The iconic role-playing game gets a stylistic and narrative facelift that expounds and confounds in fascinating ways.
By definition, to remake something is “to make (something) again or differently.” “Different” is the operating word here, which can be a difficult prospect for hardcore fans of something. All it takes is one conversation about change with rabid fans of any iconic property before they bark about sacred lore.
Game director Tetsuya Nomura (most known for the Kingdom Hearts franchise) is aware of this nostalgia for the past. But he also knows this complication is only amplified to unquantifiable levels when remaking what many gamers and industry professionals believe to be the greatest game of all time. Still, Final Fantasy VII Remake manages to not only uphold the classic status of the original but expand upon it in powerful, sometimes metatextual ways.
For the newcomers out there, the story begins with mercenary for hire and ex-SOLDIER Cloud Strife (Cody Christian) working a job with Avalanche, an eco-terrorist group looking to bring down the Shinra electrical engineering corporation that is harnessing Mako (a magical property that doubles as the literal lifeblood of the planet) to power the steampunk city of Midgar, which is separated into multiple sectors and sees the impoverished living underneath the infrastructure in the slums.
The mission is to bomb one of those Mako reactors alongside team leader Barret (John Eric Bentley, wonderfully capturing the intensity of every foul-mouthed quip). It plays out just like it did in the original, but it’s also not long before the benefits of telling this story with current technology are evident, as once the deed is done NPCs can be overheard chattering in fear and uncertainty over what just happened.
While it is disappointing that players never get to leave Midgar in the first installment of the overall remake, the developers have successfully packed the slums with content in another winning effort to showcase a living breathing world. Standouts include the entirety of Wall Market and flipping the infamous cross-dressing sequence into a whole chapter about sexuality, female empowerment, and interactive dancing.
Taking on side missions wisely feels integral to Cloud’s character development, beginning the story an angsty and edgy mental mess closed off from his own emotions and only interested in work that pays. Of course, there’s much to his past as a SOLDIER causing this pain (some of which does admittedly feel given too early and often) but it’s understandable why the developers would want to squeeze Sephiroth into part one somehow.
Final Fantasy VII Remake manages to not only uphold the classic status of the original but expand upon it in powerful, sometimes metatextual ways.
Cloud softening up is partly due in part to his childhood friend Tifa (Britt Baron) also working as a member of Avalanche and him being able to relate to her own conflicted emotions. However, he doesn’t really begin to change until properly meeting florist slum girl Aerith, beautifully voiced by Briana White. Future expansions to the narrative leaned into her being an angelic, almost religious figure, whereas here the writers never once forget that despite her bubbly personality and fashionable garments lies a slum girl. She’s both elegant and foul, which is something that even the original game seemed to forget.
The gameplay itself is no slouch, lifting elements from the original game (such as the beloved Materia system and powerful Limit Breaks) while transitioning turn-based combat into something more action-oriented and dynamic. It plays like a refined meshing of Kingdom Hearts infused with key components of the original Final Fantasy VII. There is still a classic mode for those that would prefer a more relaxed and turn-based approach to the battles, although it’s mostly functioning here as the game’s Easy mode. Remixed battle music from Masashi Hamauzu also ups the intensity a few notches, doing justice to Nobuo Uematsu’s masterful music from the original.
A couple of dungeon areas do feel excessively stretched out to the point where their maze structure is no longer fun to navigate. Also, the execution of some of the bigger reveals at the end of the game drastically switch themes from corporate evil to the power of destiny, which feels a bit herky-jerky. The final boss fight, as incredible as it is, is also completely unnecessary — the one right before it is insane in its own right and would have made for a good closing sequence to Part One.
It takes audacity on a scale not seen since The Last Jedi to not only recreate unforgettable moments that still stand the test of time, but to play up the changes Final Fantasy VII Remake makes to the narrative. This comes in the form of Whispers, spectral entities that exist to correct any deviations from the actions of the original game’s characters (much like a fanboy upset that the developers dared to make a change, however inconsequential).
The actual developers, presumably, hold the classic 1997 Final Fantasy VII as close to their hearts as any of us that grew up with the game. But that doesn’t mean they should be beholden to using modern technology solely to update the graphics screen-for-screen of the original.
There’s more to Final Fantasy VII Remake than copying and pasting the battle system, and having some voice actors enter a recording studio to read some lines and call it a day. That also doesn’t mean they should be given free rein to willy-nilly change whatever they want until the remake is no longer recognizable. Square-Enix has taken it upon themselves to embark on what is indisputably one of the most ambitious remakes regardless of entertainment medium.
Final Fantasy VII Remake expands on the original game by such a wide margin that the contents here (which fill up two Blu-Ray discs) are lucky to cover 25% of the full story. Sure, the wait for more is going to be laborious (doubly so considering the more divisive added elements). But if the added complexity here is any indicator, waiting for more will be a rewarding struggle.
Final Fantasy VII Remake is an astounding accomplishment as both a narrative retelling and an intriguing approach to shaking up an established classic. Where Nomura goes from here is either going to cement him as a gaming genius or blow up in his face like a bombed Mako reactor. Even if the story is butchered from here on out in ways that simply don’t make sense, it’s damn fun revisiting this world. Bar none, Final Fantasy VII Remake is Square’s best JRPG since Final Fantasy X.