As Cloud disembarks from a train and arrives in the slums of Midgar early on in Final Fantasy 7 Remake, I pan the camera up and see the mighty top plate looming up above. This diverse city made of metal that serves as the backdrop to the entire game already feels so much bigger than it ever did, and I have to take a moment to soak it all in. After admiring the impressive vista, I begin to walk through the slums' streets, bustling with life. People are every which way you look, talking about the events that just transpired, and having run-of-the-mill conversations with one another. You gain a window into the residents' lives immediately, and it makes your first proper introduction to Midgar feel like a living and breathing world from the get-go.
Release date: April 10, 2020
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Final Fantasy 7 Remake really lives up to its "Remake" title. It truly is a reinterpretation of the classic 1997 release in every sense of the word. Meticulously rebuilt, Final Fantasy 7 Remake succeeds at hitting the difficult balance between staying faithful to the original story and introducing elements that make it feel so fresh and new. Playing the Remake is like returning to a place I once knew and reuniting with old friends I haven't seen in years, but everything is so much more impressively detailed and fleshed out than I remember it. As someone who played the original in my formative years, plenty of moments bring a big goofy grin to my face and make plenty of feelings swirl around my heart, but there's so much here for newcomers to enjoy too. As a loving reimagining of the original that delivers a new experience that's wholly its own, it's a spectacularly entertaining introduction to the world of Final Fantasy 7 for modern audiences.
One of the main ways the Remake manages to feel new is with its combat system. You now fight in real-time as opposed to the turn-based setup of the original, which makes it feel more action-oriented and fast-paced. Right from the start, you're thrown straight into the heat of battle as you attempt to infiltrate a reactor in the all-famous bombing mission. You jump straight into combat against some of the corporation's security officers as Cloud, a mercenary who's enlisted to help the underground resistance group Avalanche deliver a blow to the Shinra energy company, which is causing harm to the planet.
While the combat feels very new, it does still borrow from some of the classic combat features. These include the command menu that lets you choose when to perform spells and abilities and use various items in battle, as well as the ATB gauge that fills up as you fight and dictates when you use your special moves. Every member of the team you fight with has their own particular strengths and weaknesses, which adds to the tactical element of every fight. Likewise, all the varying foes you face will have their own particular weakness you can exploit.
The variety of combat styles you can take advantage of helps prevent the fighting from ever feeling too stale, which is aided by your ability to switch between characters at will. Whether it's delivering a swift uppercut punch with Tifa who excels in close quarters combat, popping a barrage of bullets into an enemy high up off the ground with heavy-weight tank Barret, or delivering a finishing hacking blow with Cloud's Buster Sword, the combat is satisfyingly varied. And what's more, it's so rewarding to be in command of how the battle plays out and to see a particularly tough enemy get taken down because of your tactical choices.
And when I say tough enemies, I mean it. The boss battles in the Remake present a real challenge. You'll have your work cut out trying to take down some of the big bad foes, and every single one will test your ability to adapt to its special moves and fighting habits and press you to work out how you can best use each character's unique abilities to your advantage. Your tactical approach extends to the equipment you have in your arsenal too. As iconic as Cloud's Buster Sword is, every character is able to equip different weapons that each have a unique ability. Their proficiency in that ability will develop the more you use that weapon, so it's useful to try out all kinds of weapons to learn new abilities to use in battle.
Outside combat, the story and the way in which the Remake brings its famous characters back is easily its biggest strength and fills the experience with so much humour and heart-felt moments. These are still the characters you may know, but we get to see more sides to them this time. Because of the episodic nature of the Remake, the first portion of the original game has been massively expanded upon, so you see more of the city of Midgar and the characters than ever before. Between all of the action and fighting, the quiet moments you share with the characters are what stand out the most for me. You spend so much more time with Cloud, Barrett, Tifa, and Aerith, and you even get more acquainted with the other members that make up Avalanche.
Leading man Cloud, with his somewhat aloof personality, is more multifaceted and relatable in the Remake. You see new sides to him that make this effortlessly cool protagonist feel more human and approachable. The same goes for pretty much every main character you fight with. In certain chapters, as you get the chance to explore different parts of Midgar, you'll be spending more time with particular members of the team. From walking around the slums with Tifa, for example, to exploring another sector with Aerith, you see more and more of each character's personality shine through as the story progresses, which adds so much more depth to the story throughout, and helps you become emotionally invested. The ragtag members of Avalanche also get a lot more screen time, so you really feel like you come to know Jessie, Wedge, and Biggs very well. Everyone is so fleshed out, and being given the time to get more acquainted with the cast makes the experience and the events that unfold all the more poignant and affecting.
Work of a merc
Throughout the events of the story, every now and then you'll come across a chapter that offers you a little down time to do some side quests. As a mercenary who will help anyone if the price is right, Cloud takes on tasks given by the residents of Midgar. Most of the odd jobs involve doing rather menial tasks that aren't particularly too exciting. One, for example, has you heading out to clear out a pesky group of Doomrats that have been bothering the local shopkeeper, while another sees you searching for a little girl's lost cats. While the latter is quite humorous, none of the side quests are ever too thrilling.
Still, I can see what the game is trying to do by including these side missions. As an unknown merc in the city, doing these odd jobs helps build up Cloud's reputation and can even lead to some perks. The addition of these quests also acts to serve as another way to get to know the different inhabitants of the city, and reinforces the living, breathing feel of the setting. While I didn't enjoy these side quests as much as the main story, there aren't that many to do, meaning they never really get in the way of the action. You can even choose to bypass some of the side quests entirely and continue the story, but the game does reward you for putting in the effort.
Final Fantasy 7 Remake is a spectacle from start to finish. You can tell how much care has been taken to bring this story back to life for modern audiences. As a retelling of a classic with plenty of surprises in store, the Remake offers engaging experiences for longtime fans and newcomers alike. Its action-packed combat, engrossing story, and gorgeously detailed setting successfully reminds you why Final Fantasy 7 is beloved by so many.