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Leviathan in Final Fantasy VII Remake. Image courtesy of Square-Enix.

After 23 years, it’s finally here. Final Fantasy VII Remake released last week and unless you’ve been under a rock, you’ve probably at least heard about it. My history with the Final Fantasy series started back in the year 2000 with the 9th installment in the franchise. Since then, I’ve played every game in the series in what has become a very love-hate relationship. It wouldn’t be an understatement to say that my career was born out of saying mean things about Square-Enix. Which is why I’m so very excited to write this piece. And don’t worry, this will be spoiler-free.

A brief history of the franchise

For those who don’t know much about Final Fantasy, here’s a quick primer. The series started with the original Final Fantasy back in 1987, named because it was Squaresoft’s last-ditch effort to stay in business. The turn-based RPG for the original Nintendo was a massive success, spawning a 30+ year franchise with games, movies, books, and music. The series has spanned many systems, running from NES all the way up to the PlayStation 4.

Final Fantasy VII was a major turning point for the franchise. Their transition to PlayStation allowed them to tell much larger stories with more powerful graphics. It leads to a golden age for the Final Fantasy franchise, running from FF7 through 10. It was around this time that Squaresoft merged with Enix, and things began to change. I began podcasting not long after that, and much of my career was spent lamenting the awkward directions that Square-Enix took the franchise. Which leads us to now.

The game I’ve been waiting for

One of the criticisms I used to hear and hear often was that I was just a hater. I would frequently be told that nothing Square-Enix could ever do would be good enough for me. I heard this so often that I started to wonder if it was true on a few occasions. However, I always stuck to my guns and followed one principal. “When you do good, I say nice things. When you do bad, I say mean things.” More often than not over a decade of covering this company, I said mean things. But not today.

Chocobo Sam in Final Fantasy VII Remake
Chocobo Sam in Final Fantasy VII Remake. Image courtesy of Square-Enix.

Final Fantasy VII Remake is the game I’ve been waiting for Square-Enix to put out since the early 2000s. I wasn’t a huge fan of the original FF7, so this isn’t some fangirl nostalgia trip. Square-Enix has finally made a good game. And not just a good game, but a damn good game. It’s not perfect, but it’s well worth the money I paid for it, and it’s been a long time since I’ve said that about one of their titles.

The Ugly

Normally, you do the good, the bad, and the ugly. But I’m going to take it in reverse order and end on a happy note. So let’s start with the ugly. There is not much. You could argue the second half of the game is a little repetitive because you revisit some areas you’ve already been too. I would understand that criticism, although that’s a pretty common thing for Final Fantasy games. It’s not unusual to backtrack through an area you’ve visited before, and maybe even find some treasure you couldn’t access last time.

The Bad

This game is by no means perfect. There are absolutely some valid criticisms of it. Some sections of the game feel unnecessarily long. Square-Enix did a masterful job of taking small moments from the original game and making full sections out of them. The remake only covers the first arc of the original FF7’s story, and this technique is how they’ve accomplished that. The downside is that while most of these moments work really well, a few of them feel a bit stretched.

The mini-games are a fun call back to the original, but oh my god. The pull-up mini-game. I have gazed into the abyss and the pull-up mini-game stared back at me. It’s not broken or unfair, it’s just really really hard. Speaking of difficulty, therein lies my other major criticism of the game. The normal mode is a work of art. It’s difficult where it needs to be, and easy where it should be. And then there’s easy mode. At some point, they might as well just AI control the characters and let you watch the game. Hmm… an in-game let’s play. Someone copyright that.

The Good

And here we go. The graphics, the music, the game-play, the character development, the expansion of the story, the modernization of some out-dated themes… I could go on. So I will. The voice acting, the controls, the combat system, the weapons upgrading. Everything works. There is no system in Final Fantasy VII Remake that I can point to and say it’s broken or stupid.

The game is of course gorgeous, but saying a Square-Enix game looks nice is on par with “Breaking news: Water is wet.” That said, even for Square-Enix, this title is lovely to look at. Aerith is one of the best examples of a character brought to life I have ever seen. I know there’s a lot of discussions out there about Cloud/Aerith vs Cloud/Tifa, but Cloud and Jessie anyone?

Cloud and Aerith in Final Fantasy VII Remake
Cloud and Aerith in Final Fantasy VII Remake. Image courtesy of Square-Enix.

I could write a full article about the combat system alone. The combat system in Final Fantasy VII Remake is the culmination of what Square-Enix has been trying to do for 15 years. Final Fantasy XII marked a departure from the turn-based or ATB systems we all grew up with. Since then, they’ve released FF13, FF15, and myriad Kingdom Hearts games trying to perfect the system. Each time, they’ve gotten a little closer but it’s still never felt intuitive and rewarding. They finally got over the hump with FF7:R. It’s fun. It works. Congratulations Square-Enix.

And More Good

As I wasn’t a major FF7 fan and haven’t played it in some time, I had a lot to re-learn about the materia system. I can safely say that it’s a faithful representation of the original system, with some nice fine-tuning for modern-day. The weapons upgrades are definitely borrowing from their experiments in FF12 and 15 with the license board and similar leveling methods. I promised no spoilers, so I won’t be going into detail about the famous scene at the Honeybee Inn. I’ll just say that as a trans woman myself, I wasn’t offended by anything I saw and I thought they handled the whole scene quite tastefully. Very impressive.

Materia system in Final Fantasy VII Remake
Materia system in Final Fantasy VII Remake. Image courtesy of Square-Enix.

So overall thoughts. For the first time since FFXI and the 2.0 release of FFXIV, I’m extremely pleased with a Square-Enix release. I would absolutely recommend the game to fans of the original, and to newcomers alike. As someone who didn’t remember much of the original, I found the game very accessible. I won’t even pull the punch by saying “wait until it’s on sale.” No. Don’t wait. Go get it, right now. I need more people to talk with about it. If this were everything, Square-Enix would earn a 9/10 from me. However, this is only the beginning of Final Fantasy VII: Remake. We’ve got at least two more games to go to finish the story, so I’ll withhold rating it until then. Overall, wonderful job Square-Enix. The magic is clearly still in there somewhere.

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