Review: Final Fantasy VII Remake (PS4)

Platforms:

  • PlayStation 4

Platform/Hardware Used:

  • PSN Download
  • PS4 Pro
  • 4K HDR

Extras:

  • DualShock 4 Required (1)
  • Move None
Title: Final Fantasy VII Remake
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PSN (85.86 GB)
Release Date: April 10, 2020
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix
Original MSRP: $59.99 (USD)
ESRB Rating: T
A code for the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Gameplay:
The wait for the Final Fantasy VII Remake dates back to well before it was announced at E3 in 2015. After all, Square Enix has been teasing us with concept artwork and animation since long before that. But until that fateful announcement five years ago, it was all just rumor.

Then came the announcement that this remake would be the first installment of a series, and that this initial title would only cover the Midgar section of Final Fantasy VII (a section of the initial game that originally only takes about five hours to complete). So, how in the hell could this remake be taking so long to complete?

Over two dozen hours into the game (and still not near the end), I realized the reason: this is more than just a shot-by-shot remake. It’s a hell of a remake. It’s a deep dive; a “director’s cut beyond all cuts”; it’s the novel version of a movie we watched years ago, and it’s absolutely brilliant.

But it’s that comparison to a novel version of a movie that I’ll dwell on for a second. I would never think of devaluing the work that was put into the original Final Fantasy VII game in the 90s. I was there, day one, waiting outside of Electronic Boutique. I called my professors and told them I wouldn’t be in class that day and didn’t come out of my dorm except to cross notes with my best friend on our progress.

No, Final Fantasy VII is not my favorite in the series (that’s actually VI), but it is absolutely in my top three. It also has some of the most memorable characters for me.

So back to the “novel” comparison. Back then, we saw these characters from a high angle (most of the time) in their low-poly iterations. We didn’t hear them speak, and were only treated to high-poly pre-rendered cinematics during important parts of the story. Sounds like this would be a better comparison to a novel, wouldn’t it?

Except in a novel, I’ve always felt like I gotten to spend more time with the characters, learned their inner thoughts, and truly invested in the world around them. That’s how this remake felt to me.

Back then, I was observing this little movie from far away. I was raised on pixel graphics, so a lot of the “animation” was going on in my head. But still, it wasn’t until I played this remake that I realized how much of an observer I was back then, compared to “living” the story now.

A large part of that is how masterfully Square Enix brought Midgar and its inhabitance to life: this includes our favorite Avalanche group. But, they also did this with so much absolute respect for the source material that fans of the original would still pick up on the small nuances (like NPCs audibly saying lines from the original game).

But the reason my excerpt reads “Life in Midgar” is because the city of Midgar has been brought to life. It has exponentially exploded with life. Not only human life, but methodically and architecturally relevant life. I don’t want to go into details because I feel that even these small details could ruin a reaction a veteran might have when experiencing these things for themselves. Needless to say, you will never look at Midgar the same again. And you will appreciate how “titanic” those plates are. I mean you rarely got to look at the sky in the original. So, take that as a hint.

But that “novel” comparison also comes into play when it comes to our favorite cast of characters. Look, it’s not that voiceover work and fancy graphics are needed to tell a story. Hell no. Again, I was raised watching Locke profess his love to Celes in my mind (Final Fantasy VI). And it was glorious.

This is more a comparison to how much more time we get to spend with these characters and how much their lives and personalities are expanded due to this section of the game being written into a thirty-forty-hour piece. So, it was like getting to experience it all again, but right next to old friends, instead of watching from afar. It will make the full story feel like an entire lifetime with them, when this series is completed.

Final Fantasy VII Remake is fairly linear in its exposition, but it does allow for some non-linear exploration. After you’ve spent some time in sections of the game, you are allowed to explore areas of the cities and take on some side quests (that I recommend taking). It’s during these sidequests and exploration moments that you truly feel the city comes to life. NPCs chat amongst themselves and even react to situations that have just taken place, including your participation in quests and their outcomes. And while some of the lines do repeat frequently, you still get a sense of a living universe, where every NPC has a life and dream of their own.

If you haven’t played the freely-available demo on the PlayStation store, combat is a hybrid of action and traditional turn-based, with you pressing the square button to attack in an effort to fill your limit gauge (from the old games) in order to cast spells or use abilities. There is a “Classic” option that is more akin to the classic turn-based mode, but it still has the characters attacking on their own.

At any point, you can press the cross button to pause the action, allowing you to process the battlefield and make decisions based on your situation.

But don’t be fooled by the action component of the game being an indicator of a more hack-n-slash nature for a game whose roots were planted as an RPG. FFVII Remake is still an RPG, and leveling and raising your characters is still very much a part of your gameplay. Materia is crucial here, as equipping it and using it in combat allows the orbs to level and provide you with stronger spells and abilities.

Additionally, your weapons also receive SP and you can customize their strengths via a submenu. For example, you can add attack power to your swords, or add materia slots to allow for more orbs to be placed, thus affording you more spells and skills.

This was a little confusing initially, because I would buy a new weapon and it was almost always weaker than what I had been using for hours. I basically had to level attributes of the newer weapon in order for it to overtake the previous one. But plan on swapping your arsenal from time to time, because often a sword will have a cool ability that comes in handy, regardless of it being an older model.

There is a formulaic approach to this initial part of the remake, where you walk from one area to another, open up some side quests, and move on to the next story component. But it’s also a game based on the most linear aspect of Final Fantasy VII, so this is not really a bad thing, particularly considering how much has been expanded upon via this remake.

Visuals:
It’s scary to think that I watched Final Fantasy Advent Children a few days prior to playing this game, and the visuals for real-time gaming have caught up to a movie that was only possible via renders on a powerful computer.

Lower Midgar has been realized in ways that makes me glad that this remake was done now, and not a few years ago in the PlayStation 3 era.

While our lead cast gets the most attention to visual detail, even the NPCs look great here, holding up to anything but the most close-up shots.

But it’s the environments that really come to life thanks to that added detail and expansion of existing locations; wait until you see Wall Market. I seriously spent about thirty minutes just walking around to take it all in. Midgar slums might be the least interesting place to live in the city, but it was brought to life in such a way that I wouldn’t mind spending some time there.

Animations are also at the top of the game, with the main cast lip sync matching the English dialogue I chose to stick with. Characters are beautifully animated, and done so both in and out of cinematics, making the fluid transition between both smooth and effortless.

Audio:
Despite being thrilled with seeing these characters come to life, I half expected the dialogue to match the Advent Children movie, with dialogue that often didn’t make sense or was portrayed with confusing emphasis or pacing.

Fortunately, Square Enix did not allow the same treatment of the dialogue here, not in the way it was written or portrayed. What results is a performance of these characters (in English no less) that evokes emotion and depth. Gone are the poorly translated lines that only resonate with anime fans that are used to the strange pauses and broken dialogue associated with poor translation. Instead we get some fantastic performances that make for emotional (and even some very comedic) moments rarely seen in audibly translated games.

If you were part of the fanbase for the original game, then the update to the musical score will blow your ears into a nostalgic ecstasy. There were even some electronic pieces in the original – that were a little annoying to me personally – that have been redone in a way that sounds more orchestral and epic as a result. Then there’s the Wall Market music, which I will not detail here. But if you are keeping free of spoilers, there are some great moments in the “expression of music” that will surprise. Again, it’s something to do with that “bringing Midgar to life.”

Online/Multiplayer:
This game is single-player only with no online component.

Conclusion:
I’ve met a handful of people who have decided to skip this game because, “It’s not the full game.” That said, these same people watched (and enjoyed) the latest Hobbit movies. Never mind whether or not you enjoyed those three movies, something similar is happening here. Final Fantasy VII Remake is a fully realized game. It’s thirty to forty hours long (depending on the time you spend exploring or doing side quests). I can finish the original game in under forty hours, and I felt this retelling of the first section satisfied the time I normally spend on a sixty dollar RPG.

Even if I never get the remaining chapters, I can now load up the original game and play past Midgar with a new set of internal personalities, voices and visuals to imagine this story told as it has been with the Remake.

However, when (and if) we ever get the remaining story told in future iterations, it will be the most epic retelling in gaming history, and I’m glad to have been a part of this first chapter.

Score:

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

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