Well, this is potentially going to end up as my most ambitious (and risky) article to date. You see, I’ve recently finished the Final Fantasy VII Remake and had been planning on writing about my experience with the game. However, in light of various comments and discussion threads that are taking place online, I wanted to do something a little different.
As such, I am going to write my most in-depth review to date, covering my opinions of Final Fantasy VII Remake in general, but also comparing it to the original Final Fantasy VII.
Naturally, a massive spoiler warning is in place for this article, so if you haven’t finished Final Fantasy VII Remake yet, please go and do that first. Do NOT spoil this game for yourself.
Now, there have been a lot of people online saying it isn’t as good as the original Final Fantasy VII, complaining about a number of things, but predominantly the following;
- The Remake is shorter than the original.
- The story isn’t as good as the original.
That said, there is one thing that is really important to remember when you decide to compare Final Fantasy VII Remake to the original game; what we have of the Remake so far is just part 1, limited to the Midgar storyline section – it is not the full game. Therefore, in order to ensure that I am comparing like for like, I will be reviewing the FInal Fantasy VII Remake against its counterpart section in the original game. That means that I can give a much more accurate review of what we have so far.
To clarify; I will be reviewing and comparing the Final Fantasy VII Remake with just the Midgar section of the original Final Fantasy VII.
With all of that in mind, I am going to do my best to be objective in this article, which is probably made easier by the fact that Final Fantasy VII isn’t my favourite in the series. There are some legitimate complaints that I have for the Remake, but I will preface this review with the fact that I think the Remake’s version of the Midgar story is better than the original’s. Let’s see why, shall we?
I do have a small number of complaints with the game, specifically in terms of gameplay.
The biggest issue I have is when it comes to Limit Breaks. Understandably, they take a long time to build up and, therefore, you cannot use them very easily. All of that is fine and in keeping with the original game. This issue, however, is that due to the new combat system, it is entirely possible for your Limit Break to miss! I have it happen on a number of occasions, where I would active a Limit Break and the character in question would do their initial animation. By the time that animation had ended, the enemy had jumped away, meaning that I used my Limit Break attack on thin air.
This can be extremely infuriating, especially since it takes so long to build up the Limit Break gauge.
Due to the difficulty in carrying out Limit Breaks, it would have made more sense if the enemy AI and animations were paused when a Limit Break is activated, meaning that they do not move away and you do not miss.
Gameplay and Storyline
When you first start up Final Fantasy VII Remake, you’ll find that the initial opening video is almost identical, except that we get establishing shots of life in Midgar rather than just a view of the stars. From there, the bombing mission that has become so memorable starts. You even fight against two Shinra grunts immediately after you start moving around. The opening is basically the same, which is great as it eases you into the new game through familiarity.
From there, the major difference that’ll you notice pretty quickly is the increase scale of the area. From the station, there was just one actual screen with a short camera animation part way through before you get to the bridge outside of the reactor. In the Final Fantasy VII Remake, you make your way through a number of different industrial areas that all look absolutely amazing! In fact, even getting out of the train station is bigger, since you have an area to fight in before leaving, rather than just a single door transition. What took all of about 2 to 3 minutes in the original to get to the reactor entrance takes around 10 to 15 minutes in the Remake. That, in and of itself, is a great way to understand the change that the Final Fantasy VII Remake has done to Midgar.
Once inside the reactor, everything continues as expected (although, again, on a larger scale) until you get to the lift. At that point, we are treated to backstory scenes with Cloud and Tifa. That brings us into another aspect of the Remake that I adored – the subtle (and sometimes blatant) foreshadowing of story elements. It makes you think that you know what is going on (and the key word there is “think”).
Outside of the battle system changes, the only other big differences in the Bomb Mission comes into play when you reach the boss fight. What was basically a throwaway boss fight in the original, the Guard Scorpion (renamed the Scorpion Sentinel), becomes a truly epic introductory boss fight. It jumps around the room, causes you to hide behind debris and even has a DPS check at the end. Square Enix took a boss fight that you can breeze through and made it into an actual challenge, but did that in a way that doesn’t make it annoying or boring.
From there, you start making your way out of the reactor, saving Jessie just like you did in the original. However, the banter and dialogue between Cloud, Jessie and Barret in this section really helps to humanise them. It gives them all a personality and makes you connect with them in a way that (for me, at least) didn’t happen in the original until much later. Finally, we get introduced to a very interesting scene that starts to chip away at the idea that you know what is coming…
You see, the bomb is made by Jessie (both in the original and the Remake), and yet it had enough explosive potential to destroy the entire reactor in the original. The Remake changes this to be somewhat more realistic and believable, considering Shinra is so powerful that they wouldn’t make a reactor so weak that a homemade bomb could destroy it. In the Final Fantasy VII Remake, Jessie’s bomb barely damages the section where it is placed. Instead, Shinra activates a sort of self destruct mechanism to cause the reactor to blow. This immediately got me incredibly invested in the story more than I already was, since I suddenly realised I wasn’t going to be playing the exact same game I had played 20 years ago.
Moving on to the second chapter of Final Fantasy VII Remake, we get to play through the escape from the reactor. In summary of the original game, this involves a short bit of dialogue and then a total of 4 screens before you can choose to fight a handful on Shinra guards and then jump on the train. You also briefly meet Aerith, and can buy a flower from her, but that is it.
Once again, the Remake version of this section is significantly longer. For starters, you have to make your way through a caved in tunnel to get out into town, all whilst listening to Avalanche talk to each other and have their characters built up. From there, you get to actually see the devastation caused by the reactor exploding. You have to navigate around citizens who are in shock and clamber over rubble. The scenes are outstanding.
Then things get really interesting.
Cloud starts having very vivid hallucinations of Sephiroth and of Midgar burning, before Nibelheim starts to merge into the streets. This really lets you experience just how broken Cloud is mentally, as you have to control him through these hallucinations. We even get a true introduction to Sephiroth, who is even more dispicable and creepy than in the original. Once all that has been done, we finally get to meet Aerith and, rather than just having a short chat with her, we get a little bit of plot development around her and some very strange ghost-like creatures (more on them later). That then leads directly into a chase through the streets where you are hunted by countless Shinra guards and a helicopter, making for a far more exciting escape from the reactor than I was expecting! You even get a mini boss at the end who requires you to master the dodge roll to defeat.
And so, we finally reach the Sector 7 Slums. This is where the Remake really begins, in my opinion (which should say a lot since I’ve had nothing but positives to say so far). Starting off with a summary of the original game, when you reach the slums you get to look around and visit a bunch of shops, before going to the Seventh Heaven bar and meeting Tifa. Here, you get a bunch of character development, with Cloud refusing to work unless he gets paid, Barret explaining more about his distrust of Shinra and of Cloud, as well as the infamous Promise flashback. It is actually a great little section of the original Midgar portion, as you get to start connecting with the characters a bit more. From there, everyone goes to sleep and then you head to the train to start the next mission.
However, as I mentioned earlier, we have already experienced that connection within Final Fantasy VII Remake. So, Square Enix needed to do something a little different, and they did. We still get the same introduction to the slums overall, but things change very quickly as Tifa takes us to an apartment that she has found for us (yes, Cloud gets an apartment in this game). We also meet the Numbered Man who made the line “This Guy Are Sick” famous here, in the apartment next door. After sleeping, rather than immediately going to the next mission, we are instead treated to a number of side quests to build up a name for ourselves as a mercenary.
This section of the game is far longer than the original version, and you really get to know a lot about Tifa as a character whilst she is in your party for the side quests. You also get to bond a little bit more with Avalanche, although that happens far more in the next chapter.
Time For Something Completely Different
Chapter 4 of Final Fantasy VII Remake is an entirely new section of the Midgar storyline. There is no equivalent in the original game, so instantly, that pushes the Remake up in my eyes. This is especially true as this chapter is almost completely character and world building around Avalanche themselves. At the end of the previous chapter, having made a name for ourselves, we are effectively hired by Jessie to accompany her on a mission to the plate. We are joined by Biggs and Wedge who bring motorbikes, and we get our first G-Bike sequence in the Remake (yes, there is more than one).
This one plays out as you would expect, as you are racing along and hacking away at various Shinra guards. However, some of them use grenades, and drones will appear as well, making things more interesting than the original G-Bike chase. After a while, you’ll exit the train track tunnels and that’s where things really pick up. A member of SOLDIER named Roche appears and you have to have a boss fight whilst riding the bike. It’s a huge amount of fun to play that fight as well.
Once you are passed the bike section, Avalanche end up on the Sector 7 Plate and you learn that you are going to visit Jessie’s parents’ house. As the other members of Avalanche spend time with Jessie’s mother, Cloud sneaks into the back of the house to steal a keycard from Jessie’s vegetative father. There is so much character building around Jessie and her life during this part, as well as an excessive amount of bonding with these characters who were basically ignored in the original.
Eventually, you have to infiltrate a Shinra storage warehouse and fight a series of battles that ends in a one on one fight with Roche, all of which feel very cool. You even get help from Biggs and Wedge in the battles. But really, the best part of chapter 4 is learning so much more about Avalanche.
The Same, But New
From then on, the storyline plays out pretty similar to the original for the most part, albeit with further expansion on the events. For example, we learn that Cloud wasn’t originally going to be part of the new bombing run, with the original Avalanche members taking that spot. However, the strange ghost creatures attack and injure Jessie, meaning that she can’t go on the mission. That leads to Cloud and Tifa taking the other Avalanche member’s spots, giving us the normal party we would expect. Nothing noticeably different happens in terms of storyline for a while, although we do get to navigate through a section under the Midgar plate and learn that there are massive light bulbs used to simulate sunlight for the slums.
The next big difference between the original and the remake comes with the build up to the Airbuster fight. In the original, you plant the bomb, run out of the reactor, do a frustrating timing based switch puzzle and then boom, Airbuster. In the remake, the escape is far longer, unsurprisingly. But the real difference is that, along the way, you get to remove parts from Airbuster whilst it is still being assembled. This adds a bit more of a tactical build up to the boss fight. Then, when we get to the bridge where you fight Airbuster, we are first given a scene that actually explains a lot of what Shinra are planning. It also makes a lot more sense than in the original, since President Shinra and Heideggar talk to you via hologram, rather than appearing behind you in person.
Things play out very similarly to the original again for the next bit, as Cloud falls down to the slums as you would expect. However, we do finally get confirmation of who the voice talking to the unconscious Cloud is during that part.
From here, we finally get to meet Aerith, and whilst things initially seem to play out as expected, you’re suddenly thrust into an actual fight with Reno rather than immediately running away. Once you defeat him, Cloud goes in for a definite killing blow before the ghosts appear and push him and Aerith out to the back room. The ghosts then help to protect Aerith until you can help her climb upstairs and escape with you. This only helps to build more intrigue around the ghosts and what they are actually doing.
Return To The Slums
Instead of constantly saying what parts are similar to the original, as I think I have driven home the fact that a good portion of Final Fantasy VII Remake does keep the original alive, from now on, I’ll just focus on what is different. After finishing the various side quests that now take place in the Sector 5 Slums, Cloud attempts to sneak out at night and head for Sector 7, but when Aerith meets him and joins him, he seems to have a sort of vision. This subtle moment is one of my favourites in the remake.
Cloud holds his head and the screen goes fuzzy for a second, whilst 1 bar of Aerith’s theme plays. The scene ends with Cloud shedding a tear and instantly, we know what he saw. It is incredibly powerful for such a split second, subtle moment. But it also begs the question; how is Cloud seeing these events?
When you reach the park, things happen slightly differently too. The most startling part of the conversation between Cloud and Aerith is that Aerith specifically mentions the name of her first boyfriend and other SOLDIER First Class, Zack. However, Cloud’s hearing seems to blank it out, due to his fractured mental state. The fact that this happens is one of the reasons why I think you really should play the original game before you play the Remake, amongst other reasons. But either way, it was very cool to see that Square Enix addressed Cloud’s state so much already.
It is one of those “if you know, you know” moments done very well.
Of course, this all leads to Cloud seeing Tifa heading for Wall Market, although this time, Cloud actually gets to speak to her first, albeit briefly. So, off go Cloud and Aerith to Wall Market, and we get a series of side quests to gain favour with one of 3 individuals who can help get you into Don Corneo’s mansion. Whichever path you take her, you’ll eventually get to the coliseum, where you have to take part in a tournament. I found this very entertaining, although I must admit, the fight against Hell House at the end was a bit tedious.
But that’s not the biggest change here. Going into Final Fantasy VII Remake, I knew the Honeybee Inn was going to be far more extravagant than in the original. We had seen that from the trailers. What I didn’t expect was to have to take part in a rhythm dancing game. I did terribly at it. However, it did lighten the mood of the game for a short period of time. So, whilst it felt out of place somewhat, it was also a rather welcomed change of pace. I just wish the camera movements would have made the button prompts a bit clearer to see.
Next up is a section that I have seen a few complaints about, and I do actually agree with them. Specifically, we are talking about the part where Don Corneo chooses his “bride”. In the original game, there was a chance for him to choose any of you, leading to slightly different events. In the Remake, he always chooses the dressed up Cloud. This does, admittedly, feel like a sad removal of content. Had they still included the chance of Don Corneo choosing Tifa or Aerith, it would also have made getting the different dresses more important. It’s one of the few criticisms I have for the Remake in terms of the storyline, but its also a pretty small one considering everything else.
We’re going to jump ahead to the Train Graveyard next, since that’s where things change a lot from the original. In the original game, this was just a sort of mini dungeon that you had to make your way through. It didn’t really have any relevance to the story of the game at all, instead only serving as a way to explain why Cloud and Tifa reach the Sector 7 pillar so late. It was, honestly, just a filler area.
In the remake, they have expanded on it a lot. You get to see various different ghosts and hauntings, as well as some backstory to the area, but most importantly, you get a scene with Aerith. In that scene, you get to see that she was an outcast as a child, with the other children leaving her in the Train Graveyard whilst playing games. It’s not much of a new addition to the story, but it was nice to see the Train Graveyard be more than just a transitional area.
And so we come to a section of the game that I knew was coming, but really wasn’t looking forward to. After all, in the original, we really didn’t get any connection to the members of Avalanche, but this time around we have had a huge amount of characterisation with them. I knew it was going to hit hard… And I was right.
So, the first major change is that Wedge survives his fall off the Pillar. He starts helping people evacuate Sector 7 whilst Aerith goes off to get Marlene. That, in and off itself, leads to a whole new section of gameplay and storyline – you have to play out Aerith’s attempts to get to Seventh Heaven as the place is consumed in chaos. We even get to see some interesting interactions between her and Marlene, suggesting that Marlene sees a vision too.
That moment, as well as Cloud not seeing the ghosts or experiencing visions until Aerith touched him the first time, made me think that the visions are directly caused by her. The reason the others then see the ghosts is because they came into contact with Cloud after that point. It’s just another interesting aspect of the new storyline, in my opinion.
As for the pillar… Biggs gets a short but sweet send-off, but it is when you get to Jessie that things really hit you. Her death scene is done with such power that it actually made my eyes water. When you consider that, in the original, she had one piece of dialogue that repeats and that’s it, this is a massive improvement in storytelling. Jessie was always considered a “throw-away” character in the original, but in the Remake, she has become a beloved member of the roster and this makes the pillar scene heartbreaking.
At the top of the plate, you’re treated to a fun boss fight against both Rude and Reno, before the plate inevitably falls. During the escape, we see that Wedge went back for his cats, which was a terrible idea, and also catch a surprising glimpse of Cait Sith without the big white cat he rides on. That leads us to our next part of this rather long review…
Tidying Up Before The Climb
The section of the game between the Pillar and the climb up to the Shinra Headquarters is an interesting part… It features both filler and some interesting character moments. For example, the underground facility that you discover is a definite filler dungeon, but its also interesting to see just how far Shinra will go with their experiments. You also get to see that Wedge is still alive. The final set of side quests in Sector 5 and 6 aren’t much to write home about either, although the battle against the Tonberry was very entertaining.
I should mention, too, that Johnny has a much bigger role in the Remake compared to the original. He’s definitely still comic relief, but there are specific quests and events surround him throughout each visit to the slums, rather than him just being effectively a random NPC that is hanging around. So that was nice to see. It doesn’t add anything to the plot, really, but it was nice.
This entire section really is all about tidying things up. You can grind a bit in the coliseum and get your second limit breaks. There are mini game challenges to do (the Whack-A-Box one is actually really amusing) and a few side quests. But that’s pretty much it.
However, lets compare that to the original, shall we?
In the original game, once the pillar has dropped, your party go to Aerith’s house to check on Marlene and then go straight to Wall Market to climb up to the Shinra HQ. There’s no character development involved, considering their friends and homes have just been obliterated. They just seem to accept it and get on with their plan. In the remake, there are quite a few sections and moments specifically dealing with the aftermath of the plate drop.
For example, you actually go back into Sector 7 and navigate through the ruins. The characters show their reactions and emotions to the events, making it feel far more believable. So, whilst this section is comprised of a lot of filler content, you get some legitimately unique moments that add to the story and the characters that weren’t in the original.
You also get to learn a lot more about Lesley, the new character who worked for Don Corneo. His backstory is very dark, and he becomes a very likeable character that I hope we see more of in the next part of the Remake.
Ascending To Shinra
And so we get to Chapter 15, which was one I was very interested to see… You see, it is specifically the climb up from Wall Market into the Shinra HQ. In the original game, it featured one of the most annoying timing puzzles ever, as well as some batteries that you had to purchase in order to progress. But for the large part, it involved a bunch of climbing up some cables and wires across a handful of screens until you reach the front door of the Shinra HQ.
Now, it may seem like I am skimming over the original game’s version of a few sections, but honestly, these sections were that short on the original. After all, you can finish the Midgar section of the original in around 6 to 8 hours.
In the Final Fantasy VII Remake, however, this climb is once again expanded upon and changed massively. For starters, the timing puzzle of the swinging pipe is removed entirely. On top of that, you don’t climb up vertical cables this time. Instead, you actively make your way through the ruins of the Sector 7 Plate. This includes vaulting over rubble and finding your way through a maze of broken buildings, girders and more. It really hammers home the level of destruction that the plate drop caused, and there is a very sombre moment when Cloud, Tifa and Barret look out over the destruction. It really makes you understand how many people just lost their lives.
Partway through, you also run into Shinra again…
Specifically, you have to combat a number of guards and mechs as you continue to claim up the wreckage. This chapter is largely comprised of navigating the maze and fighting off Shinra. Eventually, you get to a point where you are hunted down by the Heligunner (called the Valkyrie in the Remake) until you get to a suitable battleground to fight it. That fight was the first time I had to use the debris and field to block attacks from the boss, which was awesome. On top of this, there is a slight puzzle mechanic in the fight as well, as you need to make the boss hit itself with the laser it summons in order to break its barrier.
In short, rather than just climbing up a couple of screens without anything really happening, Chapter 15 gives you a huge area to explore, a much deeper understanding of the severity of the plate drop and a very enjoyable boss fight to top it off.
I’m going to cover the Shinra Building section of Final Fantasy VII Remake in its own article, as there is a lot I want to discuss about it, so we will be skipping that section for now.
Moving on to the final chapter of the Remake, we get to see the bike chase that we were all waiting for (and practising for in chapter 4). In the original game, this section featured some legitimately awful controls but was a lot of fun to do. It was one of my favourite mini games in the original Final Fantasy VII. You had to take out a bunch of other motorbikes whilst the other party members sat in the small truck, just letting you get on with it.
However, in the Final Fantasy VII Remake, things are changed up almost immediately. Yes, you start off fighting against other bikes, but very quickly after the start of the ride, an armoured truck appears. Shinra goons will then lean out of one side of the truck and start shooting at you, so you have to move to the other side. Then, eventually, they pop out of that side too. This adds a whole new mechanic to the section in a really simple way, but adds a lot more engagement that before.
The biggest change, though, comes with Motor Ball – the final boss of the Midgar section in the original Final Fantasy VII. In the original game, towards the end of the highway, Motor Ball will appear behind you and the game takes control, driving you until the edge of the road, stopping and starting a standard fight against the machine. That is completely different in Final Fantasy VII Remake.
Due to the new and improved battle system within the bike sections, Motor Ball becomes a boss fight that you do entirely on the motorbike. You have to move around him, take out the defences on his wheels and hack away at him when he is staggered, all whilst dodging a myriad of different targeted or AOE attacks. There is a constant sense of excitement throughout the fight, and I felt exhilarated the entire time, as we fought against Motor Ball at high speed. It was incredible.
Once Motor Ball is defeated in the original game, that is the end of Midgar. All that happens is that the party climb down, wonder where to go next and then split into smaller parties. In the Remake, there is still more content!
We learn about the Whispers of Fate and the fact that they are trying to “preserve Fate” (specifically referring to the events of the original game), and that Sephiroth is trying to affect Fate in his own way. We then go through a portal and fight off against the embodiment of Fate; the Whispers. It was a very strange scene that did feel a lot like a Kingdom Hearts boss, but honestly, it was enjoyable and that’s what matters the most. Once you eventually kill off Fate, Sephiroth appears again and destroys the version of Midgar that you are currently in, leaving you to fight him.
The battle with Sephiroth is one that I could only describe as “Advent Children”. It felt epic. It felt like an end game fight, bringing the culmination of the events in Midgar to a close. The fight is challenging (at least, on Normal mode) but it makes you feel so enthralled that you can barely turn away. Then, after Sephiroth is defeated, we get a scene that calls “back” to the end of the original game when Cloud has a one on one fight with Sephiroth. The difference, however, is that Cloud loses this one. That brings us to the Ending of Final Fantasy VII Remake.
And so, we come to the part that is probably going to be the most divisive in this review; the ending. On Twitter, a lot of people are complaining about the ending, but personally, I loved it. So, now that we know what the Whispers are and what they are trying to do, things take a very interesting turn. Having spent Chapter 18 escaping Shinra and then literally fighting the incarnation of Fate, we get a number of scenes that show what has happened to the world now that the binds of fate have been severed.
Basically, everything changes.
We see that Jenova as a whole is missing, rather than just the head. On top of this, the biggest thing is that Zack actually survives the events that originally lead to his death. Biggs is also shown to still be alive, with hints that Jessie might be as well, whilst the Sector 7 Slums are being rebuilt. Everything we know from the original story (the “Fate” we defeated) is changed and now we have a brand new tale to enjoy.
But that seems to be most people’s complaints; the fact that Final Fantasy VII Remake changes everything so much.
Strangely, that’s also why I adore the ending. Honestly, for me, it is the perfect way for this part to end. I see so many people saying they want a new Final Fantasy game as well as the Final Fantasy VII Remake – well, guess what? You get both!
Now we get to revisit the world of Final Fantasy VII, but also to experience it all over again. How many times have you seen tweets or Facebook posts asking you to name a game you would like to forget and experience for the first time again? With what Square Enix has done through the ending of Final Fantasy VII Remake, we actually get to do that! Suddenly, every notion we had of knowing what was coming next is thrown out of the window, allowing us to feel the same wonder and sense of longing to find out what happens all over again.
By destroying the Whispers of Fate and breaking the connection to the original game within the game world, we have an in-game reason explaining why things will be different. This then allows Square Enix to tell a brand new story for us to sink our teeth into. It makes me feel like I am 9 years old again, playing through Final Fantasy VII for the very first time. I have no idea what will happen in Part 2 of Final Fantasy VII Remake now, and I love it!
Admittedly, calling the game Final Fantasy VII Remake was not the best idea (which we actually discussed on Stream, as you can see in the clip below) since it gave people the idea that this was going to be close to a 1:1 remake of the original. Clearly, that is not the case. A subtitle would have been a better choice. However, that doesn’t take away from the incredible ending for me.