The original Final Fantasy VII is one of my favorite games of all times. It came out in the 90s while I was in high school, and my best friend and I were both playing the PC version with our, state of the art, Voodoo2 graphics cards. Another friend, who was a long time fan of the Final Fantasy series, saved up to buy a PlayStation just for FF7. The gameplay featured turn based RPG elements, along with exploration, magic and storytelling. With it’s 3D graphics overlayed on pre-rendered backgrounds, full motion video, and addictive combat system, it was an iconic game of the era. The remake, developed over two decades later, uses a more fast paced combat system. It retains many of the story elements of the original, enhances the original music score, and develops many of the same iconic characters. Yet it also adds some new faces, and draws out the first eight to ten hours of the original game into a forty-hour story of its own. Although enjoyable, it won’t be as accessible as the original to as large an audience.
I didn’t know much about the remake before I began to play it, other than watching videos of the new combat system. The game play is reminiscent of Final Fantasy Crisis Core, an amazing prequel to FF7 which I highly recommend. After about ten hours into the remake, I wondered how long before I’d get out of the city of Midgar, where things really began to open up in the original. It was around that point I learned from various articles that this remake was the first of a multi-part series. In the original, Midgar was the setting for the first eight to ten hours of the game. In this remake, the first act of the original has been stretched out into its own forty hour game!
My first impressions of this game were of awe. I was captivated by the music, the artwork and the animation. The voice acting was perfect and the production value really made this classic story come alive. I was taken with all the nostalgia of a story I loved being reborn. I anticipated every aspect of the journey I knew was coming next. The backdrops and scenery were beautiful. The side-quests were somewhat unimpressive and unimportant, but I still completed almost all of them.
I really wanted to love this game, but as it continued, it just felt long and drawn out. In the original, the battles were spaced appropriately with important story between them that brought the world to life. In the remake, battles seem to fill every aspect of the game, simply to pad it out. It’s quite common to have two to three incredibly difficult boss battles all in a row, before returning to any meaningful story progression. The character of Sephiroth, a villain shrouded in complete mystery during the first act of the original, makes frequent and constant appearances in the remake.
For the most part, the story does hold to the original. There are some big differences, such as Avalanche having a bigger organization footprint, continual references to the war with Wutai (an optional region in the original), and Cloud never seeing the base under the pinball machine. There are also suggestions and foreshadowing of substantial and major changes towards the end of the game that I was not expecting. A lot of minor characters such as the Avalanche team and Zach, also seem to have more prominent roles or back stories.
Even though the battles felt grinding at times, many of them were fun, yet frustrating, with challenging combat elements to master. After multiple bosses in a row, I was ready for the combat to end. I feel like the pacing of the remake is really off. There are scenes were the story slows to a crawl in moments when there should be rising action. Deep moments of loss and hard gritty elements from the original are often replaced by comic book tropes and action movie expectations.
Overall, I am glad I played this game. I wish I could love this game. There are so many amazing elements of it that truly do justice to the original. Aerith’s home and church are both composed of amazing artwork and rendering. Tifa and Barret are beautiful representations of their blocky, PlayStation era 3D, counterparts. The voice acting even has the feeling of the original text, complete with anime-style grunting. Yet the game suffers from padding out a single act of a story in needless and nonsensical ways. Even though the combat is engaging, it is also feels exhausting and endless. I was more than ready to complete this game.
It may be several years before we’ll see the second installment of the Final Fantasy VII Remake. I hope people who enjoyed this release will go back and play the original in the meantime. It takes the same amount of time and you get a full game instead of a first act. Maybe Sony and Square spit the remake intentionally to drive sales of the original. Although I enjoyed this game and will backup my save games in the hopes I’ll be able to import them in to the next release, I hope it takes several years to complete as I have no desire to really jump back in. I cannot really recommend this game to others, but would instead recommend playing the original FF7 or the Crisis Core prequel. Both are really amazing games and are still very enjoyable today.