The past ten or so years have been inundated with remakes of older games. Nothing much original comes out these days. Now, some might argue Final Fantasy VII Remake still falls under that category of “remake”. But I consider it to actually be its own game. Everything in it – the voice acting, the new combat mechanics, the music, the cutscenes, the graphics, the exploration, the fully 3D environment, and some new changes to the plot – has been updated and added in painstaking detail, enough to the point where it just feels like an entirely new game, yet still pulling in all the good strings from the original story.
As you examined the title of this article, you might have thought, “What does this have to do with Linux, or Linux gaming more specifically?” Well, it doesn’t, really (though, I could vouch that I was mostly streaming this game through my Linux box). But if I only talked about Linux gaming topics, that could get pretty dry or worse yet, boring. So, I hope nobody minds if I expand my horizons a bit, and talk about something other than Linux.
In the fantasy world that is Final Fantasy VII, the planet and every living thing on it relies on a spiritual energy known as the Lifestream. Like the name implies, without Lifestream, life doesn’t exist.
Now, of course, someone is going to try and harness this energy and process it for their own corporate greed. This processed form of energy is referred to as “Mako”. The company’s name? Shinra, named after the owner himself, President Shinra.
Slowly, the planet’s lifeforce is now draining due to the electric company’s over-consumption of the energy. With Mako, they can supernaturally enhance a human’s strength and defensive capacities – these modified human beings are referred to as SOLDIER. Protagonist Cloud Strife is a part of SOLDIER. Well, he used to be, anyway.
Cloud doesn’t want to partake of Shinra’s corporate interests, so he joins the eco-terrorist group known as AVALANCHE to take down Shinra. Some of the members of this group include Barret Wallace – the cold, hard-hearted leader that doesn’t hesitate to say what’s on his mind, and initially doesn’t trust Cloud’s reliability – and Tifa Lockhart – Cloud’s childhood friend that has lent her skills in martial arts.
Now, I’ll spare the rest of the details – I’m assuming most of us reading this has played at least part of the original PS1 version to know the rest of the story. That game takes a good eighty hours to play through in its entirety, so it would also take way too much time and space to talk about the rest of the plot. These are my thoughts on the way Square Enix handled the remake.
Let me start off by saying I’m not a huge fan of the Final Fantasy series, but Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII got me invested a little bit. I’ve also been told by many different folks, both in real life and on the Internet, that Final Fantasy VII pinned the tail on the donkey – no other game in the series made as much of an impact that VII did, and some might argue VII is the best game of all time, not just in the series or for the PlayStation itself. After playing the remake, I can’t necessarily put it on a trophy stand for the best game in the world, but I can see how others might justify their reasons for putting it there.
We’re not just getting a remastered version with slightly enhanced graphics or support for higher resolutions; we’re talking a full-blown overhaul with Unreal Engine 4 support (so yeah, unfortunately some of my tax dollars went to Epic on this one) that adds a significant upgrade in color, texture, and detail. We’ve got voice acting that gives the characters added personality. We’ve got highly detailed character models that, at least when there’s a cutscene playing, give them the proper body language they deserve: portly Corneo’s wealthy, but creepy disposition; Sephiroth’s creepy smirks and very-hard-to-exploit vulnerabilities, which make him a great villain; and Cloud’s introverted, yet determined stance, coupled with his occasional hallucinations of Sephiroth still being alive, despite him believing the villain was dead. Are the characters happy? Sad? Angry? Concerned? Anxious? That’s all in there that gives you a heightened sense of emotion as you’re playing.
Speaking of emotion, there were times that I almost literally shed a tear during some cutscenes. You might grow a bit of an attachment to some of the characters; seeing them (spoiler) die later on can cut you to the heart.
One of the biggest changes Remake has made is the combat system. Unlike the original, where players take turns attacking and defending from the enemy, the combat system has taken a more modern approach. Moving around in the environment outside of battle isn’t much different from in-battle. Crates can be smashed to obtain items or restore a small amount of magic power. Treasure chests abound throughout the planet that also bestow items or player equipment that enhances their stats.
Players can attack, move, evade, or defend at will, but so does the enemy. If players want to revert to the old system, they can select the “Classic” difficulty setting when starting a new game.
Possessing different characters in battle is possible. This is helpful when the situation calls for it; a leech could take control of a party member, immobilizing them, and switching to a different character allows him to shake that bug off. Or they might be trying to eradicate an enemy that flies around and is hard to reach with someone who has limited long-range attacks; switching to Barret with his turret gun in this instance will come in handy. When the player is not controlling them, they assume an AI role and attack and defend at will. The player can issue commands to them, such as casting Blizzard magic or use their Limit break, that can either be done via a slow-motion menu, or by assigning button shortcuts.
Casting spells, using an ability, or using an item requires what is called “Active Time Battle” (ATB). Each character has two bars for this that gradually fill up over time or by attacking. When one or both bars have been filled, the aforementioned commands can be made. This therefore makes building ATB essential; without it, party members can’t, for example, revive their teammates with a Phoenix Down or cure them from a certain status element, such as poison. The use of ATB also begs the question: will you use it to eradicate the enemy more quickly, will you use it to enhance your defense, or heal your allies? This is a crucial decision that you, as the player, make in terms of what the best case scenario is in the heat of battle.
Abilities can do various things, but they’re mostly for dealing an increased amount of damage to the enemy. More abilities unlock as each character tries different weapons.
Weapons have their unique properties in stats, such as attack, defense, or magic power, and have a different amount of materia that can be set. Weapons can also be upgraded with said stats by spending skill points (SP), which are earned over time as the character levels up.
Setting materia to the characters’ weapons or armor is similar to how they were set in the original. Materia can be linked to another to, for example, add fire damage to the weapon, or increase the amount of action points (AP) gained to level up the materia. Certain weapons or armor allows the character to equip more materia than others, at the expense of less attack or defense stats. Additional materia slots can be unlocked by upgrading the weapon. Finally, each character can assign themselves one Summon materia, that will give the party an upper-hand when fighting a boss.
Like the original, after a certain amount of time in battle, characters can cast their Limit, most of which deal a massive amount of damage to the enemy. Using Limit does not require ATB, which can be a lifesaver with someone like Aerith, who can heal the entire party when everyone’s low on health and have little to no ATB.
Some enemies aren’t just hack n’ slash – they require a bit of strategy to find out their weakness. For instance, a certain type of enemy may be very susceptible to fire magic, but take little damage with normal attacks. Discovering their weakness fills up their Pressure gauge. When the Pressure gauge is full, they stagger for a few moments. This is the time for everyone in the party to cast their abilities or Limits, as the enemy is left vulnerable in this state and take a lot more damage.
To further mix-up the combat system and prevent it from becoming dry over time, each character can either switch between fighting styles or have an additional attack at their disposal. Cloud, for example, can switch between a normal fighting stance or a stronger, slower version that allows him to counter melee attacks, at the expense of being unable to block long-range attacks. Tifa can unleash an uppercut, and Barret can fire a series of explosions from his turret-replaced arm.
All these new combat mechanics make it very fun to play. There’s a lot of different enemies to encounter, and yet the fighting never gets old, because you’ll need to figure out when the proper time to attack is, when to dodge, what materia to use, whether you should attack their backside for more damage, what their weakness is, what character would be best suited for this enemy… there’s a lot of different factors that come into play. Some old-schoolers may resent that the old combat system has been nuked, at least somewhat, but I think this gives a whole new definition to the series that make it more fast-paced, even addicting, that even they will enjoy.
These changes have made it over to the bike mini-games; the races have received much greater fidelity, detail, and control. Cloud will encounter new type of enemies not seen previously in the original, and new special attacks can be made after the gauge for it has been filled up.
Some twists have been added to the story. Without getting into too much detail here, one prominent example is the Whispers of Fate – gray-colored hooded spirits that freely roam about at random moments during the game. Sometimes they’ll help AVALANCHE, even going so far as to resurrect people, but sometimes they can be a hindrance to their progress.
There are a number of things that give the remake an advantage over the original. Besides the obvious enhanced visual upgrade and a richer soundtrack, all of the characters have received a voiceover – you won’t ever encounter a text-based window when someone is talking. This breathes more life into them. Bosses will move around to different parts of the environment and may only be able to be reached with magic or Barret’s turret. Some of their attacks can only be dodged by moving behind a pillar.
The campaign has also been massively expanded; the Midgar section in the original takes five or six hours to finish. Not so with the remake. The entire thirty-to-forty hours of gameplay here covers Midgar alone!
This expansion allows us to get a closer in-depth look at each of the character’s backgrounds. They’ll have a lot more to say, and a lot more feelings to experience as Cloud goes about his adventure. This gives us a better understanding of these characters and what their cause is. Take, for example, the non-playable characters such as Jessie, Biggs, and Wedge. They’ll have more to say in a forty-five minute session than they ever talked in the PS1 version.
With the ability to control different characters in battle comes more variety. Instead of just assigning them a command, you can move them around, guard, attack, summon big creatures during a boss fight, just like I mentioned earlier. This gives us an even stronger attachment to these characters and find out who’s the best one to take out X enemy.
Guarding or evading was by chance in the PS1 game. With the new mechanics in place, guarding or evading comes at the players’ choice.
I’m frankly surprised how this game manages to run on my PS4 Slim at a solid thirty frames-per-second and still remain quiet as a whistle. No one will get a framerate upgrade running this on the Pro, as demonstrated by this video. The graphics are just amazing, with shadows, lighting, and all those other technical terms for describing graphics options. I imagine it must have taken a huge engineering feat to optimize Remake, at least for the standard PS4 model. Loading times can be a bit excruciating, but that’s kind of expected for a massive game like this, on top of a traditional hard drive.
This is an incredibly polished game; I’ve encountered very few bugs or glitches. But that doesn’t go to say the VII Remake comes without its quirks. Let’s talk about the townspeople for example. Every time Cloud walks by them, they say the same thing. I’ve noticed it’s a common thing with a lot of big-budget titles.
“Screw you Avalanche!” “Did you hear about those Sector 7 slums?” “Word on the street says Corneo’s got a secret stash hidden around somewhere.”
Like, no. It’s okay to listen to that for the first time, but if I’m trying to do side quests and I’m going back and forth, I don’t want to hear that over and over again. My character’s not even close to them; should he be able to hear them anyway?
Speaking of side quests: they’re great for adding gameplay and helping the party members get more experience. But they’re a bit cumbersome to get done. The first couple of chapters will guide Cloud to find the right people to talk to with a green exclamation point on the map, but later on, you can’t use the map as a guide; you’ll have to walk around town and find people with the exclamation mark above their heads. Then, finding the objective after talking to them can get a bit confusing. Sometimes the map will tell you directly where to go, other times, it’ll take you right back to the person who asked in the first place. The side quest system is a bit of a convoluted mess.
Lastly, this is less so a problem with the game itself, it’s just my opinion on some parts of the story that don’t make sense. You might recall I mentioned earlier that some of the important characters pass away later on in the story. Cloud will meet them, gasping for their last breaths of air.
Why not just use Cure or Revival materia on them so they can get back up, just like you would use it on your allies in battle when they’re low on health?
But nope. Just let them have their last words and turn their heads when they expire. This, coupled with some other elements of the story – which I don’t want to exactly get into in the case of those reading this review that haven’t played the game yet – doesn’t make a dealbreaker, that’s for sure, but kind of make you scratch your head and wonder if something else could have been done at that moment. But I’ve spoiled enough already as it is.
The $60 is well spent though. For a greatly enhanced game on an already great story, Final Fantasy VII Remake should meet most of fans’ expectations and then some. Twenty-three years has been a long wait, but it seems to have been worth it. I think the numbers explain for themselves when just this part of the installment alone has sold over three-and-a-half million copies worldwide, and has already become the fastest-selling game in the PS4’s history.
And yes, for those who aren’t aware, this is just the first part of the remake. Had it all been put into a single installment, major parts of the story would supposedly have to be cut out. It took me forty hours to complete this part along with most of the side quests, so you can still consider this to be a full game. But this leaves a lot of questions unanswered: how many parts will there be? When will the next part arrive? Will we be able to transfer our save data to the next part, or have to start over again? Can we expect the remake to arrive on other platforms?
We can only speculate for now. According to IGN, the first part of the remake only covers ten- to fifteen-percent of the story, which is mostly focused on the exploration of Midgar. We need not conclude that we could get as many as five or six parts, though; Midgar is a massive part of the game and took up an entire CD from the original set of discs, yet only covers about five or six hours worth of play. So we might get three parts now that the big town has been covered, just like the original.
As for different platform support, judging by the remake’s one-year PlayStation exclusivity, and Square Enix’s history in bringing most Final Fantasy titles to Steam, we might very well get ourselves a PC release a few years from now, as hinted by the launch trailer (the caption at the bottom reads, “Gameplay captured on PC”). And who knows, maybe Proton will be advanced enough by that time to overcome Denuvo or any other DRM copyright protection that will likely ship with it.
There’s a few things we can do in the meantime to sate our wait for the second part, which, for all we know, could take a couple of years:
- Replay the chapters in (spoiler) Hard Mode (unlocked after completing the game in Normal difficulty. Items can’t be used in this mode)
- Finish all the side quests, coliseum challenges, and VR combat simulators (no, you don’t need a headset; it’s just a new thing introduced with the remake)
- Get an idea of the events that lead up to Final Fantasy VII with Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII
- Check out the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII for a list of spinoff games and movies, including Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children
- Get the soundtrack: Original - Remake