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Final Fantasy VII Remake Review (PS4)

Final Fantasy VII Remake Review (PS4)

Well, here we are. The time has finally come to review Final Fantasy VII Remake, and it’s surreal. We vividly remember the official announcement from Sony’s E3 2015 press conference, and that trailer still gives us goosebumps. But now that we’ve played it, is this the remake of an RPG classic we’ve always wanted?

Unfortunately, there is no clear answer to that question. If you are a big fan of the original version of Final Fantasy VII, this remake will certainly excite you. Seeing its iconic characters and the memorable city of Midgar rendered in full 3D can make you cringe in fear, and for the most part, it’s clear that a lot of love has gone into this project.

However, Final Fantasy VII Remake struggles to live up to the gigantic expectations that have been placed on it. It’s easy to say that any game would crumble under such pressure, but sometimes Remake doesn’t do itself any favors. Much like Final Fantasy XV, bits and pieces feel somewhat confusing or wrong, and it’s these moments that hold back an otherwise very exciting return to the world of Final Fantasy VII.

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But let’s start with the facts. The Final Fantasy VII Remake is not a complete remake of Final Fantasy VII. It only covers the Midgar portion of the adventure, the opening eight hours or so of the original release, but the entire story arc is greatly expanded upon. In that sense, this is just the first game in Square Enix’s Final Fantasy VII Remake “series”… despite the fact that the name doesn’t indicate it.

Right now we don’t know when the next installment will arrive, but for what it’s worth, we think Remake feels like a complete game. No, it doesn’t cover the entire story of Final Fantasy VII, it’s not even close, but Square Enix has made it feel like its own. It has a beginning, a middle and an end, and going through it will take you at least 25 or 30 hours or so. 35 to 40 if you want to see and do everything the launch has to offer.

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Things start out exactly as in the original. Cloud Strife, an antisocial mercenary for hire, fights alongside the eco-warrior organization Avalanche, as the group tries to bring down Shinra, the corrupt power company that rules with an iron fist. The overarching conflict between Avalanche and Shinra that fans will remember remains intact throughout, but certain plot points are explored in much more detail, while other entirely new scenarios have slipped into the existing narrative.

Many of these fresh ideas bring welcome nuances to what was once a fairly straightforward story, but without spoiling anything, this isn’t an exact replica of the 1997 classic. Changes have been made, and while we think it’s ultimately more interesting to see Remake try something different, there are specific options that will inevitably be at the center of the debate in the coming weeks.

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The result of all this is a retelling that is obviously familiar, but still manages to surprise. The quality of the main story scenes is fantastic, and while the writing is undeniably cheesy, the dialogue is endearing, and delivered with charm. The main cast – Cloud, Barrett, Tifa, and Aerith – are all pretty perfect, even if there are too many anime-style groans and sighs for our liking.

Regardless, the narrative of the main campaign is very enjoyable, bolstered by certain cutscenes that simply surprised us, and the additional beats only serve to enrich the experience. Square Enix could have easily screwed everything up, but as it stands, it feels like the plot has been given the respect it deserves. That said, the story probably won’t resonate as well if you’re new to Final Fantasy VII. There are times when the narrative relies heavily on nostalgia, presenting characters, scenes, or concepts in ways that will seem totally alien if you find yourself in this situation completely blind.

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Still, it’s one **** of a ride. We find ourselves questioning the pacing of the plot from time to time, but the game makes up for any long stretches with its later chapters. The final third of the release is clearly a cut above, and it’s relentlessly entertaining.

Sadly, it’s not all Shinra’s break-up goodness for our spiky-haired hero. “This sucks,” says Cloud, as he searches for lost cats in a Midgar slum. You’re right, Cloud, it sucks… why are we doing this? That’s a question you’ll ask yourself more than once as you go through Remake’s largely uninspired side quests. These optional objectives appear every time Cloud and company arrive at a new settlement, and finishing them gives you a great reward, such as rare material or equipment. Thankfully, there aren’t many tasks to perform, there are only about 20 throughout the entire game, and they usually don’t take long to complete, but unless they include a boss fight, they’re pretty bland.

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And this is where Final Fantasy VII Remake falters; features a really puzzling design. For example, the number of times you have to squeeze through a gap in a wall, or crawl under some rubble, or slowly, slowly edge across a suspended plank of wood at the edges of the skit. You climb as many identical stairs. Not all of these forced moves can mask a loading screen, right?

You hope not anyway, since Final Fantasy VII Remake is blatantly linear. A small number of outdoor environments are literally just corridors to run through. No battles, no cutscenes, no interactivity whatsoever…just hold your staff until something triggers. To be clear, the vast majority of the game isn’t like that… there are usually some branching paths with treasure chests, and combat encounters are fairly common… but the difference in quality of level design can be surprising.

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Speaking of quality, Remake has some of the best visuals on PlayStation 4, hands down. Well, at main story points, at least. The first bombardment at the beginning of the game, for example, is impressive. Exploring the slums of Sector 5, not so much. For whatever reason, Remake has a serious problem with ambient textures. You might not notice it while running through an area, but the problem is very, very hard to miss when you’re chatting with NPCs, or sitting in a cutscene.

The textures can be so bad that we honestly think it was due to some kind of bug. But no, that’s what the game looks like. Even on PS4 Pro, on a 4K TV, the surfaces can look awful, like they didn’t load properly. We’re talking about PS2-level fidelity, and this boggles the mind. Again, Remake is a very linear adventure, so it’s hard to imagine how it ended up like this when the PS4 has so many great open world games. We can only hope that this number is corrected.

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Fortunately for Final Fantasy VII Remake, many of its (mostly) minor flaws are forgotten when you’re basking in the heat of battle. Its combat system fuses free movement and one-button combos with menus and tactical timing commands. At first it may take you a little while to understand how it all works, but when it clicks, it’s magic. In a way, this resembles the evolution of Final Fantasy’s signature Active Time Battle system, which gives players more direct control over the game while maintaining the strategic advantage that turn-based combat allows.

You control one character at a time, as competent AI handles your allies, and you can switch freely with the d-pad. Each combatant has their own feel for him: Cloud is agile, but his massive sword packs a hefty punch when blocking and countering an incoming blow. Barrett is slow but devastating in range of him thanks to his weapon arm. Tifa is lightning fast, but she needs to chain single attacks to deal maximum damage. They’re all easy to handle, but there’s surprising depth when it comes to harnessing the potential of each party member.

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Combat is undoubtedly one of Remake’s greatest strengths. Hitting weaknesses with elemental spells, landing a last-second heal, or staggering your opponent with a perfectly timed assault is immensely satisfying, and in the game’s best encounters, it all comes together to show what an excellent system it is. The boss fights in particular are extraordinary; They deliver jaw-dropping spectacle as well as intense tactical combat over and over again.

In fact, the Remake can be quite tricky. There are a number of encounters that require caution and a good understanding of the many tools at your disposal, but if you run into trouble, you can always switch to easy at any time. There’s also the oddly named “classic” mode, which has your party move around and perform basic attacks automatically as you dole out commands. Although, interestingly, the “classic” mode does not stick to the default difficulty. Instead, it drops the difficulty to “easy,” which seems a bit of a shame for those who want a more spin-based feel, but don’t want to lessen the overall challenge. More options would be nice.

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Tying combat is a character progression, which is also a highlight. Final Fantasy VII’s masterful matter system is still in place, allowing you to fully customize your party’s abilities. Matter Orbs are found throughout the game, and when slotted into your gear, they can provide you with stat boosts or give characters access to magic. And in Remake, some materials can even alter the actions of the game. For example, “Death Dodge” allows you to make a sweeping melee attack after making a roll. Playing with matter and creating powerful combinations is still a lot of fun.

And then there’s the new weapon upgrade system. In Remake, each character gets a number of weapons, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. Some weapons promote physical attacks, with upgrades that boost strength. Others focus on upgrades based on matter, allowing you to place additional orbs. The end result is that this new system gives you the freedom to create your own group. You can transform Cloud into the main magic user of the gang with the right sword, or you can increase Tifa’s speed to the point where his attack seems endless. Upgrade trees aren’t huge, but they do have a noticeable effect on the way you play, and branching can quickly become addictive.

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Final Fantasy VII Remake’s combat and the systems that support it hold the whole experience together, especially when you’re chasing down side quests and don’t have the quality of the main story to keep you engaged. But there is another component that acts like glue, and that is the soundtrack. In short, the music in Remake is excellent. Many of the themes and melodies from the original are here, but all have been brilliantly and beautifully reworked.