It isn’t often a game comes along that you sit and play with a smile on your face the whole time. Final Fantasy 7 is one of those games.
When the Final Fantasy 7 Remake was announced I had mixed feelings. Final Fantasy VII is, without doubt, one of the very first games I fell in love with, and as a Brit, I don’t use that word very often. In the decades since the original first released, I have completed it multiple times and I own it on every console I currently own. My excitement and expectations were both set to high.
The reason I start with this in a review of a new game is to emphasise one point, and one point only – the bar was set very high for this game. I am a fan of the original first and foremost, and this recent fascination with remakes and remasters can worry me as much as the next guy. I wanted this to be good – but in a way that stays true to one of the most amazing games of any generation.
So, it is with great satisfaction and relief that I can say – believe the hype. Square Enix has hit it out the park, updating and recreating Final Fantasy 7 for a modern audience. Putting it simply, FF7R is pure joy to play from start to finish, with a fleshed-out story that includes relevant and meaningful additions that all serve to stretch the initial opening Midgar sequence into a fully fleshed out Final Fantasy game.
If you’ve played the demo or seen the trailers, you will know that FF7R starts in the same way, with our spiky-haired protagonist Cloud Strife making a rather showy entrance as he jumps from the roof of a train to begin his assault on Mako Reactor 1. This is the first of many iconic moments that have been recreated for a modern audience, and if you are coming with the hope of spotting as many nods and references as possible, you won’t be disappointed.
Instantly the graphics shine, and it is a strange sensation seeing something that has lived in my imagination brought in to such sharp focus. One of the many joys of the original FF7 was filling in some of the blanks that the limitations of the hardware at the time created, and FF7R fills in those blanks and then some. The opening cinematic sets out to prove that point, as it immediately switches to a playable sequence without any noticeable transition.
If you’ve played the demo then you’ll know how the opening plays out. Cloud, once a member an elite guard known as SOLDIER but now a mercenary for hire helps Avalanche in their assault on Mako Reactor 1.
With me so far? As with any Final Fantasy game, it does come with a lot of new names and ideas, but FF7R does a great job of keeping you in the loop. By retelling the original story Square Enix cater to old and new fans alike – keeping the main beats of the original but told in a new way, adding more information and relevance, fleshing out the nuances of a story that is over 20 years old. Seeing minor members of Avalanche Biggs, Wedge and Jessie with more to do is a welcome addition, which adds emotional depth and connection to characters who were little more than bit players in the original, and it is here that Remake shines.
Square Enix has realised this, and the opening chapters work hard to solidify this emotional connection. FF7R has a fully voiced cast and, overlooking the odd joke that doesn’t quite land, they flesh out the characters in meaningful ways. Without going into any spoilers, an additional mission with Jessie early on socks this home, adding background information that just wasn’t there before while at the same time giving more weight to her story.
As with most JRPGs, managing items and upgrades is an important part of getting the most from FF7R. Materia, the crystallised orbs of Mako that when slotted into equipment grant you magical abilities, makes a triumphant return here. Just as you level up your characters with experience earned during battles, you also earn AP which levels up your equipped Materia giving access to new and more powerful spells and abilities. Equipped Materia is visible and glows on weapons outside of battle, which I also thought was a nice little touch.
Levelling up is done through battle, and it is here that some of the biggest changes have been made. Instead of relying on a more turn-based system, FF7R takes a more action-orientated approach. At first, I was a little unsure of this change, but once I got the hang of switching up my abilities and using my party to the best of my ability I enjoyed this approach.
During battle you take control of your main character, attacking with the Square button. As time passes a gauge will fill, which can be sped up by landing successful attacks. Filling this gauge gives you access to the use of your spells and abilities, and time slows to a crawl as you peruse the pop-up menu, trying to decide on the best approach to each battle. It does take a little getting used to, but once you get the hang of it the system works well, and using your abilities and switching between the members in your party on the fly is done with ease.
Battles make for a stunning spectacle. Magic has now become a feast for the eyes as flames swirl around your target, landing with a satisfying sizzle. Summons make a return and, once summoned, will fight alongside you on the battlefield, dealing additional damage for the limited time they appear. Square Enix has made a great job of making the rewards from each battle worth it, and I found myself going out of my way to look for fights to level up my characters and materia so that they were as powerful as possible.
It is not just characters and materia that can be upgraded, with weapons now having cores that give you access to new abilities and making you stronger as you progress. This makes weapons much more meaningful than they once were, and I found I would revisit weapons I had abandoned earlier once I had upgraded them, boosting my strength or adding additional Materia slots to help me with later enemies and bosses.
Luckily I enjoyed the many hours of tinkering with weapons and equipment as I tried to find my most powerful build, but for some, this might be a turn-off. FF7R is equal parts swinging an oversized sword at enemies as it is scrolling through menus and scrutinising stats to ensure you are ready for whatever lies around the next corner.
In a time when Remasters and Remakes are the new norms, Final Fantasy 7 Remake is a truly great example of what can be done when a game is lovingly reinvented. FF7R takes what was loved about the original and extends and expands upon its many parts. While these additions might not be for everyone, there was rarely a minute that I played that I didn’t sit with a smile on my face. Square Enix has created a game that walks a fine balance between a nostalgic trip down memory lane and exciting and fun to play, and as a huge fan of the original, I say that with a massive sigh of relief.
My only nag is that I now have to wait for Part 2 before I can continue the story.
Final Fantasy 7 Remake PS4 Review
Overall - Must Buy - 9.5/10
Although not quite the groundbreaking title upon which it is based, Final Fantasy 7 Remake comes awfully close. Updated visuals, story and combat all combine into a package that is sure to keep veterans and newcomers happy, including a few teases at what is to come in the next one. A joy from start to finish.
- Updated story adds depth, and gives extra motivation to characters who didn’t have it before.
- Gorgeous to look at, with numerous nods and references to the original game
- Combat is fast and fluid, and although not the ATB of the original many aspects such as levelling up Materia make a welcome return
- The wait is over for Part 1 but now begins for Part 2.
Reviewed using base PS4.