Final Fantasy VII Remake without the nostalgia goggles: a newcomer's perspective
I don’t really have much of a relationship with Final Fantasy. That's a fairly uncommon and possibly even controversial status for someone who regularly writes for a RPG-focused site, but it’s important to make this background clear before I talk about Final Fantasy VII Remake. I’d played small amounts of a select few, but turn-based combat isn't for me and so the games didn’t really gel with me like I wanted them to.
On the other hand - and I'm aware to some this might be as controversial as having little relationship with Final Fantasy - I absolutely adored Final Fantasy XV. I loved its characters, world and the different take it had on its gameplay systems. I even platinumed the game, and its final DLC was my first ever post on RPG Site, so it’s fair to say I have an affinity for that game in particular. Even then, it’s always been my understanding that XV was an anomaly in the franchise, and I couldn’t imagine enjoying a second title in the series as much, let alone even more. After playing through Final Fantasy VII Remake to completion, however, that ended up being completely the case.
For those who have somehow avoided all the discourse on either the remake or the original, Final Fantasy VII is considered to be one of the best RPG’s of all time and a landmark achievement for the original PlayStation. It’s been the most requested game remake for about as long as I can remember, and the sort of game people who originally played it are always trying to push on those who haven’t, like me.
I was one of the people who was excited about the announcement of a Final Fantasy VII Remake, but more for other people than for myself. My feelings towards turn-based combat hadn’t changed at all, and I was still in the middle of a pretty long wait for Kingdom Hearts III, so getting on another potentially long hype train wasn’t something I wanted to do.
Once I’d seen some gameplay footage of Final Fantasy VII Remake's more action-based combat, I decided I was going to give it a proper go. It looked like a good blend of tactical and action gameplay, and I hoped to get some sort of look into why people rant and rave about the original game so much. What do I, a massive RPG fan with no connection to the original whatsoever, think after playing Final Fantasy VII Remake? Is the game really as close to a masterpiece for those without nostalgia goggles?
I think Final Fantasy VII Remake might be a rare example of lightning striking twice, and I think in this case the lightning struck twice as hard. It manages to make me feel nostalgic for a world I’ve never experienced before, and I think it and subsequent sequels could become one of the biggest events in gaming.
So yeah, Final Fantasy VII Remake really is that good.
One of the things that Final Fantasy VII does so well is how it makes its world feel lived in, and it does that successfully from the first cutscene. Midgar is incredibly well realised and absolutely packed to the brim with detail. Kids playing on rooftops, families arguing after a crisis and so much more manage to make the world feel alive. This is a claim that many games use, sure, but it’s much more fitting with something as iconic and massive as Midgar.
Of course, as is the case in every Final Fantasy game, the production values are a big part of supporting the experience and that’s definitely the case here. Cloud and other characters have visible pores on their skin for crying out loud. Oh, and the music is easily some of the best I’ve heard in a game.
The thing that really stands out to me in Final Fantasy VII Remake is its cast of characters. The four main members of the cast are all some of the most likable and fleshed out characters I’ve seen in games for quite some time. Almost every cutscene made me emote in some way or another, and to me, these characters are completely new. I didn’t go into this with any expectations of the characters, besides maybe what Kingdom Hearts and Dissidia told me, but I came away having four new characters I’ll be following for a long time.
Final Fantasy VII Remake’s biggest achievement is its gameplay, which is a big deal when you consider how well it does almost everything else. As a much more action-focused player, I didn’t really think I’d get into the materia management and using ATB but it makes combat such an interesting experience. It was much more rewarding to plan out a fight and take down the enemy with ease than it was to just randomly use spells and mash the square button. Having a naff dodge and not really being able to properly negate damage took some getting used to though.
One of the big questions I keep hearing is, “does Final Fantasy VII Remake work well for newcomers and die-hards?”. I would say absolutely it does. It is a fantastic game with or without the context of the original, but it faithfully recreates so much that I imagine fans are going mad. Importantly, to me at least, it also makes some big changes that I think will make it more exciting for everyone else.
Through osmosis, I’ve managed to gather most of the plot of the original Final Fantasy VII, and I have to say that in regards to the changes that the Remake makes, I am completely on board. I don’t think any of the changes so far are particularly egregious either, and we’re really going to have to wait for the next part to see the consequences. Think of it this way - there is absolutely no way that Square Enix could deliver the same big twists that the original did, and having a different narrative means that newcomers can enjoy things just as much as those who have played hundreds of hours of the original. All it would take is one ESRB rating describing a character getting impaled and the gig would be completely up, but now we’ve got no idea what’s coming. Isn’t that just horrendously exciting?
I’m not trying to say that Remake is perfect by any stretch of the imagination. Traversal and exploration feel a little undercooked and I can see why the big story changes are going to annoy some fans, but what the game does right eclipses any issue you might find with it. Yeah, the textures can have issues loading but when I’m getting goosebumps from the intro I don’t think it matters quite so much.
As a long term fan of another of Nomura’s wild rides, I was definitely skeptical of getting sucked into another series that could potentially go on for a long time, but Final Fantasy VII Remake makes me want to get on that ride. Because of this game, I am on that ride.