Pröper Gander

Final Fantasy VII Relived

I was going to ignore Square-Enix's attempt at a remake of their 1997 classic JRPG, Final Fantasy VII1. I didn't see any point in jumping aboard the hype train, or in caring too much about a "remake" that only covered ten percent of the original game while turning it into a flashy action-RPG similar to 2016's Final Fantasy XV. Then I played the demo. After all, it was free and covered the first chapter of the remake, the bombing of Mako Reactor 1.

Impressions After Playing The Demo #

The FF7R demo was better than I expected. The gameplay was tight, the English-language voice acting competent, Cloud Strife's determination to hide his PTSD behind a tough guy's insouciance is more apparent, and Barrett Wallace didn't sound as much like a bad parody of actor Laurence Tureaud's stage persona "Mr. T" as he used to. The three minor characters—Biggs, Wedge, and Jessie—have more characterization behind them and more interesting dialogue.

The boss fight at the end was an actual challenge, and not something I could brute-force. Finally, there was the fact that the bomb alone wasn't enough to destroy the reactor, and that Shinra themselves destroyed it to frame an organization of environmental activists called Avalanche.

Despite all this, I still wasn't sold. But my wife suggested I buy it anyway because she knew that Final Fantasy VII had been one of the reasons I started writing, and that its influence lingered. Curiosity eventually won me over; I had played the hell out of the original, and I was curious to see what the new version was like.

Impressions After Playing The Full Game #

While my copy became available at midnight on Friday, April 10th, I waited until the 11th to start playing. I only stopped for my day job, household chores, and to watch a stream of the 25th anniversary production of The Phantom of the Opera at the Royal Albert Hall with my wife. I finally reached the end on normal mode this Sunday. After almost 60 hours just to play through the story once, facing a dozen "game over" screens along the way, I can certainly say I got my money's worth.

Does FF7R offer the breadth and scope of the original? No. You are indeed limited to the dystopian city-state of Midgar and the slums beneath it. The new version is a reasonably faithful retelling of the original, at least up to the point where Cloud, Barrett, Tifa, Aerith, and Red XIII finally escape the forces of the true power running Midgar, the Shinra Electric Power Company. However, there are changes, and people hoping for a 100% faithful remake of a classic game with modern technology are going to be disappointed.

You won't find characters behaving in completely different ways from before. However, the reasons why the characters act as they do may be different, or at least have been explored in greater detail. In addition, there are completely new minor characters to fill out the supporting cast. Finally, expect to see more of Sephiroth. Cloud is sure he killed him, but the dead don't rest easily in Midgar.

Deviations from FFVII in FF7R #

FF7R's deviations from the story told in FFVII start in the first chapter and continue throughout the game. Hooded phantoms that resemble Dementors and are normally invisible intervene regularly; we first see them in Sector 8 after the Mako Reactor 1 bombing, where they appear to be keeping Aerith rooted in place—almost as if they're determined to ensure that she's there to meet Cloud when she might otherwise have chosen to flee the area like a sensible person.

These phantoms—eventually identified as Whispers—show up regularly, mostly to hinder Cloud and the others, but occasionally save their lives.

Red XIII eventually reveals that the Whispers are in fact agents of fate; their task is to ensure that events play out as they were meant to. In other words, whenever the characters do something that threatens to make the events of FF7R play out differently from those of FFVII, the Whispers show up and force events back into their original course. This implies that the relationship between FFVII and FF7R is one of eternal return2.

However, Sephiroth is also aware of the planet's will and the Whispers, and therefore knows that he and his "mother", the alien entity Jenova, are to be eventually defeated. This sets the stage for an epic battle on the outskirts of Midgar that didn't happen in FFVII.

It's tempting to suggest that the Whispers represent the demands of a vocal portion of the FFVII fandom that FF7R play out exactly as the original did. However, the remake developers want to do things their way, so the fight against the Whisper Harbinger that Sephiroth instigates in the game's final chapter could be taken as a struggle against the collective butthurt of nostalgia-blinded gamers given the implication that defeating it breaks the timeline and allows new possibilities in the rest of the story.

We'll have to see what the future holds as Square-Enix works on Part 2 of FF7R. I'm rather curious myself. But first, I'll have to play through the game again on hard mode.

The true Final Fantasy VII Remake3 starts here.

Conclusion #

FF7R was better than I expected. It doesn't cover the entirety of the original story, but what it does cover it does in greater detail than the original. It would be a solid action-RPG even if it wasn't a remake of FFVII.

I'd recommend waiting until it drops to $40 unless you're a fan.

  1. For the remainder of this text, I'll use FFVII to refer to the original version of Final Fantasy VII, and FF7R to denote the remake. This matches what I've seen on antisocial media. ↩︎

  2. Eternal return (or eternal recurrence) is a concept that occurs in most Indian religions, Judaism (see the book of Ecclesiastes in your Bible), and many European polytheisms. It is also central to the writings of 19th century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. ↩︎

  3. This will only make sense if you played a certain From Software action-RPG called Demon's Souls. Why? Because fuck you is why. ↩︎