Note: This feature includes some spoilers for a very old game and a remake of the very old game.
Any fans of Final Fantasy may want to stop reading at this point. That’s right, first sentence. Recording time: I never played Cloud Strife’s groundbreaking adventure on the original PlayStation, nor any other Final Fantasy title. The closest I came was watching my cousin play Final Fantasy IX; I remember being a little fascinated by it, but I would be lying if I said I understood what was happening on screen. Basically, I have no affection for the franchise. It̵
At first I thought I would ignore it, but how could I increase my chances of playing it for free? This is a remake of a game that (more or less) individually popularized JRPG in the west. It is a game that is often recognized as an All Timer, one of the greatest, a masterpiece. The demand for a remake had been strong since 2005, and how could you do it not feel the excitement when it was finally announced at E3 10 years later? People really like this game about a muscular man with a stupid name, and now I can play remake for free. I guess I should, I thought.
Before I started, I thought it was fun to get my Push Square co-workers involved. They know I’m not a big fan of JRPG, so I was wondering how far through the game they thought I would get before I called it a day. Robert Ramsey had the greatest faith in me, I bet I would see it through in the end. Sammy Barker was less confident and put his money on me dropping out the second time you went through the sewers. Liam Croft was the least optimistic, claiming that I did not want to start the game at all. OK chaps, challenge accepted.
Spoiler: I started the game. With no nostalgia for the original, and no point of reference at all, I began my search for curiosity. All I knew to go into, after absorbing snippets of information over the years, was that you play as a man named Cloud, and someone named Aerith is killed halfway. I’ve seen the clip. Completely crushed by an ugly guy with a sword. Just completely chopped.
Anyway, first impressions were very good. The sweeping opening scene is stunning; it has this incredibly large scale, and zooms straight out to show you the eerie scale of Midgar. The film quality is there, and it originally grabbed me. It introduces you to the Avalanche team, with Barrett, Biggs, Wedge, Jessie, and of course Cloud Strife. I’m afraid to say that Cloud’s somersault outside the train to land on the platform did not strike me as cool. This is not a cool guy. Like who does it? It immediately cemented in my mind that this guy is a little shower. Still, I could not write it all off just on that.
Unfortunately for Final Fantasy VII Remake, the characters open their mouths and talk. Sorry, some fans are still reading despite my first warning, but I did not like much of the dialogue. Of course, some of it is perfectly fine, but I was surprised at how predictable the characters are – they fall into classic archetypes right away. I found it impossible to be associated with Biggs and Wedge, who feel available from the start, but personally I could not get on board with the characterization and dialogue in general. I understand that Remake is only part of a larger project, but everyone felt very one-dimensional to me. I also understand that this is a retelling of a game from 1997, so of course there will be some difficult or eerie dialogue. Even with that in mind, I struggled with the script and drawing most of my time with the game.
One aspect I got to enjoy was the fight. At first I thought it was too complicated. It presents itself as a hack-n-slash action game, but it’s not really; Basic attacks are just one way to recharge your batteries, available in the ATB menu. It’s a strange hybrid of real-time action and command selection, but when I wrapped my head around it – in addition to frequently changing characters – I thought it was quite satisfying. Especially boss fights became a highlight for me, figuring out their weaknesses and exploiting them as best I could. I also loved the overall style of the fight, with great animations and effects while throwing magic and hitting away with big swords.
I think a highlight for me was actually the crazy mission of the bike guy. I had to look up his name, and that’s Roche. Cloud and the gang ride motorcycles to reach Jesse’s old home and run some avalanche business, but this man cradles up and spins around on the bike as if it’s a conker on a leash, and it’s just so ridiculous. Fighting against him while driving was one thing, but he reappears, and it’s a sight to behold. I think I liked the game the most in these moments, when it’s not afraid to embrace the absurd. Another example would be the bit where you are literally fighting a demonic house. I had never seen it before.
Unfortunately, things started to get thin for me when I got to the Don Corneo section. The game is extremely inconsistent in pace and even just the visual quality, and I thought it was all quite jarring. I almost stopped in the part where you have to operate the robot arms to move shipping containers – so bulky and, more importantly, completely unnecessary. The game is far longer than it needs to be due to sections like this, and really, I think they are what stopped me from beating the game.
That’s right – not only was Liam wrong when I started, but Robert was wrong when I finished. Sammy won the bet in the end, but I did not get as far as the other sewer section (one was plentiful). Where did I call it ending? It haunted the train yard. To be clear, it was not so much this particular part of the game that made me shut down the controller, it just happened to be where I left it. I think I reached a point where I just got tired of it all.
Little things started to rage – having to hold down the Triangle to pull the levers (but not all the time!), The forced gait sections, the dialogue, some seriously bizarre cut pictures and more. In addition, things that were obviously meant to inject longtime fans were completely lost to me. Things that Sephiroth occasionally appeared, for example, lost some of their impact, because I did not (and still do not) fully understand why it is a big deal. I appreciate that people love the original and love the remake, but for me I just got tired of the game’s nonsense. I’m starting PS5 and thinking about what to play. Final Fantasy VII Remake would come to my mind and I would sigh. I could not keep it up – especially knowing that there were so many more hours to go.
I’ve accepted that it’s not for me, and that’s fine. I can live with that. I’m glad I gave it a solid try, but I think this will probably be the one between me and Final Fantasy. Funny enough, Liam had not played the original before playing Remake, and he absolutely loved it, so do not let me put you off if you’re in the same boat. I’m not sure what the moral of the story is, to be honest. I would say trust your instincts, but if at the same time you get the opportunity to try new things, you should. Do these messages conflict? In a way. I’m stopping the function now.
Do you agree with Stephen’s review of Final Fantasy VII Remake? Have you similarly struggled with a beloved game? Sprinkle a little Phoenix Down in the comments section below.