There are just too many great games to play these days. First World problems, huh? As a dad with gaming time severely limited by two young kids, I just can’t keep up. As such, some titles that are right up my alley pass me by for years for no discernible reason. The Final Fantasy VII Remake is one of those games.
I’m currently addressing that oversight by playing through Square Enix’s 2020 reimagining of the first part of Final Fantasy VII. I was skeptical at first that, in turning the PlayStation classic into a trilogy, the original’s narrative beats would be stretched too thinly, or that the remake would be inflicted with excessive padding.
In short, I needn’t have worried. Final Fantasy VII Remake is everything a AAA game should be. Now I’m eagerly awaiting Final Fantasy VII Rebirth. Let me explain why.
Light and Shadow
First, I need to zoom out to an industry-wide perspective for a moment. 2023 has been, to put it mildly, a very strange year for gaming. On the one hand, we’ve had a veritable deluge of critical and commercial successes. The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom (Yes, it was this year), Spider-Man 2, Baldur’s Gate 3, Hi-Fi Rush, Super Mario Bros. Wonder, Alan Wake II, and many, many more. Appropriately enough, there have even been some fantastic remakes, notably the Dead Space and Resident Evil 4 remakes.
So, it has been a great year for gamers. But for the people who make the games, not so much. In fact, I’d go as far as saying that the industry is in crisis. A poor soul taking it on themselves to aggregate the layoffs in the industry puts the current estimate at 9,000 jobs lost to date. That’s simply staggering. With development cycles being between 3 and 5 years in general, the effect of this crisis won’t be felt by the players for a while, but I’m quite sure it will have a major impact on releases in the near future. There simply aren’t the teams making games like there were during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Eggs Meet Basket
What’s more, video games are more expensive to develop and market than they ever have been, particularly in the big-budget so-called AAA space. Just this year Sony accidentally revealed that major PlayStation titles The Last of Us Part II and Horizon: Forbidden West cost $220 million and $212 million to develop respectively. Marketing budgets are typically as much again for AAA releases, so potentially the total cost of these mega titles is pushing half a billion dollars.
I give this background to illustrate why it’s more important than ever that developers and publishers minimize risk and produce truly outstanding games, such as the aforementioned 2023 highlights. And Final Fantasy VII Remake is one of those games.
To be clear, I should clarify that Final Fantasy VII Remake isn’t a perfect game. It has its fair share of flaws. The writing ranges from very good to painfully banal at a whim, with Aerith’s chatter in particular inducing a grimace or two. What’s more, the pacing is very inconsistent. The first few hours are almost non-stop action, interspersed with occasional breathers, as should be the case. But after defeating the Airbuster, for example, any sense of urgency is squandered on busywork.
Despite these minor shortcomings, Final Fantasy VII Remake shines as a stellar offering. And this is because it utilizes its hefty budget in all the right ways.
Rather than focusing on stuffing in as much repetitive, generic “content” like many AAA open-world games are guilty of, Final Fantasy VII Remake crafts an exciting, finely-honed experience. There are plenty of systems to get to grips with and optional collectibles to find, but these rarely obscure the central storyline. Of course, the fact that Final Fantasy VII Remake is a very linear game helps in this regard but, with AAA budgets as high as they are, I don’t consider open-world status as a valid excuse for a lack of bespoke creativity.
Polished To a Sheen
Final Fantasy VII Remake shows an admirable level of polish and attention to detail. The main character models are beautifully detailed and smoothly animated in a way that makes them seem believable despite the fantastic setting.
But it’s the NPCs that stand out to me. Each and every one has interesting barks delivered through consistently solid voice acting. The world feels truly alive as you jog through with your iconic sword on your back, really reinforcing the sense of place for each new district you enter.
The most impressive aspect, for me, is how nuanced the story is. Yes, Shinra are destroying the planet through their Mako exploitation, but the vast majority of people, even in the slum areas, rely on the resource for energy and light. Many NPCs brand Avalanche’s activities as selfish, bemoaning that they’re disrupting their already fragile lives. Too many games these days are obsessed about bashing home a point without making any effort to explore both sides of the argument, so it’s gratifying to see that Final Fantasy VII Remake doesn’t make that mistake.
What’s more, story momentum is maintained by regular “flashbacks” and mysterious Sephiroth appearances, continuous reminders of the question marks that hang over Cloud’s past. Again, Final Fantasy VII Remake leverages its budget to craft compelling, slickly-produced cutscenes to convey this information, rather than squandering the budget on banal, exposition-heavy cinematics. Interpersonal conflict is always emphasized, resulting in a truly engaging story.
Fast and Furious
Of course, all of the above would be almost irrelevant if Final Fantasy VII Remake wasn’t fun to play. Fortunately, the fast, fluid combat is meaty and satisfying. Occasionally the dazzling effects and lightning-fast animation result in sensory overload, but it always feels like you’re in the midst of an exciting battle, even against minor enemies.
Smaller-budget games often struggle, understandably, to achieve the level of combat fluidity and depth that Final Fantasy VII Remake proudly displays. This applies even more so to the spectacular set pieces that complement Final Fantasy VII Remake‘s main plot beats.
In short, I’m so glad I finally got around to playing Final Fantasy VII Remake. For me, it truly is the embodiment of what a AAA game should be. None of the “mile wide, inch deep” world that hampers so many big-budget releases from the likes of Ubisoft and EA. Instead, it uses the original Final Fantasy VII as a springboard to create a reimagining of superlative depth and polish. Now I’ve joined the legions of gamers eagerly awaiting the next instalment. It can’t come soon enough.