances it. Calmer, more emotional moments are accompanied by soft, beautiful pieces like Aerith’s theme, and the more epic action sequences get heavier tracks such as “Let the Battles Begin!” Sometimes a calmer version of one song will seamlessly transition into a faster, more intense variation when you choose to engage in combat and then slow down again once it’s over. I had to run away from and back into a few battles because I couldn’t believe it at first.
And oh man, the battles are fantastic. Remake blends a similar feel to the turn-based system of the original with more intense, action-heavy gameplay. By hitting an enemy with simple attacks, you build up a meter that allows you to slow time to a crawl and select different special techniques, magic spells, or summon a powerful, otherworldly entity to assist you for a short time. It’s a unique style of gaming combat that’s equally fun and challenging, and one I sincerely hope is adopted by future entries in the Final Fantasy franchise. The leveling, weapon, and magic system aren’t as original as the combat, but they feel far, far more intuitive and accessible than the ones in the other Final Fantasy games I’ve played. I am so glad that I was able to use Cloud’s most iconic weapon, the Buster Sword through the whole campaign thanks to the game letting you level up your weapon, instead of forcing you to replace it with a new, undisputedly stronger – yet less cool – one you find later.
The only bits that I wasn’t totally on board for with Remake were the side quests and some of the new characters. I wouldn’t say any of the optional missions are bad, but the vast majority of them pale in comparison to the main story, and the people they introduce, while most are enjoyable, end up being ones I wouldn’t miss terribly if they didn’t show up in part two. Remake clearly prioritizes fleshing out the original roster over anyone else. The only new character I found myself really taking a liking to was Roche, the racing-themed antagonist who wants nothing more than to spar or compete against someone of equal skill and power. Out of all the newcomers I saw in Remake, Roche was the only one who truly felt like a Final Fantasy character.
Overall, Final Fantasy VII Remake is an awe-inspiring reimagining of a legendary tale, and a tremendous achievement in gaming. It’s improved visuals, soundtrack, and gameplay manage to bring the opening arc of my favorite video game story to a whole new level. I had been waiting almost five years to play this game (much, much longer of you count the rumors that arose over the years before it was announced) and holy cow it was worth it the wait.