Final Fantasy VII Remake Intergrade, which I will be shortening to FF7R for this review, is an action-adventure RPG. It was developed and published by Square Enix in 2020 as part 1 of a 3-part series. Initially being exclusively licenced to Sony platforms, it was eventually ported to the Epic Games Store on Dec. 2021, then Steam in June 2022.
There is a LOT to discuss here. But to be up front, FF7R is a brilliantly crafted title. Albeit one that falls marginally short of the ‘masterpiece’ accolade.
What led us to FF7R?
In 2005, Sony used Final Fantasy VII in their tech demo to showcase the potential of the up-and-coming PS3. This inadvertently led to long-standing rumours surrounding a full-scale remake of the game. But it would take a further 10 years for Square Enix to begin development on FF7R. A process which would ultimately take a full 5 years to complete.
To say that gamers were excited by this announcement would be the understatement of the century. After all, the original FF7 often found itself in the GOAT conversation, usually being pitted against the likes of Ocarina of Time.
There was, and still is, a high expectation for the game to live up to its predecessor. It’s for this exact reason that Square Enix brought in key members of the original staff to work on the project. This included the likes of former director Yoshinori Kitase, and lead writer Hironobu Sakaguchi. However, not wanting to play it safe, they opted against a 1:1 remake, and instead decided to expand on the original games core identity.
With all that in mind, the question of “did they do it justice?” was firmly centred at the forefront of everyone’s collective minds. While some fans may be disappointed due to their unfathomable expectations, for the vast majority of players, I can safely say the answer is yes.
Narratively the same, but structurally different.
The premise of FF7R follows the former elite SOLDIER turned mercenary, Cloud Strife. His primary goal is to take down de fact dictators, and his former employers, the Shinra Electric Power Company. The resistance group, known as AVALANCHE, are equally set on destroying the corrupt enterprise for draining the planet of its life-stream, Mako.
Together, they formulate an operation to bomb one of the primary Mako reactors, located in the city of Midgar. The success of this mission unintentionally starts a chain reaction, forever changing the lives of our protagonist, AVALANCHE, Shinra, and an enemy long thought to be dead.
Fans of the original may read this and think that it’s pretty in line with the original. And they’d be correct to do so. The overarching narrative doesn’t differ much at all, but the inner workings of the story have. Out of fear of spoiling something, I’ll omit any finer details. All I’ll say is to expect to be perplexed and eager for more by the time you complete the game.
As I already mentioned, the staff behind FF7R wanted to mix things up, and avoid remaking the game 1:1. Understandably, some older fans may be slightly disheartened by this, but I’d argue that it keeps everything feeling fresh, especially narratively. For newer players, you have absolutely nothing to worry about. You’ll still get to experience the same awesome story as before, merely with a new coat of paint.
Midgar and AVALANCHE.
FF7R is set within the fledgling metropolis of Midgar. The city itself is a technological marvel, consisting of an upper and lower plate that are segmented into districts. It was cynically constructed like this to segregate the rich citizens from the poor. Predictably, this has had catastrophic effects on the social hierarchy.
The vast majority of the game sees us exploring the abysmal conditions of the lower plate. We gain an insight into the everyday lives of the NPCs, along with the vast amount of trials and tribulations they suffer through. The team dynamic of AVALANCHE is also explored in greater detail, showcasing the family-esque bond they have with each other like never before.
It might have seemed risky to contain the entire game to Midgar, but after completing FF7R, I’m certainly glad they did. Expanding on the city, and its denizens, gave a concrete reason as to why we should hate Shinra. It also established why we should care about Cloud and AVALANCHE’s goals in the first place. Something that wasn’t really highlighted this early in the original. As such, FF7R massively outdoes its precursor in this field.
The iconic RPG party.
SPOILER WARNING: If you don’t want to be spoiled about who is playable in the game, then I’d suggest you move onto the next section.
Party dynamic in a group-based RPG is of the upmost importance. It could also be argued that FF7 has one of, if not the most, recognisable parties in the history of gaming. While we don’t have the full ensemble of the original quite yet, we do have updated and improved versions on some of the icons.
Throughout the course of FF7R, you’ll take control of the aforementioned Cloud Strife. To put it bluntly, Cloud is an arrogant and cocky individual. He isn’t without a soul though, as he has the ability to show compassion to people in times of need. His background as a trained fighter allows him to wield the oversized Buster Sword with ease.
You’ll eventually team up with fellow AVALANCHE members Barret and Tifa. The former is a dad first, and a hot-headed activist second. Equally sharing Cloud’s hatred of Shinra, he wishes to eliminate the company by any means necessary. For unknown reasons, Barret also has a gun in place of his right arm. Apropos for him, he uses this to his advantage in combat scenarios.
Tifa, in contrast, is incredibly reserved and understanding of others. Often acting as the mother of the group, she provides emotional support for the people around her. At the same time, she is also an exceptionally talented fighter, choosing to use her lighting fast fists over a traditional weapon.
Lastly, we have Aerith. An optimistic and cheerful person who serves as a beacon of hope for the residents of Midgar. True to her character, she wields a stave as her weapon, and supports the team with various healing spells.
As a party, they have undeniable chemistry. Individually, they are all exceptionally captivating. You’re left wondering things like why Cloud abandoned Shinra, how Barret lost his arm, or where Aerith came from. It is magnificent character design, and I cannot state how much I love it enough.
FF7R marries old and new gameplay concepts together.
FF7R alters the turn-based mechanics of the original, into a real time, action-based system. This isn’t entirely unexpected given that the game is directed by Tetsuya Nomura of Kingdom Hearts fame. The new system, named Active Time Battle, or ATB for short, is a compromise between old and modern ideologies. For all intense and purposes, its real time mixed with strategy elements.
The ATB system works as follows. When entering combat, you’ll be placed in control of 1 party member, though you can freely change to anyone as and when you like. Using a regular attack builds up your ATB gauge. Once it is full, you are able to select an option from the command menu, be it a spell, ability, item or summon. While selecting an option, the in-game speed reduces dramatically, giving you amble time to finalise your decision.
In a surprise turn of events, the system turned out to be incredibly accessible. It doesn’t take any real length of time to become familiar with it. But it does take some practice to become efficient in maximising its capabilities. Above all else, and most importantly, it’s both gratifying and fun to play with.
Besides that, the real time component of the system functions as expected. You have to find the opportune moment to land your attack combos or risk being put in a vulnerable state. You can prevent this by dodging out of the way of incoming attacks via a Zelda-esque action roll. Altogether, this is easily one of the smoothest and immersive combat system I have played in recent memory.
FF7R lets you customise your character through equipment.
Customising your party members comes in the form of weapons, accessories and armour. –Materia is another way of doing so, but I’ll touch on that in a second.– Weapons in the game provide unique ways of mixing up your characters designated role. They can affect things like a character’s baseline attributes, or provide you with unique passive benefits.
This is all managed through the Skill Point system, or SP for short, which is an entirely new mechanic made for FF7R. You’ll gain extra SP to spend every time you level up, and unlock extra options to use them on as you rank up your weapons. SP is a limited resource though, so you’ll have to pick and choose those options carefully.
Accessories and armour boost your stats, and provide a plethora of unique effects as well. These range from debuff immunities, to spell potency increases and much more. Accessories are particularly useful, as they also give you access to more Materia slots. Speaking of which…
The excellent Materia system makes a comeback.
Materia also makes it return, remaining as ingenious now as it was 25 years ago. These are the items which grant your characters access to powerful spells, abilities and passives. It’s up to the player to decide which Materia loadout best suits each party member. Perhaps you want to kit one of them out as a healer, or maybe you want them to be a frontline tank. It’s a delicate decision, but one that is incredibly varied and rewarding if done right.
There are also special Materia which provides you access to the iconic summons. Unlike the original, you don’t call upon them freely on your turn. Instead, they’ll occasionally join you in battle when you’re fighting stronger enemies. Additionally, once summoned, they’ll stay on the battlefield for a minute or so, assisting the party with whatever they’re fighting.
I personally prefer they way they have implemented the summons in FF7R for two reasons. Firstly, it makes them feel much more special due to the rarity in which they show up. And secondly, they have been designated their own independent Materia slot.
This is important as each character is limited to the number of vacant Materia slots found on their weapon and accessory. Inherently, opening up another slot provides you with more options to customise your character. Without a doubt, the improvements made to the Materia system made an already excellent idea better.
Patent Square Enix art design.
During a time when Square Einx were known as SquareSoft, they were widely renowned for their graphical standards, alongside the likes of Blizzard Entertainment. Everything from their cinematics, right down to the pre-rendered backgrounds, were leaps and bounds ahead of everyone else. While the remake isn’t quite pioneering at that level, it still manages to reach the upper echelon of visual fidelity.
The character models, particularly of the main cast, are unbelievably impressive. The artists have done an outstanding work in capturing the finite details, such as skin impressions and hair strands. The riggers and animators have also exceeded all expectations, as each party member truly acts like a living and breathing person. All of this is quite ironic considering the jagged polygon look of the original instantly dated itself back in 1997.
The game also does a valiant job of showcasing the disjointed nature of Midgar. Both socially amongst its residence, and politically against Shinra. For example, the ruinous slums, whose inhabitants have been left to fend for themselves, completely contrast the pompous, Vegas inspired Wall Market. It’s conflicting landmarks such as these that demonstrate the different ways people can cope with pressure. On Square’s part, it shows an incredible amount of self-awareness for these varied complexities.
Last-Gen Drawbacks for FF7R.
Sadly, it isn’t all spectacular on the art front. There are a number of textures which are noticeably shabby. These are mostly limited to secondary environmental assets, though it can also be spotted in some of the skyboxes as well. Of course, these aren’t going to massively impact your playthrough, but in comparison to everything else, they stand out like a sore thumb.
It’s worth noting that this is a direct port from the PS4 version of the game. For that generation, this quality is highly impressive. However, I had hoped that they’d improve on the ropy textures for the PS5 and PC releases. In saying that, the graphics are still absolutely stunning, and these minor complaints are just that. Minor.
A soundtrack for the ages… again!
The original soundtrack has been updated and re-arranged, featuring a diverse blend of orchestral and contemporary instrumentation. This fostered a new and unique sound for FF7R, all while retaining the atmosphere set by the original. As a massive fan of the original OST, I’m happy to say that it lives up to its predecessor.
In addition to the crisp reimagining, they also went above and beyond to create alternate takes of repeating tracks. For instance, the battle themes adjust slightly depending on the situation that is currently transpiring. While this isn’t something that was entirely necessary, it is massively appreciated nonetheless.
It also wouldn’t right to do an FF7 remake without having some input from the legendary composer Nobuo Uematsu. He contributes a new track to the OST called Hollow, which is as unnerving as it is deathly gripping. Sadly, this is his only new piece. But his presence can still be felt throughout, as a large majority of the OST is comprised of re-arrangements of his original work. Undisputedly, he is one of the best ever to do it, and FF7R makes it clear as to why that is.
Superb SFX, great voice acting, lacklustre voice direction.
Admittedly, I was slightly sceptical about the addition of voice acting in the remake. Thankfully, the actors knocked it out of the park, triumphantly capturing each character’s personalities faithfully from the original game. This isn’t limited to the main cast either. Secondary, and even background characters, are immaculately preformed. I personally found myself stopping to listen in on the everyday life of a Midgar dweller more than once.
While the actors themselves did great, the voice direction leaves a little to be desired. For spoiler reasons, I cannot highlight the questionable lines that I would like too. Trust me though, you’d instantly shake your head in disbelief upon hearing some of these deliveries.
Moving on, the sound effects are equally on the same level as the OST. Swords, guns, magic, monsters and everything in between, are crafted and recorded expertly. It not only meshes well with the on-screen action, but it further enhances the believability of the world. All in all, the sound department did a bang-up job.
The DLC, titled episode INTERmission, provides you with an additional 2 chapters to playthrough. For the duration of it, you’ll be playing as Yuffie Kisaragi, a Ninja of Wutai. I honestly can’t say much about the narrative without spoiling a massive section of the original campaign. So without saying anything, I found it to be an enjoyable addition to the main game, and hope they consider doing the same for Vincent Valentine in Rebirth.
FF7R is a fantastic reimaging of the iconic title. Refusing to classify itself as a nostalgia act, it expands upon the original narrative in new and exciting ways. The combat system has a seamless fluidity to it, allowing for engaging and entertaining gameplay sequences. Artistically, FF7R retains the level of quality players have come to expect from Square Enix, but it does falter ever so slightly in some environments. The updated rendition of the classic OST is outstanding from start to finish, with the sound design team matching it in every regard.
When all’s said and done, I would comfortably place FF7R as my current game of the year. Admittedly, the price point of £69.99 is utterly ridiculous. But if you happen to come across this on sale, then I’d highly recommend adding it to your collection and giving it a playthrough.