A remake that delivers the nostalgia and yet, still surprises.
Here be spoilers…
What we like
Remakes do not bode well for creativity, this much I remember.
To return to a seminal work, thinking, how I can make this better; it speaks of hubris. It speaks of desecration. It also speaks of corporate greed, when production houses rehash a formula because it yielded success.
(Take Disney's live-action remakes of their classic animations. Last year's The Lion King was an expressionless shell of its former Oscar-winning cartoon. The Tim Burton-directed Dumbo was an uneven superficial drag that didn't do the original justice.)
There aren't many remakes (or remasters) in video games. Video games that get remade usually come with souped-up graphics (Shadow of the Colossus; Resident Evil 3). Sequels are usually the way of keeping that cash cow alive (the Mortal Kombat series; Assassin's Creed series).
Because you're appealing to players who are familiar the original game and newcomers, a remake needs to accomplish two things: one, it has to evoke that same feeling when you first played the original years ago. Two, it needs to keep the spirit of the gameplay while updating it for now.
FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE checks both boxes and so much more.
The original game was groundbreaking when it first came out in 1997. Not only was it the first Final Fantasy game for the PlayStation generation, it also introduced new battle mechanics, cinematic cutscenes (which resulted in the game's use of three discs due to the tech limitation at the time) and an expansive world for exploration. It also had a storyline about ecological issues like how the planet is dying because of corporate greed. In the 90s, we heard rumblings about global warming and what will happen if nothing is done to stem deforestation or to curb the uptick of pollution.
Now, in 2020 as the remake is released, it still resonates. In the remake, the character, Barret, leans in on what's at stake if we ignore what the corporations are doing to the planet, what will we leave behind for the next generation?
That said, the script is much better. The 1997 game suffered from a weirdly-translated script and the lack of voice acting and polygon figures with limited expressions didn't help matters. For the FFVII REMAKE, the dialogue isn't cringey (well, most of the time but that's great for a FINAL FANTASY game) and I'm surprised by the nuances of delivery.
Take this example of Cloud trying to infiltrate Don Corneo's headquarters. Cloud knows that he could pass off easily as a pretty woman but he is slightly embarrassed by it. So, when Tifa started fawning over his attire, Cloud just wants to move on and gave a reply for the ages.
It's good writing that's bolstered by a great delivery.
This remake focuses on Midgar, which was about 10 percent of the original FF7's gameplay, which means that we're looking at episodic releases of future FF7 games. This allows for the story to develop over time. Within that breadth, we see the complexity of Cloud's relationship with his childhood friend, Tifa; we explore the strangeness of the city; we're privy to the class system and lives of the denizens living in Midgar. Hell, even Barret now has more layers than a brash, loud, one-dimensional onion.
Given the immensity of the story, there are a few additions like new characters. You get to tangle with Roche, another fellow SOLDIER, or Andrea Rhodea, one of the Market Wall Trio.
Remember your Avalanche buddies, Wedge, Biggs and Jessie? They are more fleshed out. They have backstories. There's even a dedicated quest that delves into Jessie's past. Didja know what she has a theatre background? Didja know that her mom makes excellent pizzas (cowabunga, dude)? Didja know Jessie's last name is RASBERRY? I mean, it's a stupid-sounding family name but did you know that?
And the story… man, the story; while major beats of the story remain the same, the tale won't be the same…
For a remake, this instalment could have been a new video game and, in a way, it is. Remember, there's a generation who hasn't played the original version. They weren't privy to the same feelings we had when the opening scene of Midgar is presented and the FINAL FANTASY title comes into view as orchestral music crescendos.
Now they can experience that with us; all of us, alone in our room, having this beautiful shared moment.
What we didn't like
I dig the new battle system in the remake and while some gamers are clamouring for a return to the turn-based system, the game has a 'Classic Mode' for that. Although… that's a misnomer. There's nothing 'classic' about the combat. It's just action-based with your characters fighting automatically, while you select commands on a pull-down menu.
Given the action-based battle systems for the last few Final Fantasy series, there's no way, this remake would regress to a turn-based format but calling it 'Classic Mode' is just false advertising.
And I wished that my characters could jump. Jumping was field actionable in FINAL FANTASY XV, and while, the jumping action was a little janky (it shares the same 'X' button with the interact action), it made control of your character more freeing. Especially, during combat, when you can indicate when you needed to jump to attack, that felt natural.
The side quests can be, at times, tedious. Some of them don't feel like natural extensions to the narrative, which I understand because IT IS A SIDE QUEST and side quests are, by its nature, something that you can either take up or ignore. But it just diminishes my enjoyment if I had to DO ANOTHER DUMB FETCH QUEST.
And there are certain items that you cannot retrieve once you move on to the next chapter of the game, which makes it unfair. Because now the only way to do so is to START A NEW GAME and I don't have time for that; I've got a review to finish up.
Oh, and fuck Jessie's last name. "Rasberry" as a surname that's up there with "Hitler".
What to look out for
Getting all the weapons, summons and secret bosses (Pride and Joy!). There's also a cameo by Nobuo Uematsu, the composer for the game.
FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE is now out on the PS4 platform.