You will lose sleep for Final Fantasy VII Remake, and it will be worth it.
FF7 Remake retraces roughly the first third of the sprawling tale told in the 1997 PS1 role-playing classic, which sees the spiky-haired mercenary Cloud fall in with the eco-terrorism group known as Avalanche. His new pals represent a rebel underclass looking to overthrow Shinra, a global corporation that produces electricity and technology derived from Mako energy, the lifeblood of the planet.
The first of an unknown number of installments, Square Enix has a lot of mouths to feed with this project. It has to appeal to longstanding lorehounds as well as newcomers. It needs to work as a standalone story and as part of a larger whole. It must be simultaneously innovative and nostalgic. For the most part, it's an enormous success, with achingly beautiful aesthetics, a mesmerizing story, and snappy combat. Uneven pacing and the repetitive nature of dungeons keep it just shy of perfection, but overall, FF7 Remake is a game to cherish for fans and first-timers.
Sights and sounds
The original FF7 looked great in the early days of the first PlayStation, but those visuals didn't age well. The low-poly, "block monster" character models have become a running joke among Final Fantasy fans. FF7 Remake upgrades the aesthetics of the original by several orders of magnitude. The main character designs are intricately detailed, their faces redolent with emotion and expression. Arresting action sequences consistently left me gobsmacked, with balletic combat and stunning, eye-catching moments. I have literally never taken so many screenshots while playing a game. It looks astonishing.
There is one caveat here. Many of the game's dungeons and explorable environments look alike, using variations on the same terrain, color palettes, and design features. Much of this is because all of FF7 Remake takes place in one city: Midgar. (The original game starts in Midgar and then opens up a whole world map for you to explore.) It's all impeccably detailed, but you will see an awful lot of green-hued factories, cement, and slums. If you aren't coming in with a sentimental attachment to the original, much of FF7 Remake is likely going to look exasperatingly redundant, especially if you've recently experienced the over-the-top, hugely varied dungeon designs of Persona 5 Royal.
An outstanding and wide-ranging soundtrack does a lot to change up the atmosphere, offering irreverent, fully orchestrated remixes of some of FF7's most iconic tunes. Many of them tease locations we won't see until the next installment, an enticing hit of a much bigger world to come. (Anyone else really fricking excited to see Junon and Costa del Sol on PS5?) The soundtrack spans a staggering variety of genres – from jazz to metal, bossa nova to electronica, and sultry torch songs to 1950s-era rock. Final Fantasy has set an impossibly high bar for game music for decades — and this is the franchise's best yet, by far.
Combat and gameplay
FF7 Remake departs from the turn-based fights of the PS1 original, taking a more action-oriented approach to combat that incorporates some of the best elements of Square Enix's previous mainline installment of the franchise, 2016's Final Fantasy XV. You can swap between your squad of three characters at any time, and each of them has a different role to play. Barret is more of a long-range tank able to absorb lots of damage; Tifa's better at up-close melee fisticuffs and combos, Aerith is your delicate-yet-badass magic user; and Cloud's the jack-of-all-trades of the bunch.
As you land attacks, you'll boost your ATB Gauge, which will enable your squad to use healing items, magic, and special high-damage moves. Entering the combat menu will cause time to slow dramatically, allowing you to control the pace of the action: slow and deliberate while you're figuring out what to do and rapid-fire once you've found an effective strategy. Sure, there are occasional camera issues during some boss fights, but they're nowhere near as frequent or meddlesome as in FF15. Swapping to another character usually solves it immediately.
Your party members aren't the blank slates they were in the original game, but there's plenty of room to customize everyone through equipment upgrades and the Materia system. You'll be able to equip Materia on each character's weapon and defensive equipment, giving them access to spells, stat boosts, and new abilities. On normal difficulty, you'll need to change up your Materia fairly often to exploit elemental weaknesses. Late-game bosses will make you whimper if you don't have the right setup.
My playthrough of all 18 chapters took 47 hours, going at a slightly faster pace than I probably would have done without a deadline. I completed most of the side quests and had a few game overs on normal difficulty, which is well balanced and requires consistent yet thoroughly satisfying tweaks to your equipment and strategy. (Easter egg: that old-school, SNES-era Final Fantasy cheese tactic against undead enemies still works here.) Easy difficulty doesn't demand quite the same precision with bosses, and the ATB gauge fills far more rapidly, but it's not a total cakewalk, either.
While the highs of FF7 Remake are spectacularly high, there are some unsightly stretch marks and pacing issues. A couple chapters are largely devoted to side quests. This works just fine early on, as FF7's world is one I'm very happy to spend time in, and they're used sparingly enough to be easy-breezy fun while adding depth to Cloud's badass reputation.
At first, I found myself favorably comparing the game's balance between hefty dungeon crawls and chatty exploration stuff to Persona 5. That comparison fell apart when I got to Chapter 14, which dumps a load of frivolous (though optional) fetch quests on you at a time when the story's reached a boil and you can't wait to see what's next. I spent several hours in this underwhelming section and couldn't be bothered to finish all of it. Some chapters take one or two hours, others take four or five, but overall the bang-for-your-buck quotient isn't terribly consistent.
Characters and story
On the whole, though, the expansions to FF7's story are satisfying and worthwhile, adding depth and nuance to the relationships between its core group and weaving unique dialogue into combat and exploration in ways the original game couldn't. These guys are ride-or-die for each other, and FF7 Remake will make you see it and believe it. I was pretty skeptical to learn more about the B-tier members of Avalanche, who don't leave much of an impression in the original game, but I was completely wrong. Spending time getting to know Jessie, Biggs, and Wedge raises the stakes and makes the story that much more memorable.
Prior to playing FF7 Remake, I'd wondered if it would retain the original's loopy humor. It's even funnier thanks to zestier language and dozens of laugh-out-loud lines. Small moments that would be forgettable in other games have little touches of personality. If you make Cloud enter Tifa's lodgings in Sector 7, he'll yank his hand away from the doorknob, shake his head, and mutter — to both the player and himself — "don't be weird."
Sharp dialogue and impeccable voice acting make all of FF7 Remake's characters infectiously likable. Daddy Barret gets a huge personality glow-up here, but the story's success rests primarily on Cloud's slender yet chiseled shoulders. No longer a mostly mute player surrogate, his brash finesse on the battlefield contrasts sharply with his coltish awkwardness with new friends, fans, and companions. He's impossibly cool but also a huge goof, and you'll adore him for both of those things.
Beloved as it is, the story of FF7 is widely and rightly acknowledged to be weird and confusing. For the most part, FF7 Remake ties it all together into a more cohesive whole, cluing players in earlier about Shinra, Sephiroth, Jenova, the Ancients, and how it all ties together. It does incorporate more elements of the FF7 "extended universe" than I'd expected, and some substantial story changes at the tail end are sure to take some longtime fans by surprise. I'm still not totally sure how I feel about it since a lot depends on what happens in the next installment, but that's a spoiler-heavy post for another day.
FF7 Remake is a gorgeous, unforgettable adventure, with breathtaking highs that will make you forgive its few shortcomings. I know I'll come back to this game – I already have! – and I can't wait to see what's next on the journey ahead.
Tell us what you think Mako smells like, right here.
INVERSE VIDEO GAME REVIEW ETHOS: When it comes to video games, Inverse values a few qualities that other sites may not. For instance, we care about hours over money. Many new AAA games have similar costs, which is why we value the experience of playing more than price comparisons. We don’t value grinding and fetch quests as much as games that make the most out of every level. ¶ ️We also care about the in-game narrative more than most. If the world of a video game is rich enough to foster sociological theories about its government and character backstories, it’s a game we won’t be able to stop thinking about, no matter its price or popularity. ¶ We won’t punch down. We won’t evaluate an indie game in the same way we will evaluate a AAA game that’s produced by a team of thousands. ¶ We review games based on what’s available in our consoles at the time. For instance, we won’t hold it against a video game if its online mode isn’t perfect at launch. ¶ And finally, we have very little tolerance for junk science. (Magic is always OK.) ¶ Here’s how we would have reviewed some classic games: 10 = GoldenEye 007. 9 = Red Dead Redemption 2. 8 = Celeste. 7 = Mass Effect 3. 6 = No Man’s Sky. 5 = Fortnite. 4 = Anthem. 3 = Star Wars Battlefront II. 2 = Assassin’s Creed Unity. 1 = E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.