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? 

LTTP: Dragon Quest VIII [3DS]

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I started Dragon Quest VIII on the Nintendo 3DS over a year ago – it may even be closer to two years at this point. It didn’t keep my attention like Dragon Quest VII. I visited a new town, move the plot forward a bit, and eventually put it on ice for a month or so before repeating the cycle again. It took the pending release of Dragon Quest XI for the Nintendo Switch before I got back on this horse and rode it towards the finish line.  

It was surprisingly easy to get back into the groove of things after each hiatus. The story was exceptionally simple to follow and didn’t require much of my attention. I felt the main story arch and side quests in this game paled in comparison to Dragon Quest VII. It was a far more intimate story from the outset which kept me engaged early on. Each new character’s introduction invigorated the story but it wasn’t long before everything began to wane. I didn’t expect the game to be filled with a large number of character introductions and backstories, but I expected something else to take the baton. I expected intriguing side quests and a strong main story to pick things up. Each new town or area gave the game a fleeting jolt of excitement but when there’s more hours left than content, the game felt like a struggle to wade through. 

Accelerated battle speeds and the use of A.I. Tactics made the game’s numerous combat encounters tolerable. I eventually over-leveled via Metal Slimes and lived in the veil of Holy Protection during the back third of the game but I generally didn’t care enough to involve myself in the battle system. A 50/50 mix of “Fight Wisely” and “Focus on Healing” took me through the final boss with relative ease. I felt like I was more of a party manager taking care of the strategic side of things and only involving myself when it was absolutely needed.  

Jessica’s outfit was ridiculous back in 2005 and it’s still ridiculous today. Her outfit was doubly stupid in the snowy mountains when everyone was shivering. It was blemish in an otherwise beautiful game. Toriyama’s art and cel-shaded technology was a marriage that stood the test of time; the game still looks great on the Nintendo 3DS. 

The voice acting was a big deal 14 years ago but it’s a slog today. Every spoken line of dialog was excessively slow and I ended up thumbing past much of it. I didn’t miss much. I really could have done without the “COR BLIMEY”. Bless them for trying to make it work with the Toriyama aesthetic though. 

A functioning day-night cycle with puzzles and events tied to the time of day made highlighted the fact that this feature must have been another technological advancement at the time. The handful of use cases were well done but contrived.  

The PlayStation 2 version of Dragon Quest VIII was the first game of this long running franchise that I ever laid hands-on. I barely scratched the surface of it before laying it down for more tantalizing games at the time. My journey throughout this Nintendo 3DS re-release was filled with similar diversions where other games easily drew me away. For all its charm and elegance, waning narrative hooks left me with too many natural departure points. The story started out strong but there just wasn’t enough worthwhile threads or beats to keep me going. I felt there were many charming novelties that elevated an otherwise middling JRPG.  

Verdict:
It was okay 

Ratings Guide

LTTP: Life is Strange: Before the Storm (PS4)

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Life is Strange was a captivating game. I genuinely enjoyed the tale and dark twists weaved by Dontnod Entertainment. I expected Square Enix and company to forge a sequel but when I heard a prequel by Deck Nine — a different studio — was on its way, I was very skeptical. Life is Strange: Before the Storm fleshed out the lives and events Life is Strange cast members prior to Max’s return to Arcadia Bay. It gave insight into Chloe Price and how she evolved and it gave Rachel Amber a voice. But were these good additions to the Life is Strange story thus far? I’m not certain. 

I found Before the Storm to be a surprisingly excellent self contained story of teenagers dealing with the real world. The influence of peers and parents were explored through the stories of Nathan Prescott and Drew North. They showed how familial pressures lead people down the wrong path or negatively warp their personalities. Some influences were direct while others were unfortunate circumstances.

Showing the origins of Chloe and Rachel’s relationship was fascinating and cute but it just raised more questions. Before the Storm spanned the nascent stages of their relationship but it didn’t address how Rachel and Frank Bowers got involved. The bonus episode, “Farewell”, explored the fateful day when Max left Arcadia Bay for Seattle but it didn’t share why she didn’t stay in touch. Situations and story threads left dangling like this highlighted more opportunities for Square Enix to introduce another sequel in-between but I think that would be a mistake. Some questions are better left unanswered.

Three full length episodes (about 3 hours each) and a one hour bonus episode was just enough time to explore the Max-less life of Chloe Price. Max’s time rewinding mechanic was replaced with a forced and unnatural feeling argument system where Chloe and I can start shit talking people to get our way. I think the only instance where it felt natural was within the tutorial.

For the most part, Before the Storm served to shore up my feelings and impressions of the characters from the original game. I felt a bit more sympathy here and there but as a whole, my feelings were largely unchanged. Max and her faceless parents, though? They altered my opinions of them quite a bit. Max failed to keep her promise to stay in touch and eventually gave up altogether. And considering the circumstances that preceded her departure from Arcadia Bay and how close Max and Chloe were, I was shocked that Max and her family didn’t even visit. They spent so much time together and to just disconnect like that was odd to me. Needless to say, I wasn’t surprised by Chloe’s sense of betrayal by her friend.

One of the most impressive aspects of Before the Storm was how seamless the switch from Unreal Engine 3.0 to Unity was. If that Unity logo didn’t make itself known, I wouldn’t have noticed that they were running on a completely different engine. I wasn’t too keen on the game’s performance on the default “resolution” mode but it ran quite well with the “performance” option. I didn’t fathom 30 FPS would be a problem in an adventure game like this but I was wincing during those camera pans.

I went into Life is Strange: Before the Storm filled with skepticism and left just the same. Was it necessary to delve this deep back into Chloe and Rachel’s lives? I did enjoy their rendition of the Tempest but did I need to see someone remark on that wine stain in the Price living room again? I was glad to see Nathan Prescott before he walked down his dark path but what happened to Samantha? For better and worse, answers and questions ping ponged themselves throughout. While its relevancy and necessity can be debated, its quality was undeniable to me. Deck Nine’s contribution to Life is Strange was solid.

Verdict:
I liked it

Ratings Guide

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