Final Fantasy 7: Remake – Brilliant, Disappointing, and Padded
23 years later and we are finally here. Square Enix released Final Fantasy 7: Remake on April 10th to the excitement of die-hard fans the world over. I was there for the initial release as a young teenager and I am here again for the remake and my excitement was through the roof. After a 40-hour binge session I can provide an in-depth review on FF7: Remake. Obligatory spoiler warning for a 23-year-old game, but I will keep them as minimal as possible.
FF7: Remake is more of a re-imagining and retelling of the fan favorite Final Fantasy. The core focus of the game are the events in Midgar with a deeper more fleshed out narrative. Square Enix created an interesting blend of action and turn based combat systems, offering a significant new game play experience. Additionally, the developers added new characters, side quests, mini games, and an enhanced musical score based on the original. However, are the changes and additions worth the price tag? Did they expand or enhance the world in meaningful ways or change too much from what fans loved for years? FF7: Remake is likely to cause some division among the fan base. So, Let’s dive in and see how the game measures up.
Breathtaking Visual Direction
The original Final Fantasy 7 was surprisingly impressive for 1997 with its pre-rendered backgrounds and 3-D battles. FF7: Remake does not quite make that level of visual impact on the industry, but the game is absolutely gorgeous none the less. The graphical design targets an aesthetic rooted in realism with plenty of fantasy elements tossed in. The facial animations of the characters are spot on and really helps you connect with the entire cast.
Moments of excitement, sadness, fear, and concern all show exceptionally in the facial expressions. Add in some exquisite voice acting and FF7: Remake becomes a truly immersive experience where you can really connect with your favorite characters.
Monster design is another beautiful representation of the graphic quality of the game. Enemies all have incredibly detailed designs with amazing animations. The developers made the perfect blend of gritty realism for the world and exceptionally animated movements to showcase the larger than life fantasy elements of the game. You would be hard pressed to find any major issues with the visual direction.
Even the background details are finely tuned in most environments. Everything feels very hand crafted and is a legitimate work of art. The last bit of praise I will throw at the visual design goes to the cinematographer. The set pieces and camera work in this game are fantastic. You will be treated to some gorgeous views of the world with excellent cinematic design.
A Masterwork Musical Score
The first thing that comes to mind regarding the soundtrack is fan service but in the best possible way. The soundtrack has a few new well-orchestrated tracks, but the majority of the soundtrack is remixed versions of the original. I cannot praise the sound track enough for its redesign, but I definitely miss a lot about the original. The boss music specifically comes to mind as many boss fights will have a version of the standard battle music.
The old boss theme is used, but the new version does not have that metal opening and I miss it extremely. The new song Hollow is the music for Sector 5 and the full version plays during the credits. It was like a craftsman’s masterwork from the legendary Nobuo Uematsu. That song hit all the right notes and fit the game so perfectly. That was by far my favorite addition to the soundtrack.
FF7: Remake added collectible tracks for the in-game jukebox, and they are creative revisions of the original soundtrack. Once again, I say it is pure fan service. They have jazzy remakes of the Wall Market theme, or a hip-hop version of the chocobo music. There are roughly 30 of these to collect and each one is a creative trip down memory lane.
If I had one criticism to level at the musical score it would be to tone it down a bit. Less is more sometimes and there are times where I feel like they did too much. The original game did a great job of setting tone and atmosphere with each piece of music. I did not get that feeling as much with the remake. The musical score overall is fantastic, but I couldn’t help but miss the original because each piece captured the moment perfectly and it just didn’t grab me the same way here.
Battle System Mechanics
FF7: Remake really changed some things up with the game play. The battle system hit a perfect blend of action and turn based design. The mechanics of the battles are really interesting and go far beyond just selecting an attack. Abilities all have their own properties with specific uses. You might need some abilities for defense, some to help stagger enemies, and others for damage. Couple that with each enemy having their own mechanics on how to defeat them and you start to get some beautifully deep game play.
Bosses are where the battle mechanics start to shine the most. Some of the fights can be a little long, but each one is unique and exciting. I had a hard time picking a favorite, but some of the fights in the at the end of the train graveyard are way up there. Also, there are a lot of boss fights in this game and many are truly epic. Minor spoiler, my compliments go to the chef that cooked up the fight with Rufus. It was so good.
Character customization is a new feature in the remake and its surprisingly solid. There is not anything groundbreaking in terms customization. The systems are super deep, but there are options to play your way. Materia will feel familiar to fans of the original with some interesting new designs. The weapon upgrades are the primary way to customize your character. It isn’t complicated but you can choose which weapon you like and focus on upgrading for more materia slots, magic power, attack power, or elemental buffs. Each weapon also comes with a unique ability you can master and then use with other weapons adding an extra layer for you to play your way.
Deep and Engaging Story
If you played the original FF7, you will feel right at home as soon as you boot up the remake. Square Enix goes the extra mile to flesh out the key moments in the narrative. They added a lot of depth to side characters like Biggs, Wedge, and Jessie. They add some new characters with interesting quirks that lighten up the atmosphere in an otherwise dark game. Many scenes play out differently than the original and I cannot say I was always a fan of the changes. This felt like another case where they tried to do too much at times. However, the main story beats are all present and executed well.
The cutscenes are all well shot, and they add plenty of depth. Sometimes you might feel like there are too many, but they are all so well done it is easy to get lost in the narrative and just enjoy them. Square Enix added a lot more in terms of foreshadowing and reveals to later events in the game. Without going into spoilers, they explain this in an interesting way at the end of the game. They strongly allude to the fact that future installments will play out very differently.
Where the Plate Falls Short…
Unfortunately, not everything about the remake is worthy of praise. There are few major issues that are disappointing. One of the common issues with Final Fantasy 13 were the use of corridors as level design. FF7 makes some similar missteps and areas like the sewers really suffer. Aesthetically many of the area designs are nice, but so many places are corridors with some artificial gimmicks to disguise the use of corridors. Moving robot arms in the sector 5 expressway, or trains in the train graveyard both cover up linearity of the level design.
Side quests in FF7: Remake are not great. Most amount to run to a location and grab a thing or defeat a monster. It has plenty of weak quests like collect the cats or find all the kids. However, the side quests are optional, and I don’t feel like they added much to my experience. You can save yourself from a bland experience and pass up the side quests unless you are going for a completionist run.
Padding is a significant issue in FF7: Remake. Square Enix deserves plenty of criticism for the final product as many aspects of the game feel like artificial padding to extend game time. Movement can be cumbersome in many areas and they overuse the “slide through tight space” mechanic that takes an eternity. This is likely to cover up load times, but it still isn’t great. Some levels seem to drag on forever for no real reason especially when the long corridors and rooms just feel reused. Additionally, some of the added areas and chapters just feel unnecessary especially when you really want the story to progress. The train tunnels immediately come to mind. Also, why was there a second trip to the sewer to fight the same boss? I mean come on!
Finally, my biggest gripe, the ending did not feel right. Full disclosure, I hated the way it ended. It felt like I was no longer playing Final Fantasy 7 and felt more like the final chapters in a Kingdom Hearts game. This is not specific to the game play mechanics. The story is a steep departure from the original in the final chapter. They throw too much at you. There was no subtlety or foreshadowing the future events of the story.
They didn’t hint at the coming event, or who Sephiroth is or what he is capable of, they saturate you in exposition and cut scenes. They designed the end as if this was the ending of a multi-part series coming to a climax rather than setting up for future installments. The ending will be divisive and controversial among the fan base without question. I hope they can right the ship in future installments.
When FF7: Remake is firing on all cylinders it’s an amazing experience. I have my complaints, but I really did enjoy my time almost they entire way through the game. The story is deep and immersive, the battle system mechanically sound, and the sound and aesthetics are truly remarkable. However, I can’t help but feel like I spent 40 hours to get somewhere should’ve been in maybe 20. Square Enix took 5 hours of game play and stretched it out to a full game.
The experience needs to be condensed. The justification was to give us more of the world of FF7, but all the extras kept me from experiencing that world. Midgar was only about 15% of the original game and it was not even the best part. I feel like they did too much focus on Midgar and would rather have the first game get us much further into the FF7 experience. I am still excited to see what comes next, but I am cautiously optimistic in how they will handle the next installment.
Despite the criticisms I leveled at FF7: Remake, I really did enjoy my time with the game. I know this because regardless of the flaws I still wanted more. There are plenty of things to refine for the next installments, but at the end of the day this was a good game for a lot of reasons.
Culture of Gaming gives Final Fantasy 7: Remake 7.5 ridiculously huge swords out of 10.
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- THE GOOD
- Musical Score and Sound Design
- Cinematography and Set Pieces
- Visual Design and Art Direction
- Battle System Mechanics
- THE BAD
- Linear Level Design
- Game Padding
- Side Quests
- The Ending