Square Enix's stunning remade RPG had me captivated... for the most part.
This one was a big one for me, because I've never particularly been a fan of Japanese action-RPGs. I've always found that the general gameplay experience is designed in such a way that it is counter-intuitive and often frustrating, something which is rather common in Final Fantasy VII: Remake. But my lack of interest in these styles of games doesn't just revolve around game design. No, it's also because I have never really taken to anime, meaning the nature of gameplay, the incessant flurries of sword-swinging, and the depictions of its characters and the way they interact with one another always felt excessive or off-putting to me. Still, I've been wanting to get around to play FFVII: Remake for some time, for two reasons to be exact. The first of which is the absolutely stunning nature of this video game and the incredibly high-quality to which it has been produced. The other being that FFVII is often regarded as one of the greatest games of all-time, and this is my way of finally beginning to experience it.
So, I decided over a week ago that the time had finally come, and I set out on to complete this game, something I didn't expect would ignite a fire in me, and also didn't think would take me such a long time to conquer. But it did, and I'm glad this was the case, as for the most part, I found myself thoroughly immersed and engaged by what was served up. By the time I was on the fourth or fifth chapter, I was completely enthralled by the story and the majority of the cast and their motivations. Don't get me wrong, there were cracks in an otherwise infallible armour, cracks that only began to spread the further I continued my journey, but considering going in I genuinely thought I'd struggle to fall in love with this game, and wholeheartedly expected to lose interest after a few hours, to say that my impression of this game is a positive one is a very surprising revelation to me.
Right off the bat, you can see the brilliance of the engine that Square Enix has crafted for this remake, and what it allows the developers to do. The visuals are near the best I've ever seen in a game, and the gameplay itself (albeit on a PS5) is smooth and fluid. Likewise, the narrative is so well thought out and has been fleshed out in such a way that the truly complex and bizarre story of FFVII doesn't feel complicated or overwhelming. From the perspective of a newbie or someone who has never really cared for Final Fantasy, the time it takes to explore each plot point is an incredibly welcome design.
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And this extends to the combat and the RPG systems as well, which are handled in such a way that they feel approachable and understandable. Considering a lot of great Japanese action-RPGs, like the Soulslikes, are designed in such a way where you need a notepad or a degree in inventory management to be able to figure them out, FFVII: Remake's simple yet deep nature is another massive positive for this title. Add to this the fact that combat is more than simple ability and spell casting (or rather it can be depending on how you like to play), and you get a game that is immersive and approachable.
But that's not to say I don't have some issues with this title. Namely, for whatever reason, the developers and long-time fans must absolutely adore getting destroyed in combat, in the sense that a lot of bosses in particular are designed to constantly CC (crowd control) and leave you with status effects, which essentially make it impossible to actually play the game. A lot of the time this won't affect the outcome of a fight, as assuming you use your allies and abilities, stagger effects, Materia, and spells correctly, bosses should be more than beatable, but spending the majority of a fight on the ground, or paralysed, or sleeping, or frozen in time, or knocked up, or knocked back, or ensnared, or as a fairly useless frog (I think you get my point) can be frustrating to say the least. I've always had a mindset when it comes to games with fast-paced combat like this one, and that's that anytime my hands can be taken off my controller/mouse and keyboard is time that should be repurposed for gameplay. So the truly excessive nature of crowd-controlling systems in FFVII: Remake is one of my biggest frustrations.
Similarly, while the narrative and story is well-handled for the most part, I can't help but think it could do with trimming some fat off in places. I may have never actually beaten FFVII myself, but I'm more than aware of the true length of this game and how little of it FFVII: Remake tackles. With that being the case, I can't help but think that some parts of this title could be trimmed down or removed in their entirety. The whole story arc of Cloud and Aerith looking to become applicants to be Don Corneo's next bride, and likewise the whole multiple chapter lengthy adventure that takes place after the destruction of Mako Reactor 5 when Cloud is separated from Avalanche are two prime examples in my eyes. Even if both were simply shorter, the whole of FFVII: Remake would still be well over 20 hours long, so it's not exactly a huge loss.
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But again, these are generally minor frustrations in a game that for the most part is exceptional. The story, the characters, the combat, the progression, the art style and sound, it's all incredibly well done, and it has rubbed off on me in ways I never expected. Now that I've completed this game, and the more concise Intermission DLC for that matter, Final Fantasy VII: Rebirth has slingshot its way up my most anticipated games of 2023 list, and likewise, I'm now rather interested in both Crisis Core: Final Fantasy Reunion later this year, but also Final Fantasy XVI coming next year as well. Will either leave me infatuated and stunned the way that FFVII: Remake has? Well that remains to be seen, but am I starting to see the brilliance of the Final Fantasy series? Without a doubt.