A Veteran Gamer’s Perspective
Disclaimer: Spoilers abound in this article. You’ve been warned.
E3 2005 was a cataclysmic event but not for the reason you’d think. Sure, we got to see all of the amazing new consoles that were coming out at the time – PS3 and Xbox 360 – in their full glory. One tech demo, however, stood out from Sony’s presentation; a tech demo that would remain etched in gamers’ minds for longer than it should have. This tech demo was of an upgraded version of beloved JRPG Final Fantasy VII, running on the new PlayStation 3 hardware.
It blew everyone’s collective minds, including yours truly’s.
Was it a real game? Were they really remaking one of the greatest games in history? Not for another decade as we now know. Final Fantasy 7 Remake launched earlier this year after tons of nerve-wracking delays and long periods of radio silence. Lots of people were extremely hyped for this game, but I was in a mixed position. You see, I LOVE the original FF7. The fond memories I have of playing through Cloud and Co’s rollercoaster ride of an adventure I can safely say are some of my most favorite. While I was extremely happy to see such amazing graphical fidelity, I was adamantly concerned about a lot of changes that were being made. I was even close to not buying it or playing it. But I have and I’ve now beaten it and my thoughts have shifted.
So, how does a crusty old veteran gamer like myself feel when I think Final Fantasy 7 remake vs Final Fantasy 7 original?
There is no doubt that when you put FF7R and FF7 side-by-side that the earlier wins not by a mile but a light year. The level of detail on each character is beyond stunning. It’s one of the most gorgeous games we’ve laid our beady little eyes on this year, hands down. I still can’t get over how well the devs managed to actualize how I envisioned Tifa, one of my favorite video game characters ever, would look in upgraded graphics. But it’s not just the graphical fidelity. That aspect of the original Final Fantasy VII is easy to surpass in this time and age.
It’s the overall art style of Final Fantasy VII Remake that has been nailed to a T. Midgar is breathtaking. I’ve caught myself wandering around just for the sheer joy of looking at the minute details. It gave me the real impression of a place that flew too close to the sun. The entire game oozes with the right kind of dark yet hopeful feel that the developers tried to encapsulate in the original. That isn’t to say that the original Final Fantasy 7’s art isn’t impressive considering its time. The graphics may be completely dated but they work oddly well with the rest of the world. Even the chunky overworld models have a special charm to them that contrasts well with the overall tone of the game.
In essence, both games achieve the same goal in their own unique ways.
Final Fantasy VII’s story has been the gaming community’s baby. Aside from being particularly memorable, it’s also been referenced in countless memes – a surefire indication of success if there ever was one. It stands to reason, therefore, that one of the most divisive points was how the Remake changed the original game’s narrative.
Comparing Final Fantasy 7 Remake vs Final Fantasy 7’s story structure, the beginning parts felt quite similar. The Remake was expanding on the finer details of the Midgar segment of the original’s story, which was to be expected considering its episodic nature. What was quite divisive, however, is how FF7R played around with the original’s timeline. Ghostly beings trying to keep everyone on their fated paths? A battle with Sephiroth this early on? Zack is back? It’s all quite different and, honestly, I can see why some fans might be upset enough to review bomb the game.
Oddly enough for me, though, it’s been somewhat refreshing. I’ve already played the original Final Fantasy VII to death. I own it on multiple platforms and I might just own it on even more in the future (where’s my toaster port??). Seeing a different interpretation – which is the best word I can come up with to describe the Remake’s narrative – was something I didn’t know I needed. The catalyst here is that the new version of Cloud and Co’s tale isn’t badly made or set up. In fact, I’d argue that it’s even better than the original’s in some ways.
Would it have been cool to see the original story fleshed out in all of that brilliant high fidelity goodness? Sure. I doubt, however, that expanding everything in the game to fit the episodic format while also delivering 30-40 hours of gameplay would have worked. Bonus points for being able to experience it while I’m still alive.
Combat and Gameplay
Here’s where my concerns were firmly rooted in. I adamantly believe that Final Fantasy VII has the best turn-based combat system barring none. I’ll fight anyone over this. The Materia system was the most flexible combat system I’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing. Experimenting with different builds, combinations and party setups was what made FF7 such an engaging game to play for hours on end. I’ll never forget setting up an endless repeat of Knights of The Round which lasted all throughout a friend of mine and myself leaving the house, going out for coffee and lunch only to come back to find the sequence was still playing out.
You can imagine my trepidation when it was revealed that Final Fantasy 7 Remake would have an action combat system. I was furious right up until the demo was released. And then I calmed down. Were that not have happened, I may never have bought the Remake and I’d probably be writing a Final Fantasy 7 Remake vs Final Fantasy 7 article in my angry game nerd voice.
After spending the 30 odd hours I did with FF7R, I can say with certainty that I’m not disappointed in the slightest. The combat is fun and way better than FFXV’s which was what I thought they were going for. The team somehow managed to make an active combat system with turn-based elements that feels punchy and impactful. I had genuine fun strategizing and figuring out better ways to use my party’s abilities. What really made the whole system for me was Tifa. She’s hands down the best character to play in combat from a sheer entertainment perspective because her combo system is just so flexible and empowering.
The one slightly sore point I have is with the Materia. I miss being able to do the crazy combinations in the original Final Fantasy 7, I’m not going to lie. It feels like a piece of the awesome puzzle that is the original FF7 is missing. But, as with the story, I know I can go back and play the original combat system any time I want. All I can hope for now is that whenever Square-Enix makes use of action combat here on out, they get more inspired by the Remake, rather than FFXV.
There’s still a lot of things I’d like to discuss but we’ll probably be here forever. My main point for this article has been to express how making a Final Fantasy 7 Remake vs Final Fantasy 7 comparison might be somewhat unfair and grounded on pure nostalgia. I believe this is also a wider conversation about our expectations when it comes to games in general. There’s this perception that remakes and sequels have to retain the originals’ elements but still feel new. But that is for another article at another time.