Written by Aidan McCallion
When I was eight years old, I went to the bingo with my mum for the first time and I won twenty-five pounds. I knew that I was going to use this to buy a PlayStation game. I had never bought a game with my own money before and I was so excited.
I remember mum taking me to Letterkenny and checking the games in Tesco, the selection wasn’t huge, but the cover of Final Fantasy VII (FFVII) stood out among them. The ultra-minimalist cover art with just the title and the meteor graphic as well as the fact that it was the first time I had ever seen one of the double-sized PlayStation game cases (with three disks!) sealed the deal, so I bought it.
I lost to the first boss many times that night. The original translation makes it seem like you need to attack when you shouldn’t, and you would get counter-attacked to death. Looking back, I feel like an idiot. I got stuck so many times back then, it took me over six months just to get past disk one.
All of this is to say, The original Final Fantasy VII was a formative experience for me, It introduced me to my favourite genre of media, JRPGs and inspired my belief that games could tell stories that rivalled books, movies or TV shows. So, when I tell you how apprehensive I was about Square Enixremaking something I had such a personal connection to, hopefully now, you will understand why.
Luckily, all my fears were for nought because I can honestly say this is a true masterpiece of a game.
For those unaware FFVII tells the story of Cloud Strife, ex-SOLDIER (think fantasy SAS) as he is convinced to join AVALANCHE by his childhood friend and AVALANCHE member Tifa. AVALANCHE is an eco-terrorist group whose mission is to save the planet from having all its life force (Mako) drained by Shinra, an all-powerful energy company slash evil world government.
In this sense, FFVII Remake (FF7R) changes nothing and only grows on the foundation that was already there. The game takes place in the city of Midgar, a city built and controlled by Shinra and the largest city in the world. Originally, the Midgar section of FFVII took about five hours to complete and now with FF7R has been expanded into a 40-hour game. Expanded is the keyword, not ‘stretched’ as so many others would describe it. Never once did I feel like I had been short-changed in any way nor that the developers struggled to get a full game out of the small amount of material they had before.
For example, the opening mission of both games is the bombing of the Sector 1 Mako Reactor but where remake shines is in the aftermath of said mission. The game has you spend the next hour wandering the city after you destroy this reactor and you see the consequences of your actions. You witness people trapped in crumbling buildings and fires spreading throughout the area and it begins to dawn on you that perhaps you aren’t the hero that you always thought you were. That perhaps the ends don’t justify the means.
While this is just one example of the many ways FF7R fleshes out the plot of the original, it also does an excellent job of making the characters feel more like actual people than they ever did.
The easiest example is the three minor members of AVALANCHE:Biggs, Wedge and Jesse. In the past, they were minor characters that barely had 10 lines of dialogue between them, now they are individuals with goals, backstories, motivation and ambition. You spend a few chapters of the game early on with these three characters in a new section that was added just for FF7R and its one of my favourite parts of the game. It shows you areas and aspects of Midgar and Shinra that you just never get to see in the original and introduces one of the most fun antagonist characters that the game has to offer in Roche, A new member of SOLDIER that you encounter that makes for a very fun boss fight.
And speaking of fights, the combat system got perhaps the largest overhaul out of everything in FF7R. Gone is the old turn-based system that I loved so much and it is replaced with a new system more akin to a Devil May Cry or Bayonetta game.
A combo-based live-action system with just a hint of the old school with the inclusion of the ATB (Active Time Battle) bar, a slotted bar that builds as you attack and defend that can be used for selectable abilities and magics just like the original game. These abilities and magics are obtained from equipping Materia into your weapons and armour, a system lifted almost directly from the original FFVII and feels most like the original game. Which isn’t a bad thing considering that as far as RPG magic systems go, Materia aged incredibly well. All the equipable weapons also have individual skill trees meaning that there are no ‘best’ weapons, just very customisable character builds.
Lastly, I want to talk about the thing that impressed me most, and that’s the music. The OST for FFVII, composed by the legendary Nobuo Uematsu, has always been an absolute banger but the work that has been made in modernising all the iconic tracks and the timing of how these songs are introduced is nothing short of masterful. On top of this, the game also has 31 collectable CDs. Each containing a genre bent remix of old favourites including a hip hop version of the Chocobo theme called ‘Hip Hop de Chocobo’ that just slaps. I spent so much time just standing at a jukebox in-game listening to these that I’ve come very near to buying the nine-disk soundtrack (it costs $77.77, very funny Square Enix).
This is usually the point in a review where the line ‘that isn’t to say that this is perfect…’ would be used and honestly, it’s pretty damn close to perfect. I would have some very small nitpicks like some unfortunate texture pop-ins and some mediocre side quests but nothing that effected the joy that I felt playing this game.
I feel like this is a game that anyone can enjoy. For newcomers, it’s a chance to meet the characters and experience the world of a game that so many people loved without having to look at a game from 1997. As for veteran fans, it’s a chance to see the game you love given a beautiful overhaul and the world and characters that you love expanded magnificently.
If this doesn’t create the happy chemicals in your brain during these unfortunate times, I don’t know what will. It’s a must-buy!