This review contains spoilers.
Final Fantasy VII is regarded in the gaming community as one of the greatest titles of all time. When it arrived in 1997 for the PlayStation, it and contemporaneous titles like Metal Gear Solid and Nintendo 64’s Super Mario 64 revolutionized the medium with perfected 3D level design, film-like cinematics and thoughtful narratives. Final Fantasy VII not only encompassed those elements, it introduced RPGs to the West, and as such became the first RPG experience for many players who hold the game in high regard to this day.
Final Fantasy is a renowned gaming series of contained stories in its own right. However, none of its titles have seen as much worldwide commercial success as Final Fantasy VII. It wasn’t just the first title from the series to utilize motion video and 3D computer graphics, it was also the first to be backed by an expensive marketing strategy, with Square Enix spending $20 million USD on marketing in North America alone. Such a campaign was unprecedented at the time, and made it the most expensive game ever developed. But with its updated look and arrival on the PlayStation, FF7 would go on to become the franchise’s highest-grossing title in North America up until 2016.
Previous installments of the series never did well in the West because the RPG genre was still niche there. As such, Final Fantasy VII became the first game from the franchise to arrive in Europe. It also was the first game in the series to step away from the fantasy-like settings of previous games and introduce a more science-fiction background.
The title went on to spawn several spin-off games, movies and the like, to varying degrees of success and failure. Some fans gravitated towards the expanded lore while others shied away from it, satisfied with the conclusion of the original title. However, one thing most fans could agree on was the desire for a remake of the original game with enhanced graphics, voice acting, and budget of a contemporary AAA title.
When Square Enix announced plans for a remake in 2015, fans were both excited and apprehensive that the development team would mess up what they loved about the original game. Five years later, Final Fantasy VII Remake is finally here.
Now that we’ve played it to completion, we can safely say that the remake is fantastic. Final Fantasy VII Remake is a mostly accurate retelling of the original 1997 JRPG that stole the heart of a generation. The characters we fell in love with are faithfully recaptured, the beloved setting of Midgar looks more beautiful than before, and the combat system has had a contemporary facelift without losing the core gameplay mechanics of the original.
The title also does what any video game adaptation should do: it builds upon pre-existing elements of the story’s characters and plot. And to this effect, Square Enix succeeded. Avalanche members Jesse, Biggs, and Wedge never felt more alive than they do in FF7R. Background conflicts from the original game like the Wutai War are more developed and at the forefront of the plot, which bodes well for future characters from the original game, who won’t show up until the next title.
The remake is a true retelling of 1997’s FF7 — until you get to the ending. Without spoiling too much, we’ll say the ending suggests that the gang got a glimpse of what fate has in store for them in the original game. Consequently, Cloud, Barret, Tifa and Aerith literally pick a fight against destiny to alter heading toward that inevitable future.
It should go without saying that none of this happened in the original game. And although defying fate is a typical trope in the genre, this particular destiny is the exact story that fans loved and were expecting to see play out in the remake. It would appear that while fans wanted a faithful retelling of the original game, the developers wanted something akin to it, but with enough space to be creative and say something new.
This is often the problem with adaptations of beloved properties. Fans want to relive a meaningful moment from the past once again, with as little changes as possible, for fear something gets lost in translation. Creatives, however, want to cash in on the audience’s nostalgia, but not at the expense of their need to contribute something–anything–original.
Square Enix managed to almost have it both ways. FF7R deviates from the original well before the ending, however, these changes always seem to improve upon the base material that’s already there. It’s when Square Enix tries to inject new plot elements into the story (i.e. the ending) that it tends to falter.
And that’s where the game loses its identity as a FF7 remake, and feels more like Kingdom Hearts with its new, convoluted story and existential dialogue. Which makes sense, as KH creator Tetsuya Namoura is the director of FF7R.
The game concludes with the words “The Unknown Journey will continue.” Now that Cloud and the gang have shed themselves of their fates in the original game, both the character and the audience are in the dark about what will happen next.
But is this loss of identity in the ending a signal of things to come in the next installment? Although the ending of FF7R is a bit ambiguous, it seems safe to say that all bets are off in the next chapter of this title. FF7R gradually assured players as the game went on that the story would play out similar to the original, but the ending shatters that assurance going into the future title. FF7R was always going to alienate fans of the original and the extended lore alike, but this type of direction will assuredly alienate fans even further.
We’re more than happy with what we got in this title. Final Fantasy VII Remake is a phenomenal game that reminded us why the original title is so highly regarded in gaming history. Moreover, we’ll most likely enjoy the follow-up game if Square Enix pulls off characters half as well as it did here. But we will still won’t have the remake we thought we were initially getting. Final Fantasy VII Remake is just another spin-off of the original Final Fantasy VII story. Just like Advent Children, Dirge of Cerberus and Crisis Core, the remake is part of the extended lore of a seemingly one and done story.