There are few video game characters as iconic as Cloud Strife.
Since his 1997 debut in Final Fantasy VII, the taciturn, spiky-haired mercenary has appeared in numerous video games and even an animated feature film (Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children).
But even the movie version of Cloud Strife does not look quite as good as the near photo-realistic version in Final Fantasy VII Remake.
A reimagining of Final Fantasy VII, Remake is the first of a planned series of games. Besides updating the original with spectacular new visuals, a modern combat system and a fresh remixed soundtrack, Remake expands the story into unexplored territory.
The main story starts off in familiar fashion.
Cloud Strife is hired by the eco-terrorist group Avalanche, which believes that the extraction and use of the liquid energy source mako will destroy the planet. Thus, the group plans to bomb the mako reactors owned by the Shinra Electric Power Company.
The opening scene is practically a scene-by-scene reconstruction of the original bombing mission. But the main characters now have more lines of dialogue that reveal their inner motivations. Even minor characters, such as Avalanche members Jessie, Biggs and Wedge, are more fleshed out.
While the game’s take on the environment and social inequality seems even more relevant today, the Remake has reworked some problematic scenes, such as a cross-dressing sequence that has not aged well.
The gameplay has been updated for modern audiences whom, according to the game developer, prefer action games. Remake is an action-oriented game where you have to actively press a button to attack, dodge or block enemies.
There is also an option to play the game in a less hectic Classic mode that is more akin to the original’s turn-based style.
To its credit, Remake has managed to integrate the original’s Action Time Battle (ATB) system with its modern action style in a cohesive manner.
This ATB gauge fills up when you attack enemies. When a certain percentage of the bar is filled, you can enter a menu to pick special attacks, cast spells or use items, just like in the original. The game also slows drastically when you are in the menu so you have ample time to choose your next move.
In practice, this new combat system feels more dynamic. You are in control of the character and every button press matters.
My only grouse is that the camera stays too close to the character – I would have preferred it to be more zoomed out. In fact, I blame the camera for making me lose a few boss fights.
Boss encounters are epic affairs, with each boss typically having several phases where they switch up their attacks and introduce some nasty surprises. A couple of the encounters, though, feel too drawn out.
I was less enthused by the variety of the common enemies. Because Remake takes place entirely in the city of Midgar, the enemy fauna are mostly either human soldiers or mutated beasts.
The game environment, too, can be a drag. There are too many corridors and stairs with enemy encounters that cannot be avoided.
Adding to the playtime – it took me around 40 hours to complete the game – are numerous side quests that are hit and miss. For every interesting quest, there are several boring ones that ask you to locate missing children or lost cats.
Perhaps the developers felt additional, mostly-mediocre content was required to justify the price of a full game for what is essentially the first chapter.
But I enjoyed the various mini-games found in the game. They offer a welcome break from the narrative’s serious tone. Whether I was playing darts or doing a squat challenge, these moments in Remake remind me of why I liked the original.
Fans will also be delighted to see the return of classic Final Fantasy elements, from the materia system that complements the combat to the giant chicken-like chocobos.
Remake definitely has some saggy parts that felt like a chore. But the game ramps up near the end with a sequence of spectacular setpieces, each more bombastic than the one before, like a Marvel’s Avengers movie. These final encounters are often spliced with stunning rendered cutscenes that hint at the direction the developers are taking with this remake.
Long-time Final Fantasy VII fans will relish the return of their beloved characters while those who did not play the original will find much in this game to fall in love with.
Spectacular setpieces and boss fights
Reworked combat system
Draggy, unnecessary side stories
Price: From $80.10 (PS4 only)
Genre: Action role-playing game