So, Final Fantasy VII fans were literally jumping up and down when SE finally revealed they were remaking the game back in 2015. Now 23 years later after the original game release we have the very first part of the remake that comes on two discs, a 45GB data disc that takes about 1 hour to install before you can load up the game. For the record FFXV had a 50GB requirement while this requires 100GB; bigger than the average PC game.
With the Covid-19 virus going on I was pleasantly surprised SE decided to ship the game early and I got my physical copy a week before the official release date.
I played the PC version of FFVII and that was when I started getting into the franchise after I got impressed by the amazing graphics at the time with its story and summon cutscenes.
Now we have the first part of the remake which covers Midgar, about 1/3 of the first disc from the original 3 disc game.
In case you haven't played the original (which has an enhanced version for mobile and PC), the story is about an ex-Soldier named Cloud who now works as a mercernary. He joins a group named Avalanche keen to stop Shinra's threat to the planet as they continue to extract the Lifestream and convert it into Mako energy. As he continues to carry out his missions, black robed figures appear and a hero Soldier of the past "Sephiroth" keep appearing before him mentioning a "Reunion". Little did they know that their encounter with a seemingly normal flower peddler Aerith, would change their paths as they discover Shinra, an electrical techonology company was looking to revive the legends.
When I first saw some of the gameplay teaser it reminded me of Crisis Core but it's a bit different. It's more of a hybrid action/command based system where you bash buttons to attack but can pause to issue commands. Not really anything new as far as JRPGs are concerned. Commands can only be issued when you've built up ATB bars by button bashing and then you can use your usual abilities, spells and items so you can't abuse it like your average ARPG. Your other party members are AI controlled until you decide to switch to them or issue them commands.
There is a "classic" mode but it's still not really turn based. Your characters move around while you focus on issuing commands which turns out to be quite boring. Filling ATB bars feel much slower so you're not really doing much while watching your members perform regular attacks.
As you abuse enemies by hitting them with lots of attacks, you can stagger them similar to FFXIII so that you can deal more damage. You can also upgrade weapons now for stat bonuses. There really doesn't seem to be a great selection of weapons but the way the system works means you don't always have to switch weapons if you didn't want to.
There's also a bit of tactics involved as you can now use the environment to your advantage such as using objects as shields from projectiles.
The battle system doesn't feel very satisfying but the cinematic way the boss fights are scripted make the fights very exciting.
Summons can now only be performed during boss fights and you must fight them first before you can obtain them. Afterwards they act as an extra temp party member and once time's up they unleash the beautiful attack cutscene Final Fantasy games have been known for since VII which was good to see.
There's a lot of side quests that take you around the expanded locations, something the original game didn't have much of. Tracking those side quests is pretty good and you have the option of showing way points or not for those who like to be lead by the hand.
Then there's also your usual collection quests such as analyse all enemies and a new jukebox music collecting. Mini games make a comeback, some more horrible than others. As much as the game is fleshed out to make it a bit more open-ended it's still more of a small sandbox and you'll run into invisible walls unlike a game such as Xenoblade Chronicles 2.
As the story plays out there's a lot more added interaction between characters. No longer do you need to speak to characters to hear some banter, you just walk (or stand even) to listen to them chat. And you might not notice it until you start replaying chapters but, there's a day and night cycle which means everyone's experience can be different apart from the time sensitive scenes of course.
Soundtracks have been given a remix and as the visuals are Advent Children level, it's obviously plenty of eye candy. I don't think there's any character model that doesn't look pretty. No need for pre-rendered scenes any more. Well, almost... Strands of hair flow, clothing creases etc aren't as natural but it's still great to look at. You'll also still see the odd pre-rendered video of course but it's almost seamless. There's about 30 minutes worth of cinematics per chapter so you've got over 8 hours worth of gorgeous cinematics to watch. They could give this game it's own TV series!
Just when you think there's nothing else to impress there's always a new jaw-dropping moment. They've kept all the fun parts from the original game intact so there's plenty to amuse too along with new events.
I'm surprised they didn't give the game a photo mode.
Interestingly enough, according an interview with co-director Naoki Hamaguchi in the May 2020 issue of Edge, the team at SE supposedly created some "AI" that analyses the tension in the voice recordings to dynamically generate the facial expressions - "So we took a number of samples from various different voice data, downloaded them into a database, and then looked for the patterns to create a system where we could get a very high level of recognition on the actual emotional content of any piece of dialogue.”
I wouldn't really call it "AI" because it's just an algorithm that uses a set of static rules that never changes. The "intelligence" in "artificial intelligence" means the rules themselves evolve the more data it processes over time and in this case, I don't think it does that but anyway...
Opening scene just reminded me of Edge City but the cities are just bustling with life and you can overhear plenty of banter that you can stop and listen to. Shinra building reminds me of walking through a museum; there's so much attention to detail it reminded me of walking through a real world museum. You can even see Materia you equip for customising your abilities and spells.
The story is fairly much the same but fleshed out more and more lively so even though you might still remember some of the story of the original, there's some lines you'll think, "Haha, that wasn't there!"
For the most part everything feels new despite staying faithful to its original story but personally the most reminiscent part was when Cloud is escaping with Aerith across the rooftops with her theme song playing. That was just awesome along with the beautiful view and some new scripting just made it even better.
On the other hand, things start to feel dragged out around after chapter 16 so that you're thinking, "Are we done yet?" While most of the game stays short and sweet, the dungeon crawls and other sequences suddenly feel like they last too long.
There maybe no blood but there's the usual sexual innuendo you'd expect in Japanese fiction here and even some drugging women or suggested rape.
Like FFXV you get to make some choices while speaking ot the characters with some sexual innuendo. Not that the story actually branches although during missions how well you manage determines whether your team members will praise or mock you which is pretty fun. For example, depending how much effort you make into finding nice dresses during the Wall Market chapter, you'll end up with a different scene. Fortunately the game let's you save almost anywhere via the menu so you can retry quite easily. Save points are now just vending machines with a bench which actually look quite inviting. Funny they chose a font that resembles Coca-Cola.
You'll notice I didn't spell Soldier all in uppercase because they're not acronyms and don't stand for anything. I don't know why they're still in caps in in this remake. The original was known for bad English and my theory is "Soldier" was written in Katakana often used for emphasis the same way bold and italics can be used and that's why caps were used. The translator must have never realised it can be used for foreign names too and in this version of the game, they decided to keep the caps from the original.
If you understand Japanese, you might find some discrepancies from what's what in the English subtitles. What stands out to me most are Jessie's lines. The English lines just sounds overly flirty in the subtitles compared to what she actually says in Japanese including her tone of voice. Not quite sure why whoever localised it decided to spice things up a bit. Maybe because the game's a bit of a harem.
Skipping all the side quests the 17 chapters lasts around 28 hours before you're allowed to replay any chapter you want. So it's not your traditional new game plus which is probably good news for those after the platinum trophy. Some additions are interesting while some felt odd. For the most part, it's a great game but the wrap-up is a mess like they didn't know how to end this first part of the game.
I'm not that big an FFVII fan even though I fan translated the On The Way to A Smile stories (which take place between the game and the movie) but as someone who played the original, I think this game is jaw droppingly gorgeous to play through. When I watched Advent Children I had hoped they'll remake the game with the same eye candy visuals and this definitely meets that expectation. Even if you're not a fan of ARPGs the difficulty level on normal isn't that hard so you can still enjoy it without getting frustrated with overly difficult fights. You can always play on easy and just enjoy the show.
Maybe you'll end up having fun playing darts at Seventh Heaven.
- Lots of fun banter.
- A few fun new mini games.
- Mostly faithful to the original with added events.
- Exciting cinematic boss fights.
- Over 8+ hours of cinematic Advent Children level eye candy.
- All the customisation from the original is there and more.
- Can choose to show waypointers or not.
- Some cutscenes are dynamic, changes depending on time or how you do in the game.
- Messy wrap-up for this first part of the remake.
- Some parts feel dragged out.
- Covers Midgar only, 1/3 of the original game's first disc (there's three).
- Game install is bigger than your average PC game?