“Newcomer’s Review” by Wil Peterson:
TL;DR: “A really fun experience with a fantastic story and brilliant characters, that is only let down by a few small points including its rather confusing ending.”
Final Fantasy VII was always one of those games that I wanted to play, but for one reason or another never did. When it first released and money was relatively scarce, I opted for a Nintendo 64 in lieu of a PlayStation. As time went on, video game graphics improved and looking back at VII, I was always somewhat deterred by the dated look. There were always other, newer games that I had to play, either by assignment, or just by choice. As a result, despite my intention and despite the urging of others, I ended up being the only member of the Lonely Outlet team not to have played the classic RPG. Come 2015 – the announcement of the Remake at E3. “This was it!” I told myself. “This was the way to play it”. Perhaps putting off the original for all these years was actually a blessing in disguise. I was aware that, despite the ‘remake’ title, it was in fact only going to be one part of the full story. Considering that there was a wealth of other FFVII material to draw from like Advent Children, Crisis Core, Dirge of Cerberus and so on, this didn’t really bother or concern me, as it had others. In my mind, this certainly sounded like it could well be the ultimate way to experience the full saga. Jump forward to last week – Wednesday. As you may have heard, Final Fantasy VII Remake was released early to Australia and parts of Europe. Even more surprising was that Durénnmørk was one of the lucky few places to get early copies. I can still barely believe it! This dark, unknown place that nobody really cares about. The place that is notorious for always getting releases late, somehow, managed to nab early copies.
There was one small issue, however. Something that has recently affected many all around the world. COVID-19. We are currently under state-wide lockdowns here, only allowed to leave our houses when in need of essential supplies (luckily, no toilet paper shortages here). Julia and I would normally have used the same copy to review the game, but of course, as we are all stuck in our homes and can’t meet in person during these trying times, that wasn’t an option. So, last week, on the day of release, I decided to venture out into the cold, dark, never-ending night and stock up on some supplies. A few bottles of milk, a loaf of bread, maybe a salt-fish or two and a copy of Final Fantasy VII Remake. Luckily, the local supermarket also stocks new-release games, next to the DVDs and magazines. Returning home, game in hand, fish in mouth, I started a wild week of near constant gaming, finally catching up on all these VII experiences that I had heard so much about. But in HD!
Not having played the game before, I had no emotional attachment whatsoever and no real expectations. I can’t compare anything to the original game, so I’ll be discussing this as a standalone product. First of all, the graphics are a phenomenon! But I imagine that you’ve seen the trailers, or some screenshots. You know that the game looks good. And it looks great throughout! I personally didn’t experience some of the texture issues, or at least I didn’t notice them, that Julia had, however it is true that some of the NPC faces are a little low-res. Considering how beautiful the world is, and how well animated the main story scenes are, I hardly think many people will care too much. That’s certainly not an excuse, but it’s a pretty small detail in the overall scheme of things.
Gameplay was solid, though as they went the action-RPG route, I probably would have preferred a more pure action game, in the style of Nier Automata or something. It wasn’t bad, but after some time with it, I started to find that almost every battle played out the same, with little variation, or challenge. Certainly, if you never make use of blocking, dodging or elemental weaknesses, it will be harder, but for those who learn the system early on, nothing will be too difficult. It mostly feels good, but after around ten hours, it did start to become more like a means to an end, as opposed to a particularly enjoyable way to spend time. You can change things up a bit with the small variety of weapons, summons and Materia, and some moments can be very cool, but I can’t help but feel like there’s not that much substance to it. Unlike more traditional RPG systems where you control multiple characters, each in turn, and take advantage of each person’s special abilities, here you only control one character at a time and change at will. You can give ‘commands’ to others, but the frenetic nature of some battles makes this slow and impractical. With a tap of the D-Pad you can swap to another character, and while I liked trying out the various moves and play-styles on offer, it didn’t prove to be quite as satisfying as I’d hoped. I think the problem is, you need to micro manage everyone at the same time and don’t always have enough time to consider things fully. I hoped that as you played as one character, and the others continued to fight automatically, that their ATB gauge would increase at roughly the same rate (as if you were controlling them). Not so. It does rise, but at a snail’s pace, so you’ll almost always need to swap again and build it up if you want to make use of their abilities. If their ATB gauge increases so slowly, you’d imagine that they at least wouldn’t suffer much damage, when you’re not playing as them, but this is also not the case. It seems that they lose health about as quickly as you do, so it can be frustrating to keep track of everyone at once. I would have hoped that I could fight as one guy, then, when I used up my ATB stuff, or was temporarily immobilised by an enemy, I could quickly swap to my other guy, and fight with them, without needing to worry about the first guy. Or I could position one guy in front of a particularly large enemy, then, when they’re distracted, use the other guy to go around to their back and catch them off-guard. To me, this would add a greater tactical side, as I could constantly change characters when it suited, and depending on the situation. These shortcomings are not immediately noticeable, especially when you lack a variety of Materia. In the introductory sections, you do need to swap constantly to make use of spells that only one guy has, but after a couple of hours, by which point you’re already swimming in Gil and can afford quality Materia for all, it starts to lose its ‘magic’ ha ha. I found that, beyond the want to play as a different character, I rarely needed to change from Cloud. And while it may not be the most efficient way, you really can win most battles without ever using your special abilities, or spells, which surely takes away much of the strategy. Just make sure to ‘Attack, Block, Dodge – Attack, Block, Dodge’. But hey – what do I know about game design?
I think the story is, in this case, one of the most important aspects, and probably the thing most people are interested in hearing about. I liked it. A lot. A lot more than I necessarily expected. Of course, I know that this ‘remake’ only takes a relatively short section of the original and elongates it into a full-fledged title, but honestly, if I hadn’t been told, I really wouldn’t have known, for the most part. There are a couple of sections that tend to stretch on a tad too long for their own good, but I rarely felt like something was out of place, or just stretched out for the sake of padding. Upon discussing this with Julia, I did reflect on certain sections and I guess once I thought about it, I did realise that some parts really didn’t actually contribute anything important. Nothing particularly new was added, in the way of major story beats, or character development and I guess it didn’t really need to be there. BUT, and a resounding but it is – I would never have noticed it if I wasn’t told. To me, it didn’t really feel like filler. I think the reason it worked is largely due to the characters, and the general sense that you get of Midgar. All of these little parts, whether they’re particularly salient or not, made me feel more immersed in this world. It gave Midgar size and scope that I doubt it would have had otherwise. Additionally, the character interactions really make this a gem. The characters, even the ever-stone-faced Cloud are wonderful. Throughout my time in Midgar, in the slums, in facilities, during missions, characters are constantly interacting, talking to each other, and you do get a good sense of comradery between them. If anything, I’d say that these small, rather insignificant moments, this idle chatter, is what really made the game for me. Sure, the visuals are nice, the gameplay can be fun and the overall story is well written (if a little heavy handed), but the characters and their interactions elevated the whole experience so much.
The game does have flaws, but I ended up being so enraptured, so drawn in that they really didn’t hinder my experience to any significant degree.
The only major issue I had was with the ending, but a different one to Julia. Again, as I haven’t played the original game, I had no idea what was going to happen and no real expectations. So I didn’t really care if they changed things up. However, the way they executed it, felt rushed. It seemed to add more elements than necessary and honestly made me rather confused about certain characters and plot points. What could have been a fine conclusion to the first part of a now ongoing saga, just convoluted the situation… this shouldn’t be a case of Kingdom Hearts. Please, try to tie up most loose ends, don’t create even more. I suspect that they wanted to leave some mysteries unsolved and keep players interested for ‘Part 2’, but this probably wasn’t the best way to do it.
Overall, I liked the Final Fantasy VII Remake a lot. If this is indicative of the original’s quality, I can certainly see why it’s so beloved. With any game, there are issues and this is no exception, but I felt that most can be ignored (or are simply not noticeable), unless you’re specifically looking for them. The battle system is not perfect, but enjoyable enough for the most part. The story and especially the characters are exceptional though and despite a poor ending, I’m definitely looking forward to what the future holds.
All the best,
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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