Joe Wojciechowski's Homepage

: Don't Mess With Me. I Used To Be In SOLDIER. Or, Final Fantasy VII Remake Thoughts

I finally beat the Final Fantasy VII Remake the other day. Here are some thoughts from someone who started with the PC version way back in 1998.

This post contains spoilers for the whole plot of Final Fantasy VII and the Remake.

Five (Times Four) Years Ago: Intro

I’ve been playing FFVII on and off for over twenty years. It was my first Final Fantasy—I never had an NES, SNES, or Playstation—and as these things go is thus my favorite Final Fantasy. It might also be my favorite game ever. I’ve never really understood the clamor for a remake; if you want to play the game, it’s available on nearly every platform released in the last fifteen years. Square Enix has also not proven to be a trustworthy steward of their own games’ legacies, in my opinion. I doubt one would find many fans who felt that the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII added rather than subtracted from the world. I’m also, as a rule, against “lore” and “extended universes” (does knowing that “Solo” is an appellation Han Solo received add to his character at all? Does actually witnessing Vincent’s exploits as a Turk deliver more weight than merely knowing he has a dark, hidden past?), so I felt that anything Square Enix would bring to the table this time would necessarily be a dilution of the message of the original, rather than an extension.

I was a little bit wrong, but mostly right. I’ll start with the improvements.

Let’s Mosey: The Good

The dynamic real-time combat with ATB interrupts absolutely works in practice and makes all of the combat engaging rather than tedious. Combat becomes a dance of switching between all of your characters to pump up ATB charge and fire off special moves, and it gets extremely hectic and works damn well. I didn’t start feeling like I had a handle on the “optimal” playstyle until basically the end of the game, which does make me want to go back and replay earlier chapters to see how much better the combat feels.

Each boss battle felt fun and unique enough to make their inclusion worthwhile, even the ones that weren’t present in the original game (except, perhaps, Eligor, which just felt like a strong normal enemy). It did get a little tiresome having boss progression cutscenes interrupt or cancel my ATB attacks, which felt like it happened ALL THE TIME.

Making every weapon unique and useful is a sensible change that also gives an actual mechanical/gameplay reason for Cloud to still be dragging around his dull-edged Buster Sword uncountable hours later.

The voices are fine. I was worried about Barret after the demo dropped, but overall I think his VO was actually my favorite of the main characters.

Midgar look amazing, even though most of the areas from the original are only recognizable by squinting. I’ve joked with friends about how every screen from the original turned into an hour of gameplay in the Remake (the collapsed expressway, for example, which was one long-ish screen between Sector 6 and Wall Market), but it does make it feel more like a real place. Aside: maybe elsewhere and later I’ll talk about my admiration for the minimalist/expressionistic design of earlier RPGs (FFVII included).

Removing the need to talk to every single NPC around by turning their flavor text into atmospheric VO as you run by is one of those logical “of course it should work this way” things.

I like anime. Final Fantasy VII Remake gets anime as hell.

While I don’t feel like I needed the additional plot, hanging out with the updated Biggs and Jessie was fun.

This Game Are Sick: The Bad

The big one: the meta-narrative involving the Whispers and breaking the fourth wall to wink at the diversion from the original plot feels wholly unnecessary. I don’t care that the changed the plot. Altering the plot to be about the concept of altering the plot from the “original” continuity adds absolutely nothing to the game. Square Enix could have simply… altered the plot. Instead, the plot is about sticking a finger in the eye of “purist” fans concerned about their favorite game being despoiled. As a fan but not a purist—as I said, I can and do still go back and play the original game—this seems like such a strange, confused choice. It’s certainly clever as an artistic statement, and it ends up working out as an effective Sixth Sense-esque reveal during the game’s bananas anime-fueled closing act, but it does not make for a better game. Frankly, it makes me a little less interested in further installments knowing that, with the shackles of plot thrown off, they’re basically acting as official Final Fantasy VII fanfiction.

I understand the need to have the Big Bad be a driving force in this, a complete game in and of itself, but there is Too Much Sephiroth here and almost no explaining happening. Players of this game don’t have the benefit of the giant lore-dump that happens in Kalm (LITERALLY right after this game ends), so all you know about Sephiroth is that he has a severe attachment to Cloud and a huge sword. It’s explained perhaps once that he wants to absorb all life on the planet to become a god. Mostly it’s Aerith handwaving that Bad Things will happen if they don’t defy Fate and defeat Sephiroth. The original game is much more effective in introducing Sephiroth as the primary villain by drip-feeding mentions throughout Midgar leading up to the twist in Shinra Tower where “he” (Jenova) murders President Shinra. Lastly, fighting Sephiroth now removes all suspense and tension in later boss fights - the player can now assume that all future fights with Sephiroth up to the very end of the Remake are simply insane plot exposition extravaganzas with no narrative tension. Sephiroth becomes a deus ex machina, using his infinite power to bend the plot to his desires.

I found targeting and the camera to be finicky, especially in boss fights with lots of adds. I ended up using the X menu to access ATB commands for the whole game, simply because I was so bad at locking on to what I wanted with the R-stick.

Hiding player-character weapons as a boss’s stealable item? What is this, 1997?

Wedge’s characterization is “fat”. Oh, and also “cats”.

I didn’t find summons that useful.

Absolutely my own fault for dancing on the edge of the knife, but I had many instances of characters getting knocked out frames before a heal hits, since the heal doesn’t actually proc until the very end of the item or spell animation. Very frustrating.

I like anime, but Final Fantasy VII Remake gets anime as hell.

There Ain’t No Gettin’ Offa This Train: Fin.

All said, I had a lot of fun playing the Remake. Plot and pacing aside, it was simply an entertaining 40 (!) hours of game with characters and locations I love. Not all of the changes were positive, but I’ll always have the old blocky Avalanche crew to hang around with elsewhere. I’m still concerned about the direction the rest of the Remake is going to take, but I’m definitely going to give it a try.

The unknown journey continues…