Final Fantasy 7 Remake review - Victory Fanfare

How does Final Fantasy 7 Remake compare to its 1997 polygon counterpart? Find out in our review.

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In 1997 the world was introduced to one of the first fully 3D Final Fantasy games. It brought JRPGs to the mainstream, and for many gamers including myself, Final Fantasy 7 was the first Final Fantasy game we played from start to finish. The game was incredible with fully 3D models, a compelling story arc with interesting characters, lots of spell animations, secrets, and huge environments you could openly explore and interact with. While the game does not hold up in 2020, the original Final Fantasy 7 was a state of the art RPG for its time. Now 23 years later, Square Enix has rebuilt and reimagined this piece of video game history with Final Fantasy 7 Remake.

A long history

Just two baby Burkes.
Just two baby Burkes.

Going into the FF7 Remake I had moderate expectations. I was a huge fan of the 1997 version that not only enthralled me with it’s amazing story and colorful characters, but also helped me greatly improve my reading comprehension. I played the game reading aloud to my little brother who was 8 at the time. The game brought us closer together and was a very personal experience. Being 12 years old and following the journey of Cloud, Tifa, Barret, Aerith and others to save the world on the original PlayStation, I thought would be a once in a lifetime experience. Somehow Square Enix managed to create an entirely new game that transformed me back into my 12-year-old self sitting in the rec room, my eyes glued to the screen unable to look away. It’s more than just nostalgia. What Square Enix has done here is, simply put, incredible.

It all starts with a spectacular cutscene that includes the same iconic music that introduced you to the world of Final Fantasy 7. The game takes place in a giant metropolis called Midgar that was built and run by the privately-owned Shinra Electric Company. There is no government in this world. The Shinra Electric Company functions like a government for the city; supplying housing, electricity, water and law, but it's not good. It's an authoritative regime that can pretty much make its own rules. It rose to power by harnessing and refining an earthly resource called “mako'' which has endless uses like generating fuel for cars, providing electricity and other strange attributes as you’ll come to learn.

For the majority of the game you’ll play and control Cloud Strife, a former soldier or form of elite military guard. You’ve been hired by an eco-terrorist force called Avalanche to destroy a mako reactor owned by the Shinra Electric Company. You’ll be introduced to some of the key members of the group including Biggs, Wedge, Jessie, as well as the passionate and easily angered Barret Wallace, who leads the team. Barret believes that if Shinra keeps harvesting mako from the planet it will eventually die and things will stop growing, hence why you’re hired to help blow up the Shinra Mako Reactors. The game’s story starts here, but the characters, their motivations, and the plot expand exponentially from there throughout the playthrough.

It’s been 23 years

Returning fans of the original 1997 game will recognize characters, locations, enemies and a whole lot more, but this time around the experience is unreal. Most of the 1997 game used an isometric camera angle. In the 2020 remake, the camera is third person, street level. Square has taken great care with this new viewpoint and it makes the city of Midgar come to life. People talk about current events while you walk around the streets, shops are open for business, and kids play in the alleyways. You really feel that this is a real place with real people and real problems. This is a simple, great design that sucks you into this fantasy world in a natural way.

The first moments of the game are linear one-time affairs that you won’t revisit again, but they are fantastically done set pieces that add a tremendous amount of character to the world itself, setting the stage for the surroundings you’ll play through. Final Fantasy 7 Remake is environmental storytelling at its finest and there’s a lot to take in. I took my time viewing the ambiance of each sector and suggest players do the same to really get the most of what the Final Fantasy 7 Remake has to offer.

The Rotting Pizza

The game’s story takes place over a series of 18 chapters and each chapter took me around two hours to complete. The whole game takes place within the city of Midgar. Each section of the city is assigned to Sectors 1-8. After players escape the opening bombing mission, they will run into Aerith, the flower girl, in Sector 1. This is where veterans of the series will notice a major change that will come into play in later chapters of the game, but, I don’t want to spoil too much here.

You visit multiple sectors in the city that are much more open and larger than the 1997 locations. Each Sector has sections that act as large open hubs or levels. I don’t want to say this is an “open world” game because it's not. However, the sections are pretty large in scale each with their own unique look and feel as well as specific side quests, mini-games, and secrets. What’s nice is that if you do continue the main quest line the game will warn you that if you proceed, certain items, side quests, and dialogue encounters will no longer be available. Some gamers might not like this, but I appreciated the heads-up so I could backtrack through the areas to see what I had missed before leaving and triggering world changes. There are still secrets and items you can miss just like in the original game.

Players make their way through these large areas with a mini-map or navigation bar to help them comb the steampunk slums of Midgar. It’s good to know that while shops are marked on the map, not all side missions, quests, and objectives are displayed. This means you’ll have to explore and enter a radius until you see a green exclamation point, listen to the quest givers for hints on where to go, or just explore yourself. Like I mentioned earlier, some areas are great one-off set pieces and others players will be able to return to later to buy stuff, restore their HP and MP at benches, and complete various side objectives. In fact, towards the end of the game, a lot of old locations open up creating an expansive more open world to explore and revisit. Much like the original 1997 FF7 did at the very end.

ATTACK WHILE ITS TAIL’S UP!

The battle system in Final Fantasy 7 Remake is best described as brilliant. Somehow Square Enix was able to take a turn-based game made in 1997, modernize the system, and make it feel just as simple, and fun as the original. All the combat is real time. While certain enemy encounters are scripted, players will have random fight encounters just like in the 1997 version. However, they only happen in certain locations in the large hub maps away from populated areas.

When you enter combat you’re able to dodge, block, and attack in real time. While you do this, a bar called the ATB bar slowly fills up to two charges. It fills faster if you attack or block. Once a bar is filled, you can execute a command and time will slow to a crawl giving you ample opportunity to select a special ability, cast a spell, or use an item. Each character in your party has one standard unique ability and another based on the weapon currently equipped. Once players have used the weapon’s ability a certain number of times in battle, they will get “proficient” with it and it will become permanently added to the character. This encourages players to experiment with new weapons to learn their unique abilities and become stronger. After each battle, your character will get XP and level up, increasing their stats and awarding skill points.

Spells are cast by means of equipping green, blue, purple and yellow orbs called “Materia” in item slots. Some of these are as simple as casting fire, ice, or thunder damage while other spells have passive effects, improve your battle prowess, or give you unique abilities like being able to steal items from enemies. This is where the RPG aspect really comes into play. Players are able to build each character the way they want to fill its role in combat be it a healer, damage dealer, tank, or glass cannon. You can link two types of Materia slots together to boost the power of a spell, enhance its effect, or increase the amount of XP the Materia earned after each battle. That’s right, your spells can level up and get more powerful the more you use them in battle. However, spells have a casting time. The more powerful a spell, the longer the time the character needs to cast it. You can be interrupted during this time by certain attacks, preventing the spell from going off, wasting your ATB bar and draining your MP  in the process.

Final Fantasy 7 Remake Screenshot 1

The famous Limit Break makes a return from the 1997 version. As your character takes damage, it fills the limit bar. Once the limit bar is filled, players can execute a beautiful animated power attack that does massive damage. Unlike the 1997 game, the remake only has 1 Limit Break per character. Players don’t get a different version after you level up, you only get one. This may disappoint some fans as Cloud only has Cross Slash, Aerith uses Healing Wind, Tifa can Somersault, and Barret packs a punch with Big Shot.

Players will have a lot of tools at their disposal for fights but it’s not as simple as hitting it until it dies. Early on in the game you receive Assess Materia. Using this gives players details about an enemy; their HP, resistances, weaknesses and overall advice on how to defeat them. Both common enemies and bosses have a life bar and a stagger gauge. Hitting an enemy with its weakness element or interrupting an attack with an ability will cause “pressure” which causes the stagger gauge to fill rapidly. Once full, the enemy is stunned for a certain time and can take up to one hundred and 160 times bonus damage. Each encounter becomes a beautiful ballet dance of dodging, casting, timing, and exploiting weaknesses. When everything starts to flow together and synergizes with one another, the game gives players an incredibly gratifying feeling of accomplishment. You just feel like a badass pro esport player when doing it right.

Final Fantasy 7 Remake screenshot 5

Players will have up to three party members at once. Sometimes fewer depending on the story section being played. You can switch between them in real time during battles for direct control, or command them via shortcut keys. Your AI teammates are pretty competent in dealing damage, blocking and dodging attacks, and won’t waste their ATB bar unless you command them to do something. It helps in most fights, especially boss encounters, that enemies are usually focused on the character you’re directly controlling. This gives you time to issue longer casting commands to other teammates while the enemy is concentrating on you. Be aware that stuns and status effects like sleep are absolutely devastating if you get hit with them and can quickly lead to a failed battle encounter. Players must learn enemies patterns, cast Assess, and fight smart. Button mashing attacks will not get your team through boss fights or big encounters.

While each character can have a loadout to your liking, they do have unique battle roles, speed, and dodge animations. Cloud exceeds at close range attacks. Barret is slow, but can attack from a safe distance while dealing consistent small damage. Tifa is super-fast and excels at filling the stagger gauge and increasing the damage modifier of staggered opponents. Finally, Aerith, who's probably the most unique character, can cast AOE wards and other effects that assist the party on a magical level. The combat gameplay in FF7 Remake is a thing of beauty when you’re dancing and dodging around the battlefield in a synergy of attacks and abilities, staggering enemies with devastating combos.

Guns, Blades & More

Like any RPG, players level up after gaining a certain amount of XP. Each time you level up, HP, MP, and stats increase slightly as well as defense and power. However, a new feature in Final Fantasy 7 Remake is the addition of Skill Points. Every time you level up, you get SP. These points are put in a skill tree that’s attached to your equipped weapon's core. Each weapon has different modifiers. Some focus on magic aspects, others all out defense, or pure attack power. What’s amazing about this system is that Skill Points are each unique to the weapon you are using. No weapon is better than another. They’re just different in their skill tree. This adds another layer of depth to FF7 Remake wherein you decide which weapon best suits your style of play. This is unlike the 1997 game where better weapons were just that, better. It allows players to use Cloud’s starting weapon, the Buster Sword, for the entire playthrough if they choose. I love this game for giving me options for how I want to play instead of forcing me into a roll of damage or defense. Each character has several unique weapons to collect and some are easier to find than others, prompting the player to explore and complete side quests for a nice reward.

Final Fantasy 7 Remake Screenshot 2

A new non-playable character, Chadley, shows up in certain main hubs. He asks you to obtain data to improve his research and in return he develops new types of Materia for you. This boils down to doing things like combat challenges that task you to stun a certain type of enemy a number of times, assess x-amount of creatures, and so on. The challenges are a fun little distraction, and also the only way you can get certain types of rare Materia. Chadley also offers you Summons Materia, if you can beat his VR battle simulator challenge. Shiva, Fat Chocobo, and Leviathan can be earned in the battle simulator. It’s fun battling them, especially with the amazing remix of the song “Those who fight further” playing in the background.

Summoning in battle is a tad more limited this time around. In the 1997 game you could use summons once per battle, any battle. And some of them, like Knights of the Round, were incredibly hard to earn and vastly powerful once obtained. Summons in Final Fantasy 7 Remake work a lot differently. Rather than being able to summon them at will, the Summons Materia is only available at certain times in scripted boss fight encounters and even then you can only summon one for the entire battle. They are incredibly powerful attacks and, unlike the 1997 version, they stick around for an extended time, deal damage to the enemy, and you can even issue commands for them to do special attacks. At the end of the time limit they’ll perform a massive AOE damage move before they disappear. If the party member who summoned them is knocked unconscious, the summons timer will immediately end. This was clearly for balance reasons but some hardcore fans will be let down.

She’s a thing of beauty

One area where Final Fantasy 7 Remake shines is in its visuals. The large levels and enemy designs are just fantastic. It’s really the scale of everything that’s impressive. Having buildings on fire, trash ridden alleyways, and multiple models on screen at once with particle effects, animations, and no frame rate issues is a huge accomplishment on current generation hardware. That said, it does come at a price. Pop-in textures are fairly common and frequent. Especially if you are running through an area quickly. While most of the environments look incredible from afar or as a whole, if you start to stare too long at a small item or object, you can start to see where Square Enix had to scale back. Some of the Sky Domes in the game look outright awful, but players will not fret about the sky domes too much as they will likely be focused on the magnificently designed characters.

The character designs are nearly flawless and simply gorgeous to look at. They’re expressive and very animated. Fans of the original FF7 game will appreciate the mannerisms and movements of some characters that mimic their polygonal PS1 counterparts. What’s even more amazing is the attention to detail. Materia slotted onto your character’s weapon is shown in game and in cutscenes, and it looks fantastic. Weapons and armor accessories are also visible when you equip them on characters. Everything looks beautiful, from Cloud’s sword, to Tifa’s gauntlets, Barrett's gun arm, and Aerith’s staff.

Final Fantasy 7 Remake Screenshot 3

These amazing character models would be nothing without some of the most impressive voice acting performances that I have heard in years. Final Fantasy 7 Remake is voiced by some very talented actors. Every one of them explodes with personality, even the mild mannered ones. John Eric Bentley, the voice of Barret, is a particular stand-out, delivering a fantastic performance. This is what really holds the story together since there are a lot of cutscenes. It’s through these amazing animations and spectacular voice acting that players are immediately sucked into the world of Final Fantasy 7 Remake. This is helped even more thanks to some fantastic dialogue writing. I laughed several times at certain conversations due to outstanding timing and line delivery. Towards the end of the game, players will feel that these characters have become friends and they start to feel like a family. A family of misfits who you care about.

The music of Final Fantasy 7 makes a return in the form of grand orchestral remixes. The themes have been dulled down quite a bit though. Most songs are still there and some are great. In fact, some will catch you off-guard when they fade in, allowing you to have a laugh and grin as you remember that song in the original 1997 game. However, some themes are very subtle, too subtle, and if you’re a big fan of the 1997 score, you may secretly wish the music was a bit more on-cue with the original game. There is new music as well and most of it is great. However, there were situations where the environment did not match the music playing and was a little off-putting. The music isn’t bad by any means, but some people may not like the new subtle take on some of the classic themes.

Reunion

Final Fantasy 7 Remake is a story-based game first and foremost. While the combat, large levels, and RPG mechanics are in full force, the journey of Cloud, Aerith, Tifa, and Barret are at the forefront. There are a lot of cutscenes, but you never get tired of them thanks to gorgeous visuals and superb voice acting. While some of the major story beats and bosses have remained the same, not everything is here. Fans expecting a 1-to-1 remake of the original game will be met with massive disappointment. There is some glaring stuff that changed or was moved around and some stuff just didn’t make the cut. It could be your favorite line of dialogue, a mini game, side quest, or set piece.

There’s a lot of new content here, and die-hard fans of FF7 will mostly enjoy everything that’s new. Especially with the development of Jessie, Biggs, and Wedge, since they’re given a lot more time in the limelight this go-around and you dive into their history much more than in the 1997 game. That said, not everything added was great. There is one addition that seems out of place. A new character, who I won’t spoil, abruptly appears for two quick boss fights then disappears and is not seen again for the remainder of the game. They feel really out of place and don't really expand on the story or its characters.

As players continue the main story quest line they will run into new and old characters, expand their arsenal of weapons, increase combat battle knowledge, and get just the right amount of nostalgia for old-school fans. Around the 80% completion mark, the game soars, reaching new heights, making you excited to keep pressing on and invested in the outcome of these characters as these weird glimpses of Cloud’s memory start to form. You’re excited, ecstatic and on the edge of your seat, even if old-school fans know what’s next. However, at the ending, or rather where the game should have ended, things take a turn for the worse.

Mother…

I’m not going to ruin the end of the game here but I will say the last one and a half hours of the game is a slog, a drag, an unnecessary over-the-top crescendo that didn’t need to happen. The game spends 35 or more hours building up this world, these characters, and these mysteries only to abruptly whip you violently into a Kingdom Hearts 2-like boss fight that’s more cinematic than an actual battle. It completely breaks the tone, style, and story of the world you just spent the former half experiencing. I became more upset, disappointed, and devastated the longer this end segment went on. I didn’t enjoy this. The game should have ended but it didn’t. An hour and a half of just something that we didn’t need to play or see. Something that will most likely confuse newcomers to the series. I consider myself a huge FF7 fan and I disliked every minute of it. It wasn’t needed and felt tacked on for fanfare or game length. However, this small part of the game that I didn’t care for did not negate my overall enjoyment of the entire game.

To the Promised Land

Final Fantasy 7 Remake is a masterpiece, a love letter to FF7 fans, an homage to one of the greatest games of all time. At its best it does everything the original did in 1997, revolutionizing the way video game stories can be told and reimaged. Square Enix has created a wonderful game full of characters, set pieces and stories for a whole new generation of players to follow the journey of Cloud Strife and his friends on a mission to save the world. Even though I personally didn’t care for the last hour or so of the game, I can’t deny the amazing effort Square Enix has put into Final Fantasy 7 Remake. It’s a fantastical, wonderful, magnificent experience for new and old gamers alike.


This review is based on a PS4 review code provided by the publisher. Final Fantasy 7 Remake will be available exclusively on the PS4 April 10, 2020.

Video Production

Greg is the head of Video Production for Shacknews. If you've ever enjoyed a video on Gamerhub.tv, it was most likely edited by him. Follow him on Twitter @GregBurke85

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Pros
  • Brilliant battle system
  • Great RPG gameplay elements
  • Outstanding enemy designs
  • Amazing voice acting
  • Incredible character and fight animations
  • Fun secrets and hidden Easter Eggs
  • An excellent story-driven adventure
Cons
  • The last hour feels forced and unnecessary
  • Fans of the original FF7 may miss removed segments and sections
From The Chatty
  • reply
    April 6, 2020 3:00 AM

    Greg Burke posted a new article, Final Fantasy 7 Remake review - Victory Fanfare

    • reply
      April 6, 2020 3:46 AM

      "Final Fantasy 7 Remake is a masterpiece, a love letter to FF7 fans, an homage to one of the greatest games of all time. At its best it does everything the original did in 1997, revolutionizing the way video game stories can be told and reimaged. Square Enix has created a wonderful game full of characters, set pieces and stories for a whole new generation of players to follow the journey of Cloud Strife and his friends on a mission to save the world. Even though I personally didn’t care for the last hour or so of the game, I can’t deny the amazing effort Square Enix has put into Final Fantasy 7 Remake. It’s a fantastical, wonderful, magnificent experience for new and old gamers alike."

      https://i.imgur.com/IYOipXw.gifv

    • reply
      April 6, 2020 3:47 AM

      Man the wait for the rumored PC release is going to be long

      • reply
        April 6, 2020 9:02 AM

        I've heard 1 year of exclusivity. The game will look gorgeous on PC.

    • reply
      April 6, 2020 4:27 AM

      How did they handle Sephiroth? Did they fuck it up?

      • reply
        April 6, 2020 6:16 AM

        Based on what I've read, things are different enough to merit not seeking out answers about how they're different if you don't want to be spoiled.

      • reply
        April 6, 2020 9:04 AM

        Not really. He's fine. Just that last 1.5 hours wasn't really needed.

    • reply
      April 6, 2020 6:29 AM

      I'm so fucking excited about this. Wish it was a Tuesday release, especially with retail copies out there.

    • reply
      April 6, 2020 7:13 AM

      Great review, Greg!

    • reply
      April 6, 2020 8:13 AM

      Is there an option to switch to Japanese voice actors?

    • reply
      April 6, 2020 9:06 AM

      I'm probably not the only one that read the link text and immediately heard the music.

      • reply
        April 6, 2020 10:09 AM

        I'm curious, did you read or watch the review?

    • reply
      April 7, 2020 2:31 AM

      Great review. I haven't been this hype for a game in a very long time.

      Just wish you wouldnt have even said anything about the last 1.5hrs, now im trippin mad balls on what in god's name they could have done..

      Either way, i will be taking full advantage of my next 3 weeks off.

    • reply
      April 8, 2020 3:47 PM

      I think we will all agree that it is a spectacular game out of nostalgia, https://www.mixcloud.com/zbynekcerny1/djscasper-in-the-mix-italia-dancefloor-mix-2017-největši-hity-2000/

      • reply
        April 10, 2020 1:08 AM

        "Any "reviewer "who gives this game anything less than a 9/10 is most likely an oblivious child, who has no fn clue what they're saying or even playing, and needs to go practice their journalism skills somewhere outside of the game industry.

        I'm not even kidding"

        \o that's pretty much my opinion of it.. back to it.

    • reply
      April 10, 2020 1:12 AM

      I'm absolutely in awe at the fact that this is a thing that exists, that we are actually playing, and is anywhere even near as good as it is.

      And it's good.

    • reply
      April 27, 2020 2:41 PM

      Each character has two limit breaks. You unlock the others through the Colosseum and can select which one you want to use in the party settings.

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