"Final Fantasy VII Remake” is, despite all of the hype surrounding it and the genius of its premise, one of the games I’m most conflicted about. It lies somewhere near the midpoint between ambitious passion project and cynical cash-grab, and as a result has shades of both while being neither. It’s rare to see such a nakedly commercial game have so much soul, and this is especially unexpected from the long-awaited remake of what was already one of the most financially ambitious and universally praised games of all time.
For those who are somehow not aware of this, I’d like to make this very clear: “Final Fantasy VII Remake” is not a remake of “Final Fantasy VII” — rather, it’s an in-depth reimagining of the Midgar section, with a significantly altered storyline and gameplay more in tune with “Final Fantasy XV” or “Kingdom Hearts III” than its source material (although some elements of the Active Time Battle system return). The game is effectively split into three main types of action — linear battle stages, annoyingly overwrought cutscenes and crazy set pieces.
As is the case with most action-RPGs (although it’s actually lighter on the RPG mechanics than most AAA games are these days), “Final Fantasy VII Remake” is at its best when nothing plot-related is happening. There are “tour” sequences that feel like they go on forever and hours of unimportant dialogue, which are really the only notable “failing” of the game. Since the sole creative purpose for the game’s existence is the fleshing-out of the Midgar setting, this seems necessary, however wonkily it may have been executed. Characters that were fairly minor in the original — like Don Corneo, Hojo or the lesser members of Avalanche — are fully explored and far more memorable in this version, but the pace of events quickly turns schizophrenic when half the game is a rapid thrill ride and the other half is contemplative exposition.
“Final Fantasy VII Remake” is nowhere near as stilted as most other action-RPGs in its delivery of gameplay or narrative, but there’s a lot of space between the best parts of the game. A large portion of your time is spent walking slowly, waiting for cutscenes to end, or sidling through small spaces for the world to load in — in stark contrast to when you’re having a motorcycle duel, doing a goofy dance, or fighting for your life against a giant cybernetic house minutes later. Things rarely feel stretched out for added runtime, but these little annoyances add up over the course of 25 hours. Square has found the exact formula for an action game with the narrative scope of an RPG, and the end result, while not particularly good or bad, is simply very, very strange.
Weighed on its own merits, is “Final Fantasy VII Remake” the generation-defining masterpiece people want it to be? With the exception of the aesthetic achievement that is HD Midgar, no.
It’s certainly far above average, and I’ll never understand where all the piles of money necessary to make it and the other major Square projects this generation came from, but it’s not going to turn the world upside down. At this point it takes a gambit on the level of “Death Stranding” to do that, and to try something on that level would not only be a self-destructive move on Square’s part, but would defeat the entire purpose of the remake. RPGs exist to create worlds people can get lost in, and this remake turns Midgar from being a small part of one of those worlds into a world in itself. Midgar feels fully lived-in, from the graffiti to the vendors playing music to the lavish Shinra Building. No detail was glossed over, and I gladly take this as proof that Square Enix hasn’t lost its chops since “Final Fantasy XV.”
I just hope that the later installments in this project won’t become all-consuming, taking one of the few AAA studios with any creative vigor left down with it.
Oh, and the soundtrack is also very nice. Sometimes it’s symphonic, sometimes it’s electronic, and sometimes it’s atmospheric, but it’s always good — Nobuo Uematsu’s classic compositions lose nothing in the arrangements here present.
Gaget is a student in Fairbanks public schools, and has developed a number of free games. He is a neutral game reviewer.
If You Play
Platform: PS4, Xbox One, PC (timed PS4 exclusive)
Internet Usage (accounts for download size): 90.622 GB plus DLC
ESRB Rating: T
Release Date: April 10, 2020 (PS4)
Genre (if applicable): Action-RPG/Hack-and-Slash
Developer: Square Enix