As someone who’s a big fan of JRPGs, I’ve played my share of Final Fantasy games (and firmly hold that Final Fantasy VIII is the best). The most famous Final Fantasy is probably VII, it spawned sequel games, prequel games, and a CGI movie. Its opening scene was used as a tech demo for the PS3 back in 2005 which prompted off rumors of remakes and remastering. The remake did finally happen last year, albeit only the first chunk of the game, with the rest of the (admittedly huge) game being released in installments to come. I mention all this because I finally started playing it recently.
I have an odd relationship with Final Fantasy VII, probably because I went about experiencing it in the entirely wrong order. I watched the sequel movie, Advent Children, first, and thoroughly enjoyed its borderline inscrutable plot with flashy fight scenes. I picked up Crisis Core, the prequel game, a year or two later and thought it was pretty neat (and definitely illuminated some of the plot for Advent Children). A couple years after that, in 2009, I finally played the original Final Fantasy VII and definitely enjoyed it. Bits of the story was spoiled for me by the other media I’d gotten first, but the game was still a blast and, sure, I’d be on board for a remake.
The remake is, simply titled, Final Fantasy VII: Remake, because that’s what it is: a straight-up remake of the original game. It’s not trying to be the original game: the turn-based combat that was a hallmark of classic JRPGs has been dispensed with in favor of a more active combat system like that of Kingdom Heart, the old-fashioned fixed camera is replaced with a contemporary third-person one. It plays like a very different game from the original that came out in ’97.
But games also look very different from where they were twenty-four years ago. The RPG genre itself has undergone a massive shift too, with western RPGs becoming more prominent and its integration with the Action genre making the line between the two blurred. The latest entry in the Final Fantasy series, XV, was very action-forward with its combat, while still keeping classic Final Fantasy hallmarks like its magic systems and leveling up. The Remake needed to get with the times, or risk feeling as out of date as Kingdom Hearts III.
Remarkably, Remake pulls it off. I’m only a few hours into it, but I’m enjoying it a lot. Exploring Midgard is neat and the city feels alive. Combat is an intriguing blend of action with a menu mechanic while using a redone ATB meter to keep the Limits from the original. Most interestingly, the Materia system for magic and abilities remains almost in-tact from the original, with the player still being able to level them up through battle. It’s remarkable that, for all the changes from the original, it feels so much like the original.
That’s what Remake does so well: capturing what it was like to play the original game while playing a modern one. Running around as Cloud doing side quests and fighting dragons with direct control over him isn’t like the original, but it certainly feels like Final Fantasy VII. Square Enix knows how revered the original game is and it’s trying to make a new version of it that lives up to the original. Cloud’s iconic Buster Sword is his starting weapon, but a new weapon leveling system means it’ll be viable throughout the game (instead of being eclipsed by a stronger one later on), so you can run around looking the platonic ideal of Cloud as long as you want. The game is a remake, and quite explicitly so, but it feels like what you remember Final Fantasy VII to be.
I’ve heard that there are some sizable deviations from the original plot, with even the deviations themselves being plot points. I’m curious how the game progresses as I get further, especially since rather than it being one big game Remake is going to be broken down into installments. In any case, at the end of the day, I’m a sucker for these games, and getting to beat up bad guys with a six -foot long broadsword is always a delight.