Hired by eco-warrior group AVALANCHE, mercenary Cloud Strife arrives in Midgar, a city run by the corrupt Shinra Corporation. Profiting from sucking the planet dry of Mako, an energy substance that serves to power their company and the city’s power grid, Shinra has no care for what its actions mean for the well being of the planet. With his friends and fellow AVALANCHE fighters, Cloud stands against Shinra’s fascist regime while uncovering the history of Mako, and the original inhabitants of the planet, the Ancients, who may hold the key to saving their world.
Originally launching in 1997, Square Soft’s Final Fantasy 7 has since been lauded as one of the best RPGs (role-playing games) ever made. Now, 23 years later, Square Enix has finally released the long-awaited remake of Cloud’s story for both veteran players of the Final Fantasy series, as well as new gamers who will be introduced to the city of Midgar for the first time. The reception to Final Fantasy 7: Remake has been one of enthusiasm and, so far, the game is being considered a resounding success.
While the original Final Fantasy 7 is a pop-culture favorite, now over 20 years later, the game is hindered by the limitations video games had in 1997. The character models looked like a hodgepodge of blocks with eyes and hair. The combat system was easy enough to play with but often left much to be desired in terms of flare. The maps of each level offered frustrating navigation when you couldn’t tell the difference between an inaccessible painted background and the door to the next level. Thankfully, Remake fixes all of that, and then some.
Even by the high standards of video games in 2020, Remake is a beautiful, master-crafted game and might be Square Enix’s best work to date. The city of Midgar, with its steam-punk upper city and shantytown lower city slums, looks amazing. Not only that but the city feels even more alive with people standing around talking, eating, and even remarking on your events as you play through the game. Despite its normal beauty, players can still be caught by surprise when entering Aerith’s garden full of flowers not seen throughout the rest of the slums. Square Enix has done such a superb job of making Midgar that while even changing 2D settings to dynamic 3D maps, the city still looks exactly as players have always known Midgar. Aside from longer alleys and maps, everything looks just as it did in 1997. There are even small details added to character designs of being able to see the individual materia (items that allow you to cast magic when equipped) in a character’s weapon, which add just a bit of cosmetic customization of what colors you want to showcase (I have Cloud with Mardi Gras colors of purple and green on the Buster Sword).
The combat system is vastly different from the original 1997 game, which was the standard JRPG (Japanese Role-Playing Game) turn-based combat system. Remake has shifted its mechanics into a more action-focused style of fighting and button-mashing, with a small command menu that allows you to use spells and other abilities. It does offer a “classic” style of combat but as one of the few downsides of the game, this is misleading. Where many thought that “classic” would mean the original JRPG combat, this style just acts as kind of an auto-pilot, leaving Cloud to attack and dodge on his own while the player makes strategic decisions of when to use a spell or a summon.
One of the biggest changes to Remake, though, is the story itself, but not in the way you think. Though many gamers worried that remaking the beloved classic would change the game and story into something it’s not, Remake stays very true to Cloud’s original story, while taking intimate time to add substance and context to other parts of the story that the original never did, or never did in an overt way. For example, three of Cloud’s fellow AVALANCHE fighters, Jessi, Biggs, and Wedge, were nothing more than beloved, two-dimensional characters. Remake changes that, giving strong characteristics, backstory, and motivations as to why these eco-warriors are fighting to stop Shinra and save the planet. Other additions to the story set up some of the game’s future events and even throws new, mysterious hooded figures into the mix leaving even veteran players to speculate on who, or what, they are.
It’s rare, though, for a game, as good as it is, to have no drawbacks, and Remake does have a few. While the action button-mashing combat is exciting and looks awesome, the camera angles can be frustrating. When locked on to an enemy, for instance, the camera can sometimes shift to behind a box or some other environmental detail that gets in the way of being able to see the fight. But, when not locked on, it can be frustrating rotating the camera yourself to find the enemy you’re trying to hit. Remake also misses an opportunity for some character customization. Sure, the characters in the original had their set outfits for the game, and the new and enhanced adaptations look amazing. But over the 23 years since the game’s original release, there have been multiple movies, game spin-offs, and even cameo appearances of these characters in other Square Enix games like Kingdom Hearts where Cloud and his friends had different outfits. I see little reason that these cosmetic outfits couldn’t be added to the game, at the very least for long-time players who’ve followed Cloud’s story over the last two decades, especially when the last game, Final Fantasy 15, had plenty of cosmetic items and outfits. Hopefully, this is something that could be added in Final Fantasy 7: Remake Part 2.
Speaking of Part 2, there is still yet to be a confirmed release date for the next chapter of Cloud’s journey. While it was announced very early in development that Remake would tell the entirety of the Final Fantasy 7 story over multiple installments, and Remake itself has a completion run time of between over 40 hours, it’s frustrating to not be able to play the well known and loved story to completion. It’s only speculation at this point, but given the release timeline of past Square Enix games, we may not see Remake Part 2 until at least March 2021. Hopefully, Remake doesn’t take the Kingdom Hearts schedule and spend a decade between parts 2 and 3, with the mashing of other confusing games released in-between.
The best way to describe Final Fantasy 7: Remake is as if someone took your favorite movie and made a TV show adaptation of it. The adaptation stays true to the original film, but instead of a two-hour movie, it now has a ten-hour season to fill, and so it takes time to flesh out other characters and smaller parts of the story. Despite some of the small frustrations, of which they are tiny in comparison to the overall success of the game, Remake is Square Enix at its best and introduces Final Fantasy 7’s story to new fans, while bringing long-time veteran players back to standing beside Cloud to save the planet.