Image: IGDB/Square Enix

‘Final Fantasy VIII Remake’ review: Cloud Strifes again

Final Fantasy VII has long been considered one of the most important games of all time, alongside such classics as The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Super Mario 64, and Doom. By moving the series away from Nintendo and utilising the new technology of the Playstation, Final Fantasy VII offered cutting edge graphics, an incredible soundtrack, deep gameplay, and an immersive story, cementing JRPGS as a legitimate genre and popularising them in the west. Square Enix had a juggernaut on their hands, transforming what was once a niche series into one of the biggest names in gaming. 

A remake was not only something that many fans have desired for a long time, but also one that needed to be approached with great care – given how important it is not only to many fans but to the gaming industry. Fans were teased with a remake by a graphical tech demo for the Playstation 3 in 2005, which showed what Final Fantasy VII would look like if remade for the Playstation 3. However, nothing ever came of it, and fans were still left playing the original and the various spin-offs that expanded the universe. However, in 2015, the long-rumoured remake was finally unveiled to the world, generating universal excitement. Everyone was so excited to see what their favourite characters and story moments would look like on current generation hardware.

After this, however, the game went unmentioned in the years that followed, and fans started to worry. There were reports that development was initially shared between Square Enix and CyberConnect2, who then were taken off the project, leading Square Enix to develop the game solely in-house and rework everything done thus far. It was not until May 2019 when we finally saw the game again, taking the spotlight in that month’s State of Play (Sony’s answer to Nintendo Directs), with more information promised at E3 of that year.

Every memorable beat from the original is accounted for, with new scenes and locations fleshing out the FFVII universe

Sure enough, more information was given with an in-depth look at the new combat system, as well as familiar characters and story beats. The game was initially slated for a March 2020 release, ultimately being pushed back one month for last-minute touch-ups. So, 4 years after its initial reveal, Square Enix’s long-awaited remake of Final Fantasy VII  is finally here. Not only has this game itself been eagerly awaited on its own merits, but also as a modern remake of one of the most important games of all time. The question is, did Square Enix give Final Fantasy VII the love it deserves in its remake? The short answer is yes, they absolutely did.

The game is not a full remake of the original game in its entirety. Instead, this is part one of a series of planned games that will eventually tell the whole story. This first part focuses on the beginning of the original’s story, taking place entirely within the metropolis of Midgar, the biggest location from the original, where the player would spend several hours, before gaining access to the rest of the world. I feel this was ultimately a smart choice, given that it allowed the developers to flesh out the location of Midgar even more than it was in the original, as well as allowing them to prioritise the characterisation of the cast and the development of the battle system without having to worry about the rest of the world and story. You play as Cloud Strife, a mercenary hired by eco-terrorist group Avalanche to help them take down the Shinra Electric Power Company, a conglomerate that essentially runs the world and is draining the planet of its natural resources, known as Mako, for energy. Over the course of the game, you learn more about the characters and the bigger plot at hand, ultimately setting up an adventure far bigger than the characters initially imagined.

Leading up to Remake’s release, I was most concerned about Final Fantasy VII: Remake’s gameplay, as Square Enix are notorious for changing up the core battle system of each main Final Fantasy title since Final Fantasy X. While X’s was great, XII felt like a single-player MMORPG that played itself, XIII was just uninteresting and had many annoying quirks, and XV was a failed attempt at an action RPG. I’m very pleased to say, then, that I think FFVII:Remake’s battle system is the best the series has seen since X, taking elements from the original’s turn-based combat and putting them into a genuinely fun and tactical action-based style. 

Each character you control in FFVII: Remake can freely move around the battle arena, as well as having two types of attacks: a regular attack mapped to the Square button and a strong attack mapped to Triangle. Performing regular attacks fills up a character’s Active Time Battle (ATB) gauge, giving characters the chance to use a strong attack, magic spell, or an item. This system is great because it means that you can’t just do nothing and expect to win in fights while making you value each decision you make because you can’t fix your mistakes so easily. 

Without going into spoilers, people appear to be divided over whether Square Enix should have deviated from the original story

A complaint some have had with the original Final Fantasy VII was that each character felt the same in combat and was only differentiated by their Limit Breaks- special strong attacks that are occasionally useable. Here, this problem has thankfully been fixed, as each character feels vastly different, yet all are fun and all have their benefits. Cloud is quick and attacks with a sword, whereas Barret uses a gun and can attack flying or long-distance enemies that Cloud can’t. Tifa is the martial arts expert, providing rapid attacks that can chain into combos, and Aerith is the magic-user, able to attack enemies from long range and provide a number of unique magic abilities. 

Everyone feels fluid, and unlike in Final Fantasy XV, I didn’t have problems getting to grips with their unique play-styles. The only minor gripe I have with Remake’s combat is that you can charge up to do a special attack or use magic, but can be interrupted by an enemy, which cancels the attack as well as wasting the necessary ATB or MP needed to use the attack in the first place. However, whilst annoying when it happens, this does encourage you to stay on your toes, and prevents you from just spamming the same moves repeatedly.

One of the most iconic elements of the original game was Materia, special orbs that can be equipped to characters to give them a wide range of abilities and perks. These range from abilities such as casting offensive and healing magic, increasing stats, summoning large monsters to aid you in battle, and new abilities such as parrying attacks. If you haven’t played the original, one big reason this system works so well there, as well in Remake, is that it gives you a vast amount of options in customising your characters. You can decide that you want Cloud to be the mage of the group and focus on offensive magic, whilst having Barret focus on support magic. 

Rather than being a glorified cutscene like in other Final Fantasy titles, here the summon acts as a temporary party member where you can give them commands using your own ATB

There are many combinations that can greatly speed up battles. For example, there was one boss fight I struggled with until I realised he was weak to ice. Then for the next attempt, I paired the Ice Materia to Elemental, meaning that all regular attacks now did Ice damage. I put this combination on Barret, and because his regular attack is rapid-fire gunshots, the battle was now much easier, as I could take advantage of the boss’ weakness. It’s a great system that helps Remake stand out from other action RPGs, and offers great replayability by allowing you to try out all sorts of different combinations. 

Summoning large monsters to aid you in battle is one of the more iconic elements of Final Fantasy appearing in most games in some fashion. In Final Fantasy XV, summons were far beyond the player’s control, as a random one out of six occasionally showed up in battle, serving as a screen nuke that allowed you to win the battle. In Remake, summons work much more like Final Fantasy X, which has the best summoning system in the franchise. Summoning is only available in boss fights in Remake, but once the gauge to do so fills up, you already have a greater control of what to summon given that each character can equip a different Summoning Materia. For example, you can decide to summon the ice queen Shiva or the fire god Ifrit, depending on what the situation calls for and what your enemy is weak to. 

Rather than being a glorified cutscene like in other Final Fantasy titles, here the summon acts as a temporary party member where you can give them commands using your own ATB. They still do their signature attacks once the time limit has run out, but unlike XV, summons are not just a ‘win button’ as you still need to play well in these fights. 

Gameplay outside of battle involves exploring linear areas to find items and to progress, as well as the occasional side quest, which are thankfully short and easy to complete, and can also lead to changes in story scenes. While the gameplay outside of battles isn’t anything too remarkable, it is the battle system itself that truly shines and absolutely makes Remake worth playing.

Square Enix deserves praise for their handling of the characters and the story. Every memorable beat from the original is accounted for, with new scenes and locations fleshing out the FFVII universe. The characters all sport designs that are modern, yet very familiar to fans of the original. These are, without question, the best depictions of these characters since the original game, and I can’t wait to see the rest of the cast in action in future parts. The game looks stunning for the most part, and I never had any issues with frame rate. There is the occasional odd looking texture or character model, but for the most part the game is gorgeous. 

If you haven’t played the original, one big reason this system works so well there, as well in Remake, is that it gives you a vast amount of options in customising your characters

As expected from a game which features a score by Nobuo Uematsu, the music is similarly incredible, not only for its modern interpretations of the original soundtrack, but for the just as stellar new tracks, including the new theme song “Hollow”. Each track has been recorded and arranged several times, and the soundtrack fades in and out of these differing versions depending on the action on screen, so that the music better fits the mood. For example, a slower song can be playing outside of battle, then a more intense and faster version of that same song will seamlessly fade in if you enter a battle.

The story is mostly the same as the original, except for the very end, which offers quite a different ending than what happened at the same point in the original. Without going into spoilers, people appear to be divided over whether Square Enix should have deviated from the original story, which does set up some potentially exciting changes in future instalments. While I personally wasn’t a fan of the ending, that didn’t take away from the sheer enjoyment I had with the rest of the game up until that point, and, I understand why the developers made it this way, especially if the speculation about the direction of the other games is true. There are certain scenes, including a very famous one in Chapter 9, that can be different depending on how many side quests you’ve done across a few chapters. Because the side quests take little effort to complete, replayability is a big factor, since you can easily go back and see all the game has to offer through the Chapter Select option, available after you beat the game.

Final Fantasy VII Remake absolutely lives up to the hype and shows that the developers clearly care just as much about the original’s legacy as the fans do. The combat feels the best it ever has for nearly twenty years, the story and characters are wonderfully told, and there is some genuinely good replay value here for those who value it. The game does not act as a replacement for the original, especially given how differently the combat is and the endgame changes to the story, but finishing Remake has actually made me want to go back and replay the original. If you’re a fan of action RPGs in general, or weren’t too impressed by the more recent entries in the series, you should definitely give Final Fantasy VII Remake a shot.

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