Final Fantasy VII (remake) - Critique
Of course, Final Fantasy 7 Remake is only the first in a series of still unknown length, if it is ever completed, and which will once again tell the entire story of the classic 1997 JRPG. The game covers the events that take place in the city of Midgar, where Cloud Strife and his freedom fighter allies face off against the evil Shinra Corporation who runs the scene. Which means that the first 5 hours or so of the original game were stretched into a campaign that took me 33 hours to complete, with a few optional surprises that I left out.
It's an odd move that sure leads to some structural issues, but gives the town and its heroes more time to be transformed into interesting characters - even the most innocuous like Jessie, Biggs, and Avalanche's Wedge have the opportunity to become more nuanced and intriguing co-stars. This new narration regularly switches from shot-for-shot reproduction of the original, to judicious extended versions of existing footage, including brand new scenes that sometimes offer a tantalizing new point of view, and sometimes boring fill that makes you revisit frequently. areas already explored.
Bust a Move
Fortunately, the common thread between the new areas and the old ones is the combat of FF7R, which is shown to be more than engaging for dozens of hours and against more than 100 different types of enemies. I admit that I was initially saddened to learn that the remake would not use Final Fantasy 7's turn-based Active Time Battle (ATB), but how the famous system evolved into a fight. in real time is exceptional. And even if you only lead one character at a time, you won't stop giving orders or switching to the other two characters during all fights.
If you can hit the enemy as much as you want with the square button, it mostly loads your ATB bars, which you can use for some unique skills of weapons, equipped spells, and items. Bringing up the menu to choose one of these slows down time sharply, letting you comfortably decide what your party should do in the midst of a fight - but this lingering slow-motion adds tension to every decision, just as I remember rushed choices. caused by the original system. (There is an optional 'classic' difficulty mode, but all it does is automate your actions in combat aside from using ATB, making a 'in-between' system that doesn't work. hardly liked.)
All characters have a unique ability programmed on a triangle that does not use ATB - Cloud, for example, can go into "Punisher mode" for more damage, but with lower speed, while Tifa can unleash a big finish that depends on one of its abilities. You can also dodge or parry at will, and you'll have to do that often. While the game has never been very tough on Normal difficulty, there is enough nuance that just hammering Square and stringing basic attacks together won't get you anywhere, pretty as they are.
In addition to their health bar, enemies display a stun bar that knocks them out and increases damage against them when filled. It's a pretty popular system right now, but the smart difference here is that each enemy's bars fill up in different ways. Of course, more basic opponents like wererats or Shinra soldiers will only have to be hit hard, but others may be more vulnerable to certain elemental magics, or will require you to dodge some. attacks, or attack one of their limbs in order to stun them. These variations allow combat to renew itself throughout, and I loved looking for weaknesses in each enemy.
The diversity is a big reason why FF7R's boss fights are just so amazing. These cinematic clashes are as intimidating as they are exhilarating, and still feature a multi-phased showdown that never required me to grind my Buster Sword without strategy. It's amazing how these Returning Bosses were reimagined too, with what were sometimes kleenex monsters, like Abzu in his sewers, turned into epic encounters with a whole new personality. Bosses have unique attacks that you have to learn to avoid as well as weak points to eliminate in a strategic order with the right moves. And the way the cutscenes are interwoven with key moments in the fight is always heartening.
While I loved the spectacle of a fight against a robot or a giant monster, most of my favorite encounters were against human enemies. FF7R was clearly inspired by the design of Kingdom Hearts (and not always in a good way, but we'll come back to that later) and these intimate one-on-one duels are a good example. Each of these Bosses are interesting and unique, but they all rely heavily on parrying, dodging, and waiting for the perfect moment to strike. They play out like an overpowered anime duel in the best possible way.
Another important aspect of winning any combat is the use of parry. You will have up to three of the four available characters who will fight at the same time (the team being determined by the scenario). Those you don't control will attack and defend well enough on their own, but never as well as if you lead them - and most importantly, they won't use their ATB bars unless you order them, which is easily done via the command menu. Juggling the ATBs of the three characters in this way is rather galvanizing when you also have to watch out for the robot trying to smash your face, and it's intuitive enough that I managed to get used to it much faster than I could. did not think.
You will also often have to change the character you are controlling, as each of them is like a specific tool for different situations. Barrett can easily take down flying enemies, Cloud will quickly increase stun, Tifa unleashes heavy damage on vulnerable enemies, and Aerith takes care of deep healing when needed. Switching between them is a bit like switching weapons in the heat of battle, especially if you need to switch over to a character to charge their ATB faster for a special move. If I've spent the most time with Cloud, I've also rotated my characters frequently just because they're all fun to use.
Choice of weapons
It's perfect if their style is so different, by the way, as all Materia can be given to any character. These collected orbs are inserted into the equipment to give the characters spells and bonuses, which allows you to transform whoever you want in your party into a mage, tank, healer, etc. (Although their base stats also influence this decision.) This flexibility is really nice, and I've spent time organizing Materia and roles quite often when the story changes my party makeup.
There were times when it got a little frustrating though. It's vastly easier to tune your Materia than it was in the original game, but people can come and go from your party so often that I found myself in the menu recalibrating my rarer Materias though. more often than I wanted. Materias gain power when used, so even though I had duplicates of them, the ones equipped were always better, and reassigning a Level 3 Life Materia to a new character every time I got them. forced to change my group quickly became boring.
FF7R's weapon system also made me spend more time in the management menus than I wanted, but these are such intriguing mechanics that it bothered me less. Instead of offering the usual quickly replaced stat boost like so often in an RPG, FF7R's new weapons are persistent items that you collect, keep, and upgrade throughout the campaign. Each has a unique ability that you can permanently gain by using it - like Aerith's Sorcerous Storm area attack or Cloud's amazing Infinity End finisher - and that has always prompted me to try a new weapon. . each character has about half a dozen in total, so you won't get a ton of those much-needed upgrades, but my party, weapons, and Materias have swapped so much over time the action never has. had time to stagnate.
As you get stronger, your weapons can even be upgraded with points called SP, earned automatically when the character wearing them levels up. SP can be spent on increasing stats, like physical or magical attack, or other unique effects, like one that heals you when an enemy dies or one that increases your damage when your health is full - it There are also effects unique to each character, such as the fixed percentage chance for Tifa to enter combat with her finisher (and fists) already loaded. These upgrades aren't really exciting as such, but the overall result is significant: every weapon stays in the race for the duration of the campaign, gaining strength alongside you.
These upgrades exacerbate the strengths and weaknesses of the weapons over time, clarifying the role of each depending on how you want this or that character to be played. Cloud's famous Buster Sword does some good damage, but his Iron Blade sacrifices that in favor of defense. The Hardedge is a physically crushing machine, while the Mythril Saber relies all on its magical power - and if the studded bat (yes it's back) remains weak at base, it can be upgraded to deliver a ton of critical hits. It even turns Cloud's Punisher Mode combo of attacks into a violent single-use home run. I switched weapons quite a bit as my Materias and party configurations evolved, but I found it quite poetic that my favorite weapon remained the Buster Sword for the last few chapters.
Wandering through levels ranging from the slums of Midgar to the factories of Shinra (the visual variety is very impressive for a set of locations limited to a single city) while spinning these powerful weapons has always been fun, even if it was often thanks to the enemies more than for their environments. The level design of FF7R is practical, but at the very least simplistic; They are usually linear paths with larger areas to fight, with nothing to challenge the intellect other than a few puzzles and hidden objects to find. The abundance of small bridges to cross carefully and tedious piles of boxes to avoid don't help much either.
While the bulk of the original Midgar is present in FF7R - some locations being perfectly recreated as I remembered them, and others having evolved dramatically - there are quite a few new features to be found as well, and I wouldn't say it is. always for the best. Basically, I love that the small section of a bigger RPG has been placed under a microscope and fleshed out with good character development and a more robust storyline, but there are times these additions improve the initial content, and others where it pulls it, and the whole game with, down.
Anything that offers more context and information about the town of Midgar or its people I once knew in the form of piles of PS1 polygons is phenomenal. I loved meeting Jessie's mom, learning that Wedge loves cats, and seeing that Biggs has a real problem with anxiety - and I enjoyed my simple strolls through the Midgar neighborhoods populated by busy locals. their daily lives as Cloud and his friends attack their Shinra masters. I particularly liked one of the missions that sees you engaged with the idea of turning off the huge solar lights that provide light to the slums of Midgar in order to be able to progress, which gives concrete weight to the actions of Avalanche. These injections of humanism are amazing and welcome, whether in known sections or entirely new.
What I didn't like, however, was when FF7R made it clear that it needed more content, regardless of quality, just to get a "full" RPG size. The most annoying of those moments comes when Cloud reaches a residential area in the slums of Midgar - all wonderfully detailed and full of life, with truly magical achievement - where he's asked to do odd jobs as a mercenary (this we've never seen him do outside of his Avalanche job.) The problem is, these are arguably the worst quests in the game.
Suddenly, the unique and exotic world of Midgar gives way to the most rehashed clichés of the JRPG: a merchant who asks you without laughing to kill a few rats, a professor who wants you to meet his students across the city, several mail quests that sends you looking for random items for no good reason. All of this destroys the rhythm and lessens the importance of the issues at hand around you. These stories are rarely interesting, but even worse: almost all the battles related to these quests require you to return to areas already completed, scuttling FF7R's efforts in terms of diversity.
While these side quests (along with arena fights and mini-games like darts or the market squat competition, all of which are already more fun) are completely optional, skipping them will cause you to miss some very important items and abilities - like unique weapons, rare accessories, and more - and that may have a minor influence on the story later, without being warned. I completed almost all of the side quests, but more out of obligation than for fun. Most of the time, I couldn't wait to start the main quest again.
This observed padding is not limited to side quests, unfortunately. An important mission asks you later in the story to go back to a previous section for what I thought was a textbook case of filler. I'm not against this Remake adding more detail - in the way the Train Graveyard has been redesigned for example: exceptional work, as well as a very fun new level towards the end - but there is a major problem. : Square Enix wanted to make changes, but without touching the main story, which means that most of its more elaborate additions are unrelated to the current story. It's reminiscent of filler episodes or popular anime movies: these distractions can clearly be fun, but no one in the main story will ever mention them after the fact, and nothing will change the story afterwards. If you could skip them somehow, you would find that you haven't missed a thing at all.
Roche is a good example of this: an all new character who shows up shortly after the story begins in an additional motorcycle chase scene (these sequences remained as weak as in the 1997 original) and a single fight. against Cloud, before we heard from him again. Okay, the combat is cool, and the character is cool, but her inclusion (and all of the storyline around her, as far as it is) has so little to do with the storyline that she really does a job.
Fortunately, filler aside, this story is at least told in a nice way. The cutscenes are gorgeous, and the graphics are both stunning in any case. Not to mention the amazingly good music throughout, with many excellent remixes of iconic tracks that go beyond the walls of Midgar. There is a real spectacle to be discovered with this game, even if part of this spectacle (like my mate Roche) made me roll my eyes so much that I am dizzy.
To infinity and beyond
One of the big concerns I had when I first started FF7R was whether or not the small Midgar section of the original game would be enough to make a full game, and the outcome is mixed. Square Enix did a good job of making it a bigger story, showing Cloud the mercenary, cold and awkward in society, and the way he mellowed out during character development that wasn't. too much in the game initially. However, you can't help but see this as the basis for a bigger story that we won't be able to see just yet - because that's what this game stands for. I got invested in the fight against Shinra again, but in the end I want a more satisfying conclusion to this story, and I'm a little anxious to see how the next game will continue after this one's cliffhanger. .
This remake also raises a ton of questions it doesn't seem to want to answer - some are clearly nods to fans of previous games and will be incomprehensible to others, but there's plenty of new stuff (like the hooded opponents seen in the trailers) convoluted and confusing whatever your experience. The way FF7R throws nonsense stuff at you towards the end of the game asking you to swallow it all up can only be described as “Kingdom Hearts-style bullshit” - and I say that as a Kingdom Hearts fan. Plus, its crazy ending left me with an unpleasant aftertaste, no matter which direction the story takes next.
Apart from the additions that manage to make the world of Midgar and its inhabitants more real, the idea behind the new content of FF7R is more like a cheerful spectacle with no ulterior motives or thoughts at all. Be sure I always had a great time thanks to the excellent fights and I almost always liked what I saw from this incredible achievement. The problem isn't that there are new story elements, but most of them fall apart as soon as you dwell on them a little too much.
A good post-game point, however, is that as soon as the credits roll, you access hard mode and the option to return to any chapter with your stats and gear to complete missions, collect items, or just replay from the beginning. So you can embark on this kind of "New Game +" or resume what you missed. I'm planning on going back there to complete a couple of things and throw a few more darts, just because Square Enix made it so easy ...