25 years go, Final Fantasy VII came to the original Playstation. Last summer, the Playstation 5 version of the remake came out. I’ve never played the original Final Fantasy VII, but I like JRPGs as much as the next guy, so this was as good a time as any to jump on board.
Since Final Fantasy VII is so famous already, explaining the plot and characters seem like a bit superfluous. I knew who Sephiroth and Cloud were, even though I’d never played the games.
Still, some won’t know, and it feels wrong not to say something about the plot and characters.
The game is set in Midgar, on Gaia. Midgar is a large city with two floors, a bottom floor on the desert floor with slums, and a wealthier top floor built on top of gigantic plates attached to support strust. The prosperity of the city is powered by ‘Mako’, spiritual energy harvested from the planet by large reactors. The Shinra Electric Power Company owns the mako reactors and all the technologies springing from it, and holds sway over most of the world.
A group of terrorists from Avalanche disagree with Shinra’s methods and the harm they cause the planet and decide to blow up one of the reactors. Their leader Barrett assembles a crew and hires a mercenary to assist. The mercenary is a man named Cloud Strife, ex-military, from a special-forces unit called SOLDIER. And Cloud is the protagonist of the game.
The destruction of the reactor does not quite go as planned, and matters quickly escalate. After Cloud meets a girl called Aerith, things become even murkier.
Cloud Strife is a gruff ex-SOLDIER. Capable, but aloof, he is only interested in money and staying away from people. Over time you learn he has a troubled past, and he might have good reason to stay away from people. Of course, the blond spiky-haired hero has become a staple of gaming.
Barrett is the leader of the Avalanche cell that sets the story in motion. He has a gun for an arm, and is prone to sprouting purple prose about the crimes of Shinra against nature.
Tifa Lockhart is also a member of Avalanche, and a childhood friend of Cloud. None of the characters are prone to wearing armor, but Tifa’s mini skirt and tank top are one a whole different level. Of course, this is the chainmail bikini trope at its ‘finest’, and the creators have made Tifa… Ehm, let’s say ‘spine-damaging-and-gravity-defyingly endowed’. It’s true to the original character, but maybe a little change could have helped here. She does have agency, and isn’t just a weak plot device, so that is good.
Then there’s Aerith, a strange young flower-selling girl that Cloud briefly runs into after the crew escapes bombing a reactor, and they have a longer accidental meeting later. Aerith is a bit of an innocent, and sees the goodness in the world, but she too has agency. There’s also something weird about her, which becomes clear as the story progresses.
Finally, I have to mention Sephiroth, of course. His role in the Final Fantasy VII remake is not large, but Cloud and he clearly have some scores to settle. As antagonists go, he has the proper mix of mystery, scariness, and menace to be really great. He doesn’t play a big role in this game, and apparently he wasn’t even in this part of the original game.
Additions and changes
Final Fantasy VII Remake is a beautiful game, especially on Playstation 5. The remake features real-time combat instead of the semi-turn-based combat of the original, but that’s fine. Final Fantasy XIII had real-time combat that really sucked, but the developers have really streamlined it since. I feel there’s nothing wrong with turn-based combat either, but real-time is also fine.
A bigger problem is the decision to break the original game into a series for the remake. The expectation is a trilogy, but nothing is final. I would not be surprised to see Final Fantasy VII milked for a five-game run. This means that to a newcomer like me, the story feels incomplete. And now I have to wait for years to see the conclusion. Or play the original — a relatively expensive option, especially for a 25 year-old game.
Of course, the remake expands things from the original, or changes them. This could be an improvement, but like with Star Wars and ET, I’m not convinced. As I played, I noticed some out-of-place things, and as it turns out, those are the additions. There was a strange section of the game where you fought an ex-SOLDIER biker, which seemed incongruous. A kid researcher from Shinra also shows up in the slums, which flabbergasted me. Then there are weird ghost-like creatures that are tangential to the plot at best. And what’s with the secret lab sequence? All of these things are additions.
The ending of this game also feels weird, and tacked-on sideways. It makes little sense, has a sort-of cool build-up but doesn’t go anywhere, and that does not bode well for the sequels. The recent Final Fantasy games, like XIII and XV all featured confusing endings, failing to provide an exciting climax, but instead a complicated mess paved over with purple prose supernatural bullshit masquerading as motivation and plot twists. If the remakes go further down this route, that won’t be an improvement in my opinion.
The Playstation 5 version of the game features Intermission, a DLC about Yuffie. Yuffie is a character from the original game, who apparently lacked a backstory. The quality of the one that was crammed into this DLC does not remedy that. After the DLC, Yuffie does not become an interesting character. She ends as she started, but stuff happened in between that… well, doesn’t really work for me.
Also, the DLC introduces some villains which really complicate matters. They are apparently from a spin-off game of the original. I didn’t really get how they fit into the story, and I guess they don’t, really.
All in all, I get the same vibe as from X-Men: Days of Future past, where Bryan Singer tried to tie everything that he did in the X-Men universe together. Really, Square Enix, you really don’t need to take every spin-off and prequel from Final Fantasy VII, including the movie, and try to create a new all-encompassing remake from it. That will not end well.
Final Fantasy VII Remake is a fun game. If you want to play a JRPG, or like them in general, this is a good one to start with. The characters are fun, the story is pretty good, and the gameplay is engaging.
If you want the whole story, go for the original. I’m still mulling over the idea of doing that myself.