"There Ain’t No Getting Offa This Train We On"
Platform: PS4 Pro
Available on: PS4
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Released: April 10th 2020
*Disclaimer: This is a spoiler-free review. As much as I wanted to I have abstained from discussing any points which could not be gathered from trailers such as the one below. My one piece of advise that the developer has failed to tell you is that for you to enjoy this game fully, you must play and beat the original game, or at the very least watch a long play on YouTube before booting up FF7R.
I have always been very vocal about my love for 1997’s Final Fantasy VII (see me gush over on my quick look at this very game’s demo). I have also however been very vocal on my disdain for all the media that came after the fact. Your Advent Children’s, Dirge of Cerberus’s and Crisis Cores (the latter of which being the only arguably good title). Now here we are, 23 years after the release of my beloved first JRPG and Square-Enix have finally gone and done what fans have been screaming for since they first teased the Mako Reactor mission in HD during the lead up to the PS3. A full-fledged remake! Or is it?
I am not so sure…
We begin our adventure just as we did in the demo, and just as we did on the PS1 before that, greeted with a heart-swelling, beautiful rendition of the Final Fantasy 7 intro music and cinematic. This being the second time I had seen this introduction I had expected my feelings to have been lessened on re-experiencing it. NOPE!! Here we are once more, playing as ex-SOLDIER Cloud Strife, entering a Mako Reactor with the rebellion bombing squad Avalanche, getting ready to blow it up and stick it to the evil corporation Shinra. And once again I’m giddy. This series has some sort of profound wizardry around it, such that the simplest of cues have the innate ability to send you hurtling back to your youth to when you first experienced it.
Now FF7R isn’t the first title to step up to the nostalgic remake plate, I mean that has become its own genre in the past decade (see Resident Evil 3 or Trials of Mana) where iteration over innovation has generally been prioritised, these remakes and remasters have done an excellent job in filling in the gaps. And oh boy does Square-Enix know what they are doing when it comes to dishing out that sweet, sweet FFVII fan service.
The sights, the sounds the characters. All of which for a returning player are an absolute delight, but the main attraction for me is the orchestral and sometimes techno-infused reimagining’s of the classic soundtrack.
We have received updated versions of these tunes in the past from various musical collections etc. but never before have they been arranged in such a daring yet faithful way. I grinned from ear to ear every time I heard a new track, and this continued throughout my 50 hours
A Realm Reborn
As you may or may not be aware, Square had made the decision early on that this “Remake” would not be a single release. Instead, it will be released to us, the ravenous fanbase, in an at this time unknown number of instalments. The first of which focuses on the prologue chapters of the original game, located within the cyberpunk, Mako fuelled floating city of Midgar and its slums below. Originally this prologue takes anywhere from 5 to 8 hours to complete in the '97 release, so the fact that Square-Enix has managed to stretch this into a worthwhile 40+ hour experience is to be commended. This is done well (though not perfectly) in three major prongs of gameplay focus.
Firstly by pursuing largely, the events of the original story, in glorious HD, solo or with your merry band. These moments are wonderfully realised for the most part. Not everything made the cut for this “Remake” however, most of what you remember most is still here and an absolute treat to witness all over again. Character models for your main crew are unbelievably on point, while environments and general situations are given the tender loving care they deserve to really make for some show-stopping, heart-pounding moments. Areas and scenarios such as Wall Market, Shinra HQ, and particularly the entire Don Corneo arc are handled with incredible care and gusto. The less I say here the better for your enjoyment!
Secondly by undertaking side quests doled out to you by the many NPC’s that now inhabit Midgar. These are in my opinion the weakest aspect of the game. There is some standout examples of truly satisfying missions to be found here, and most missions do lead to either a miss-able character interaction or loot drop that will in retrospect make the endeavour worthwhile. However, for the most part, these are very monotonous fetch quests, target missions or some other uninventive way to follow a mission marker. Worst of all the characters who deliver them to you generally have that same dead behind the eye’s mannequin problem as the NPC’s from FFXV suffered from and it just tees the whole mission up badly as you’re immediately un-invested.
And finally, by building upon characters who never had their opportunity to shine in the original release whilst also introducing a handful of new additions. Having the opportunity to really get to know the ‘Avalanche’ bombing team you spent such a short time with originally was an absolute treat. Not once did I undertake one of these side avenues where I really got to understand a character old or new, and found myself bored or wanting this to end. This is where Square has really managed to knock it out of the park. The newer additions do a fantastic job of helping flesh out this time too, one of which I’m sure will be divisive but I’m completely all in for. The extent of the expansion on character lore here has left me both satisfied and full of questions for what’s to come. A complete success in my book!
Casting Haste on a tried and true system
This is not your Dad’s FF7 son! Gone are the strict turn-based battle mechanics.
Gone are the waits between enemy encounters as you carefully plan out your three strong parties next moves.
Gone are the endless summons which does more damage to your playtime than the actual enemy.
The team at Square-Enix did not take the easy route, although I do still wish they did in my heart of hearts, instead electing to bring FF7 into the modern era by adopting the more action battle systems found in FFXV and more closely Kingdom Hearts. The above statement may turn you off if you’re not a fan of either, however, this is the ultimate refinement of these systems to date and I suspect this will be the formula for the next entries in the series.
Battles happen in a very chaotic yet controlled fashion. Each one tasking you to not only apply the brunt of your brute force upon the enemy but to also analyse the situation, think tactically and leverage the full extent of your party’s abilities to come out on top. Whilst in battle you will be given two main forms of interaction. Hack and slash gameplay where Cloud and the team can beat down on their enemies with simple mash square attacks, with situational awareness being very important given the ability to run and dodge yourself into any position on the battlefield.
Then there is the more tactical side. Pressing X will greet you with a mini menu whilst the battle around you continues in super slow-mo. (Think quicksilver scenes in Days of Future Past 😊 ) In these mini menus is where you will find the remainder of your combat options. Everything from magic, items, character-specific abilities and more can be queued up and actioned from within here, across your entire party, and gives just the right amount of the tactical approach of the old turn-based system while allowing room for something more bombastic. Battles more and more force you to frantically hop from character to character, building up your meter’s (the ATB returns) in order to unleash all sorts of hell.
On the whole, this system is a success. It grows in complexity along with your battle knowledge which is very satisfying. By the last hours of the game, I was unleashing some truly devastating combinations of my party’s abilities and never had modern Final Fantasy felt so good!
“Mine is special. It's good for absolutely nothing!”
Speaking of combat, the fabled materia system makes a welcome return here.
To those not in the loop, materia are small glowing orbs in the FF7 universe, that when equipped to a weapon can grant the wearer new abilities in combat.
This is something that was missing from the demo and I had my concerns like any fan about how this would be handled. Well worry not my fellow glowing orb enthusiasts, this has been handled extremely well with materia being just as useful and fun to manipulate as in the original, with much room, of course, to grow in the subsequent chapters.
As before materia is collected within the world, bought at stores, or now doled out to you via in-game assignments form NPC’s. The main one of which really creeps me out. You will know him when you see him.
Most satisfyingly, these orbs are now visible as you play through the game which is a super nice touch. Seeing Clouds iconic Buster sword equipped with my go-to Lightning and Cure materia did not get old for me, and this is the case across all weapons and characters.
Summon materia also makes a welcome return. Dished out to you mostly by the aforementioned creep, in the environment, or egregiously via pre-order bonus. The low-level classic summons are here and truly looking better than ever. The means by which summoning happens isn’t quite as readily available, as mentioned, and instead is locked behind a seemingly random set of trigger events similar to a FFXV or Kingdom Hearts summon, however here I didn’t mind as I never found myself not having fun in the base combat.
“This sword is a symbol of my dreams... and my honor. No... it's more than that...”
As mentioned, materia is still equip-able to your character's weapon, but that is not the extent of what can be done as before. Oh no, they have really gone all modern RPG on this aspect which is a great addition in my humble opinion.
As you progress through the story you will acquire more weapons, and each of these weapons can be upgraded using battle points that accumulate at all times and are distributed evenly across your available weapons to make both you and the weapon stronger, while also opening up new slots for materia to be placed. This along with a special move per weapon, which when used enough can be learned by the character permanently meant that I had a blast using each weapons individual strengths and weaknesses throughout, then in the final chapters of the game switching back to each character iconic initial weapons which had been becoming more and more powerful in the background as I played was one of the best displays of suitable fan service ever done in videogame history.
All the above-mentioned aspects are fantastic, however, things are not perfect. Visually the graphics can be stunning, with exception to some very noticeable dodgy textures on walls, objects and various surfaces. At times, it’s clear that every polygon is being used on the main characters, Something the inevitable PS5 release is sure to resolve.
As mentioned, the non-character NPC’s suffer from the modern FF curse of being just strange non-human figures, they are better than ever here no doubt, but Square really need to start giving the side characters more love as they just stand out as a blemish when contrasted against the beautifully rendered main cast.
Ultimately though what is going to divide fans of the series most is how this chapter ends.
I will ruin nothing for you here, but if you have played the original release then you like me will have many, many burning questions as well as some rather annoying realisations.
Whilst if you haven’t played the original, I implore you to do so or do sufficient research to the point where you understand the main beats of the originals end to end story. Otherwise, this ending will have little to no relevance and will likely confuse more than it will entice.
I, however, thoroughly enjoyed myself, as conflicted as i am, and i wait with a new level of confidence and anticipation that i certainly did not have for the initial instalment.
In closing so, the burning questions:
Would I recommend FF7R to a veteran player? Wholeheartedly and I cannot wait to IM you about it when you are done!
Would I recommend FF7R to a newcomer? Yes, but with caveats.
Would I call FF7R a “Remake”? No, not at all. And I am looking forward to the debate over at the Casual Game Community :)
Play this game if…
Youre a fan of the original release
You enjoy ahck and slash action RPG’s and stylish combat
You found my toying with the ending frustrating and you want to get up to speed!
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