It’s been 23 years since Square Enix’s Final Fantasy franchise took the world by storm with their instalment of Final Fantasy VII. It was the game that skyrocketed the PlayStation to popularity, with people all over the world buying the original console just to take a bite out of it. And here we are, in 2020, locked down in quarantine with a remake of that very same legend.
With such high stakes, it’s easy to be nervous – for both Square Enix and the fans of the original game – but 30 hours of the pure magic that is this game will soon settle those nerves.
The remake covers just the first few hours of the original game, and explores the beginning of the story, when the protagonist Cloud Strife is acting as a mercenary for hire in the slums of Midgar. Midgar is home to Avalanche, an eco-warrior organisation who employs Cloud to help them take down Shinra, a power company heavily coded with fascism, who drain and harvest the planet for its natural resource, mako energy.
Whilst the main cast of characters navigate the extremely risk-laden job of taking down the most powerful company in the world, Cloud must also attempt to figure out the mysteries surrounding his past with Shinra, an eccentric florist he met in the street, and strange cloaked entities who seem intent on following him around.
The story being expanded was such a treat. With time and attention now to give to the big roster of characters FF VII offers, each and every one of them has the depth, development, and characterisation of every original fan’s dreams. And now, new fans who might find it difficult to connect properly to the admittedly dated 1997 instalment, can experience falling in love with the characters as the old fans did long ago. Completely and messily, no doubt. The voice acting was fantastic, particularly the performance of Cody Christian in the role of Cloud Strife – he delivered harrowing emotion at times, which is not an easy job when in the role of the (understandably, but undoubtedly) emotionally repressed mercenary.
The updated graphics are a treat, though we’ve come to expect that from Final Fantasy ever since FF X, with cutscenes so beautiful that might be hard-pressed to think the characters weren’t real people. But what really struck me about the game was the music. Easily the cleanest link between old and new, the remastered compositions were nostalgic and yet beyond anything I could have comprehended. Even if you have no desire to play the game whatsoever, I cannot recommend the score enough. It is some of the most beautiful music ever written.
The gameplay I could not fault, though it was never the be-all and end-all for me going in. That said, it was fantastic. It gives you the option to play Classic Mode, as the game was intended, favouring the turn-based nature of the old game, but also a Normal option for those who crave a bit more of a challenge. We see the return of the Materia system, and they’re far easier to get your hands on now, too.
The design of Midgar, as well as the characters and premise, are all uncannily identical and true to the original, perfectly capturing the energy of FF VII and yet, it is worth remembering going into this game that it is a remake, not a remaster. The creators did not return to each other to rehash the same thing they did in ‘97, but to create new paths, new content, and new opportunities. Which is why, going into the next episode (?) I can honestly say anything I suppose could happen is a guess. The game is a reimagining, and one that trusts the old fans will, in turn, trust the writers to create something great. After all, the old game is right there to go back to whenever you like.
To quote the first trailer from back in 2015 – ‘this reunion may bring pain, it may bring joy, but let us embrace whatever it brings.’
Final Fantasy VII Remake is undoubtedly the best Square Enix has offered since Final Fantasy X, and I, for one, will be thinking about it for years to come. It is the perfect balance of old and new, accessible to just about anyone, and explores a story that is more relevant to our world now than it has ever been… The promise has been kept.
Image obtained from Square Enix’s press kit. All rights reserved.