Final Fantasy VII Remake Review

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Can you believe it? After tantalizing PlayStation 3 technical demoa surprise announcement in 2014, and six years of waiting: Square Enix finally remade (a part of) Final Fantasy VII. I wasn’t the biggest fan of the original, but my appreciation for the game and its world grew over time. I found myself enjoying Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII immensely. I found Advent Children to be a fun watch. Before I realized it, I was looking forward to Final Fantasy VII Remake.

My primary reason for wanting a Final Fantasy VII remake was to establish visual coherence. The limitations of the PlayStation hardware dictated what was possible in 1996. The mish-mash of pre-rendered backgrounds, CGI movies, realistic, and unrealistic proportioned characters made it tough for me lend gravity to the events that transpired. 

The Final Fantasy VII Remake achieved much of what I hoped for with its presentation. It’s not flawless due to some awful texture loading issues and garish pre-rendered skyboxes, but as a whole, I felt they successfully recreated the look and feel of Midgar in real-time. Despite all the advancements, the characters still ended up being standouts with impressive attention to detail and graphical budget dedicated to them. They looked too good in some scenes which gave me flashbacks to the original PlayStation classic and how its polygonal characters stood out from the backgrounds.

I’m not certain if it was a coincidence or intentional, but the wealthier sides of Midgar were both technologically and aesthetically more pleasing than the slums. The texture issues were isolated to the poorer areas of Midgar whereas Shinra’s HQ and other plate dwellings were spared such technical issues. Square Enix really wanted to hammer home those themes of inequality, huh?

This instalment of Final Fantasy VII Remake was about steeping in the game’s themes and messages. I spent a lot of time familiarizing myself with Midgar and its people. I experienced Midgar slum life. I spent a bit of time in the quiet Midgar suburbs. And I even visited the Shinra Power Electric Company’s HQ and loved how swanky that was. Square Enix made it abundantly clear who the haves and have nots were.

Some will describe the errands and side quests as meaningless fetch quests. I didn’t mind them because I enjoyed the opportunities to interact and see more of Midgar. My familiarity and affinity with the sectors 5 and 7 slums grew with each passing hour. It takes time form an affinity to a place and even though the side content could have been more meaningful, I felt they achieved something worthwhile by asking me to go on wild Chocobo chases.

It also took a bit of time to grasp the combat. It was an evolution of the ideas presented in Final Fantasy XIII where the key to success was to build pressure and stagger enemies to inflict more damage. They layered those concepts on top of real time combat while allowing me to indefinitely slow down time to issue commands. I found it a bit cumbersome at first, but after reading ability lists and exploiting enemy weaknesses, I grew to really enjoy the systems implemented. My only complaint was the threat management which was too easy to exploit. If I didn’t want a character to fall in battle, all I had to do was to avoid direct control of them.

I found the action so enjoyable that I toyed with the idea of going for the Platinum trophy. Maybe I will revisit that idea when the next instalment nears. But ow long of a wait is that? I have no idea and that’s a point of contention for some. I understand that this remake is marching at a snail’s pace compared to the original but at the same time, I cannot describe it as a legitimate remake. They’ve diverged from the source material in numerous ways and introduced elements that make this take on Final Fantasy VII look like a sequel. I’ve seen comparisons to the 2009 Star Trek movie and the way it plays with established events and there’s enough hints to say that Square Enix was and will be toying with our expectations. 

Square Enix have always been excellent with their soundtracks. I expected faithful modernizations of the classics and I wasn’t disappointed. There was a lot of music in this game but not all of it was found in places in the usual places. For thematic reasons, they shoved the goofier tracks like the Chocobo theme in jukeboxes which can be found in 7th Heaven and other relevant places. 

Finding places to ground the goofiness without entirely ignoring it was a concern on many people’s minds. How would they handle all the mini-games? The bike combat sequences were easy enough to integrate, but what about the squat competitions? They had no troubles with that one. In fact, they went all in on the mini-games by increasing complexity while keeping the spirit of them alive. They even embraced the cross dressing Cloud and I was all for it. The flip flopping nature of the game reminded me of Sega’s Yakuza games. We have this serious matter to tend to but first we have to find some missing cats. It worked for Sega and Square Enix made it work with Final Fantasy VII Remake.

Final Fantasy VII was never going to be an easy game to remake. How faithful is too faithful? Will these new ideas diverge too much? I believe Square Enix struck an excellent balance. They managed to acknowledge the original while walking their own path. If they simply made a like-for-like remake, we wouldn’t have gotten to know Jessie, Biggs, or Wedge like we did. In fact, Final Fantasy VII Remake is making me look at the original more fondly. Some remakes supplant the original while some do them a disservice. Final Fantasy VII Remake is one of the first ones that compliments it.

Verdict:
I love it

Ratings Guide

Final Fantasy VII Remake Demo Impressions

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Final Fantasy VII was a fine game. I didn’t love it or hate but it didn’t resonate with me like it did for so many other people. I recognize the game’s significance though and I totally understand why there were so many spin-offs and eventually a remake. The Final Fantasy VII Remake demo was very impressive. It’s the most polished Final Fantasy game that I’ve seen since Final Fantasy XIII on the PlayStation 3. There’s a refinement to the presentation that exudes confidence. Based on what I’ve played in the demo, I think that confidence was warranted. 

The opening bombing of the Mako Reactor 1 is iconic. I’m certain it’s one of the most memorable and familiar openings in all of JRPGs. I’ve only ever played Final Fantasy VII once and I still remember the major beats of that opening. Fighting Shinra soldiers, running along side Avalanche gang, and wondering why Barrett is so intense; they reinterpreted all of that for 2020 and it holds up. The drama, the dialog, and the mood is decidedly from 1997 but it’s not a shot for shot remake. The characters were expanded upon. They were given more lines of dialog but they still retained their essence which was important. 

The biggest departure was the combat. By default, the combat is action packed with character switching and the ability to cast spells via a menu. It reminded me of Kingdom Hearts. I haven’t played Kingdom Hearts III but I felt Square Enix have made some strides on the action RPG front. I thought it felt good enough but it certainly wasn’t going to stack up to the likes of a Platinum Games’ lead effort like Nier: Automata’s combat. The one knock I have against the default combat is the amount of time it takes to take down an enemy. I was exploiting weaknesses and staggering the Scorpion tank but I felt the fight dragged on for a tad too long. Perhaps those fight times will reduce with practice and familiarity though. 

It was a looker and certainly a step above the likes of Final Fantasy XV. I was equally impressed with the level of performance as well. I didn’t notice any significant drops in framerate and the image was pristine and stable on the PlayStation 4 Pro. It’s certainly one of the most impressive Unreal Engine 4.0 games to date. My only nitpick of a concern are the cutscenes which are not real time and showed noticeable visual artifacts. It’s a lot to ask for realtime cutscenes, so I’m just hoping the final game has higher bitrate videos. 

In the end, I was pleasantly surprised by how good the Final Fantasy VII Remake’s demo was. I had no idea what to expect and came away with mostly positive impressions. It’s been a good long while since I played a Final Fantasy game (I still haven’t played FFXV), so what better way to get back into it by revisiting a beloved classic by way of a promising remake? 

Game of the Year 2016 Day 3 of 3

2016 was a hell of a year for games. Long awaited games like The Last Guardian and Final Fantasy XV finally made their debuts. First person shooters received a massive jolt in the arm with the fantastic Doom and invigorating Overwatch. Even long running franchises showed that their respective fourth iterations can be amazing. It was a good year, indeed.

Best Old Game of 2016

Winner: Picross 3D

I had finagle a way to acknowledge the majesty that is Picross 3D. Picross is fine but blow it out into 3D dimensions was a mind expanding moment for me. I wanted to buy Picross 3D Round 2 but seeing how it was $40+ CAD and I didn’t even play the original, I went on Amazon.ca and bought a cart. It’s charming, weird and addictive to boot. The difficulty curve is a bit erratic at times but I feel it’s been fair. I’m playing for the perfect run so I restart any time I make a mistake and chip off the wrong piece.

While I’m technically not done with this game, I feel it’s easily one of the best games I’ve played this year.

 

Best Game of 2016

Winner: Overwatch

It’s my most played game the year but that alone doesn’t warrant the number one spot. It’s also incredibly well designed from top to bottom with its unbelievable ability to entice me into trying new things. Blizzard managed to get me to play a ranked Competitive mode and even convinced me to use online voice chat with strangers on the internet which in itself is a small miracle. 

With a timeless aesthetic and strong free support including seasonal events, costumes, characters and maps, I see myself coming back to Overwatch over and over again.

Runner-ups:

2. Doom – It invokes the Doom games of the past but doesn’t use it as a crutch. The campaign was so tightly designed with systems feeding off other systems, music, story and gorgeous fluid visuals designed for the sole purpose of making me feel like a total badass. 

3. TitanFall 2 – Likely the most complete package of 2016 with both a surprisingly great campaign that invokes Super Mario Galaxy and a multiplayer mode that I thought was a write off after the less than stellar Tech Test. Respawn Entertainment will be supporting the game with free content as well which is a trend that I would love to see continue.

4. The Last Guardian – I love Trico. I wish I could have one as a pet. I don’t own a pet but my patience with Trico is highlighting the fact that I do have the mentality to be a decent owner. All I need is to pet them regularly right?

5. Uncharted 4 – The perfect ending to the adventures of Nathan Drake. If there was a single game that made me feel old and reflect on what I was doing with my life, it was this.

6. Dragon Quest VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past – Some of the most depressing stories ever told in an JRPG were found in this epic. You can say it was needlessly long at times and they could have trimmed the fat but the long winding journey was essential to create attachment to characters.

7. Inside – It may not have been as impactful as Limbo but Playdead still knows how to unsettle people with the simple gestures and actions.

8. Deus Ex: Mankind Divided– Iffy performance in the hub world didn’t prevent me from rummaging through other people’s personal belongings, read their e-mails and hack their wall safes. It’s more of Human Revolution than I expected but more of a good thing isn’t bad. 

9. The Division – End game issues stopped my brother and I from returning to The Division but for a very brief couple of months, The Division’s loot driven brand of third person shooting kept my brother and I coming back everyday to do our “dailies”.

10. Gears of War 4 – It’s been years since Gears of War 3 – both in-game and out of it. Creating a likeable cast of new comers isn’t easy but The Coalition managed to package them and the classic Gears of War formula into a game that still plays in 2016. I look forward to the “dark middle” chapter and hope they’ve learned to run around like normal people by then.

Checkpoint: Fitbit Charge 2 Edition

I switched to the Fibit Charge 2 today leaving the Garmin Vivosmart HR behind. I liked the Vivosmart HR for what it was but there are aspects of the Fitbit Charge 2 which I appreciate more. 

The Hardware

The band itself is smaller, thinner and lighter than the Vivosmart HR. It is wider but additional width is fine. It’s not my ideal thickness yet — it can afford to lose half a centimetre — but it’s close. 

While the smaller physical dimensions are quantitative positives, the touch of silver metal finishes gives the band a qualitative edge over the Garmin. The ability to swap bands gives the Fitbit an additional fashion bonus as well which is a very nice touch. 

I will miss the Vivosmart’s touchscreen which recognized swipes and gentle taps. The Fibit’s touchscreen requires more force to activate and doesn’t recognize swipes whatsoever which means I have to repeatedly tap to cycle around the various types of info available. 

The Software

The inner beauty of Fibit’s bands is ultimately why I decided to switch. The Charge 2 cannot review e-mail notifications or the weather like the Vivosmart HR but it does present the basic info very well. But the clear and decisive superiority is the manner in which they display info in their app, it also updates information to the app in near realtime. I rarely update the Vivosmart HR with the app because it’s a cumbersome process. But the Fibit? It’s as seamless as one would hope.

Will This Be It?

Will this be the band that I stick with for the long haul? Maybe. My gripes with the Vivosmart HR were addressed with the Charge 2 so technically, I should be happy with this. But as you may recall, I was pretty happy with the Vivosmart HR as well before seeing the Fitbit in action. Who knows if something else will emerge in 6 months time to woo me away.

Making good progress through Dragon Quest VII and started to mop up Trophies for TitanFall 2. That campaign is still very enjoyable even at Master difficulty. 

My brother started Final Fantasy XV which is a very impressive looking piece of software. I still cannot believe it isn’t a piping hot mess of a game. 

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