By Julia Capelli and Wil Peterson
(Reviewed on PS4 Pro)
Please Note: If this is your first time with the Lonely Outlet, WELCOME! We hope you enjoy your stay. We would just like to mention that the way we review things is a little different to most other websites. As opposed to striving for near-objectivity, we’ve turned things on their head and go for an incredibly subjective approach… SO subjective in fact, that large portions of our reviews can tend to focus on personal stories and experiences of the reviewers, sometimes (if not often) only marginally related to the topic at hand. The Lonely Outlet is a fiction-based “entertainment” website/magazine and the whole idea revolves around storytelling first and foremost, using pop culture and “reviews” as a medium. We do still actually review the ‘thing’, however, so you can learn about the title by reading it. Alternatively, shortly after this posting, we also put up an “Objective Outlet” article, which aims to give a near-objective point-by-point overview of the game and what to expect. If you purely wish to determine if this game is for you and whether you should spend your hard-earned bucks on it, we recommend checking that article out!
Good evening everybody! Remakes are a funny thing aren’t they? Ever the cause of much discussion and debate, derision and uncertainty. We feel that, generally speaking, remakes are intended to introduce a new audience, or a new age of people to a much-loved property. At the same time, there will always be the old fans who are interested in how it compares with the original. As such, we feel that a remake, especially of something as iconic and beloved as Final Fantasy VII, should be reviewed by two people, where possible. One who has played the original and has much experience with it, as well as one who has never played it and has relatively few expectations or biases.
We have also taken extreme care to avoid almost all spoilers – if there is anything small revealed, it can be experienced within the first couple of hours, so won’t be detrimental to the overall experience.
“Experienced Review” by Julia Capelli:
TL;DR: “Overall, a good game with beautiful visuals, a great main story and fun gameplay that’s hindered by the significant amount of padding, pointless side quests and questionable changes to the original.”
I still remember the first time that I saw a commercial for the original Final Fantasy VII… It was, as it always is here in Durénnmørk, a dark, dreary day, the temperature something like -28°C. Probably a bit warmer than usual. The heater in our tiny apartment was running non-stop. It was a lonely Sunday and Dave and I had resigned ourselves to another day of doing little more than lying on the sofa, in front of the TV. I had completed all of my ongoing feature-articles for the newspaper, and felt I deserved a little time over the weekend to indulge in my couch potato ways… Keep in mind that this was a number of years before we joined the Lonely Outlet crew, so I didn’t have access to the wealth of material that I do now. I enjoyed video games, but prior to that point I hadn’t played all that many story-focused titles. I was a Sega Genesis girl and ended up spending much of my time with Sonic, Earthworm Jim, and a variety of Japanese Schmups. Fun stuff, but hardly high-class literature in video-game form. Of course, there were more story-based titles like Phantasy Star, Shadowrun, and so on available for the Genesis, but remember, at this point in time Durénnmørk didn’t get all of the titles that were released elsewhere around the world. Back to that day – the ad for FFVII came on, advertising the revolutionary cinematics, the great story, the hours upon hours of gameplay! I was mesmerised. “Where had this thing been all my life?” I knew that I had to play it. On something called a ‘PlayStation’? That thing cost an arm and a leg at the time. And so, without droning too much, the very next day, after work, I walked into the local games store and hobbled away with one less arm, one less leg, but with one PlayStation and a copy of Final Fantasy VII.
It may seem strange – to buy an expensive console, just for one game, without doing any research first. Based solely on a single advertisement! It is strange, but here, where there is little to look forward to, where the day-to-day grind kills more than it helps, impulse purchases are common. Even incredibly expensive ones. Luckily, I never regretted this one.
I shan’t recount my experiences (at least not now) with the original game, needless to say that I loved it. It was, and remains, one of my favourite games of all time. One of my most cherished experiences. Sure, I can look at it now, with my older, more critical eye and find many flaws and issues that I overlooked at the time, but nothing will ever take away those exciting, carefree days, playing through Final Fantasy in a dark, quiet room. Dave rarely got a chance to use the TV that week.
And so, dear reader, we come to the Final Fantasy VII Remake. A much requested, much anticipated title by many… and I’ll be honest, I was not really one of them… It’s not that I didn’t like the idea of an upgraded FFVII, but… I just didn’t see the need. Yes, the original’s graphics have dated considerably, but it’s still intrinsically, a great game! Even if you’re put off by the blocky bodies and lack of voice acting, if you take the time to give it a shot, you’ll still find something special. I suppose I’m just generally sceptical about remakes… of any kind. Look how well they tend to turn out for movies. The fact that Square Enix announced that it would also introduce new, original elements, change the gameplay entirely AND to top things off, release the ‘full story’ episodically… things didn’t look promising.
BUT, here at the Lonely Outlet, we give anything and everything a fair shot. I was more than happy to cast aside all of my preconceived notions and, like anyone who may try the original for the first time, “give it a shot”. A fair shot.
So, now that I’ve actually had the opportunity to play the game, what say I? It’s good! But, it’s not without some, what I would consider fairly significant flaws… not to mention some worrying elements for the future of the game/series/saga – what the heck do I even call it now? Let’s work our way through, in Lonely Outlet fashion. i.e. Slow, verbose and meandering.
The game is, in equal parts both stunning and ugly. At times one of the best looking PS4 games out there and at others, a bland, odd looking concoction. The characters, the environments, the overall attention to detail is top-notch. The cutscenes are of course, exceedingly attractive, as well as mostly well scripted and acted (with only a little anime-style cheesiness). It feels cinematic, but in a different way to the original. There are some small graphical issues worth noting. On more than one occasion, there were poorly formed textures and pop-in which didn’t really detract much, but were noticeable. More glaring was the look of most minor NPCs (usually from side quests and stores). Obviously, a lot of time and effort has gone into making Cloud and co. look great, but not as much attention was given to less significant characters. Considering that you still might deal with characters outside of the main cast for large amounts of time (depending on how much you ‘explore’ and how many side quests you attempt), it’s disappointing that they’re so unattractive. All of these points are still somewhat excusable though, as, once you get into the flow of things, most will likely not even give them a second glance. Worse are the, at times, samey environments. Every place is, by itself rather nice, but once you’ve seen a couple of industrial settings, you’ve kind of seen them all. There is some diversity in look, but due to the fact that the whole game only takes place in Midgar, you’re not going to get the variety of environments that the original had to offer.
Upon starting the game, you’re greeted by a beautiful (though slightly changed) recreation of the original’s introductory section. For anyone who has played FVII (and liked it), this will naturally make you feel incredibly warm and fuzzy inside. In some ways, it is nostalgia at its finest. This sensation persists, depending on how you feel about the gameplay (I’ll get to it) throughout the first hour or so, where things stick fairly close to the original. While some of the intermediate ‘maps’ are different, all of the important stuff is there and if anything, improves upon them. Once you get to Seventh Heaven, however, things start to differ and the story begins to deviate from the first game. There are good things and bad things to this. Even though I probably would have preferred a more faithful remake, personally, it was still nice that there were story elements and characters that were unexpected and new. I was never sure exactly what was going to happen, even though I am very familiar with the main plot. At the same time, there most certainly is a lot of padding. Remember, the original Midgar section of the game (which the remake follows) is only about five hours long (I have however, heard some people say that they took closer to ten). Some of the extra sections are good. The greater focus on Jessie, Biggs and Wedge, for example, was particularly well done and made me care for them more than I ever have before. The additional main-cast interactions are fantastic and really help you feel attached to the characters. At the same time, there are large sections (hours at a time) that really add nothing of substance. I mean, they’re not terrible, by any means – I wouldn’t even say that they’re necessarily boring, but there was really no need for them to be present. They added nothing to the overall story, characters, or world. I wasn’t left with anything afterwards.
Then, you have the side quests… They were, on the whole, terrible. In my opinion, side quests really only work if they’re handled in one of two ways. Either, they actually add to the story, characters, or world, OR they’re so… trivial that you can complete them without really trying. Things that you can complete during the course of your main story missions. Side quests should be an avenue for helping us learn and understand more about the world, or explore areas that we may not have otherwise. For us to become more immersed, not to merely waste time.
Unfortunately, this game’s side material don’t fall into either of these categories and instead provide you with pretty boring tasks that can break up the flow of the main story. Of course, these are optional and there aren’t too many of them, but it is disappointing that they went with this direction. Using an early side quest as an example, whilst in the Sector 7 slums, I was tasked with fetching three… cats, for a little girl. Fun? Admittedly, this stuff is rarely (if ever) very hard, nor is any one quest too time consuming on its own, but clearly they, once again, don’t serve any purpose beyond filling up time.
Speaking of time, this is not a particularly long game, at least as far as JRPGs go. If you skip all of the side content, you can probably finish in around 25-30 hours. To complete all of the side content it will likely take a bit over 40 hours (I took about 38 hours for my playthrough and completed almost everything). Certainly, it’s still a respectable length, and close to the size of the (full) original FFVII. But it falls into an odd position in my mind. Ignoring most of the side stuff, the game falls on the slightly shorter side of things, but it still feels rather padded. And, it begs the question, why bother splitting this game up? I personally would have preferred the exclusion of the pointless additions and waiting, even another year or so, for a more complete package, without the game needing to be segmented as it has been. Other RPGs like the Witcher 3 and Persona 5 are significantly longer games and they managed to release as single products. Of course, we all know the real reason why Square Enix is splitting things up, but I think it’s safe to say that the argument that “the full story couldn’t feasibly be released as a single game” holds little water.
At the same time, the game is kind of long, or at least long-winded when you think about it… This is a “remake” of a part of a game that originally only took five hours to complete. So, the length has, at the very least, been quintupled. This would be more permissible if the game was perhaps, more open-world. Of course, the original only became more open once you left Midgar! The Remake is, unfortunately, incredibly linear. And linear is fine. Linear can be good! But, like Final Fantasy XIII before it, I think it is perhaps a little too linear for its own good (though, to be fair, it is worlds above XIII, both in how it tackles linearity and story). There are some more open sections, however none of these are particularly big and there’s a fairly limited amount of things to see or do. Levels tend to feel like long corridors with little in the way of exploration or choice. Again, it is better than how XIII handled things – we don’t just have never-ending floating straight paths here! The levels do have the slight illusion of openness, and the places do feel more fully realised. But, once you’ve gone through a few chapters, you start to discover that all you ever have to do (other than in the small, open-area diversions) is move forward. Even more disappointing, there are the occasional side paths that you can go down, but ultimately they lead nowhere. There’s rarely even chests, destructible Shinra crates, or other collectibles! Just pointless emptiness (much like our existence). I’m sure die-hard fans will still gawp and marvel at the graphics and the fact that they’re actually navigating a fully-3D Midgar, but I think many may start to grow weary.
It must be said that despite all of these shortcomings, during my time, the game never once felt dull or too monotonous. Even though it is very linear, even though there are sections which seem to add little to the overall story, I still enjoyed almost every minute. This is one of those magical experiences that has many flaws, yet still manages to provide an exhilarating experience! While I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it surpasses the original, it certainly does capture at least some of that je ne sais quoi that reverberated throughout that first game.
The music is, of course perfect. If you love the original soundtrack, you’ll love this one. Honestly no complaints or criticisms there.
The story is, for the most part the same as the original Midgar section. Or I should say, it contains most of the same story beats. However, as mentioned earlier, there are many new tales interwoven, to help flesh things out. Some things work, others come across purely as a way to increase length, but overall, there’s still enough quality new stuff there that even a fan who knows Final Fantasy VII inside and out will find something to enjoy. There is one massive elephant in the room though, and that is the ending. I did not like the ending at all! Without giving any spoilers, I felt it was poorly written, convoluted the plot and generally just changes way too much. Of course, I wasn’t expecting exactly the same ending as the original Midgar section, I mean, we want the game to still stand on its own without the need for a big ‘To be Continued’ plastered across the screen (though they basically did that anyway), but here, too much is left unanswered. Too many elements from the original classic are suddenly, inextricably altered and not for the better. Again, I really want to avoid spoilers, so I can’t talk about specifics, but I honestly doubt that many fans of the original will be particularly pleased with how the last 20 minutes pan out. The ending feels like something straight out of Kingdom Hearts or Final Fantasy XIII-2. I will say that due to some of the changes it makes, or at least suggests, I have a strong feeling that future instalments could stray even further from the source material and eventually what made the original so great. At times, it feels more closely connected to Advent Children than it necessarily does the first title. I just hope that we don’t end up with a Kingdom Hearts deal, where ten years from now, we’ll finally get “Remake 3” and even then it doesn’t really finish things off. Final Fantasy VII-2 ReDirge 0.877: A momentary Re;Birth Advent /3 Core Days, here we come! Was all of this enough to turn me off the game or ongoing series entirely? No way! But it did leave an ever so slightly aspartic taste in my mouth. By the end of it all, the game certainly feels more like a ‘reboot’, or rather a ‘reimagining’ than a straight up remake. I guess there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with that, but it’ll be interesting to see what other changes they make in the future
I have left the gameplay for last – mostly because I feel rather ambivalent towards it in general. If you’ve given the recent Demo a try, you’ll mostly know what to expect. I’m a purist, I wanted the more traditional turn-based gameplay of old. But, the new action based style actually works very well. It’s not a pure action game, and the way it handles spells and abilities feels more like a traditional RPG, which I loved. However, the actual action gameplay side of things can be a little clunky. When it works, it just works and feels great and is surprisingly tactical. You can rarely just go into a battle and purely mash square. But when there are a multitude of enemies on screen, it does become a little awkward and the camera does not always work as you’d like.
The game is not particularly difficult (on ‘Normal’), at least I didn’t think so. ‘Hard’ mode (as well as a ‘Chapter Select’) does unlock once you complete the game, but I haven’t tried that out yet. There is the occasional battle that will prove more troublesome, but none that I ever found to be much of an obstacle. I have read a number of people found it more difficult so, and I think this goes without saying, your mileage may vary. If I had to compare it to anything, I’d say that the battle system reminds me of a cross between FFXV, Lightning Returns: FFXIII and Kingdom Hearts. One insignificant nit-pick – you can’t jump. I want to jump dammit. Give me that privilege!
Ultimately, despite my quibbles, Final Fantasy VII Remake is still a good game, but that’s mostly due to the merits of the original. Is it perfect? Definitely not. Does it fully recapture the magic of that first FFVII experience? No. But it does succeed in making me excited for the series (again). The original story is still there and as good as ever, though it is, in my opinion, terribly padded, when it never needed to be. The excuse that the remake would not be able to fit into a single release is simply unfounded. Take away much of the unnecessary filler and you have a relatively short game – still worth a purchase, certainly – that should have been packaged with the rest of the story. Will this be a Hobbit situation? Quite probably – I liked An Unexpected Journey, and it all went downhill from there! I don’t know how the Remake sequels will be, but I can’t wait to find out!
Turn the page for Wil’s “Newcomer’s Review”!
Final Fantasy VII Remake comes out on April 10 for the PS4.
Dear Reader, thank you for making it this far! We would like to remind you that all opinions expressed above are purely our own, based on our own experiences with the game. They are not objective facts and as such, your sentiments may be completely different – and that’s fine! That’s great even! If you’re still interested in this title, we recommend checking it out for yourself and forming your own thoughts. Already played the game? Let us know down below. Do you agree with us? Disagree? Got any questions? We respond to every message and want to foster a sense of community here. Remember, you’re among friends!
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