Final Fantasy 7 Remake juggles more emotions than a depressed clown. In an early scene, the game establishes itself as a silly fantasy story with deep emotional depth that’s simultaneously humorous, heartfelt, and dead serious. In this sequence, the moody mercenary Cloud Strife enters a bar owned by his childhood best friend Tifa. However this isn’t just a friendly visit: Cloud did a dangerous job for Tifa’s friend Barret, the leader of the eco terrorist/freedom fighting organization Avalanche, and is looking to get paid the 1500 gil (Final Fantasy 7 Remake’s currency) that he’s owed. Before the scene becomes too serious though, it turns comedic as Cloud is sidelined by a distrustful Barret who goes into a meeting with his Avalanche cohorts underneath the bar that’s accessed by a secret elevator obscured by a pinball machine. To bide the time, Tifa mixes Cloud a couple drinks in a sequence that is both humorous in its action and informative, allowing the player to catch a glimpse of Cloud’s and Tifa’s friendship.
It’s a great scene with many layers. Whether due to the silly elements or the more dramatic tidbits inherent to this scene and the rest of the game, the player can’t help but be drawn into the scene and, by extension, the game. Speaking for myself -someone who had never played the original Final Fantasy 7-, I couldn’t help but wonder questions like: “Why is Cloud so sad all the time? What is Avalanche planning? Why is Cloud’s and Tifa’s relationship different from what it was before?” These are all good questions that got me hooked into the game’s story and world, and added upon many other great gameplay sequences and great cutscenes, I was fully engaged with this reimagining of Square Enix’s turn-based RPG classic despite the game’s approximate 35 hour playtime. It’s really damn good.
Final Fantasy 7 Remake’s story befits this inherently bizarre yet sincere game. The title is a reimagining of Square Enix’s 1997 turned-based RPG classic, and from what I understand from those who’ve played the original, Final Fantasy 7 Remake takes a fair few artistic liberties. The plot follows Cloud Strife and the environmental freedom fighters Avalanche as they battle Shinra: a ruthless organization that doubles as an energy corporation and a government. The game takes place in the Shinra capital city of Midgar, and on Midgar, people are distinctly categorized into the haves and have nots by design. Midgar is a massive metropolis where big money is made and spent, but built beneath the skyscrapers and obscene ostentatious decadence, the poor live in slums, buried beneath the gaudy Shinra elite. Avalanche’s goal is to strike back at Shinra for various injustices, particularly Shinra’s avaricious fuel consumption of Mako energy (basically magic fossil fuel) that’s killing the planet.
The story is very political by design. The original Final Fantasy 7 was notoriously heavy on environmentalism, and with Final Fantasy 7 Remake, this tale about corporate greed and rapacious fuel consumption hits just as well today. Afterall, the real world is currently barrelling full speed ahead into our own self-inflicted climate change apocalypse, and reflecting that, this game still feels relevant. Whenever Barret or other members of activist/freedom fighter group Avalanche like the adorable Jess, the humorous Wedge, and Charlie Sheen look alike Biggs discuss taking the fight to their Shinra corporate overlords, the delivery comes across as relevant, albeit with a flair of charming silliness.
However, Final Fantasy 7 Remake’s greatest storytelling attribute is its character development. Whether it’s the mysterious Cloud, the Disney princess-esque Aerith, the friendly Tifa, or the ass kicking Barret, the characters and their interpersonal drama work well here. The way in which these big personalities interact is always a thrill, and during my playtime, my emotions ranged from laughing out loud from a quip by Barret, joy from seeing Cloud cross-dress, laser focused concentration when the narrative becomes intense, and teary eyed sadness during Final Fantasy 7 Remake’s more somber moments. Even at its most ridiculous moments, Final Fantasy 7 Remake sticks the landing with every emotion it attempts to convey in the narrative, and it’s just so good in this regard.
The main protagonist Cloud is the most notable of these character dramas. At first, Cloud is kind of a major dick, but then you realize that his tough guy persona is just an act. Deep down, he is in emotional anguish for various reasons, and he’s afraid of people seeing him vulnerable. Even though Cloud struggles to maintain his brick wall facade at times, Cloud never allows his closest friends and acquaintances to see him in pain lest they believe he’s weak. Cloud’s character arc speaks to the wrong masculine notion that displaying one’s personal feelings is a moral failing, and throughout the game, Cloud slowly but surely learns that it’s ok to be emotionally close to people he trusts. It’s a good lesson that more folks in the real world need to heed and makes for a strong character arc in Final Fantasy 7 Remake.
Final Fantasy 7 Remake’s gameplay complements the interpersonal character development. Echoing the character growth, Final Fantasy 7 Remake’s squad based combat allows the player to further connect with these characters. Amid the action, the player can switch and control different party members with various strengths and weaknesses that fit these characters. The playable characters include: the skilled ex-soldier Cloud who specializes in sword based combat, the hot-headed Barret who has a gatling gun for an arm that’s useful for ranged attacks, the up-close and personal Tifa who pummels people with her bare hands, and the support character Aerith who wields both offensive and defensive magic. Whether fighting humans, robots, monsters, or bosses, the abilities of Final Fantasy 7 Remake’s various squad members befit the characters using them. In other words, it’s a form of character development through player/game interaction that works incredibly well in terms of convincing the player to care about the story and the action.
Final Fantasy 7 Remake’s combat additionally fires on all cylinders. Even if Final Fantasy 7 Remake had a horrible story -it doesn’t, but humor me ok?-, the game would still be salvageable due to the overhauled combat. Compared to the original Final Fantasy 7, Final Fantasy 7 Remake’s fighting mechanics are a great marriage of old school and newly minted game design. The game’s combat combines real-time-action and turn-based-strategy, and while this sounds like it’d feel disjointed, the action feels fluid without sacrificing the strategy elements the original is known for.
This will take a bit of explaining, but I promise that this information dump is worth it. In fluid action, each character contains a variety of light and heavy attacks, but utilizing the Action Time Battle (or ATB) gauge really kicks the combat into high gear. All the characters have an ATB gauge that fills up when attacking or blocking, and upon starting every combat encounter, the gauge begins at zero. Once earned, ATB points allow the player to slow down time and input specific commands like special attacks, spells, and items.
The ATB system works in cohesion with the real-time combat. While pausing the combat in mid-fight might seem like it’d break Final Fantasy 7 Remake’s gameplay flow, the ATB gauge functions seamlessly with the onscreen action. To use one of my combat encounters as an example: as Cloud, I charged an enemy and delivered some sword strikes to fill up my ATB gauge; I then entered ATB mode and selected a special overhead sword attack; following that, I switched to Barret and fired a charged shot at the enemy; noticing that Cloud was taking damage, I used Barret’s ATB to cast a healing spell to restore some health; switching to Tifa, I filled up her ATB gauge by punching enemies and used her “Overpower” move that then caused the baddie to stagger; becoming staggered means that the enemy is immobile and susceptible to higher amount of damage, and knowing this, I switched to Cloud and unleashed a barrage of punishing heavy attacks until my foe was vanquished. It was awesome.
The gameplay is incredibly rewarding. The player has to manage their party with tact in order to survive the onslaught of monsters, bosses, and Shinra heavyweights. While I died a lot during my 35 hour playthrough, Final Fantasy 7 Remake rarely felt frustrating, and I never believed the game was at fault for my strategic failures. Upon receiving the game over screen, I reassessed my approach to these given combat scenarios and made adjustments based on my past losses. As a result of eventually always proving victorious, the game’s challenge was surmountable even if the odds felt stacked against the player at times. Final Fantasy 7 Remake struck a good balance between being difficult and being fun, and due to this, the game is such a damn joy to play.
Admittedly, Final Fantasy 7 Remake contains a few faults. In terms of gameplay, I wish that the title would’ve emphasized experimentation in combat more. Throughout the game, the player earns new weapons and spells, but aside from a few instances, I generally stuck with the base weaponry. The title contains a similar problem that I had with God Of War 2. I didn’t feel encouraged to try out different attack styles, weapons, or spells that went outside my comfort zone. Maybe leveling up by upgrading weapons threw me off, but whatever the case, I didn’t desire to be adventurous with my gear customization.
Final Fantasy 7 Remake’s length is another issue. This game is long, almost punishingly so at about 35 hours. While I’ve played longer games than Final Fantasy 7 Remake, this title contains way too much filler to justify its runtime. Especially during sections with tacked on sidequests, the narrative momentum screeches to a dead halt so that the player can help a kid find his cats or speak to a child vendor dressed as a mouse. It’s infuriating, and during these sections, I just wished that Final Fantasy 7 Remake would move on to the better content.
The game being part 1 of a planned series only makes matters worse. Despite being a long title, Final Fantasy 7 Remake doesn’t feel complete. While I understand that the game has more story to tell, too much of Final Fantasy 7 Remake is unresolved. As someone who hadn’t played the original game, I never learned about Cloud’s trauma or why he hates Sephiroth so much. These questions are just left dangling in the air without resolution, and it’s disappointing.
Warning: Moderate Spoilers For Final Fantasy 7 Remake’s Ending Starts Here
Final Fantasy 7 Remake’s most contentious issue is its ending. In fact -and I’ll remain spoiler free here-, Final Fantasy 7 Remake’s ending comes dangerously close to cultural blasphemy. Even though the term “blasphemy” is usually reserved for those who speak sacrilegiously of specific faiths, this descriptor can be attached to Final Fantasy 7 Remake as well. The game walks the line between being creatively bold and blasphemous when compared to the beloved original. While Final Fantasy 7 Remake remains faithful to the original in many respects, Final Fantasy 7 Remake’s ending differentiates itself from the source material in some key areas and even becomes a metacommentary on the nature of video game remakes and the original Final Fantasy 7. The game isn’t content to rehash the classic 1997 game verbatim and riskely deviates from the original in order to keep knowledgeable players on their toes, using their knowledge of the game against them. In many regards, the ending is brilliant… I think.
However, these deviations only work if you’ve played the original Final Fantasy 7. Metacommentary can only function if you know the source commentary. As someone who had never played Final Fantasy 7 before, I didn’t understand the significance of what Final Fantasy 7 Remake’s ending was aiming for in its lore changes because I have little-to-no knowledge of Final Fantasy 7’s lore. To someone who hasn’t experienced the original, Final Fantasy 7 Remake’s ending is near nonsensical.
Admittedly, I first hated the ending, but after I did my own research on the meaning of Final Fantasy 7 Remake’s conclusion, I’m impressed with Square Enix’s creative decision to alter the lore. Video game remakes have two audiences: old players with major nostalgia or curious newcomers, yet Final Fantasy 7 Remake is potentially alienating to both of those target customers! At risk of infuriating old fans and confusing new ones, Final Fantasy 7 Remake makes an artistic statement, and while it’s debatable whether or not the game stuck the landing, I still respect the hell out of Square Enix’s creative decision here even though I was perplexed by the time the credits rolled.
And that’s the rub. Final Fantasy 7 Remake is a weird acid trip of a video game that’s both fun to play and a joy to experience. While it is overly long, has too many unresolved plotlines, and contains a controversial ending, Final Fantasy 7 Remake deserves to be played. The modernized battle system is great, and the story, as goofy as it is at moments, is great. I love these characters and this detail rich world, and I’m looking forward to returning to Final Fantasy 7 Remake whenever part 2 eventually releases. Let’s hope that won’t be too long of a wait.