Here at Rapid Reviews, we pride ourselves on putting coverage of smaller games toe-to-toe with AAA offerings, but that doesn’t mean we’re immune to the allure of the bigger titles. Naturally, for anyone with so much as a passing interest in JRPG gaming, Final Fantasy VII is a big deal. Needless to say, Final Fantasy VII Remake arrived with a victory fanfare in the Rapid Reviews ranks meaning there are a few of us who are exceptionally keen to detail our experiences.
Our man, Mark McConville has written an excellent review of the title but, rather than adopt the traditional review format, Mike Hallam and Pete Beckett have decided to let this one simmer, allowing the initial hype-tsunami to settle down, giving us a chance to detail our general thoughts and feelings alongside Mark’s review.
Return of the Mako
Mike: So, Pete, it’s here! It’s actually real. Some twenty-three years after the colossal landmark that was the release of one of the world’s most memorable and beloved RPGs, Final Fantasy VII has a complete remake from the ground up.
Well, alright, Midgar has a complete remake from the ground up.
Now, I know you share the same nostalgia for the original and are equally giddy at the prospect of tackling Cloud and co’s adventure (with a shiny modern engine) but before we dig in let’s give Mark’s introduction the proverbial floor…
Mark’s Review: The Intro
Stepping back into the sprawling Midgar today is as captivating as it was back in 1997 when a gripping JRPG landed and redefined the genre. That title has been reimagined for modern tastes today by pioneers Square Enix, which have created a game with a sheen and shine beyond expectation. Many gamers craved this remake, but didn’t fully know what to imagine. Now that the first large segment of the ongoing project has been created, fans are excited and can’t believe the first installment is ready to play.
For newcomers, the story is an emotive one. One that ingrains the mind and focuses on marginalized warriors and their woes and hardships. The story isn’t confined to this though, as we see love prevail at moments. Back in 1997, people wept and became immersed in the fable, and that’s why it eclipsed its predecessors. For some, it was the game of the decade, and their choice was valid.
Mike: Let’s address one of the more controversial points, noted early on by Mark here; the decision to release the game in an episodic format. For me, this has caused a bit of a headache in the ethics of marketing to a more general audience, who may go in expecting the complete story. However, having now had the benefit of playing through the game, I think it’s fair to say this works exceptionally well as a standalone product and has clearly been handled with care, retaining all the gusto of the original scenes but with an abundance of character development and some, arguably necessary, additional exposition.
Having now played through the game, do you feel the choice of just covering the Midgar arc was a good one?
Pete: When the game was initially announced and stated that they would only be focusing on Midgar, I was a little confused by it, mainly as Midgar was such a small section of the 40 to 60 hour experience of the original game. However, Midgar is such an iconic area that I felt like they could have done a ton of things to flesh out the story further. Upon playing the Remake, I was absolutely stunned by the amount of detail they put into not only fleshing out some of the experiences that were light in the original game, but how they made Midgar feel like a living, breathing city full of struggle, turbulence and shared experiences. They made Midgar feel like a character in the Remake as much as they did with a lot of the NPC’s. The city’s slums are bustling with life, full of conversations that you can hear as you walk past that exemplify the absolute divide between those slum based residents and those living on the top plate, who work for Shinra.
Whilst the original game was full of life and the NPCs were able to be spoken to, you did so at your own leisure and if you felt like it. The remake has them flash up as dialogue boxes on the side of the screen and you can hear them as you walk past. This absolutely helps with the immersion and makes you feel like you are living through their struggles. Even though you play as Cloud, the mercenary who has no ties to Midgar, you as the player feel their plight as much as he does.
Mike: Agreed, the depth the original managed through clever use of pre-rendered backgrounds meant Midgar always felt special, but with the remake’s added intricacy, something as simple as strolling through the streets above the plate can feel transformative to your understanding of the world. The raw atmosphere when the first bomb explodes is something that was delicately handled, giving a true sense of reality to how the average resident felt when their post-war peace is compromised. More so in the visible difficulty Avalanche has with causing the disruption, including distinction of how this manifests between members.
The slums, likewise, always had the atmosphere of poverty in the original. Everything from the visuals to the dialogue got the message across in a way unparalleled in its PS1-era. The benefit of modern tech and the team’s new vision throws a tangible connection to an oppressed populous just managing to get by and truly making the most of what they have. A jaunt through the slums reveals a lived-in presence that’s accented by passive dialogue and detailed visual aids. Where a shop keeper once had a couple of frames of animation to help breathe life to the world, they now have a full-blown personality. Trinkets on their counter, a personal fashion sense, it’s a lot to take in and the density in this detail means you don’t necessarily have to. Each time an area is revisited, there will be something else to notice, often a nod to a minute element of the source material.
Pete: Whilst there are some out of place textures and low resolution textures within Midgar, and even with hair on Cloud, Tifa and Aerith, most of the city has been modeled incredibly well, and is not only a loving recreation of the iconic city, but also helps to flesh out certain areas that we never got much of a look into before, or areas that would require you to use your imagination a bit more due to the hardware limitations of the PS1. Whilst never being a big fan of the area of Wall Market in the original (I’m still not in the Remake), what they did remodeling the area was absolutely incredible and really helped show what I had imagined it to be all along: a bustling hive of puerile indulgence, much akin to a long weekend in Las Vegas. However, this particular area still suffers from the same issue I had with the original, the layout of Wall Market is bad (just my personal opinion).
Mike: While I had fewer issues with the original’s layout, the remake drags Wall Market’s backstreet mazes right into the forefront. I found the mini-map to hold those key routes just out of the peripheral bounds of the display, meaning, unless I opened the map and studied it (boring) I ended up running in to dead ends or in circles more than was preferable.
It’s undeniable that sense of indulgence you mentioned, borne of a need to break away from the drudge of normal life, is abundant. It’s Midgar’s own Kabukichō and, layout aside, I love it. Flamboyance not found anywhere else, a unique oddity that breaks up the game’s pacing in a good way. Dead ends and circles be damned.
I can’t help but also mention the low-resolution textures found in some places. At times it can be stark, but the rationale is to maintain performance on aging hardware. For me, where FF7R suffers the most though is where characters with a key role stand next to those that don’t. The difference isn’t night and day at a glance but that depends on whether you’re looking for it or not. It’s a minor irritation and likely a completely necessary sacrifice, one that’s dealt with favorably when compared to many genre peers.
Mark’s Review: The Gameplay
Final Fantasy 7: Remake focuses on the same elements as it did back in 1997. You play as Cloud Strife, a former SOLDIER of the despised SHINRA Corporation. A company that is pulverizing the life stream of the planet. As Cloud, you must aid an anti-establishment group called AVALANCHE which has set out to save the globe from inevitable malfunction. Midgar is the starting point in the remake, a city which is under a huge plate. This plate has different sectors which hold mako reactors. These reactors must be destroyed and Barret and his team set out to do so with Cloud as their wildcard.
The gameplay is different to the original. The battle system has been altered to a modern set-up with the characters free to hack and slash. Controlling the characters in your party is easy, all you have to do is click the left button on your joypad to jump from one to the other. This is a seamless addition to the remake. As the player, you will fall in love with smooth and direct, but tactical, battle sequences.
Thinking coherently will help you through tough tides. Boss battles happen at the end of every chapter. These battles are complex, so tactics are key to surviving the onslaught. Often, I found myself healing my characters relentlessly. But it all depends on how strong your characters are. Leveling up is essential to any RPG game, and Final Fantasy 7: Remake is no different.
Character design is impeccable in the game. The original suffered from weak graphics, but that was all to do with the power of the PS1. Although it wasn’t a looker, the original remains a part of the bloodline of pop culture and gaming relevance. The remake is beautiful to look at though, and the developers have enhanced every town and area of this marvel. It has been redesigned and has some differences. Everything is bolder and bigger, textures are flawless, Cloud looks badass and his sword is extra-large. The other characters in the game also look refreshed and human, with bright eyes and little tweaks made to their costumes.
Items and Materia still play a big part in the remake. Magic can save your life. Equipping it will enhance your battle experience. The healing magic is a must here, a pivotal component to keeping your characters afloat. Mixing up your Materia is also beneficial, as there’s so much of it scattered across Midgar. I had to use the revival item Phoenix Down frequently. Also, it’s always good to replenish your stock.
Pete: I was particularly worried about how they were going to handle the battle system going into the Remake, and I felt like Square-Enix would always have a difficult task of pleasing those fans who were familiar with the turn-based battle system, whilst modernising it. Tetsuya Nomura, the game director on Remake as well as Final Fantasy 15 and the Kingdom Hearts series, did the near impossible task of taking sections of the battle system from his previous games that really worked and incorporating them with the basic essentials of the turn based system that 7 was built upon, to make a battle system that felt equal parts familiar as well as revolutionary.
Mike: And in that, you were not alone. As a huge JRPG fan whose preference is usually turn-based it was something that, in my mind, didn’t need overhaul. Ironically, after the grandest of overhauls, it turned out to be my absolute favorite aspect of the entire game. My expectation was originally something akin to Final Fantasy 13’s system. As more details emerged and it became apparent we were getting an action RPG, I expected something closer to Final Fantasy 15’s system. What we got was something better in every facet.
Pete: As a player, I don’t tend to play many Action RPG’s, with only very few of these game’s battle systems becoming tedious to me. In most games of this genre, I find that I become very tired of those systems, as most of it feels like you are mashing the attack button a lot, then mixing it up with the odd spell, item usage, summon or whatever other command you would require. However, Final Fantasy 7 Remake did the best job that it could do to please both fans.
The incorporation of the ATB gauge, which was present in the original turn-based system, made you think about the actions you would take, and how best to preserve those precious bars. It felt like a real balancing act, not only having to manage your HP and MP of your party, but how many ATB gauges were available to you at that point in the fight. The only slight downside I had to the battle system was that I felt like items shouldn’t have been tied to the ATB gauge at all. But I can understand why that was done, so that you couldn’t just spam status effect items, or constantly use healing items. I think this was done solely for balancing reasons.
Mike: Balanced to perfection, I might add. The ATB system is tried and tested but I don’t ever recall playing an RPG with implementation this nuanced. Final Fantasy 7 Remake manages to not only to push careful, considered tactical preparations but actively rewards you for making use of your resources, time and best of all, characters.
Combat simply refused to become stale owing FF7R’s persuasive shove to character switching. I found controlling characters to have a very weighty, but proportional feel. When attacks land, they land. In a more literal sense, the difference between lugging around walking tank Barret is immense when contrasted with Tifa’s light, breezy and speedy footwork.
The level of enjoyment when switching between each playable characters on-the-fly was a defining moment in my eyes. Lining up a few ATB bars with Barret from a distance before unleashing a well-timed spell from Cloud, into a deadly flurry of hand-to-hand combinations from Tifa is the stuff of dreams. And that’s before we get into Aerith (or Aeries, if you prefer, and I do).
I recall often sideling Aerith early in the original game, for reasons most people can guess. No more. Aside from the expected weakness at close range, Aerith’s skill set is probably the most diverse and arguably the most fun to work with. There’s a finesse to her standard combo that has a viscerally pleasing flow, and when combined with her unmatched magical clout she is a force to be reckoned with.
Pete: I felt like the difficulty level in this game was absolutely perfect. I played the game throughout on Normal difficulty. Whilst there were some fights and areas that provided a massive degree of challenge (a solo Cloud fight for the main quest in Wall Market caused the most frustration), I never felt like the balance was weighted towards being either too easy or too hard. Yes, certain enemies were a challenge in certain sections of the game, but if you were to lose, you would restart just outside the fight area, so you could modify the materia you are using, or change the weapon for different effects, or completely change your stats. In most occasions, this would be the key to winning fights. Plus having an incredibly robust weapon upgrade system helped with that too.
Mike: I couldn’t agree more with your view of the normal difficulty setting. While the amount of times I actually died can be counted on a single hand, there were many, many close calls. An alertness and willingness to adapt to the situation is required, even on standard difficulty but never did it feel cheap or overly difficult. Button mashing leads to an early demise, spamming healing stagnates progression, sticking to a single character prolongs the path to victory or defeat. A sound strategy and logical equipment set was always enough to press on.
And speaking of materia, Final Fantasy 7’s revered system is in full swing here, granted there aren’t any of those crazy triple Knights of the Round summon combos in sight but, to be fair, most of those were reserved for long after the crew left Midgar. What also struck me is how much I willingly changed my loadout, rather than looking for the ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach (which, to be fair, is also viable in this versatile set up). I found using combinations with things like Synergy a treat. This wonderful little support materia that allows a teammate to cast a duplicate elemental spell immediately after your own. While others such as auto-potion quickly became staples, they never felt like a ball and chain. I’d be lying if I said picking the materia to fill slots wasn’t agonizing at times but in the best possible way. Enough choice to not feel overwhelming but a painless structure to allow anyone to craft a formidable set with ease.
As for the weapons upgrade system, well I would describe it as a Final Fantasy 10 sphere grid lite. As I worked my way through each weapon’s individual grid, I always felt in control of the type of build I wanted to make. What’s more, this is exactly where you could make any character proficient in any playstyle with few limitations. I think what impressed me the most was the quality of life touch; no penalty for getting it wrong. The fee for resetting the grid and reassigning your skill points was such a meager amount that it didn’t even factor into the decision.
Mark’s Review: The Sound
So, this is when I got goosebumps. The audio has always been innovative in Final Fantasy games. In Final Fantasy 7, the music captures the essence of the title. It’s dreamy and full bloodied, and every character has their own theme music. Every town has its own dramatic score. When walking through these areas, you’ll completely fall in love with what you’re hearing. It is a game studded in musical orchestration. Visually, the game looks immaculate and when you use the summon Materia, the flashes and colors are jaw dropping. These beasts augment the game and take it up a notch.
Pete’s Final Fantasy 7 Mix
Pete: The original game’s soundtrack by Nobuo Uematsu ranks highly on my list of all-time greatest video game soundtracks. However, the vast majority of tracks, whilst still fantastic, are starting to show their age when listening to them independently of the game. The Remake, however, far surpassed my expectations. I was expecting this to be nothing more than a loving recreation of the original soundtrack, modernising it for a new generation. The soundtrack is absolutely jaw dropping, with it being equal parts nostalgia inspired, loving recreation and natural evolution of the original.
Since completing the game, I have gone back and listened to both, independently of the game. Whilst I will always be a fan of Uematsu’s original masterpiece, the Remake’s soundtrack, created by Masashi Hamauzu and Mitsuto Suzuki, under the tutelage of Nobuo, have made a soundtrack that can be enjoyed by nearly everyone. The original’s soundtrack sits in a weird place, that you know it is from a game, so non-gamers will never give it the chance it deserves to be considered a near masterpiece. However, the Remake’s soundtrack is an infusion of many different genres, from Metal to Rock, orchestral ambiance to epic symphonies; most of the track sounds like they’ve been ripped directly from a film score. This is the sort of soundtrack that you could play to anybody, even non-gamers, and they may understand why gamers usually get excited by a good soundtrack. This OST exemplifies why I love Video Game Music.
Mike: Eloquently put. This is a special and indeed important preservation piece of some of the best video game music ever made in my view. Despite the wider appeal in general, those moments of nostalgia are super-charged in such a personal way.
Also, as Mark notes, the placement of these tracks and how they underpin every emotion conveyed in each area or set piece is handled deftly. The dark, the comical, the raw energy of a heated moment, everything just fits. The reworking of many iconic sound effects helps retain the tone of the original too and that weightiness to the combat I spoke of earlier would be nothing without the seminal sound design.
Mark’s Review: The Replay Value
Final Fantasy games have always had a great replayability factor. When the first segment concludes, you can go back to towns and cities, and you can also power up. And there are plenty of side quests to contend with.
Mike: Alright Pete, here’s where I suspect I’m not alone in having a bone to pick. Tell me about your experience of the side quests and your level of willingness to undertake them.
Pete: I have quite a large bone to pick here about the side quests that were on offer during the main story. The vast majority of the side quests that you were forced to complete during the main story were, honestly speaking, BORING!
These quests followed a certain formula: go to an area, get the quest, go to another area, clear the area of enemies, done. It was particularly formulaic and was my least enjoyable thing about the Remake. I wish there was a little bit more variety on offer with these side quests. However, I have heard that there are an absolute stack of them once you finish the main game that do generally improve.
Whilst I found these side quests dull and uninspiring, the most frustrating part of it was that you had to complete these side quests in Wall Market, Sector 5 and Sector 7 to actually advance the story in some way. This to me was incredibly frustrating as I wanted to mostly press on with the main story sections, but it felt like the game wanted to force you by doing these. Side quests have never been something I’ve tended to want to complete (The Wutai side quest in FF7 original I always hated) and Remake hasn’t done much to change that statement for me. In fact, I believe that the Side Quests are the weakest part of the Remake.
Mike: Side quest filler is something I’m traditionally very tolerant of, more so than any person should be. I’m happy to level grind and farm for items in most games where required, so long as the core gameplay holds firm. Repetition, however, does become a problem if the ultimate reward is lacking (hence my lack of Platinum trophies) or if the repetition surrounds the premise of each side quest as opposed to the gameplay. I think, when broken down, the best side quests are often those that throw in a surprise or two in the surrounding events. Bar the odd one (they’re not all bad, I promise), FF7R did little of this.
Rewards begin to make sense during the end game but I feel comfortable saying that anyone wanting to play through the game without tackling the side content should not feel like they’re missing much. Flashy summons, aside, it’s simply not worth it. Everything feels tacked on and inconsequential for what could have been a good opportunity to cater to the wackier, more off-the-wall side of the series.
However, what made me persevere with FF7R’s side content was the game’s overall tone, the willingness to look in every corner of the environments, the chance to revisit some music tracks and the phenomenal combat. They were boring in many aspects, but it didn’t stop the game retaining its enjoyable nature.
Linearity is nothing new for the series. The aforementioned Final Fantasy 10 and 13 are prime examples of great games that stick almost exclusively to a rigid path. However, in both these examples, and indeed in FF7R, the side quests suffer for it. Final Fantasy 7 undoubtedly needs to open up more in future parts but Midgar is perfect in this format. Final Fantasy 15 set a good benchmark for how to effectively implement side quests; let’s hope this element gets a redesign next time.
Mark’s Review: The End
Final Fantasy 7 was a landmark title. An opus that defined a genre. The remake is a reimagined production of sheer originality and creative spark. Not only does it stick to the original in many ways, it also nods at different conceptual angles. The developers have implemented new tricks but have also stuck by the unique ethos of the 1997 classic. The fans who plunged themselves into that whirlwind of a game, will love this take, this fresh ride into an epic tale.
Pete: 23 years since the original game came out, I was still under the impression that the game never needed a remake at all. The original game still plays like a dream (I probably play it through at least once every couple of years). However, after experiencing the game first hands on at EGX 2019 in London, it cemented my love for the world of Final Fantasy 7 and that, actually, I am more at ease with the remake being made.
As I have stated throughout these extra thoughts section, this game is equal parts loving recreation and natural advancement. Without delving into spoilers at all, the story does more than enough to explore this idea.
Standing at roughly 35-40 hours for a full story mode completion (not including side quests and post game additional quests), this was an incredibly satisfying length just for Midgar alone. It bulked out certain sections that I felt could use them, whilst also making some very welcome cuts to certain story beats that didn’t fall in line with the direction of the remake itself. I was completely impressed with nearly every aspect on offer, barring odd texturing issues, potentially dull side quests and some very cheesy dialogue. You can tell that Square-Enix understands the impact of this seminal game in their ever expanding franchise, and have done everything in their power to make a game that not only repays those die hard fans, but also offers so much for people interested in playing Final Fantasy 7 for the first time.
Mike: I kept the nagging part of me that wanted the exact same game with better graphics repressed as best I could in the lead up to release. Now I feel a fool for worrying.
Playing exclusively in Japanese helped me avoid Barret. A. Baracus, so any remaining cheesiness felt akin to an anime, something I’m comfortable with for this franchise. It was important that they got the characterisation of Cloud right and they passed with flying colours in this regard. Everything felt right.
Careful deliberation clearly took place for every design choice. Every inch of this project screams out love of the source material. Square Enix knew they had to treat every step with respect but did so, while adding a tonne of personal creative choices and it paid off in a big way. What remains then, is a remake that is incredibly faithful in many ways, while being bold enough to rejig the best, worst and everything in-between of Final Fantasy 7.
Final Fantasy 7 Remake was always going to be something I wanted, but I didn’t expect just how much the experience blew me away with a whole new vision fully leveraging console technology. I have no qualms in saying this is one of my favourite action RPGs of all time. And that’s just Midgar.
Rapid Reviews Rating
What Comes Next
Pete: I believe the future for the Final Fantasy 7 Remake is a rocky and very unusual situation to sit in. If we were to delve into spoilers in this review/wrap up, I would be able to discuss more about the potential direction of the next installments. We understand that this is not the story done, not by any measure. There is still roughly around 40 plus hours of the original game to be remade but Part 2 could go in a potentially very different and radical direction (based solely on the ending of Part 1) that I am equal parts excited but also very skeptical, much like I was when the Remake was originally announced.
I have a further issue with the Remake going forward. Part 1 was called Final Fantasy 7 Remake and yet didn’t actually remake the entire game, only the first section. The name convention with each new addition will make it a bit of a problem in my opinion. Final Fantasy 7 Remake Part 2 doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, and changing the name slightly may potentially give away spoilers for the ending of this game to those who decided not to play this or any part until the full experience was completed and out on store shelves. Square-Enix sits in an incredibly precarious position after releasing this part, even more so than when Remake was announced. This is mainly due to the fact that the weight of expectation has now exceeded that of the original hype, as they have a certified hit with this one, that any direction they take with the next one may be met with a degree of cynicism and loathing by the legions of fans, not only for Final Fantasy 7 Original but also Remake Part 1.
Mike: While avoiding spoilers, there is no dodging the fact that the story took a massive turn, however the gravity of the changes is in the hands of the team. How far is too far to continue to call something a Remake? I guess that’s up to Square Enix but honestly, I think we’re in good hands.
The tricky bit is controlling the ambition. For me, reusing assets and animations is fine. The time should be spent on ensuring the moment-to-moment quality is preserved. What we may see, however, is a Final Fantasy team that gets carried away. I don’t want to see a rushed game, but equally I don’t feel it wise to create a six-year development cycle for installments, however many there may be. The next entry does not need a redesign, it needs a follow up.
With all the weird and wonderful content to be explored immediately after Midgar, there’s an opportunity to make the Majora’s Mask to the Part 1’s Ocarina of Time or, with a more personal taste angle, the Final Fantasy XIII-2 to Parts 1’s Final Fantasy XIII (I think I can hear some blood vessels bursting in the background).
There’s a lot to be excited about but the next part does not need to outdo the first. It needs to stay the course and iterate. Then again, this is Squeenix. We might see a change in director, a Kingdom Hearts naming convention, a ‘2.5 and 1/3’ mobile title tying future events to those that are yet to happen, and a decade’s wait before we see the next installment. The future remains uncertain.
What did you make of the Remake? Happy? Sad? Conflicted? Let us know in the comments or hit us up on Twitter @2DMike3D, @PeteBeckett1
You can find and read our reviews on OpenCritic.