Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Final Fantasy 7 Remake Review: a poignant adventure from start to finish

Where do you even start when it comes to reviewing Final Fantasy 7 Remake? The original Final Fantasy VII has long been considered ‘the game’, the JRPG that caught the West’s eye and ensnared us in a series that’s transformative and thrilling. With that sort of reputation, the Final Fantasy 7 Remake is a game that’s hard to narrow down to a simple score.

A re-imagination of the original game, fans will recognize the classic, opening scenes of Midgar – a rotten pizza of a city that looks as though it floats on thin air. Aerith praying and looking up at that metallic sky, walking into the upper streets of Midgar? It’s a visual masterpiece, and even as a new fan, I was blown away at the detail of a place that, in the scheme of things, you’ll barely spend any time in in the original. The lighting, the atmosphere of the humdrum of life, and even the citizens of Midgar are all incredible. With the PS5 on the horizon, if Final Fantasy 7 Remake is to be last triple-A game I play before jumping into next-gen, I’d consider that a win.

But while the game looks amazing, I find myself interested in the story, one that is more relevant than ever. You play as Cloud Strife, a super soldier that makes Captain America look like a cuddly teddy bear, whose job at the time of playing is to help a group called AVALANCHE bomb a Mako Reactor. As you quickly come to realize, AVALANCHE is what Midgar considers to be an eco-terrorist group, whose aim is to free the planet from the corporation, The Shinra Electric Power Company. According to leader, Barret, it’s this place that’s sucking the planet dry of Mako, a substance which he calls the ‘planet’s lifeblood.’ Without Mako, the planet will die. For AVALANCHE, the answer to that is simple: stop the consumption at its heart.

Final Fantasy 7 Remake

It’s during this first mission that you’ll come across a Charlie Sheen lookalike called Biggs, as well as Jessie and Wedge, who were pretty much simple red shirts in the original, but are now fleshed out characters that’ll have you caring for them instantly. The decision to give these three some more backstory and personality is both kind and cruel, as it’s very easy to fall for the easy camaraderie between the three of them, and their relationships with bigger characters like Barret, Tifa and, of course, Cloud. Wedge’s hero-worship of Cloud is adorable, Jessie’s background is interesting and Bigg’s secret past is thrilling — it all gives them the heart that they, to be frank, lacked back in 1997.

AVALANCHE as a group is also given more of a pivotal role in a way that makes you care about the people, rather than just their ideals. Before it felt very much like a group that existed to get the plot moving, but in the Remake, it’s the people inside of this small, but a determined organization that’ll have you pumped and ready to kick some Shinra ass.

And whoo boy, does this game give you the opportunity to do just that. Combat is real-time, meaning that if you’re like me, panicking and smashing buttons just to get a hit on your enemies is definitely an option — but not advised. While I played the game on Easy, there are plenty of fights where you’ll need to use your brain and not your brawn, to take down enemies. At times you may not be equipped with the right materia, a source of power that gives characters special abilities like magic or the option to steal items from enemies, so it’s encouraged to pick and choose which you’ll need to use in a fight. Unfortunately, you don’t get to pick and choose who can ‘lead’ in combat as most times you’ll start the battle with controlling Cloud. For the most part, that’s fine, but if you spent the majority of your time buffing up Tifa like I did, because, uh, reasons, it can get pretty annoying.

Despite the difficulty hike that can occur, Final Fantasy 7 Remake is great at letting you shape a character into a certain role. Tifa quickly became my biggest damage dealer, her fists absolutely pummeling most enemies into a paste, whereas Barret, Aerith and Cloud ended up being my magic damage dealers and healers. I absolutely adored that I could do that instead of sticking to the rigid roles that were first given, and it speaks volumes for the future of Final Fantasy’s combat if the Remake is anything to go by.

It isn’t just the combat that’s bigger and better, Midgar and its Sectors are full of life. There are animals rushing around, people going about their day, news reports and music flickering in-and-out in the background. No matter where you are, Final Fantasy 7 Remake wants to give you, the player, a reminder that you’re not alone in this world, and what you do does have a ripple effect. It’s reflected in the ambient conversations of the people around you. Some will think you’re actions are evil, others just. It feels strange to hear what the average person thinks of your actions, but goes to show just how much effort has been put in to make Midgar feel alive.

As someone who hasn’t finished the original game just yet, but has completed Midgar, the difference is astounding. While the original will always hold a place in people’s hearts, it’s clear to me that this Remake really does have a modern audience in mind. As Matt Kamen spoke about in his own LGBT-centric review of this game, a lot of changes in Midgar are to do with how sexuality and gender are addressed. In Wall Market, people are more comfortable with who they are, with more than a few new characters included to add to the already colourful personality that Wall Market already had. I personally don’t have much more to add, but as a cis, white queer lady, I was very pleased that the game wasn’t a complete heteronormative mess. Though, at times it did veer into that territory.

Tetsuya Nomura

Not everything about Final Fantasy 7 is perfect, however. While everything looks beautiful and the development of characters from the main cast (and minor) are truly something to be happy about, it sometimes felt as though the writing doubled-down on a lot of negative stereotypes. While I enjoyed getting to know more about Biggs, Wedge and Jessie, the latter two felt more like they had been stereotyped into being the ‘funny, fat guy with a heart of gold’ and the ‘perky girl who doesn’t want to do anything but thirst for the main protagonist.’ The writing at least manages to subvert this a few times, especially with Jessie, but Wedge’s near-constant talk about food left me rolling my eyes a few times. Barret is also a victim of being written in a way where the stereotypes are so obvious that you’d have to buried 100 feet underground not to see it. As the only black man in the main cast, Barret stands out in how he talks, behaves, and even looks, and it’s disappointing that Final Fantasy 7 Remake decided to lean harder into the ‘Mr. T’ stereotype, rather than away from it. But don’t take my word for it, as Gita Jackson explains fans weariness of Barret’s presentation way better than I ever will.

Outside of these stereotypes and the frustrating writing at times, the main cast and story are top-notch. I’ve only got the chance to get to know Cloud, Tifa, Aerith, and Barret through this Remake, but they are all characters I’m very much invested in. I want Cloud to find happiness, and I want Tifa to be able to live her life in ease, and for Barret to go home to Marlene and, well, I just want Aerith to, you know, because I love her a lot and want her to be happy. To feel this strong about characters already, having only completed what really is just the first 5 hours of the original, is nothing short of a noteworthy achievement.

Ultimately, Final Fantasy 7 Remake is a game that, just like it’s predecessor, we’ll be talking about for years. It offers a poignant, relevant adventure up on a platter and honestly? It would be rude not to tuck right in.

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One thought on “Final Fantasy 7 Remake Review: a poignant adventure from start to finish

  • Under battle settings you can select who you start the battle with by pressing triangle on that persons name.

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