I wanted to love Final Fantasy VII Remake. I really did. These are characters and worlds that I grew up loving and genuinely caring about. But after finishing the main campaign and a majority of the side quests, I’m left wondering: why all the praise?
It’s clear that I am an outlier. But, to me at least, Final Fantasy VII Remake felt incredibly hollow. And in its translation to modern gameplay mechanics, it lost a lot of the charm that made the original so special.
I feel the need to be as transparent here as possible, and I’m sure I’ll get raked over the coals for what I’m about to say. Final Fantasy VII, in general, is an overrated game. It’s a good game, but there are far better RPGs and iterations in the Final Fantasy franchise.
Translating the experience to modern platforms was a double-edged sword. It allowed players to see some of their favorite characters reimagined, but the move also created a combat system which to me felt extremely hollow. As I progressed further into the story, it grew on me quite a bit – until the halfway mark. That’s when it felt more like an amalgam of director Tetsuya Nomura’s more recent portfolio.
The real combat standouts are the large boss fights that require much more strategy, planning, and improvisation that the regular encounters just can’t manage. The “bash ’em until they’re dead” strategy just won’t work on a majority of the boss fights. It’s a really great change of pace when I became tired of running in a linear path to my next destination.
Instead of a turn-based system here, players will use a more action-RPG battle system that feels like a mixture of Final Fantasy XV and Kingdom Hearts. As players attack, the Active Time Battle gauge fills. Each bar of the ATB gauge can be used to perform an ability or use an item.
This was my biggest frustration, especially early on. If one of my party members got downed, you have to use two ATB gauges just to give them a fighting chance. It wasn’t as big of an issue if I had more than two party members with me, as you could split the load between the two. However, if it was just Cloud and Aerith or just Cloud and Tifa, it wasn’t always easy to use a phoenix down to revive and use a healing spell or item to keep them from dying again.
The linearity of this 30-hour journey was also incredibly frustrating. Most of the time here is spent just moving from objective to objective without any real world to explore. Most NPCs are lifeless, and the brief portions that do let Cloud explore a bit more are filled with mindless side quests. These are the typical fare of “fetch item x” or “defeat x enemies.”
The extra objectives that are in Final Fantasy VII Remake are only worth doing for the trophies. Mindless fetch quests are not my idea of fun, and I couldn’t wait to check them off in my quest list. That said, I will point out that I really liked listening to NPCs as I ran around Midgar. It was interesting to listen to the conversations they were having while I was nearby. They would talk about different story elements that I had just accomplished. It reminded me a lot of the Yakuza franchise.
“Words aren’t the only way to tell someone how you feel.”
The rest of the game is just linearity to drive the narrative forward. The first half of the game is paced far worse than the second half, though. And one particularly flashy scene in Wall Market really marked a narrative turning point for me. I had almost uninstalled the game at that point. I’m glad I didn’t because the pacing quickly turned around. I ended up enjoying the back half far more than the front.
Since Final Fantasy VII Remake is just the first part in a multi-game saga, Square Enix fleshed out a large portion of Midgar. There are (mostly uninteresting) new characters here who do not do a whole lot for the already established narrative. There are also new scenes and a very extended first act.
I think the reason I had such a hard time getting into it was that the first act of most JRPGs is always the least interesting. You have to establish characters and motivations, but this imagining of Cloud seems to have no motivation. He quickly goes from “as long as I get paid” to wanting to protect these characters at the drop of a dime. No talk of money anymore. It’s the most boring part of a JRPG stretched out across thirty hours that doesn’t even get fun until the 15-20 hour mark.
Believe me. I get it. These are characters and settings that you grew up loving. That doesn’t inherently make any reimagining of them automatically good. This game is fine, but my desire to play future entries in the broader Final Fantasy series is far greater than ever going back for another run through this game. The bones of something great are there, but this isn’t it.
To be fair, the game does look great. There weren’t any technical issues playing on my PS4 Pro other than weird textures in a lot of the locations. The character models look absolutely incredible. So why am I looking at a muddied door or crate in the same scene as these very detailed protagonists?
The backdrop environments are also well done. While exploring reactors and being high up in the sky, looking down onto the different sectors reminded me of the static backdrops that older games used. They definitely look better than back in the day. Thankfully, it feels more like a throwback than just being used because they didn’t want to detail something far away.
It feels like I’ve just been complaining about Final Fantasy VII Remake for this entire review. The truth is that I have high hopes for future games in the saga. And I am looking forward to the more open-world portions.
The combat is stellar when it’s engaging and tactical. The rest of the time, though, the combat feels really empty. To make matters worse, the god-awful pacing of the first half of the game almost made me stop playing entirely.
Honestly, I’m glad I stuck around until the end. Once the narrative gets going, it became easy to lose track of time. I hope the side quests are more interesting moving forward because I would’ve loved to spend some time on interesting activities around Midgar, but there just wasn’t anything to keep me engaged in my downtime.
Let me be crystal clear here. I know that I’m an outlier, and that’s okay. Truth be told, I’m happy that most people are really enjoying it. I just had a hard time getting back into the world of Avalanche.