Ten days ago, Square Enix released the long-anticipated Final Fantasy VII Remake, an update of the classic 1997 video game, with spectacular graphics, real-time combat, voice acting, and some provocative revisions to the original plot. The remake covers just the opening act from the original game, exploring the capital city of Midgar—sequels are presumably coming in the next few years. For now, Ringer staffers process what they’ve just played. Let’s mosey.
What’s your tweet-length review of Final Fantasy VII Remake?
Steve Ahlman: An utterly beautiful, at times mind-blowing reimagination of a classic that has endured for over 20 years in the canon of great video games. To fans of the original, it’s a modern gaming dream realized with quite simply the best original score in video games. Bar none.
Chris Almeida: The planet is dying, but this game is good.
Justin Charity: Mature, sporty, and exotic.
Rob Mahoney: So good I have had to actively resist the urge to say it’s better than the original.
Remake covers the first several hours of the original game and thus limits the player to exploring Midgar—a constraint that proved controversial during the game’s rollout. How do you feel about these limitations now that you’ve played the game?
Ahlman: To make a game as epic and, quite frankly, as long as the original Final Fantasy VII is a perfect idea in today’s era. Remake attempts to give the player an even more intimate look at Midgar, a beautiful city that is equal parts utopian and dystopian. It’s easy to imagine Remake as a story with multiple parts. What I’m utterly baffled by is why this was not made crystal clear in Remake’s marketing rollout. Without the words “Part 1” on the side of that box, I don’t know how Square Enix thought people wouldn’t expect the entire Final Fantasy VII story and experience. Nearly everyone I spoke to about this had no idea that it was not the full game. Bad call.
Almeida: Coming from the relatively sunny, blue, open-feeling world of Final Fantasy XV, Remake felt a little claustrophobic. Walking through the city streets at night felt somewhat depressing. I’m aware that was supposed to be the vibe; being slowly killed by corporate overlords isn’t supposed to feel great. Still, I’m not spending a ton of time outside nowadays, so I like the simulated sun. I guess I can always just take a ride in Noctis’s Regalia to clear my head.
Charity: I can’t believe there are so many players who sincerely wish Remake was as overextended and thus underdeveloped and shallow as Final Fantasy XV.
Mahoney: Any concern I had that Remake might feel small or boxed in melted away when I saw the real Midgar for the first time. Flat, jumbled backgrounds have been rendered into scenes of unbelievable detail and sweeping beauty. Blowing out that portion of the story also grounds the game in human struggle and capitalist critique before things get all meteory. The only catch is the long wait for the next installment.
What’s the biggest difference between the original game and the remake?
Ahlman: Simply put: scale. Everything from the original game has been made larger, more beautiful, more grandiose, and more sweeping in Remake. Some might think of this as “filler”—padding out sections and characterization to fill out a near-30-hour story for just this first part alone.
Almeida: I was 3 when the original game came out and never owned the original PlayStation. My first exposure to the series was Final Fantasy XII. This is a long way of saying that I never played the original—I just listened to the soundtrack. But this game certainly lived up to the promises of its score.
Charity: There’s the mechanical revisions, obviously: the real-time combat system, the dynamic camera, etc. There’s fewer characters, fewer summons, and fewer locations.
But, to my mind, the characterizations are the biggest difference between the original game and Remake. There’s more work put into developing Barret, Tifa, and Aerith’s relationships with one another apart from their relationships with Cloud in Remake.
Mahoney: The script. There’s a certain charm in Final Fantasy VII’s original, janky localization, but boy is it nice to have intelligible dialogue for a change. Final Fantasy games will always be a certain kind of corny. Within that, there’s still room for actual humanity. Aerith has jokes now! Cloud isn’t just stoic, but socially inept! The development of the game’s writing, the caliber of the voice acting, and technological advancements that now allow for something as radical as a nose and mouth make all of the characters feel so much more complete. There’s some real subtlety to this game—something the series lost in its more recent installments.
Let’s talk about the voice acting in Remake, which replaces the big blue text boxes in the original game. Does the voice acting serve the characters well?
Ahlman: Final Fantasy VII fans know this isn’t the first time these characters have been given voiceovers. And I think the voice acting is pretty spectacular for both the characters and the ultimate translation of the Japanese source material. Even the small bits of dialogue from NPCs passing through the slums and city streets of Midgar give a truly lived feel to this world.
Almeida: I usually opt to play Final Fantasy games in Japanese with subtitles. I did that with Remake, too, and enjoyed it. I often find voiceovers clunky and awkward. I guess it was more or less reading text boxes over again, though.
Charity: There’s one point when Aerith turns to Cloud, who’s pouting, as always, and says, “You mad?” It’s the little things said with such profound clarity about the core character dynamics that makes the voice acting great.
Mahoney: Absolutely. It likely helped in the writing, too; the original Final Fantasy VII could never be fully voice acted because, to borrow from Harrison Ford, you can type that shit, but you sure can’t say it. Making a real human person read the dialogue out loud polishes it, which allows the actors to bring it to life in a way that feels true to the tone of the story. This collection of actors nails it—the weirdness, the melodrama, the flirting, the whole thing. I even came around on John Eric Bentley’s performance as Barrett, which feels big and broad in part because it’s the act of a macho-posturing leader trying desperately to psych up himself and his team.
The remake lets the player shift their dominant perspective among four characters—Cloud, Barret, Tifa, and Aerith—in real-time combat. Who did you gravitate toward controlling in fights, and why?
Ahlman: I think the battle system is truly inspired here. It strikes a great balance between the feel of real-time character action and the plodding nature of turn-based combat. I found myself switching back and forth between every single character as necessary. Is an enemy too far for Cloud’s immediate range? Switch to Barret and shoot it down. Need some healing or to inflict some status effects? Aerith has got you.
I absolutely loved it.
Almeida: I tended to fight with Barret when given the option—I never became quite proficient enough at guarding and dodging to feel comfortable fighting on the inside. There was nothing that felt quite as satisfying as hitting a stunned enemy with a cross-slash, though.
Charity: If you leave Tifa to the AI, then she’ll uppercut herself to death. If you control Tifa, then you can string her basic attacks and her special abilities into showstopping combinations. She’s a Street Fighter character in bullet time. So I tend to micromanage Tifa.
Mahoney: All I want to do, even at this very moment, is pummel the shit out of monsters and robots with Tifa. They somehow gave a Final Fantasy game the pure satisfaction of a furious Marvel vs. Capcom–style combo.
Remake dedicates a lot more dramatic concern than the original game to the goofier Avalanche members, Jessie, Biggs, and Wedge. Did these characters grow on you?
Ahlman: A fantastic call! I loved Biggs, Wedge, and Jessie in the original game and their characterization in Remake is pitch perfect and a brilliant counterpoint to Cloud’s cold attitude at the beginning of the game.
Almeida: I thought they were fun! Watching Jessie Thief-Lord her way into ecoterrorism was strangely compelling. Wedge provided necessary comic relief. It was nice to see them manage to get Cloud to soften up.
Charity: Jessie grew on me. Biggs and Wedge didn’t. Ironically, Biggs and Wedge suffer Chewbacca Syndrome: Remake builds upon their characterization in the original game but plays too fast and loose with the tone, responsibilities, and stakes associated with them—especially in contrast with Jessie’s characterization—and so they’re neither sensible nor silly enough.
Mahoney: I wouldn’t say they grew on me so much as they existed for the first time. It had never really occurred to me that I should want to learn or care about the members of Avalanche. Their main purpose in the original game was as exposition-serving dialogue bots while you waited for the other party members to show up. Remake dispatches that idea from the jump by turning Jessie into a one-woman charm offensive, buying time for Biggs’s slow burn and … whatever it is that Wedge does. (Once more for the writers in the back: Eating is not a personality.) It’s a credit to the creators and performers involved that Jessie and Biggs, in particular, became the kinds of characters you’re glad to spend time with.
What, if anything, bugged you about the remake?
Ahlman: At times, I felt like I was just walking down a hallway. It’s a beautiful hallway in the form of immaculately rendered set pieces with a soundtrack of rapturous music. But simply being ushered from one beautiful cutscene or fetch quest to the next between main story beats can be, at times, tedious.
Charity: Sephiroth is way too sexy in Remake. In fact, he’s way too charismatic in every project that has ever adapted him from the original game.
In Final Fantasy VII, Sephiroth is a deranged Quillette reader who mutters nonsense about astronomy, archaeology, and genetics while vandalizing a local library in his unhinged passion for academic literature. He spends long stretches of the original game cradling a slimy, ancient corpse; he stinks, I presume. He’s only sexy in the sense that everyone imagines he’s sexy in the one, brief cutscene where he pouts while surrounded by flames in Nibelheim. Otherwise, Sephiroth seems messy, inarticulate, and repulsive in the extreme. It’s a great characterization! So I’ve always frowned upon the general tendency to reimagine Sephiroth as a winking boy band alumnus–turned-goth whose fanatical taunts may as well be pickup lines. Hello, Cloud.
Mahoney: I can’t say I enjoyed being assigned work by literal children. The early side quests in this game were the only thing that felt tedious—odd jobs that never amounted to much, in terms of characterization or reward. The magic of video games is that they make you happy to run errands. If that magic slips, you’re just a chump running around town looking for a lost cat, all in the hope that a little girl might get the word out that you’re a good mercenary.
SPOILER ALERT: SERIOUSLY, DON’T CONTINUE READING IF YOU DON’T WANT TO LEARN ABOUT THE ENDGAME!
What do you think about the, uh, choices that everyone (the characters, the game’s developers) made in the endgame?
Ahlman: I immediately want to say “stupid anime nonsense.” And that’s coming from a Kingdom Hearts fan.
Charity: Finally, Tetsuya Nomura tricked me into playing Kingdom Hearts.
Seriously, I think the fateful timeline divergence from the original game was a strong call. The end of the highway really does mark the point where Remake might degrade from faithful reinvigoration into slavish retelling.
Mahoney: What a thrill. Square Enix answered decades of fans’ pleading by remaking its most beloved game, and then immediately cracked it wide open to make something entirely new. It’s honestly a miracle that a game this big made with existing IP could be so self-aware. It’s the Greta Gerwig Little Women of Final Fantasy games—as much about the story as it is the telling of that story. As we’re told throughout the game, Remake is all about reunion. Yet when long-time fans came back to the world of Final Fantasy VII, they found that the invisible hand guiding the original game had been made visible, given a name, and turned into the final boss. Incredible. Now we just have to trust Tetsuya Nomura, the creative mind who took the Kingdom Hearts series on a cosmic adventure up its own ass, to manage an open ending.
Which should Square Enix prioritize for release: Final Fantasy VII-2 or Final Fantasy XVI?
Ahlman: Anyone following Square Enix’s track record during this current console generation knows it has had lackluster showings from both its licensed and in-house developed games for quite a while. Remake was basically the ultimate lifeline for critical and commercial success. In case of emergency, remake Final Fantasy VII. That being said, there is some true innovation when it comes to combat, storytelling, and—my god!—the music. Square Enix has brought a brilliant, albeit slightly flawed, epic back to life in this first part of the Final Fantasy VII remake and it would be insane to not go full steam ahead with the second part for this next console generation.
Almeida: VII-2, no question. The game has sold phenomenally well over the last week and a half. Keep the momentum going!
Charity: Final Fantasy VII-2 could, essentially, be a sort of Final Fantasy XVI. It’s uncharted territory.
Mahoney: Considering that this was the first good single-player Final Fantasy game in 17 years, let’s not overcomplicate this.