Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Final Fantasy VII Remake: Review

My current time suck activity is the remake of Final Fantasy VII. The original was one of my favorite games as a kid, and like many in my generation I was ecstatic to hear it was getting a new version. Yet for some reason -- and I couldn't tell you what it was -- I held off getting it upon release. Even after I bought, I had to delay a few days because the disc was defective (I returned it and downloaded it from the online store instead). But now I'm finally waist-deep in the game (I just completed the battle at the Sector 7 pillar), and I'm very much enjoying it.

For those of you who don't know, the new game only covers a small fraction of the 1997 game -- the part that takes place in the giant metropolis of Midgar. This is only the first disc in the original, and it was a controversial decision when it was first announced -- is this just a cash grab to stretch out sequel after sequel? Or is it, as the creators insisted, a necessary step if Midgar was to be given its full color and splendor?

The answer, in my view, turns out to be some of both. There's no question that, as many others have noted, there's a decent amount of filler in the game in order to make it into a full-sized game. That being said, Midgar was always a location that screamed for more detail, and this game offers it. Now I want even more -- a complete open-world game set in Midgar, where I can visit every corner of every sector on the plate and in the slums.

Of course, that would be a different game than Final Fantasy VII, which is iconic as a relatively linear JRPG. So what do we make of the game we have?

  • It is beautiful. That's one of the first things you notice -- it is just a visually stunning game.
  • There's significantly more depth given to the main characters as characters. One thing I noticed in particular was that the age of the characters really seems more noticeable. Canonically, most of the story characters in the game are in their very early twenties. As an adolescent, that makes them adults, and one views them as basically confident, have-it-all-together heroes. Now, playing as a thirty-something, it's really obvious how they're basically kids. Cloud is awkward around women because he's 21 years old. Aerith is girlish and spritely because she's a girl.
  • On the other hand, there are virtually no memorable side quests, tertiary characters, or events that occur outside the main storyline of the game. That's a shame, since JRPG's should shine on the story side. I think the overall weakness of the side quest game, in particular, is what yields complaints about the game being padded. But the fact is there's nothing in here that comes anywhere close to, say, the gut-punch that is Witcher III's "Black Pearl" side quest.
  • The combat is a blast, and really seems to marry the best parts of a traditional turn-based system with the live action demanded by a modern game. It reminds me quite a bit of Final Fantasy XII (and it probably could have benefited from FFXII's "gambit" system).
  • The one serious drawback of the combat is the inability to swap materia (magic) mid-fight. Particularly for difficult boss battles, a proper materia layout is crucial -- yet there's no way to know what it should be until you get into battle. The functional effect is that you start a fight, assess your enemies weaknesses, die, and then swap out your materia as appropriate on the reload. But there should be a better way. Let your characters use a charge to change their materia, or use assess when you can see enemies on the map but before you engage ... something.
  • Voice acting settles a bunch of controversies -- for example, I'd been pronouncing "mako" wrong my whole life (I rhymed it with "may", but it actually rhymes with "mah"). The big choice, though, was "Aerith" over "Aeris". This makes sense on one level -- the fans who'd rebel if "Aerith" wasn't chosen are, I suspect, somewhat rowdier than the one's who'd rebel if "Aeris" wasn't picked -- but it still just sounds like everyone has a lisp when pronouncing her name.
  • I don't know if Don Corneo was modeled expressly on Jeff Ross, but that's my backstory and I'm sticking to it.

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