Final Fantasy VII Remake is both the game you remember and the game you don’t. Square Enix seemingly did the impossible by bringing forth an old and, in many ways, dated PlayStation JRPG and make it work by 2020 standards. The result is a game that succeeds both in nostalgia and freshness that caters to both old fans and new alike. It won’t win over everybody, but it’s a brave approach to finding ways to shake up a beloved classic that gives everyone a reason to play any follow-ups in the future.

For the purists out there, Final Fantasy VII Remake features pretty much everything from the Midgar section of the original game. From the terrorism on the reactors to scouring the sewers under Wall Market, and bounding up 59 flights of stairs to avoid confrontation; very little is left out that was in the original Final Fantasy VII. To long time fans, it’s a dream come true. Even more so when they expand on things to make Midgar feel more alive and the people within it actual characters and not disposable NPCs.

Of course, what does that actually mean? Well, for instance, the members of Avalanche aren’t forgettable nobodies. Jessie is upbeat and quirky with a mad thirst to get herself some Cloud love. Wedge is a big softie who wears his heart on his sleeve and has an affinity for food and cats. Biggs comes off the most well rounded with a weakness of being overly cautious about plans and the people around him.

Outside of more depth to characters, locations come out better in Final Fantasy VII Remake too. For instance, the slums do feel run down and barely held together while the citizens typically look out for each other. It’s a stark contrast to the plate above where buildings and roads exist as opposed to the dirt paths and shanties down below. The difference in economic wealth is quite apparent, and the resentment or entitlement between the two classes is shown from time to time.

Some of the differences in Final Fantasy VII Remake may not go over well though with long time fans. Much of the side quests are padding to extend the length of the game. The game is riddled with long corridors with slow walking. The way things play out story-wise such as Sephiroth having a much bigger presence than he did in the original could frustrate people. This may not bother everyone (I certainly wasn’t), but there’s still a lot that certain people could be triggered by. For instance, I love big bombastic summons. Give me those sweet animation attacks. In Final Fantasy VII Remake though, don’t expect summons to play out like they normally would.

So let’s go ahead and get into the combat. I was a little worried about the move away from turn-based battles to more action-oriented combat. That’s just a personal preference. I’m quite terrible at action combat like this. However, Final Fantasy VII Remake does remarkably well to a point. Battles are fast and fluid with a heavy emphasis on blocking to do well. As a player attacks, their Active Time Battle gauge (ATB) will build up allowing for special abilities to be performed. These abilities can increase an enemy’s stagger bar for instance which inevitably leaves them at a greater disadvantage when fully staggered.

However, the ATB comes as negative when speaking about AI partners. When the player isn’t controlling one of the characters, the AI is expected to help out by fighting as well. Sadly, oftentimes I’m seeing them stand around not participating in any respect. This means if the player isn’t controlling them directly, their ATB gauge isn’t being built. While the intention here may be to force players to switch as often as possible, that doesn’t seem to be how it typically plays out. It’s a bit of a bummer having to switch to characters you don’t really like to play as (I’m looking at you Barret and Aerith) instead of sticking to ones you do like (Cloud and Tifa!).

Certain enemies also make the combat incredibly frustrating. Since so much success is built on the stagger gauge, sometimes enemies feel like combat sponges. Building up the stagger is a chore on some enemies leading to long-drawn-out battles. This is made worse when enemies have a stagger that lasts barely a few seconds. This isn’t how the majority of the game goes, but when it occurs, it is a period where your patience is tested.

The materia system, much like the original game, plays a big part here too. Weapons and accessories have slots allowing for materia to be inserted. These materia will allow characters to perform magic spells such as Cure, give abilities such as Assess to see enemy data, or boost the ATB bar at the start of the battle (great for those AI problems I mentioned previously). This allows for a myriad of possibilities for combat. Since links can also be connected, this can add an extra flair to the possibilities. Magnify (previously known as ALL in the original game) is a materia that can be linked with magic materia. Without it, the magic will be cast on one enemy/ally. When linked with Magnify, the magic will become a party-wide casting party instead of an individual. This is one of many examples of how materia can affect combat.

The upgrade system was also a pleasant surprise. Each weapon that is obtained for each character has the ability to get stronger. This is another method to mix up combat too. Each weapon has better strengths and weaknesses than others. One may allow for better magic, one may hit harder physically. Stats for each one can be done in each individual weapon upgrade menu. These range from better stats to improved debuff status and even increasing materia slots. There are “best weapons” in the game, but if you go in knowing what you are up against, you may find a different weapon to be better suited against it based on the stats and unlockable perks.

A handful of summons is also available in Final Fantasy VII Remake. Although these are also gathered as materia, they take up a special slot outside of weapons and accessories. To summon during combat, this is another bar that has to be fulfilled through combat. Once summoned, they join the party on the battlefield as another AI character. They cannot be controlled though and instead are dependent on the character they are equipped to. So if Tifa has Shiva equipped, Shiva cannot perform a special move without Tifa using her ATB bar. Again, this leads to the problem I mentioned previously with AI characters not attacking. If they aren’t attacking, their ATB bar isn’t growing. Meaning summons for that character doesn’t do a whole lot either. However, the summon is only available for a length of time. Once that time ends, they perform their ultimate attack similar to what you expect with the summons in these games. At least there’s that because otherwise, the summons can become as useless as the AI characters during combat.

Before I get to the last thing, I think I have to mention how stunning this Final Fantasy VII Remake looks. I oftentimes stopped just to admire the surroundings. Nostalgia for these locations and remembering what they looked like makes it that much more impressive. In the old game, you were told about the plate above the slums. Here, you can look up and see it. It adds in this extra layer of scope not seen in the original game. Most character models look fantastic and let me not go without mentioning how cool it is to see materia actually slotted in the equipment in the main world. Yes, there are texture issues. Things you expect to pop-in after a length of time…don’t. I’ve seen plenty of people criticize this, but for me, I was in too much amazement to be held up on inconsequential issues. The game looks more beautiful than the times it doesn’t. I still have the desire to jump in just to keep looking at these area’s I’ve loved for so long.

I’ll finish up with the story as it’s the least changed…but also drastically changed. For the most part, everything plays out as it did in the original game. Avalanche is an eco-terrorist group destroying mako reactors owned by Shinra to save the planet. They bring aboard Cloud Strife, a mercenary for hire, as assistance. Things aren’t as they seem with Cloud and there seems to be a hangup with legendary Soldier member Sephiroth. Things spiral out of control as bringing aboard Aerith brings more to the forefront of Shinra’s goals. Tragedy. Action. Suspense. Horror. As I said, most things are the same. Extended in some regards and drawn out in others. Some feel worth it. Some don’t.

Then there’s the biggest addition to the story of misty cloaked figures that plague the world of Midgar. I can’t go into them too much without spoiling it, but their inclusion boils down to the ending. The ending in which…you seem to either love or hate. I personally love it. I like what it means for where this series can go, and the curveball thrown leaves me excited for the future. However, considering what people were expecting with this game, it’s understandable why people are soured to it. If anything, it actually explains why there is no “Part One” to the title of the game. As someone who thought it was misleading, and it still somewhat is, at least I understand why it wasn’t on there.

Final Fantasy VII Remake exceeds what I was expecting. I originally thought it was going to be an almost one-for-one remake of the original game. Instead what we received was the definitive Midgar experience. The linearity and bloated parts of the game may bring the game down for some, but for me, it gave me more to do in a world I didn’t want to leave. I don’t know what is in store for Final Fantasy VII at this point. I don’t know how many more games are coming, what will be included or not included, or what the open world will look like. What I do know is that I will follow it no matter where it goes.

Final Score:

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