Just in time for #JRPGJuly, I finally managed to complete my platinum run for Final Fantasy VII Remake! Spoiler-free review first, then the rest of the sections are no-holds barred.
The game is a fantastic retelling of the original FF7's Midgar section. The plot largely tracks the original, except greatly expounded. More plot details are added to expound on character details and backstories, especially for supporting characters like Biggs, Wedge, and Jessie, and even for Shinra corporation itself.
The game isn't open world like FFXV kind of was; that would have been difficult given the plot they were trying to adapt, but it's not entirely linear either. The story is divided into 18 chapters, and some of them are entirely linear, while some provide an open area littered with sidequests that you can optionally do before advancing.
There isn't much else to say story-wise without being spoiler-y, especially if you've played the original. If you're new, then I can say you are in for a treat; the storyline is certainly better and less confusing than, say, FFXIII.
Like the original, the game is peppered with mini-games that you can indulge in and are sure to annoy completionists like me (more on that later).
The combat system is something like FFXV's real-time combat (with you controlling a single character and the others controlled by AI) mixed with some elements from FFXIII, namely the use of the Active Time Bar in order to spells or items or other special moves, and the additional stagger element around which most of the more difficult fights revolve. Unlike FFXV where you're always controlling Noctis, you can switch controlled characters freely, or you can also issue ATB commands to the AI without shifting control. It all works very fluidly, a fun and satisfying evolution to the real-time version of the FF battle system.
My one complaint would be the game limiting you to three playable characters at once, even though there are points where four are available. It's not like their graphics engine can't handle four player character models at once (see: FFXV), maybe it was an issue of balancing?
The materia system is back! It was one of my favorite FF equipment systems, and I enjoyed it again this time around. This time however, the game is much more stingier with its special materia. For example, you can only ever get two copies of Elemental Materia (since having too many means you can abuse it against bosses), and only one copy of Magnify (equivalent to All in the original), which means only one character can use Curaga on everyone.
Normal difficulty is... a bit easy. Most of the mob encounters are "mash attack, rinse and repeat"; most of the bosses are "mash attack, target weakness, repeat until staggered, use stronger attacks, repeat until victory". Many of the bosses you can walk into the fight with your default materia settings and you'll be fine. Maybe you won't be able to exploit weaknesses, but the fight will still be manageable. Some of them are a bit more creative, requiring you to make use of space to avoid certain attacks and so on. Only a few boss fights were ever really troublesome. Beating the game once unlocks hard mode, more on that later.
Beating the game also unlocks chapter select, which makes it easier for completionists, since you can just replay specific chapters if you missed something. There are also additional challenges only available in hard mode post-game. I believe this is the first instance of a "mainline" (such as it is) FF game providing post-game content and chapter select.
I had gotten the Deluxe Edition, which was only delivered to me by May 1 due to quarantine shenanigans. The steelbook is gorgeous! A worthy addition to my Final Fantasy steelbook collection.
My completionist run took just under 90hrs, a bit above the median according to HowLongToBeat.com. I started on Jun 8th, so it's just about a month and a half too. (Average of an hour per day!)
Overall, I enjoyed the game, enough to go for the platinum trophy, despite the annoying minigames. A worthwhile retelling and addition to the FF7 universe.
(End of spoiler-free section)
The game looks great, especially when it shifts to cutscene models. Speaking of which, the cutscene transitions are also great, they're hardly noticeable. And your hard mode run goes much faster since there's an option to skip the cutscenes! As always, I took a lot of screenshots along the way! Image gallery is here, very spoilery.
Expanded plot and content
People who played the original will no doubt remember the major plot points. There's a lot of new scenes and story bits that weren't in the original. Some felt a bit filler-y, like the section where you have to figure out how to get to the reactor from the underplate, or the section where you have to make your way out of the sewer. They weren't boring or anything like that, but it did feel they were there mostly to pad the time. I mean, Shinra is about to drop the plate, but first we have to deal with these ghosts?!?
Speaking of dropping the plate, the damage here felt a lot more memorable than in the original. In fact, I only remembered this happened in the OG by the time I got to that part of the story in the remake. The impact here is more severe because you spent a lot more time with the residents of the sector 7 slums, and with Wedge, Biggs, and Jessie. Their supposed deaths weighed more heavily upon me than in the OG.
There are some plot points in this game that I'm not sure if they were in the original... namely Shinra deliberately sabotaging the reactors and using Avalanche as a scapegoat to incite pro-war sentiment against Wutai. Perhaps it was intended in the OG but got lost due to translation issues? Or did they add that new detail for the remake?
What I remember to be the more confusing and less-explained plot points of the original was the existence of the numbered clones; they also make an appearance here, but I'm disappointed that they weren't really explained very well. While I understand why that is - in the OG the party doesn't find out about Sephiroth/Jenova until near the end of the Midgar section, and the reunion part is never fully explained - I wish they could have added a bit more detail. As it is, people who are new to FF7 or don't otherwise have context will probably be confused about who or what these numbered and hooded people are supposed to be? And why is this Sephiroth guy here, isn't he supposed to be dead? These things are never really explained in-game.
Another thing I disliked is that we didn't get a playable Red XIII. I was wondering how they would handle this since I knew beforehand that he would be available in Midgar. I guess I can understand the decision, pacing-wise it's weird to have a playable character only available in the last 2 chapters of the game. At least they gave us Red as an AI character and someone who can helpfull wallrun to pull levers, so that's something I guess?
I also understand the limited number of summons we get. But we have Shiva and Ifrit but no Ramuh? Instead we get two Chocobos? Shrug.
At least I got to see the only enemy I really wanted to see in the remake: THE HELL HOUSE! (Now promoted to boss fight!)
Hard mode is... appropriately hard. Even normal encounters can be troublesome if you're not careful. And boss fights are much more dangerous, and it's much more imperative that you prepare before hand with the appropriate materia for eevery fight. The most crippling factor here is the fact that you can't use items and can't recover MP within a chapter. Which is a bit weird since quests and loot boxes still award you items. I understand the mode is balanced around not having items, it's just weird. And I feel like the game could have used an intermediate difficulty step where the enemies are on hard mode difficulty but you can still use items. In fact, I wouldn't have minded if that was what Normal mode was like, and Easy becomes what the actual Normal mode was.
None of the hard mode fights are frustratingly difficult though, as long as you are sufficiently prepared. I did have to repeat some boss fights a few times, but hard mode didn't really feel too tedious. I guess it helped that I enjoyed the combat system?
The most difficult fight in the game is a simulator fight available only in Hard Mode, called Top Secrets. This one took me a while, as I kept dying at the Bahamut+Ifrit fight when using conventional strategies. I finally managed to clear this fight using the methods outlined in this video (Yes, I had to Youtube), except my materia wasn't as levelled up as his was apparently and I kept running out of MP. It still wasn't as easy as he made it look; it took me a few tries, but once I managed to clear Bahamut+Ifrit, I was able to beat the last fight as well, albeit with only Aerith remaining alive with almost no MP.
I played hard mode chapters 1-17 before grinding a bit so I could beat the Top Secrets fight, then proceeded to chapter 18 for the hard mode final boss. Having the limit break accessory from the Top Secrets fight doubtless made Sephiroth a bit easier, but it still took me a few tries, mostly because of his tendency to spam Heartless Angel in the last phase. I had Cloud, Tifa and Barret for that final boss fight, and basically configured only with HP UPs and healing abilities. I finally took Sephiroth down when I realized I should be using Magnify+Regen in the final phase and to be careful to not be in an attack animation when he starts Heartless Angel (otherwise you can't avoid it).
The combat was great, but the most troublesome part of completion for me were the annoying dexterity-based minigames. There's a reason I play RPGs and not rhythm games or twitch shooters! Anyway, there's two minigames I skipped during my first run (mostly out of frustration): the first was the darts minigame in the Seventh Heaven bar, the second was the pull-ups challenge at the Wall Market gym.
The darts minigame was easy enough when I got back to it and figured out I needed to finely control the L stick with like three fingers in order to aim the dart. The Pull-ups minigame was much more frustrating, since you basically had to make no mistakes and even then you still might not beat Jules. The Top Secrets and Sephiroth battles probably took more time, but I'm pretty sure pull-ups took a lot more attempts.
I realized that the key was focus, and that meant getting rid of distractions like reducing the speech volume so you can't hear the inane cheering ("I can't believe it's this close!" ... bro, we just started!) and not looking at your count or Jules' count during the pullups. You're not really competing against Jules, you're competing against yourself, so he's only a distraction. I ended up focusing on the round timer instead of looking elsewhere to avoid distractions. Even then I was still having trouble. Finally, I took drastic measures to avoid getting distracted by Jules: I covered half the TV with a towel:
I managed to beat Jules on the very first attempt after putting the towel. This was my very last trophy for completion!
Although the main story tracks the OG's Midgar section, we get an additional boss fight that kind of mirrors the Sephiroth boss fight in the OG. I was actually worried about how they planned to do this, since restricting the story to Midgar meant the final boss would have been... Rufus? Or that big robot on the highway? Either would have been lame.
That ending though... not going into detail, but it heavily implies that although this is a retelling of the OG FF7, events may or may not unfold as we expect. I'm looking forward to how they do this "Unknown Journey" moving forward. Some outcomes have already changed, as implied by several scenes in the ending.
Overall, very happy with the way this remake turned out, and looking forward to the succeeding installments and how they adjust the plot from here. I'm hoping they do a good job of fleshing out the other characters like Red XIII, Cait Sith/Reeve, Cid, Yuffie, and Vincent. (Not looking forward to having to do more dexterity-based minigames at the Gold Saucer!) It's likely that the next installment will be a next generation game; this lets Square put off an FF16 lol.