Hey all you cool cats and moogles! For this edition of Punished Notes, I’ve decided to go in a totally new direction. For this entry, I will lay out all my scattered thoughts and opinions on Final Fantasy VII Remake, arguably the biggest game of the year and certainly the most talked-about video game remake/re-imagining I can remember. There will be some SPOILERS here and there, but I’ll try to refrain from getting too deep into major story beats.
Overall Thoughts, as Someone Who Didn’t Play the Original
In a weird sense, I’m fortunate not to have played the original Final Fantasy VII before Remake, as the game I played carried none of the weight of its predecessor. I went in largely blind, knowing very little about any of the characters, locations, or events. As a result, I couldn’t possibly be that disappointed by any changes. For me, Final Fantasy VII Remake is basically a brand new game, one whose updated story beats and random acts of fan service eluded me, as there was little difference between what I had played and what I had expected to play.
What I ultimately experienced was a lively, colorful, and thrilling action-RPG whose story nicely toed the line between nuance and conviction. I appreciated that Barret believes 100% in Avalanche’s eco-terrorist actions and refuses to compromise on his philosophies in any way. I also admired how Tifa had enough opportunities to voice her concerns with such actions, despite being along for the ride. The overall plot surrounding Shinra ultimately comes to the conclusion that the big corporation is bad and that anyone standing against them is good. But the random walks through Midgar’s slums, subways, and office buildings show a wide range of perspectives from those not directly involved, lending a voice to opposing viewpoints and giving the world a little more authenticity. While it’s possible the original captures the same political sentiments, Remake delves fairly deeply into these conversations and contradictions, giving the player more than just a few select lines of dialogue to know where every character stands.
In terms of the gameplay, I love nearly everything about the new battle system. Remake‘s combat incorporates both turn-based systems and real-time action, resulting in some of the most explosive, complicated, and entertaining battles in any RPG I’ve played. So many different strategies come into play during each fight, but no encounter is ever too busy or overwhelming; the breadth of combat options, spell combinations, and weapon variety makes each battle a delightful exercise in planning, aggression, and execution. The combat is engaging to the point where I was blissful anytime a strategy came together, and I welcomed every encounter with excitement and aplomb.
Now, I didn’t play the old FFVII, but I do know that its combat system is turn-based, and that battles occur via random encounters. I can live with turn-based battles, but I can’t stand random encounters. Honestly, the prevalence of such a god-forsaken mechanic in RPGs from the 90s has turned me away from so many alleged classics over the years. More than anything, this is why I’m glad Square Enix updated FFVII mechanically the way that it did; I can now enjoy the characters, places, and music of the original without trudging through what I consider one of the worst forms of gameplay imaginable. But I digress.
Ultimately, what makes Final Fantasy VII Remake such a wonderful experience is just how damn POWERFUL it is. The stellar orchestral score pummels the eardrums with a sonic intensity that perfectly matches the emotions of each scenario. The measured chaos of each battle fully immerses the player in fervent contests of strength and will. The gripping story beats add gravity to every encounter, and Midgar bursts with energy, joy, despair, and mystique. I have my gripes with a few parts of the game (which I will get into later), but for the most part, everything works in harmony to create a strong RPG experience I won’t soon forget. In other words, I suppose I “get it” now when it comes to Final Fantasy.
This All Hits Differently Now
Honestly, I’m shocked at the notion that the entire Midgar storyline, one that concerns eco-terrorism, fascism, corporate greed, mass destruction, remarkable wealth disparity, and widespread propaganda amounted to a relatively small chunk of the original Final Fantasy VII. Regardless, Remake’s timing with this deep and intense storyline is certainly apt.
The COVID-19 pandemic is obviously hurting (and killing) people worldwide right now, and some have felt the brunt of this illness far more than others. I’m extremely lucky that I remain in good health during these times; that none of my friends, family, and loved ones have died because of this virus; and that I continue to be gainfully employed at this time. Still, I wake up every day to the crushing anxiety that I might not be able to live a normal life for months. I live in New York City, the epicenter of this disastrous pandemic in the U.S., and my days are repeatedly marked by the sounds of sirens cutting through the eerie silence that permeates my once-lively neighborhood.
Making matters worse, the so-called leaders meant to respond adequately and prevent further demise have failed miserably to do so, instead caving to corporate interests, engaging in political opportunism, and putting the vague specter of “the economy” ahead of actual human lives. Just like in any other time of political and economic uncertainty, the wealthy stay in power, while the poor and marginalized are pushed even further into the gutter, and those who wish to fight back can’t so much as leave their homes. Fortunate as I am to live the life that I do, I have never felt more powerless in the face of the greed, corruption, and moral turpitude that plagues our modern political and economic landscape.
Final Fantasy VII Remake, at the very least, allowed me to feel like I could do something to combat the wretchedness. Like I could rally a squad of capable and motivated activists to say, “Enough.” Like I could take serious, tangible action against those who poison the planet and oppress the working class. Like I could risk everything I’ve built and everything I love for a greater cause. FFVIIR depicted this kind of resistance not as heroism, but as a fundamental social responsibility — one that is thankless, dangerous, and traumatic, yet still done as though it were a moral obligation.
There’s only so much I can do to fight back against the White House right now. But there’s plenty I can do to fight Shinra.
Does Square Enix Have the GUTS to Do What I Think They’re Going to Do?
(OK SUPER DUPER SPOILERS RIGHT NOW ABOUT THE ENDING!!!! IF YOU DON’T WANT SPOILERS SKIP THIS PART AND GO STRAIGHT TO THE LIGHTNING ROUND!)
OK, so that ending was WILD, right? Honestly, the way the final chapters tee up the next game in this series might be the boldest storytelling choice in a video game in recent memory.
So, the ghosts following you around the game all this time? Essentially, they’re “whispers” that make sure all goes according to destiny. So, if an event in Remake goes differently from what happened in the original Final Fantasy VII, they’re here to correct it. Eventually, once you think you’re at the end of the Midgar section once and for all, you have to take down the source of the whispers (of course led by the evil Sephiroth himself), thus obliterating any continuity from the original game and establishing that you are playing through a different timeline, and therefore a whole new story… in theory.
I say “in theory” because Square Enix changing major story beats from one of its most beloved treasures is incredibly audacious and something I doubt most other game companies would even dream of doing. Personally, I really hope they change almost everything from the original story (even though I don’t actually know the rest of the real story). I just love the idea that they can take the characters and themes and re-imagine everything that happens to them. If Square Enix succeeds, they will have accomplished an unprecedented feat in the medium: creating a remake that subverts player expectations and alters destiny to the point where the original and the remake MUST be viewed as completely separate entities.
Think about every remake you’ve ever played. In nearly every case, you can honestly say you kinda played both versions even if you’ve just played one of them. Wind Waker versus Wind Waker HD? Sure, HD is better, but it’s not like you’re getting a completely different experience with it. Resident Evil 2 versus last year’s remake? Yeah, Capcom overhauled the gameplay, graphics, and level architecture, but the feeling of playing each game is still largely similar (as well as the story itself).
Final Fantasy VII Remake goes beyond a simple re-imagining in favor of something completely new, something I never thought a major gaming company would even think to do. Hopefully, they have the guts to follow through.
-The more I think about it, FFVIIR might have the best team combat mechanics in any RPG I’ve played. Mass Effect’s was good too, I guess, but Remake just feels more well-rounded.
-My biggest complaint with this game? The side quests are pretty forgettable. Clearly included as padding, the quests don’t add anything particularly interesting in the way of worldbuilding, and it doesn’t seem as though the player would be especially worse off or under-leveled if they ignore them completely.
-The weapon upgrading and materia systems are greatly inspired, making character progression purely about preference instead of dreaded min/maxing. The systems are so well balanced they I never felt like I was playing the game incorrectly or ineffectively.
-Beyond the insane story beats, the final four chapters gameplay-wise are incredibly strong, with some of my favorite set-pieces and combat scenarios in the entire game.
-Question: How come there wasn’t more motorbike stuff? It seems like a lot of effort went into Cloud’s road battles, so how come there are only two such sequences in the whole game?
-The only notable complaint I have with FFVIIR’s presentation is that most NPCs look far too normal. Cloud, Barret, Tifa, Aerith, Don Corneo, Sephiroth, and Roche look like updated versions of bizarre anime characters, but regular townspeople and SOLDIERs appear remarkably human, with regular looking clothes, facial features, and hairstyles. Why is that a problem? Simply put, it doesn’t make much sense to me that normal-ass looking people would be largely unfazed at the sight of a spiky-haired badass with a six-foot sword accompanied by a man with a Gatling gun for an arm.
-Other random things I liked: NPC background chatter, orchestral score, implementation of vending machines/benches, collecting music
-Other random things I disliked: mechanical arm puzzles, janky camera, Hell House fight