Retelling one of gaming’s first true Odysseys is no simple feat. Reinventing a classic while also straying away from the revered original takes a lot of balls. Clearly, the team at Square Enix had balls of steel because that’s exactly what they went ahead and did. In transforming the original turn-based Japanese Role-Playing Game (JRPG) into a modern, cinematic-driven, Action RPG, Square Enix has breathed new life into Final Fantasy VII while still preserving the magic that made the original so special.
The following will be a review for Final Fantasy VII Remake (FF7R), specifically its 2021 PlayStation 5 iteration, which has the redonkulously cluttered name: Final Fantasy VII Remake Intergrade (sigh). Better yet, if you purchase it on PS5, it will include the EPISODE INTERmission (Yuffie) DLC. But if you get the free upgrade from the PS4 version, EPISODE INTERmission is sold separately (sigh).
Catch that? No? Just read it again. Slowly this time.
For the sake of my sanity though, I’ll just refer to it as FF7R from here on out.
Beauty and the Beast
From the get-go, FF7R is a true sight to behold. From flamboyant combat sequences to delectable in-engine cinematics, all the way to its delicately handled lip-syncing (for both Japanese AND English versions of character dialogue), it’s apparent. Plenty of love and care was poured into the reimagining of this fantastical world, its beloved characters, and a timeless tale that took the gaming world by storm back in 1997.
Characters are beautifully reimagined while staying true to what made their designs unique. Cloud’s spiky hair, blue-ish green eyes, and iconic buster sword never looked out of place in the world of FF7R. Neither does Tifa’s (initially questionable) white tank top, black mini-skirt, and trademark fighting gloves get-up.
I particularly loved the tweaks to Barret’s design – which stays faithful to the original by keeping his mountainous physique and gun arm. Yet, they’ve also given him a pair of black shades that modernise his look and accentuate his character’s badassery.
I also wanted to give a special shout out to the voice acting in this game, which is excellent in both Japanese and English. Each version brings out different subtleties in the characters, but you can’t go wrong with either.
Beyond the characters, Midgar has never looked better. The mako reactors’ bright neon/fluorescent lights are juxtaposed against homey-looking, middle-class suburban neighbourhoods, complete with primly-maintained basketball courts. The slums, on the other hand, are dirty and ragged, but feel alive and lived in.
As I walked across the different parts of Midgar, I often found myself listening in on the gossip floating around town. In fact, nothing screams ‘THIS WORLD FEELS REAL’ quite like NPCs discussing conspiracy theories behind the latest terrorist attacks. Even the menus and UI are generously easy on the eyes.
The immersion in combat is some of the best I’ve ever seen in gaming, and calling upon Final Fantasy’s trademark Summons to assist in combat regularly feels like nothing more than an excuse to just ogle at these visual spectacles.
Lay The Smack Down
Speaking of combat, FF7R is way more than just a pretty face. Just like our leading ladies Tifa and Aerith, underneath that beautiful exterior lies a robust combat system that packs a devastating punch.
Combat in this game is an absolute joy, providing plenty of challenge and nous with a smartly designed system that takes inspiration from the original’s turn-based roots. For example, the game combines snappy timing and combo-driven fighting mechanics with ATB meters that charge over time. Once charged, the player can open the Abilities menu, which brings the combat into slo-mo, thus allowing players a pseudo-turn-based menu from which to activate characters’ Abilities, use Items or cast Spells at the cost of charged ATB gauges.
Each character feels completely different to play, and you can freely switch between any of the three active party members in combat. Where Barret and Aerith focus primarily on ranged attacks with gunplay and spellcasting, Cloud and Tifa depend on getting up close and personal with enemies. Very few things in gaming feel quite as satisfying as Tifa chaining a string of combos to single-handedly stagger and take down massive enemies.
In action, the free-flowing combat feels like doing the tango with enemies, where I found myself often swiftly gliding between characters to attack, dodge, block, and then crushing enemies with flashy abilities. Better yet, if you’re looking for a purer action game feel, you can also map Abilities to L1, which allows each character to execute up to 4 Abilities without having to bring the dancing to a halt.
Make Your Own Magic
This beautiful combat is partnered with upgrade systems that feel extremely rewarding and satisfying. Throughout your journey, you’ll sometimes come across item boxes or shops that contain new weapons for your party members. Each weapon has its own upgrade tree and comes with a new Ability for that character.
Through using the new moves in combat, that character gains proficiency and ultimately unlocks that move permanently. Acquiring new weapons, therefore, was a lot like an ongoing treasure hunt – I found myself exploring the world to seek out new toys, just so I could get more cool things to play with in subsequent fights.
FF7R also reinvents the original’s unique materia system. Essentially, spells and specific abilities in this game are harnessed in science-magic orbs (materia) that give their wielders powers. These orbs level up through usage and are transferable between characters. By the end of my near 35 hour-or-so adventure, I frequently found myself mixing and matching materia, weapons and character abilities to execute devastating combos on enemies. And by the time the credits rolled, I simply wanted more.
The devs know they landed on a special recipe with these systems, as is apparent in how the game unlocks numerous combat challenges towards the latter half of the adventure. There’s even a Hard Mode for subsequent playthroughs for those who seek an even meatier combat challenge.
The Greatest Show
Underlined by the breathtaking score of Final Fantasy veteran, Nobuo Uematsu, FF7R tells a heartfelt story speckled with intimate moments, memorable characters, and touches of humour and poignancy that left me marvelling at the beauty of the entire piece. Accompanying you on your journey is a side quest to collect music for the Midgar’s many jukeboxes, which is a neat touch for a series so widely celebrated for its musical masterclass.
I won’t spoil too much here, but the story and music round off one hell of a journey that has stuck around in my mind (and heart), long after the credits have rolled.
Power of the PS5
As for PS5-specific upgrades, there are several noteworthy things to mention. Firstly, load times are near-instant (which is fantastic). Secondly, the game’s sleek combat feels right at home, with the PS5 holding a steady 60fps throughout.
Unfortunately, while there was some effort to make use of Dualsense’s haptic feedback and triggers, as felt when revving the engine in the motorcycle sections, there isn’t really anything noteworthy otherwise. This is a little disappointing, but far from a dealbreaker.
I do also feel the need to point out some downsides, despite all the glowing praise. FF7R has some very blatant loading walls and tunnels, which are evidence of its PS4 legacy. And while vastly improved over the PS4 version, you still get some weird PS2-era polygon textures on some assets, such as the flowers found in a garden in Sector 5.
Also, many side quests aren’t really fun on their own and simply add bloat and padding to get some extra hours out of players. These bits felt tacked on, perhaps due to development work being handled by a separate team earlier on in the dev cycle. While these sections are technically optional, many fun toys are hidden behind completing boring, mundane tasks like running around the slums looking for a little girl’s lost cats. And as Cloud aptly puts it during the mission, “this sucks”.
With the base game already reaching for the stars on so many fronts, the Yuffie DLC takes the game one step closer to seventh heaven.
The DLC features a short, but impactful story (about 4 hours) that runs in parallel with the main campaign (re)introducing us to the (fan-favourite) spunky teenage ninja materia hunter from Wutai, Yuffie Kisaragi, and her ward Sonon Kusakabe.
Everything that works well in the base game is elevated to another level here. An example? Do yourself a favour and take a moment to check out Yuffie’s awesome reimagined theme ‘Descendant of Shinobi – Battle Edit’, and let that sink in.
While the music is exceptional, the brightest star here is none other than the phenomenal combat. Yuffie’s lightning-quick, ninjutsu-style fighting marries a delicious concoction of close-and-long range moves with unique combo attacks alongside the game’s first non-playable supporting character, Sonon.
Although not directly controllable, Sonon can be remotely commanded to dish out supporting strikes at will. But I was most impressed by the immaculately designed combo moves where Sonon actively supports Yuffie in unleashing powerful and elegant combination strikes. Unlike AI-controlled NPCs in most games, fighting with Sonon feels like having a true partner-in-crime at your side.
Also packaged into the 7-hour INTERmission experience are some side missions (similar to the base game), new combat challenges (for Yuffie and Sonon to dish out some pain), and, in the true spirit of Final Fantasy, a delightful deck-building mini-game in the form of Fort Condor. Fort Condor battles are played out on an adorable, Auto Chess-style board, and the game packs some surprising depth. While it might not be to everyone’s tastes, as someone who thoroughly enjoyed hours of Tetra Master in Final Fantasy IX, I feel like this is an excellent addition to the overall package.
Overall, the Yuffie DLC provides more of what made the base game great in abundance while priming us for her inevitable appearance alongside the rest of our heroes in Remake Part 2 (let’s hope I didn’t just jinx this game).
While it may not be a first-party game, FF7R feels right at home on the triple-A story-driven action blockbuster gaming machine that is Sony’s PlayStation. Wrapping up this journey with our heroes was incredibly bittersweet as FF7R left me with numerous moments of joy, tears, and awe. But knowing that “The Unknown Journey Will Continue” has left me eagerly anticipating the road ahead. Hopefully this time around, we won’t have to wait another lifetime.
Oh, and one last thing, while the game is branded as a remake of the 1997 original and certainly pays homage to long-time fans with references and easter eggs, FF7R is a fantastic entry-point to the series that encapsulates the essence of this 30+-year-old franchise for both new and returning customers.
Screenshots taken on a PlayStation 5. Additional visuals courtesy of Square Enix.
*Article has been updated with a change to a visual.