I <3 Tifa

I have a habit that I’ve never really broken. I use way too many descriptive adjectives when it comes to my media critique. The truth is that I’m not a very good writer, and these words help to fill the gaps that my lack of skill are unable to. This is helpful when I just want to get a post out quickly, lest I spend an hour instead lamenting my inability to be the writer I want to be.

The problem is when a game like Final Fantasy VII Remake comes out. Suddenly, my adjectives come back to bite me. So often have I said that “X game has the best combat system I’ve played in years,” or “this game has one of the amazing soundtracks I’ve heard in a long time,” when it comes to the games I’m passionate about. Now I’ve played FF7R, and I realize that using those same phrases won’t cut it. I should have saved words like “amazing” and “incredible” and “fantastic,” for the day this game came along. So you’ll just have to trust me when I say: Final Fantasy VII Remake is an amazing, incredible, fantastic game.

I should say, I don’t actually have that much love for the original Final Fantasy VII. I didn’t hate it or anything, but much like The Legend of Zelda, you tend to hold the game you played first most fondly in your heart. For me that was FFIX, a game that I felt was vastly under-appreciated on its release. I liked what I played of FFVII, and I had a crush on Tifa because I’m nothing if not predictable, but I didn’t hold its characters or its moments close to my heart like tons of other fans do. But I was intrigued by the remake, both as a momentous occasion for Square Enix, and as a possibility for me to see what I seemed to be missing when I played the original release.

Turns out the answer is: a lot.

Remake does a lot to fix my biggest issue with its predecessor, which is fill in the blanks. It’s kind of shocking that the PS1 original never got an updated translation — maybe because this remake was always in the cards. As a result, so much of the game feels like it’s lost in grammatical errors and sentences that didn’t make much sense. FF7R fills in these blanks and then some. Characters like Biggs, Wedge and Jessie get more dialogue and plot relevance. Sections of Midgar are expanded upon to make the city feel more alive. Barret doesn’t feel like a Mr. T parody anymore! It’s great. And AVALANCHE’s fight against a natural resource-exploiting corporation is doubled down on. The effects of Shinra on the populace are immediately apparent: I was surprised to find myself quite disturbed at the aftermath of the reactor detonation at the beginning of the game. Cloud and Co. walk through the destruction and rubble, and NPC reactions do a lot to get you invested quickly.

Cloud as a character has also improved. He’s always been characterized as aloof and even emo in the years since his game’s release. The remake presents an opportunity for a do-over. A multi-million polygon increase and motion capture help you realize early on that Cloud may be aloof, but he’s not callous. He’s a dude with PTSD that wants to get the job done and hopefully learn how to be a person again. That journey, and the way his interactions with the other characters changes as the game goes on, is a delight to experience.

It’s a faithful experience that adds to the original where it needs to in all fronts — especially musically. The new renditions are old favorites are impressive, and the new compositions by Masashi Hamauzu fit right into the world of Gaia. This isn’t the case for the entirety of the game, but to say further risks spoiling what I feel is the best part of the game. I’ll probably have thoughts on that in a separate blog post, so let’s move on.

There was a sizable amount of criticism towards the decision of making Final Fantasy VII Remake an Action-RPG. I never really had a problem with the switch, especially because I find everything but boss battles boring when it comes to most turn-based JRPGs. Even then, however, FF7R’s combat doesn’t stray as far from its roots as you might believe.

Battles have a very definitive weight to them. The feedback from Cloud and Tifa’s attacks is satisfying, especially when you finish an enemy off. As you perform regular attacks, you fill up an ATB bar that can be spent on special moves and magic. Things are further spiced up by a stagger gauge reminiscent of Final Fantasy XIII: fill it up to max, and you can do big time damage. At first I was content to just play as Cloud, letting the AI do its own thing while I cut goons up with a giant sword. This only works for so long, though, and I realized where the true strategy for the game came into play.

The AI in this game is terrible.

I thought this was a flaw at first. I wondered why my party members wouldn’t heal me with items when I got hurt, or spend their own ATB gauge. But I realized that the game doesn’t do these things because you are supposed to initiate them. Soon enough, the true depth of the combat began to shine. I would swap from character to character as their ATB gauges filled up, or if whoever I was controlling was hit by a status effect — not unlike taking a turn in the original — to control encounters. Combined with strategizing with Materia, you get a system of combat that’s engaging to master. This was especially true near the end of the game, when everyone’s ATB gauges would fill up quickly, and switching between character to choose their actions made the AVALANCHE crew feel like a real team that was hellbent on kicking Shrina ass.

This sort of quality is present in every aspect of FF7R, which is why I was able to complete so much of its side-content so quickly without burning out like I do with other games of its ilk. It has all the hits: weapons with different skills that can be unlocked and upgraded, encouraging experimentation. Materia that can be leveled up and paired together to enhance effects. A sprint button! And my favorite: the option to teleport straight back to a quest-giver once you’ve finished a task. I have a deep love for games that go out of their way not to waste my time, and FF7R makes sure to keep that in mind, along with making it clear whenever you’re about to reach a point of no return and might be locked out of quests or side-activities.

Final Fantasy VII Remake is more than just a good remake. Granted, that’s what most people wanted at the very least, but it goes beyond that. It’s just a damn good game. It’s probably the best game to come from Square Enix that isn’t FFXIV in the past ten or so years. It feels good to be able to say “I loved this Square Enix game” without any “buts” or “ifs” tacked on at the end. It’s an exciting combination of storytelling, music, and gameplay that all blend together well in a way that I feel doesn’t happen very often in the game industry anymore, at least in the AAA space. If you’re a fan of the original, I think you’ll be a fan here, and if you’re new to Cloud and Co’s adventures, I can say pretty confidently this is a fantastic way to be introduced. Square Enix somehow managed to do the impossible, and I’m excited to see how the rest of the Remake series plays out.

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