Thursday, April 30, 2020

Final Fantasy VII Remake (PS4) Review

SuperPhillip Central may not have had an explosive month when it comes to review quantity, but goodness, is the site ever ending April with a bang! It's time for my thoughts on Final Fantasy VII Remake, one of, if not THE biggest game release of the year. Here is my review.

A long-awaited reunion with one of gaming's greatest RPGs

When you think of the holy grail of video game remakes, what game do you think about? I'm talking about those classic games that would be a dream come true to see lovingly retouched and retold in such a way that they could move the coldest of gamer hearts. For a sizable generation of gamers, the holy grail was Final Fantasy VII, and for the longest time, fans clamored for a full fledged remake, especially after other remakes in the Final Fantasy series like I through IV, for instance. 2005 saw a tech demo on the PlayStation 3 that revealed what could be with remade Final Fantasy VII. It would be ten years and one PlayStation generation later that fans would finally see their fantasies realized with the announcement of Final Fantasy VII Remake. Is the game a dream come true? Well, let's mosey and find out!

Final Fantasy VII Remake is but part one of what I have to assume will be a lengthy endeavor--a retelling of 1997's Final Fantasy VII. However, take any idea of a 1:1 remake of the 1997 classic that redefined the role-playing game and throw it out the window. Final Fantasy VII Remake takes great liberties with the original story of FFVII, adding lots of fluff both story and content-wise. Final Fantasy VII Remake occurs all within the confines of Midgar, where we join a ragtag team of vigilantes known as AVALANCHE who are themselves joined by a new recruit, a mysterious mercenary named Cloud Strife. The objective is clear--bomb the Mako Reactor to stick it to the nefarious Shinra Corporation who plan on using the reactor to siphon energy directly from the planet. An eco-friendly group such as AVALANCHE doesn't take too kindly to that. 

Cloud gazes at the rather foreboding Mako Reactor.
While Midgar was but a small part of the original Final Fantasy VII and while this is but part one of a multi-game remake, by the end of this particular game you'll feel that you'll have some resolution and that a full arc of the game has been completed. Of course, you'll desperately want to know what happens next, but a lot of plot points that begin with part one of this remake due end conclusively.

Familiar encounters see new life breathed into them in this remake.
Despite the game staying in Midgar for its entire duration, Final Fantasy VII Remake offers a lot of variety in its environments and in your activities in the game. Each major story beat is contained within one of 18 chapters, usually within a special contained zone. You can guess with a structure like this that Final Fantasy VII Remake possesses makes the game a more linear affair, and you would be safe with your assumption. However, you'd be wrong in assuming that the design echoes nightmares of Final Fantasy XIII's corridor level design. There are ample opportunities to go off the beaten path, explore, and discover unique treasures and items just like in the original. 

While most chapters do have a linear structure to them, much like the game structure itself, a good handful of chapters offer myriad points of discovery and exploration. That's whether it's happening across various side quests or participating in one of this remake's engaging mini-games. The side quests may not raise the bar in quest design, offering lots of "go here, find this", "go here, kill this" type design, but the actual moments between the characters that you interact with offer such a pleasant expansion of the world of Final Fantasy VII Remake that they're worth checking out and completing. That's if the rewards for completing quests weren't satisfactory enough--which they are.

The game itself is a lengthy one, rounding out at over 35 hours my first play-through. Now, veterans of the original might find it difficult to imagine how the developers managed to stretch out a gameplay experience that took a mere five hours in the original game and multiply that sevenfold. This is where a lot of liberties were taken with this remake. Apart from stretching certain gameplay segments out to sometimes tedious effect, a great portion of the story content is brand-new. Some of it is expanded upon with brand-new characters, while more importantly, several familiar characters get a whole new lease on life with expanded characterization. The team of Biggs, Wedge, and Jessie are given a bigger role in Final Fantasy VII Remake, and comparing their portrayals now to 1997's game, you'd think they were one-dimensional in the original compared to the fully fleshed out, emotive characters in this game.

While familiar scenes get an abundance of tender, loving care and are all the better for it.
Final Fantasy VII Remake does feature plenty of padding in its 30-40 hour story, but a lot of it is enjoyable. Sure, there are far more sections where the player is forced to slowly saunter through corridor after corridor, or inch through a narrow passage far too many times, but overall, the game is a decently paced one. As a chapter-based game, you'll encounter plenty of points of no return, though thankfully you're given warning of this usually. Even still, upon beating the game you unlock Hard Mode and the ability to choose chapters to play, keeping your character's levels and various loadouts intact. Though it's disappointing that Hard Mode is locked behind beating the game, once you realize that enemies are properly scaled difficulty-wise and meant to be taken on by a party at level 35 and not a measly level 7, then you won't mind so much. Considering items are also unavailable to use in Hard Mode, it's probably--moreover decidedly--a good thing this mode is locked behind beating the game!

These Shinra security officers definitely don't get paid enough for this!
Much like the story and structure of the game, Final Fantasy VII Remake's battle system has been greatly overhauled as well. This time around the main mode of combat is all in real-time, more akin to an action-RPG like Kingdom Hearts than your typical, traditional Final Fantasy game. Combat is much more fast-paced and instant, while also providing a more-than-adequate amount of strategy as well. You need to learn how to dodge, evade, and block attacks consistently, while also healing up your party as needed. 

The Active Time Battle (or ATB) system is still in use, but in a completely different manner. As you unleash attacks, take damage, and just allow time to roll on, a gauge for each character increases. As that gauge increases, it fills one of two bars. When a bar is full, that character can use an item, spell, or ability from the Command menu, thus using up a bar. When selecting from a Command, the action on screen essentially stops dead in its tracks, or at least slows down considerably. This gives you some much needed time to breathe and formulate a strategy. 

Final Fantasy VII Remake introduces a stagger gauge to enemies and bosses. When staggered, enemies are especially susceptible and vulnerable to attacks while they're in the staggered state, allowing Cloud's party to deal and dish out some major damage. Different enemies are staggered in different ways. Some enemies have their stagger gauges rise when they're hit by a specific element of magic, while others become more easily staggered when they're in the middle of a specific attack.

Some foes will stagger more easily than others, but when they do,
it's the optimal opportunity to unleash hell on them.
You can switch between characters on the fly mid-battle with the D-Pad, and of the four playable characters in this remake--Cloud, Barret, Tifa, and Aerith--each has a play style that makes them unique from one another as well as each being of use in battle. Whereas Cloud and Tifa do heavy up-close-and-personal melee damage, Barret and Aerith excel mostly in long range attacks. 

Barret's long-range firing is fantastic for taking out foes over long distances and those in the air.
The Materia system from the original 1997 release makes its return in this remake as well. By stocking characters with Materia via weapon and armor slots they're equipped with, they can use all manner of spells and magic, as well as receive bonus abilities like increased health, magic, and more. Materia can be leveled up and mastered by earning points from defeated foes, which allows for greater versions of spells to be unleashed as the Materia levels up. It's engaging and enjoyable to experiment with Materia combinations on characters, but I couldn't help but wish there were different loadouts that I could save for various combat situations. Instead, you can only have loadouts on a per-character-basis instead of a per-weapon or just have a selection of loadouts to work from. Thankfully, when a character temporarily leaves your party, you can still change their equipment and Materia attached to them when they're gone. 

Fire (magic) in the hole!
Weapons, too, have unique properties to them, and can also be customized with skill points earned from leveling up in battle. You can use SP to increase the attack power, defense, magic attack, magic defense, speed, and more of your characters, as long as they're equipped with that weapon. In addition to basic stat upgrades, specific weapons have unique bonuses to them, offering improved debuff resistance, for example, or the ability to equip more Materia at once. There's no need to be frugal with your SP either, as earned SP goes to each weapon in your arsenal and not just the one equipped to your character--so spend away! This remake encourages experimentation pretty much at every juncture, and that continues with weapon abilities. As you continually use a weapon's ability in combat, you can master its proficiency, allowing you to use it even when that weapon is not equipped.

Ah, the Airbuster. I remember you when you were just a bucket of bolts and a smattering of polygons!
Also returning from Final Fantasy VII is that of Summons, and like many other aspects of Remake's design, these have been altered as well. Only available for use in certain battles, Summons fight alongside with you when they're called upon, allowing you to select commands for them when a given character has enough bars in their ATB gauge. Summons are invincible and otherwise automatically attack enemies in battle. Once their summoning gauge has emptied, they bid adieu with an ultra-powerful attack that erupts across the screen to deal heavy damage.

When it concerns the presentation of Final Fantasy VII Remake, it's no surprise that Square Enix delivered an uber-impressive experience. Jaw-dropping vistas abound, characters amaze with their degree of detail and superb animated quality, and effects like fire and lightning dazzle and delight. Things aren't totally perfect, however, as some textures noticeably fail to load or offer such a strikingly low quality that even someone who usually doesn't mind such things like myself couldn't help but get turned off by them a bit. Hopefully a future patch can correct this, if such a thing is possible.

Square Enix is like Jurassic Park's John Hammond when it comes to presentation.
They spare no expense, and it certainly and satisfyingly shows!
On the other side of the presentation equation, the sound performance is exquisite. The voice acting is mostly of great quality, though the dialogue sometimes doesn't do the voice actors any favors (that's not their fault, though), and the musical renditions of familiar Final Fantasy VII favorites are utterly fantastic. The completely new tunes added round out the package, and are of a pleasant sound as well, offering a well-rounded soundtrack that both pays homage and pays great respect to the original.

And, that's really the theme of Final Fantasy VII Remake. It's an exceptional game that breathes new life into the Final Fantasy VII universe while respecting a lot of what fans loved about the 1997 classic. Final Fantasy VII Remake is a Final Fantasy game for a new era. Its battle system walks a fine balance between fast-paced finger-fu and tactical strategy, its story is engaging and excites in familiar and totally brand new ways with an abundance of increased and heartfelt character interactions, and it sets out to do almost everything it intended to do. While the pacing of the game can get bogged down at times, and some technical performance problems do hinder the experience a little, they don't slight the game that largely enough to be substantial burdens. Final Fantasy VII Remake has made a believer out of me for the development team's vision for the future of the franchise. I can't wait to see where Cloud and his party venture to next.

[SPC Says: A-]

No comments: