Developer and Publisher: Square Enix
Writer: Kazushige Nojima
Platform: Playstation 4
Release Date: April 10, 2020
Not too long ago I posted my initial impressions of this game, you can check it out here, and I am happy to say that the initial excitement I found with this game largely stuck around throughout the entire experience. The game is exactly what fans of the original were hoping it would turn out to be!
The game only covers a small part of the 1997 original; what would amount to maybe a 5 hour section. At first glance you might think that would lead to a well polished, lovingly crafted, short experience which would leave you wanting more out of a game in 2020. Well, it is true that you get a polished and well-crafted game, but you are definitely not lacking in content to play here. If anything I felt they put in too many side-quests towards the end, but I appreciated that they used these missions to flesh out the story and make the world feel alive and as if there were things to do around every corner. The game takes a 5 hour section from the Playstation 1 original and turns it into a 30-40 hour AAA experience that looks to be a true contender for game of the year.
The story is still largely what you would expect if you had played the original game, but it stands well on its own for all the newcomers. The thing it does the best in my opinion is that it builds out the side characters in a way that really makes me care about them. Jessie, Biggs, and Wedge are characters that felt flat in the original, and seemed to only exist to move the story along. The remake made me care about these characters and their motivations in a way I wasn’t expecting. At times I wanted Cloud to end up with Jessie, even though I knew that wouldn’t be part of the story. I found myself caring about Biggs and Wedge and really caring about what happened to them, I was surprisingly worried about them anytime they found themselves in harms way. I can’t believe they were able to make me care about side characters to this degree, and I love that they took the time to make everything and everyone feel natural in the world they created.
With the care that was put into the side characters it should come as no surprise that the main cast blew me away. Cloud, Tifa, Barrett, and Aerith are some of the most fleshed out and deeply thought out characters I have experienced in modern video games. They came such a long way since the original in terms of the quality of the writing and the way they weave motivations into everything each character does. Barrett was a character I never really liked in the original, I thought he was over the top and didn’t have much growth in terms of the way he acted. In the remake he began like that once again, but he was able to show so much more emotion.
Tifa is a character that also feels like she grew and is right at home in this modern age of gaming. She is exactly what you would want to see out of a strong female character. She isn’t a damsel in distress, in fact she was my strongest party member for much of the game. She saves Cloud and Barrett on many occasions and deserves the spotlight as much as Cloud.
Aerith was another example of a strong female character, but she did so in her own unique way. Aerith wasn’t as physically strong as Tifa, and for much of the game she lacked the confidence she had, but she came through as a strong magic user. In combat she was one of the best for both offensive and defensive magic and provided a great compliment for my more physical attack based party.
Cloud is of course the last main character we need to discuss. He was able to convey a large scale of emotion as he transitioned from a someone focused solely on combat and completing his mission to someone who cared about his friends and wanted to protect them. The game does a great job of allowing him to have that growth and become a more well-rounded character. He becomes someone you want to root for and who you want to see succeed. Cloud has always been one of the most iconic characters in all of gaming, but I think the remake cements his legacy as one of the greats in the modern age as well.
I have mentioned the battle system and the roles my party played in it briefly, and that’s because any of the characters can easily fit whatever role you want them to in this game. The game does a great job of allowing you to customize your party however you see fit. Each character gets a handful of different weapons throughout the game and each of them spec toward different roles. You can make Barrett a physical attacker instead of his usual long-range offerings for example, by giving him a weapon that trades out his gun for a close-range claw. Cloud could easily focus on healing magic if that’s the way you wanted to use him. The upgrade and combat systems are so open and allow for such great customization that I could see multiple replays not getting stale.
The battle system itself is interesting in that it takes the traditional turn-based combat and applies it to an almost action rpg system. With any character you can do normal attacks with square, and press triangle to do a signature move. In Cloud’s case this triangle move allows him to change stances and go into an all-out attacking mode where he won’t be able to block projectiles, but will attack much faster and be able to parry close quarters attacks. At any point in combat you can bring up a menu screen that slows time to a crawl and lets you choose the exact moves you want to use as well as moves of your party members, only when the ATB (active time battle) gauge has filled up sufficiently though, and you can even use the D-pad to switch between the characters you are controlling.
Another aspect in which you can do see the care that was put into this game is in the sound design and visuals. This game has one of my all-time favorite video game soundtracks, even if we didn’t see all the game delays we did this year due to Covid-19 I would have no issue saying this will be the frontrunner for best soundtrack of the year. Every song is perfectly placed and makes each environment come alive, the music for the fight scenes kicks in perfectly and makes it feel like something epic is happening, and even the sound effects in menus are as futuristic and clicky as you would expect from a new Final Fantasy.
The visuals are right on par, with some notable distinctions. Each of the character models look amazing, they are intricately detailed and they convey emotion that makes it feel more realistic than I initially thought they could accomplish with the art-style they used. You can tell most of the power was put into characters, and while they clearly accomplished what they were hoping for in that regard, there were some aspects of the environments that suffered. Many times you could see textures not popping in on time, or notably, when Cloud and company are high up on above sector 7 and you can look down on it, it seems like a still image off in the distance. In some ways it almost looked like a callback to the original, but intended nostalgia or not, it wasn’t a great look.
Everything about this game feels like a love letter to fans of the original, but is built in a way that is extremely accessible to newcomers as well. That ability to walk the line between old and new is what makes this game so spectacular in my eyes. We see far too often with remakes that a game sways too far to one side or the other and ends up pleasing no one. FF7R is exactly what I want out of a remake, I just wish I didn’t have to wait for the next episodes to fill out the rest of this story. I think it would have been unreasonable for this to be a remake of the full original game in one go, but I could definitely go for another hundred hours in this world.
With the exception of these few graphical issues that cropped up, I found it extremely hard to find anything negative to say about this game. It is one of the finest games I’ve played in recent memory. In this crazy year for games, it will most definitely be a front-runner for game of the year, but I truly believe this would stack up against the greats of any year. This is one I can wholeheartedly recommend to anyone who loves games, regardless of whether or not you hold the original near and dear. I think everyone will find something to love in this amazing remake.
As always, thank you so much for reading. This is one of the most fun reviews I have ever put together, because I just enjoyed this game so damn much! If you are playing it currently, or are planning on picking it up let me know what you think in the comments below or on social media. I’m trying to be more active on Instagram these days, so maybe reach out to me there? Remember to check back (at least) every Wednesday and Saturday for new posts and sign-up via email to make sure you never miss anything!