Final Fantasy VII Remake really hadn’t been on my radar before it launched. I had played the original, it’s actually the only Final Fantasy game I’ve finished and I do recall basically enjoying it; but I’ve only played it once, and it’s probably approaching two decades since I played it? (I never owned a PS1, but I played Final Fantasy VII fairly soon after I got a PS2.) But I was surprised how much I heard people enjoying the remake when listening to people talk about it on podcasts, and they way they were talking about it made me think there was something there that I’d like as well; and seeing a constant stream of art about the game from Jen Bartel continued to remind me that it existed. So, when I saw it on sale, I used that as an excuse to get a copy.

It took me a few months to actually get around to playing the game. But I was still glad to have bought it early: Liesl was looking for a game to play after she exhausted BioWare’s oeuvre (and I do mean exhausted, I think she did 8 full playthroughs of Dragon Age: Origins?), and, talking through options, she decided to try out Final Fantasy VII Remake. And she really enjoyed it (and she replayed several of the chapters multiple times to unlock different options), and nothing I saw while watching her changed my mind about wanting to play it.


And it really is a very solid game. I’m actually having a bit of a hard time putting my finger on why I enjoyed it so much, but I really did like it. Somehow the game manages to have an incredible amount of heart, in particular, though even there I can’t quite put my finger on why I feel that way. I like the characters, but I don’t like them that much? I like the way the city is crafted, but you spend an awful lot of time doing dungeon crawls instead, and the parts of the city that you get to spend time in are pretty small. The combat is okay, and leveling up primarily through your weapon and your materia is an interesting change compared to most RPGs, but honestly, most of the time, I just used equipment / weapon upgrades that let me maximize materia slots, filled up all those slots, and went through combat in a pretty mindless way.

I was going to say that maybe it’s the plot: not a plot I would have thought would really speak to me, but sometimes you get surprised. But I don’t think that’s the answer, either.

Ultimately, though, I think it’s all of that, combining in a way that gets at something more fundamental: that all worked together to get me to care. Partly the way the characters are written, partly the way the characters look (I can see why the game has inspired so much fan art!), partly what the characters are doing.

And partly the world that the characters inhabit, and the greater ties that you see there. Final Fantasy VII doesn’t quite carry off a city as a character the way that the Yakuza or Shenmue games do, but it comes pretty close; there’s a strong feeling that there’s much more going on in the city, we’re just seeing one slice of that experience.


That all comes together most strongly for me in the Wall Market part of the game. You’re still getting to know Aerith, uncovering surprises. And you’re realizing that Aerith does a very good job of bringing out the best in Cloud: not too long ago, he’d been presenting himself as a mercenary, just in it for the money, but now he’s focusing on helping Tifa, and so is Aerith, even though she doesn’t know Tifa, because that’s the kind of person she is. And that’s the kind of person she assumes everybody else is, which in turn makes Cloud more that kind of a person.

And here we also see the city itself come to the fore. Wall Market has a distinct character as a whole; but you’re also trying to get the favor of three separate key people in Wall Market, each with their own personality and their own light that they shine on interactions. And there’s a whole host of more minor characters you get to interact with: uncovering minor problems, carrying out favors for people, trying your hand at challenges.

This all added up to a very pleasant several hours of the game; the only down side of the Wall Market is that Tifa isn’t in your party, so you don’t get to see Aerith / Tifa interactions, but that comes next. (Well, there’s also the down side of the threat of sexual violence; I’m normally not a fan of that as a plot device, but here the prospect of that actually occurring is never taken seriously, so it didn’t bother me as much as it normally does.)


So I very much enjoyed Final Fantasy VII Remake as a standalone game. But of course, it’s not a standalone game, in two sense: one is that it’s a remake, and the second is that it’s only the first part of a remake.

I’m not the best person to talk about that: as I said above, my memories of the original Final Fantasy VII are pretty dim. So I don’t know what was expanded here that was only hinted at in the original, I don’t know what’s going on with those mysterious spectres that show up every so often, and I don’t know what, if anything, in the remake flat out contradicts stuff from the original. Liesl liked the remake enough that she’s thinking of playing the original soon, so maybe I’ll find out by watching her?

And, in terms of future games, I’m wondering how the team’s decision to invest so much time into certain sections of Midgar will manifest itself in the broader game. Are they going to do a traditional overworld, or will they turn that into corridor traveling like you spend so much time doing in the first part of the remake? Are all the towns going to get the same treatment as sections of Midgar did; if they do, will I care? How is party selection and leveling going to work once there are more party members and (presumably) fewer plot-driven reasons for the game to force a specific party on you?

Not something to worry about, though; especially since I don’t have any faith that future installments will come out any time soon. But that’s okay: the first part of the remake stands on its own, giving me a very satisfying experience.

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