Genre: Role-Playing Game
Original Release: April 10, 2020
Publisher: Square Enix
Platform: PlayStation 4
*SPOILERS TO FOLLOW, READ AT YOUR OWN DISCRETION*
It’s a weird time to be alive right now. A lot of us are locked up in our homes in a worldwide quarantine, save for trips to the drug and grocery stores every so often, and here in the states we seem to be in a perpetual state of ambiguity. But if there’s one thing that brings me peace of mind, it’s my game collection. Of course, that could just be a sense of looming dread that’s become so familiar that I’ve grown numb to it. I’m not entirely sure anymore.
Anyway, Final Fantasy VII Remake came out almost two weeks ago and I have to say, the demo I played just beforehand left me feeling conflicted. On one hand, I was thrilled to have a more detailed Final Fantasy VII experience coming, but something about the demo just didn’t sit well with me. It could be that I was expecting to pull the kind of damage I had seen in the original, only to see that Barret’s guns would deal 1 or two damage per bullet, but come in a sizable clip. Maybe I just felt under-powered or deterred by how different everything was from the original. I don’t really know.
But, I can safely say that after giving it a fair shake, I do genuinely enjoy Final Fantasy VII Remake.
Final Fantasy VII Remake is not just a simple remaster of Final Fantasy VII. No, they rebuilt everything from the ground up. The world, characters, and the story are very much the same at the core, but the world has been fleshed out and polished to such a degree that the term “remake” seems to have been used in the most literal sense. So much has changed, in fact, that it feels like its own game. And having said that, Final Fantasy VII Remake does assume that the player has at least some passing familiarity with the original 1997 release. Cloud will experience glimpses of iconic future events throughout the game, including hints at Aerith’s death. Whether that will now come to pass or not is hard to say at this time due to events in the final chapter of this episode, but we’ll see.
It’s a bit of a weird spot to be in when you think about it. On one hand, fans are expecting things to go one way, and for the most part they have, but with so many significant changes even to this point it feels like Square Enix is going to pull a series of M. Night Shyamalan-esque twists over the course of the remainder of the game’s story, however many episodes that may be. I have my hopes that they’ll stick to the story as I know it, but I also want to see what they do to change things up. I’ll be honest, I’m very much attached to Aerith at this point, so I would be a very happy Jazzy if she doesn’t die this time around.
So I must ask you: if the first episode of Final Fantasy VII Remake consists entirely of Midgar, which only took about 6 hours in the 1997 release, how on earth do you stretch that out into 40+ hours?
To answer that, I turn to a screenshot of Midgar from within the Sector 7 Slums.
Midgar is enormous. Not just because the plate is suspended 300 meters above the slums, either. The slums themselves feel alive, and there’s so much to do that experiencing all of it will easily put you right around 40 hours by the time you’re done. And with an unlockable hard mode you’re given even more replay value if you’re so inclined to attempt playing the game without items.
So with the impressive scale of the remake as well as their success fleshing out the characters, is there anything that I don’t like?
Yes. Yes there is. I mentioned before that I had issues with combat and I stand by that.
I’ve never played Final Fantasy XIII. I don’t know a lot of people who have that also genuinely enjoy it, either. But they incorporated a mechanic that I know upset my brother at the time: The stagger mechanic. The idea is that as you deal damage and exploit enemy weaknesses, you’ll eventually stagger them, leaving them vulnerable to increased damage (initially 160%, but you can increase that with the right abilities) for a period of time. This is fine and actually works fairly well in Final Fantasy VII Remake, but I also have no basis for comparison.
In some cases, stagger is fine, you’re able to unload on the enemies and thin out the heard, making the rest of them a lot more manageable. But there are a few that get right back up within moments of being staggered (Looking at you, Trypapolis) and it just leaves me asking “Why even give the option to stagger at all in these cases?”
In the grand scheme of things, it’s a minor gripe. And after you’ve gotten a feel for each enemy it’s not even that much of a struggle. At least when you’re not up against three at once. That only happens once as far as I’m aware. Honestly, the big trade-off here is that you have a lot more maneuverability in real-time combat than you do in the original turn-based system, letting you dodge things a little more effectively if you can time it right. It’s all about placement.
There is one other thing that’s a sticking point for a lot of people though, and that’s the Whispers. On trying to learn a little bit more about them via the Final Fantasy Wiki for this piece, I found a lot of Reddit threads claiming that their inclusion, as well as their presence in the last hour or so, ruined the remake completely.
After seeing them for the whole game, it’s finally revealed within the last few chapters that Whispers are essentially the custodians of the Planet’s will. The destiny of each living being is carefully laid out, and should someone try to deviate from their path, the Whispers intervene and essentially force them back on course. At one point, Barret nearly dies when Sephiroth stabs him through the chest, but a Whisper quickly swoops in and heals the wound. I’ll admit, I was very relieved when I saw them do that and felt a little grateful, but they still felt like an annoyance more often than not. Always showing up at the most inopportune moments and robbing you of a payoff, all in the name of staying the course.
I don’t personally see much issue with the presence of the Whispers. It feels like they’re there to kind of play to the diehard fans of the original while also providing some sense of explanation as to why things happen the way they do. At least until Chapter 18 when you decide to defy destiny by destroying them.
I think this is what’s really upsetting people about their presence. The whole game, you’re being guided, visibly or invisibly, by the characters’ fates. Step out of line and the Whispers will literally throw you where you’re supposed to be at that time and keep things on track by preventing others from going where they shouldn’t. It keeps things in line with the 1997 release. And then come Chapter 18, the party decides that in order to defeat Sephiroth once and for all, they first need to destroy the Whispers so that they can take him on without interference. In a way, it takes any notion of things that happened in the original release and throws them out the window to say “You know what? This is a remake. We’re going to change things up a bit.” And I’m okay with that. The ending confused me a fair bit, yes, but it gives me something to think about.
I feel comfortable recommending Final Fantasy VII Remake, but that comes with something of a caveat: If you’re able, play the original 1997 release first. Remake follows the story pretty closely (it’s hard to deviate much, at least in Midgar), but it does enough with the story that it operates on an assumption of at least some familiarity with the world at large. You don’t have to know every minute detail about Advent Children, Crisis Core, or Dirge of Cerberus to enjoy it, playing the main game is enough. You’ll be able to appreciate what they’ve done since in the 23 years since then and you’ll pick up on some of the changes made with the story.
Alternatively, I’m currently running through the 1997 release on YouTube in order to provide people with a comparison if they’re unable to play it either due to hardware/financial restrictions (it’s cheap and on a lot of platforms, but money is tight for a lot of people recently and I know some folks like playing on the original hardware) or they can’t handle the graphics or mechanics. No judgement there, I understand that it’s not for everyone. But that’s why I decided to do this in the first place.
With that in mind, enjoy!