Amanda Tien has never played a Final Fantasy game before, and after reading Sam’s Best Games of 2020 List, she gave VII Remake a go. It blew her mind and she had a lot of questions, so she turned to fellow TPB writers and Final Fantasy veterans, David Silbert and Kei Isobe, for answers.
A few quick notes:
- Our conversation has been edited for clarity, length, and readability!
- Final Fantasy VII Remake has an absurd amount of variations for acronyms. People refer to it as FF7R, FFVIIR, sometimes with spaces, sometimes with no spaces. Then there’s also the original Final Fantasy VII. As David said, “It’s a nightmare.” For consistency, we’ll use FFVIIR to refer to the 2020 game and FFVII to refer to the original 1997 game.
- Questions by Amanda are highlighted in minty green in case you’re looking to skim.
- This article has light spoilers for the original game, which came out in 1997, and hopefully that’s OK since it’s been over 20 years. At the very end, we talk spoilers for FFVII Remake, but that’ll be clearly noted.
Final Fantasy VII Remake: Past, Present, and Future
Amanda Tien (AT): I literally just finished Final Fantasy VII Remake and EXTREMELY URGENT QUESTION:
Do I go and read the rest of the original Final Fantasy VII’s plot on Wikia or do I stay strong for whenever Final Fantasy VII Remake Part 2 graces our world?
David Silbert (DS): Honestly, my recommendation would be to pick up the original FFVII on Switch or iPad and play through it! Otherwise you’ll be waiting on Final Fantasy VII Remake Part 2 for possibly years.
Kei Isobe (KI): Haha, I think you can read up on the OG plot at least if you have no plans to play the original game… which I personally wouldn’t because I blanket do not think most PS1 games are worth revisiting.
DS: LOL, as usual Kei and I disagree on whether or not to play the original. Takes about 40 hours, Amanda, so if you’re down for a FFVII Remake-level length again, that’s one way to go.
KI: Haha, I think you should play it if you want to. It’s just an old game that takes a long time to beat.
AT: LOL… nah. [Reads the entire plot Wikia] Wow I am truly overwhelmed by how much more game there is. This is only like 10% of the original? If that???
What amount of the original do you think Final Fantasy VII Remake covers, and how do you feel about it?
DS: In the original, Midgar takes up maybe five to seven hours of a 40-hour epic. Sooooo… Yeah, if Nomura and his team commit to the same level of detail for future parts, this project will never get finished. All in all, I loved the decision to focus on Midgar with Part 1. The city has such rich lore to it, to the point where Square Enix created companion games like Crisis Core and Dirge of Cerberus. Anything less than what we got here would have been a travesty.
KI: I think leaving off right where Remake ended was sort of the perfect cutoff point for maximizing the “everything is different/repeated” narrative impact. And I really enjoyed that they fleshed out Midgar and the cast there, which as David noted, was just a small part of the original game. One of the big “fakeouts” of the OG was actually that people thought it was all going to take place in Midgar, and then you left and there was this absolutely massive overworld map to explore.
How Final Fantasy Defined an Era and Genre of JRPGs
AT: OK, backing up a little bit in terms of how we’re coming to this convo… I remember first meeting a lot of Final Fantasy characters in Kingdom Hearts (a game that was almost flagged as too violent for my household so I’m extremely lucky my dad stepped in and was like, “Simba’s in it. How bad can it be?”) as a kid when I was like 10 or 11.
[For context, Kingdom Hearts was created by the same guy who directed Final Fantasy VII Remake, Tetsuya Nomura, out of production house Square Enix, so there’s lots of overlap in taste, style, content, and gameplay. Though Kingdom Heart’s famous partnership with Disney means that the game is aimed at a younger audience.]
Kingdom Hearts, yes, gets famously obtuse as the series goes on, but the first one is fairly clear. Which is why I was so confused at the time about what these characters, who were clearly from other games, were doing there. They’re older, have unresolved plots, and are introduced in the same way that the Disney characters are: with reverence and musical cues, like you’re supposed to know who they are. Except at age 10, I knew who Aladdin was but I definitely didn’t know Squall Lionheart.
I remember trying to read about them on our dial-up internet, but this was before Wikias or anything so it was difficult to find info except that Aerith famously is killed by Sephiroth. Going into FFVIIR, that’s all the context I had.
What are your experiences with Final Fantasy VII (when did you play the original, if at all, etc.) and Final Fantasy as a whole?
DS: I only got my hands on the PS2 near the end of its life cycle, around 2005, when I was in middle school. So, similarly to you, Amanda, I knew Final Fantasy only through unconventional means. I’d played Final Fantasy I & II on GBA by way of the Dawn of Souls port, but those are poorly aged relics. I also knew characters like Cloud and Squall (aka Leon) through Kingdom Hearts, but I never knew their full stories.
That changed in 2006. My brother had gifted me Final Fantasy XII for my birthday. His reasoning: “I asked the GameStop clerk what game a nerd would enjoy, and he handed me this.”
KI: Incredible origin story quote.
DS: Thank you. Sure enough, I loved FFXII (entering it into The Punished Backlog’s Hall of Fame soon!). From XII, I went and played X and X-2. By high school, I’d experienced the magic of VII, been let down by the crummy XIII, and made plans to revisit classics like VI, VIII, and IX.
VIII and IX still elude me (I’ve restarted the Balamb Garden intro like four times). But otherwise I’m well-versed in the Final Fantasy series and its history.
AT: omg so many numbers
KI: I think my first FF memory is watching a family friend play IV on the SNES (watching this family friend play games is how I got into a lot of games, actually). I played a lot of FFs on handheld ports (I played so much FFVI on the GBA version) and then in high school started playing through the classic ones as they were available on the PS3 through the PSN store.
I actually ended up trading in my 360 for a PS3 to play FFXIII in Japanese (since the PS3 wasn’t region-locked LMAO). Though in retrospect, the decision held up sort of fine due to the late-in-cycle deluge of Sony exclusives, lol.
AT: Perfect; you two have a lot of context and can help answer the oh-so-many questions I have.
Where does the Final Fantasy series sit within the JRPG (Japanese role-playing game) genre? What defines that genre? And how does FFVII fit into the genre, much less the series?
DS: There is no JRPG genre without Final Fantasy. I don’t say that because FF is necessarily better than other series. (Dragon Quest, Kingdom Hearts, Persona have all made legitimate claims to the throne.) I say it because it’s the reason JRPGs are so popular in the West.
The irony behind the name Final Fantasy has become a legendary piece of gaming history. Basically, Squaresoft was going bankrupt, and game developer Hironobu Sakaguchi created Final Fantasy as his last effort. Except people loved the game, saving the company and the series!
AT: Corporate intrigue!!!
DS: So not only did Final Fantasy ensure the success of Dragon Quest (which admittedly predates FF) and future IP like Kingdom Hearts; it also caught like wildfire in the U.S., cementing the popularity of melodramatic, turn-based JRPGs for decades to come.
KI: And to get even more specific: I think FFVII is pretty much known for being the first JRPG that I think was stratospherically popular in the West. Though I’m sure some will contest that claim. It was the first “3D” game, and it was one of the first examples of Square really flexing their CGI muscles (relatively speaking to the time, of course).
I’d say that up until the most recent generation, actually, Square and FF in particular had a reputation for really pushing it in the CGI/3D graphics department. Cloud and company bursting out of Shinra HQ in the original and backflipping onto a motorcycle looks janky as hell now, but it was pretty crazy at the time.
DS: Definitely. And for many, Final Fantasy VII is the pinnacle of the series—and thus the genre. (Others will argue FFVI, but that’s another story, haha.)
AT: So helpful. One random query about this as a sub genre… I noticed that in group dialogue scenes where one character says something inspiring or whatever, the game camera cuts to every character and they are shown to make a “Hmm!” sound and do like a thumbs up or something, and it just feels very JRPG to me even without knowing what that genre was.
And the way they say things in combat like “Hyah!” or sort of intimate grunting noises. Kingdom Hearts did that too and I remember thinking, “I guess this helps show their emotions, idk.”
I can’t help but imagine actors in voice booths having to record these noises. Like, Haley Joel Osment plays Sora in Kingdom Hearts and what, they’re telling famous person Haley Joel Osmont, “OK Haley, now we need you to breathe fast and then make a happy human meowing noise like your belly is full but also like you’re kind of in love!”
So, any context on these weird character noises in JRPGs?
I don’t even know how I would Google that to find an answer. Do you know what I’m talking about?
DS: LOL, yes we know what you’re talking about. The random grunts and “Hmms” have become ingrained in JRPG voice acting (though FFVII Remake takes it to an extreme). Tidus’s laugh in FFX is absolutely iconic for being so stupid. And FFXII forgos the anime melodrama for full-on Shakespearean tragedy—just another reason why it’s my favorite.
KI: David and I talked about this before, how the grunts/noises absolutely ruin an otherwise stellar dub experience for me. A sort of strange thing for me is that I think some games have picked up on how this sort of… onomatopoeic human noise thing is a feature of pulpy Japanese dialogue (I say pulpy because I consider anime and video games to be generally pulpy forms of Japanese media) and that it can be excised when the localization process is happening, and some games haven’t.
It’s totally inconsistent even within Square Enix, which I think is strange. Games like Nier: Automata (2013) avoided falling into this gasp shocked noise awkward sexual gasping noise pained grunt trap but for some reason, Final Fantasy VII Remake (2020) does not.
Final Fantasy VII vs. Final Fantasy VII Remake: Characters and Combat
AT: Perfectly brings me to my next question.
One thing that surprised me was what a thirst trap this game is?
Like, all the characters are hot and want to bone each other (I get it), and at the very least, Cloud x Jessie, Cloud x Tifa (there are some truly gratuitous checking her out pans from the camera), Cloud x Aerith, Cloud x Andrea Rhodea, Cloud x Madam M, and dare I say, Cloud x Sephiroth? I could totally read some Biggs x Jessie fanfiction.
(Also, side note, I love how much personality a lot of the Avalanche characters have. I read they didn’t have a lot going on in the original so I was pleased to care about all the buddies.)
There is this blatantly sexual element I hadn’t seen in Kingdom Hearts, which has romance but as a very pure, very G-rated love. Like, there’s barely a kiss.
DS: Well, Disney’s gotta keep that image clean after all!
AT: In FFVII, it is borderline erotica. As I was playing, I thought, “Wow, how did these designers take little pixels and go, yeah OK here’s a fully realized hot person.” Though I guess there’s some FF movies or something? Which I’ve never seen but have heard of, which must have helped, but still…
What’s your take on how hot the characters in Final Fantasy VII Remake are, especially given that in the original they were little blocky polygon people?
DS: Yeah, I had seen those films so I knew the gang was going to be hot, but even to someone who grew up on the 3D models, VII Remake takes thirst to the next level. Jessie’s kiss on the bike, Aerith and Tifa grabbing Cloud’s arms, the gang getting SWOLE at the gym… It’s a lot, haha.
KI: I do agree that VII Remake takes the thirst to a new level. Part of me feels like this is just the internet and this sort of discourse being a lot more available and present, but VII is, I think, a sort of horny game anyway (there’s a whole relationship points dynamic with Cloud and a lot of the cast).
AT: Switching gears, I was surprised how much I liked the combat. It’s very fast and yet this design choice to have the game essentially go into super slow down mode to take time to choose spells or abilities is awesome.
I had borrowed Final Fantasy X-2 for a hot second as a 13-year-old and only because the cover was the first time I had seen girls as the lead characters of a video game. But the turn-based combat was really boring for me, and since I was impatient, I ended up trying to bluster through levels and ended up too de-powered to fight a boss and I lost motivation.
DS: I share your feelings on X-2! In many ways, it was the precursor to XIII‘s paradigm-heavy combat, and yet neither system really clicked for me.
AT: Right? So that’s more the style I was expecting coming into this game, and I was surprised how similar it was to Kingdom Hearts—fast, responsive, strategic—which is one of the reasons I liked it so much as a kid.
Opinions on the combat in Final Fantasy VII Remake and what you love (or hate) about it?
DS: Final Fantasy VII Remake‘s combat excels in large part because it’s taking the best parts of games that came before it. As you said, it has that actiony feel that Kingdom Hearts fans are accustomed to. But it also features that paused menu dynamic (XII), a stagger meter (XIII), controllable summons (X & XIII), and a bevy of other nice series features. And it keeps the stellar Materia system that made the original FFVII such a joy to play.
KI: Agree on the inheritance. As far as the Kingdom Hearts comparison, the combat director for KHII (which is universally considered one of the best action-RPG combat systems of all time by people who are into that sort of thing) was Mitsunori Takahashi who was the combat director for this game as well, so there’s definitely a pedigree there.
I loved the combat system in this game. I think it’s actually incredibly deep and really ripe for this sort of skill-based optimization that I personally find pretty lacking in turn-based stuff. This game had my favorite iteration of the action-pseudo-menu-command based combat that Square Enix has been tinkering with for a while, and I’d honestly be fine with it being the standard for SE RPGs forever, haha.
AT: Taking that a step further, I’m curious about people’s gameplay styles.
Did you main one character during Final Fantasy VII Remake’s combat?
I appreciate that the mechanics always come back to Cloud after the battle is over (aside from some one-off quests) to be like it’s definitely THIS GUY’S story. But in combat, I find it really fun and refreshing.
For example, once Aerith gets added to the party, I shifted a lot of my strategy from close-up combat to playing a ranged mage role (which is what I loved to play as a kid in games like Guild Wars). And in the late game, I felt so cool when I could manage my strategy by switching through characters quickly to assign and optimize their actions in battle. I feel the game is more rewarding as you get more comfortable and confident with the variety of characters.
DS: For my Remake playthrough, I mained Cloud (duh) but also a lot of Barret. That charge shot was so satisfying to use! Tifa was fun, but I probably used Aerith a bit more, thanks to her extremely helpful Arcade Ward ability. In any case, the game did a great job balancing each character and making them fun in their own ways!
KI: The combat isn’t quite straight Devil May Cry– or PlatinumGames-style combo stringing. But there’s a lot of little optimizations and tricks you can use that, once you figure them out, really make your team a lot more capable. It’s really fun to figure this stuff out, I think.
There are so many hidden little tricks. You can string together different ATB actions to cut down on lag (and thus deal more damage per second). A few examples:
- Cloud Focus Thrust into Braver has a unique switch animation that cuts down on endlag frames.
- Tifa Uppercut into Divekick is faster than just normal Divekick.
- All of Cloud’s base combos have a unique stance-switch animation on the last hit of the combo that does extra damage and is way faster than just switching stances normally.
- Cloud actually has a unique self-inflict Berserk buff that isn’t listed anywhere in the game but is really strong (hold attack in punisher mode).
Using Aerith’s ward ability to stack your party just barely within the ward and getting off multiple doubled spells with specific Materia combos is really fun. And certain characters have certain unique animations with specific Materia that were clearly intentional and super enjoyable. (Tifa’s parry dodge animation comes to mind and there are more for sure.)
DS: Speaking of animations: I never understood why the polygons in the original Final Fantasy VII looked terrible when walking around, but markedly better in combat.
AT: Yeah, let’s talk graphics for a second and just the incredible amount of work that went into evolving these sets and scenes from the original to the remake. So much love has clearly gone into these levels. For example, the chapters in the Sector 5 slum with Aerith made my heart soar. My grandma passed in early 2021 during the same timeframe when I was playing those chapters.
DS: So sorry to hear about your loss, first off <3 I’m glad the game provided some solace and good feels!
AT: Thank you 🙂 She was a huge romantic. There’s this scene where you first walk into the private valley of Aerith’s home, and it’s filled with flowers, and the music soars, and Aerith is joking and sweet, and it overwhelmed me with how beautiful a moment it was. And I had no idea that scene was coming.
The Best (and Worst) Levels of Final Fantasy VII Remake
AT: Given your experience with the games…
What scenes/levels from the original Final Fantasy VII were you most excited to see come to life in the remake? Which ones impressed you, disappointed you?
DS: Definitely the Sector 7 slums and Aerith’s church were two places I had high hopes for, and Remake nailed them. But the game deserves even more credit for making less-iconic Midgar moments pop. Like Wall Market—it’s probably the most gorgeous city I’ve seen in an RPG, full stop.
AT: Yeah, I think I said earlier that I wished Square Enix had made Cyberpunk 2077 and then Night City might actually be cool, lol.
DS: Agreed! If Wall Market looked that good as a tiny little three-block city, imagine how good that’d look to the scale of Night City? It’s not too late for Final Fantasy to go futuristic! FFXVI is going medieval on us, but who knows what’s down the line.
No scenes disappointed me, per se. Though I do lament that Loveless—the play Genesis never shuts up about in Crisis Core—is a total no-show. Couldn’t Cloud and Aerith have gone to the theater on a date? I would have loooooved that.
AT: I don’t know what you’re talking about but yes I want a date so badly. I’m clearly a romantic also.
KI: Some people poo-poo’d this section, but I absolutely loved the “climb” section of this game, after the fall of the Sector 7 plate as you ascend higher and higher toward Shinra Tower.
I thought the scenery was gorgeous and it really forced you to take in both the destruction that was caused but also the general… decrepitness of life in the slums versus life in the upper areas (reminds me a lot of those satellite photos of places like, idk, Rio de Janeiro or whatnot where you can absolutely see the class divide, literally).
AT: OK, yes, let’s talk pacing. Early in the game, I felt that each chapter felt so fully realized in terms of emotional beats. I even wrote in my notes to myself in prep for this article, “I never get too tired of an area before it’s time to move on. Can’t believe this is built on a frame of a PS1 game.”
By the end of the game, I definitely did not think that, lol. In my same notes, I wrote days later, “Some levels start to feel a little bloated (like the traversing the undergrad tunnels and sewers, the sector sunlamps), and in those moments I’m like… Yeah, this is built off a dungeon crawler.”
Thoughts on level and chapter design in Final Fantasy VII Remake?
DS: I agree completely: The pacing of VII Remake and its chapters is probably its biggest flaw.
It was great to see certain beats of the original narrative show up here. Wall Market was, and clearly still is, incredible. The colosseum was badass. And seeing the Sector 7 slums for the first time—with the plate overhead and FFVII main theme in the background—brought me to tears.
At the same time, did we really need to travel the sewers like seven times? Who (besides Kei, apparently) thought climbing a plate’s support pillar was going to be fun? For every stellar set-piece, it felt like there was a slogfest right around the corner. The pros outweighed the cons for me, but I definitely hope we cut out the slower bits in subsequent Remake entries.
For Final Fantasy Newbies: Should You Play VII Remake?
AT: OK, assuming anyone actually read this whole thing or found it through SEO and is wondering:
Should I play Final Fantasy VII Remake even if I’ve never played Final Fantasy before?
My answer as a fellow Final Fantasy newbie is: Yes, totally. Coming into this game as a stranger to the series, I was surprised how welcoming the game was. I instantly vibed with the first mission, which is a grand set piece and clearly lays out the emotional stakes. It also technically does a good job of cluing you in without hand-holding. I easily recommend this to other people with no prior background.
For those with nostalgia, how do you feel recommending it?
DS: I think it works well standalone! Sam enjoyed it, and he’s someone who doesn’t even play many JRPGs. To those coming in fresh, I’d say this: Start with VII Remake. If you end up loving it for the characters and story, give the original FFVII a try (on PS4 or another platform of choice) as you wait for future Remake entries. Or, if you end up enjoying it for the combat, give the recent FFXII and FFX remasters a try! They have different takes on JRPG combat, but you might just fall in love with what they’re putting down.
KI: I’d probably recommend it even to people who don’t like JRPGs, though I’d tell them to listen to the Japanese dialogue and read subs as opposed to listening to that hideous dub with all of the breathing noises and grunts. Honestly I’d even be fine with them skipping every cutscene because I think the combat system is so stellar that it alone redeems the game, haha.
And personally I thought that the game did an excellent job of providing enough new content and hints about what was actually happening to be appealing to old time returning players while being clear enough to first time players… at least until the last three hours which I suspect may have not made a lot of sense other than giving off the general sense of multiversity and timeline shenanigans.
When Will Final Fantasy VII Remake Part 2 Come Out?
AT: Final question…
Will they ever truly make the rest of this remake or nah?
KI: If they put Naoki Yoshida on this project after he finishes Final Fantasy XVI, sure, lol.
DS: Knowing Nomura’s track record for completing games, absolutely not. But he’s not the only one involved, and VII Remake sold well, so Square Enix will try! Even if Part 1 is all we get, I feel good knowing Midgar, Cloud, Aerith, and company were done justice. A beautiful celebration of gaming history, and a possible preview of what lies ahead…
AHEAD THERE BE SPOILERS FOR FFVII REMAKE:
Is the FFVII Remake Ending Good? What Does It Mean?
AT: I straight up had no idea what was going on in that ending twelve-minute cutscene (I was making pasta so I knew how long it took, lol).
Where do you feel about where this game ends?
As a total newcomer to this series I instantly had to Google, like, wait what…
And part of the internet thinks that the closing dialogue about fate and freedom etc. means that the remake will diverge into a multiverse where events could be different than the original… Thoughts on that?
DS: I liked Nomura’s choice to diverge from the narrative everyone has in their heads. Fans have long theorized about whether it’s possible to save Aerith in the original game. And while those theories have been debunked time and time again, Final Fantasy VII Remake could finally make those dreams a reality.
That said, I wasn’t a huge fan of the execution at the tail end of the game. I understand this was a standalone JRPG meant for a whole new audience, but the decision to go big with three godlike bosses felt out of touch with the super-realistic take of the Remake up till that moment.
But that’s more a Part 1 nitpick than anything else. Bring on the changes! If Aerith survives, and Zack (her boyfriend) joins the party with her?! *Chef’s kiss*
KI: I absolutely loved the ending and the way it all clicked into place. All of the wraiths/whispers we had seen thus far had been new to Remake, and finally understanding the logic behind how and why they had appeared was a great moment for me.
But more than that, I really enjoy this sort of modern (now I’m sure someone who’s actually well versed in literature can contradict me) take on meta-narrative that chooses to engage with the specific (fandom?) legacy left behind by certain works, and choosing to revisit those works from a very specific lens. From what Aerith, Zack (maybe) and Sephiroth say in Remake, it seems to imply that all three are actually aware of the multiversal or repeating nature of this story, and I think that VII Remake revisiting the cultural touchstones of the first game while subtly changing things is really brilliant.
There’s also a handful of moments in VII Remake that in retrospect I realized were throwbacks to the original game, and it makes me think that everyone has gone through this cycle of the first game already. One big example is when Cloud is actually leaving Elmyra’s house and he sees Aerith pop out from a little hidden nook, and he gets hit with the classic flashback-headache into tear combo, which is a reference to a time when Aerith actually pops out of a hidden nook in the first game in a forest area, right en route to the Ancient City where she gets ganked by Sephiroth (she pops out in the same exact way and has the same dialogue, IIRC).
I do wonder about how closely the rest of the series will follow the original. The creators have made sort of vague and sort of contradictory creatorspeak comments on what the actual nature of Remake is and how different it’s going to be, part of which I suspect is sort of massaging the reception from hardcore fans who were disappointed they weren’t getting an extremely pretty 3D version of the original game. So we’ll see!
One of my big questions is how the game is going to handle some of its themes going forward. VII was always a more air quotes “political” game than other games in the series, at least until XII and XIII, imo.
AT: I think that’s part of the reason I was vibing with it so much. Like the stuff about the environment and sort of anti-megacorp attitude is really of the zeitgeist in America right now, and so the game felt relevant.
KI: Definitely. What’s interesting is that in the original, a lot of that was really concentrated in the early parts of the game and became more sporadic once the crew left Midgar, where it become more of a science fiction romp that became focused on the more conspiratorial mysteries about the Ancients, Jenova, and chasing down Sephiroth, as opposed to a critique of the all-consuming nature of capitalism. Shinra was certainly involved in the rest of the game but definitely took a back seat.
VII Remake put an even more renewed focus on those themes in Part 1, so we’ll see how they handle it going forward.
DS: FFVII Remake was long, turning essentially five hours of a game into its own 40-hour game. I think future parts will speed up the pace. There’s a lot of ground to cover, and a huge open world to do so. My hope is that Final Fantasy VII Remake Part 2 will cover places like Kalm, Junon, and Costa Del Sol, albeit spending less time in each than we did in Midgar.
The other locales in FFVII aren’t nearly as iconic. There’s no need to cover, say, Junon, with the same fine-toothed comb. Hopefully Square Enix agrees, and doesn’t let scope-creep get the better of an already ambitious project. And if they can do that, maybe we’ll get more parts sooner than later.
AT: I remember the agony of waiting 14 years (with several bleh confusing filler games) between Kingdom Hearts II and III. I hope that’s not the case here, because this game was lovely and I am excited for more.
Thanks for sticking with us! Have strong opinions on Final Fantasy VII Remake or the original game? Excited for a potential Final Fantasy VII Remake Part 2? Share your thoughts with us below.