Breaking the Limit of Nostalgia
Everything you need to know it right in the title; Final Fantasy 7 Remake. I played the original Final Fantasy 7 in its entirety almost fifteen years after it came out, and while it wasn't the best thing since sliced bread to me, I did feel the need to finish it regardless of outside influences and more modern games at my fingertips. Working from that canvas the developers have in turn had a long time to think about how this classic game would need to be changed to be palatable two decades after its source.
The gameplay is active, and while managing three characters in active time battles may seem like a tall order it becomes more than natural once you acclimate to each characters explicit roles, and their potential side-roles. Materia offer the same variety they did in the original, but now each character's weapons now help define their playstyles. Each weapon offers a variant of balance between attack/defense and magic attack/defense. Using each weapon you come across also unlocks a permanent ability for the character to use in combat independent of the Materia system, giving you an incentive to mix things up if only for a short time. Combat can be hectic and punishing, but even when I failed I never thought it was because the game was being unfair. I never felt the need to lower difficulty to get through an encounter, though the option exists for that situation. Between the Materia, the Weapon Abilities, and the Weapons themselves, you can choose to play whatever way you want (Even have Barret be a melee brawler by the end). Many Materia which were missable or relatively unknown in the original make an early appearance such as Enemy Skills, Time, and Steal. Ultimately the gameplay offers as much as you want from it, but in some cases the route to victory can be narrow and inflexible.
While much of the soundtrack for Remake is essentially redone versions of the old midi tracks, it finds ways to be transformative or reinterpret the sounds in ways that make them seem brand new. A fan of the original game will recognize practically every track they hear in the first six hours of playing. The main battle theme is same from the outset but has many interesting variations in both tempo and mood which are used throughout. New tracks that were added in places the hadn't existed before are of equivalent quality and many are my favorites from the entire game.
Sound in the game is appropriately mixed and none of the sound effects or diegetic sounds are low quality or mixed improperly
(See FFVX). Many of the music listings can be purchased from vending machines and played at jukeboxes in-world, many of which are themes from places/characters not in the game elsewhere, such as the golden saucer theme or Cait Sith's theme. Many are genre mixed versions of classic songs which you might only recognized if you really listened closely, such as a jazz quartet version of the main theme of FFVII, or a surf rock version of the chocobo theme.
While the plot of the game follows the original relatively closely, a few scenes are added to make cloud's identity and relationship to Sephiroth a bit more obvious in this smaller section of the game world. In the original he is mentioned in passing by a few characters, Tifa most notably due to her history with him. Much of the design and aesthetic is intact from the original right down to the title screen and the longer but mostly intact opening sequence which leads right into cloud leaving the train near reactor 1. Jesse, Biggs, and Wedge all have more development and are given scenes outside the confines of the original and a few new characters are added to fill out the areas. Actions you take in the original are still done but with different contexts than the original in a few places. Most notably Cloud disguising as a woman to get into the Don's house instead is done in a more respectful and frankly more interesting way. Many of the ways the plot differs from the original give it a much more spectacular and satisfying payoff and the production value is amazing for what it is.
In my mind the Final Fantasy Remake is definitive version of the game now. Characters and party members which were incidental to me now have real weight and the gameplay is not just a means to an ends. The music elevates the combat and all of these elements give you something to work with, whether you have the rose tinted glasses or not.
Addendum (Added Post Completion)
In total it took me approximately 41 hours to complete all side objectives and the 18 chapters in the game. That time includes a fair bit of aimless grinding on my part as well as I had wanted to level up certain materia. After the first completion the level select is unlocked and you can freely start the game from any chapter an keep character progress/items/equipment with the added bonus of triple XP and Double the AP for materia. Hard mode is also available and offers additional rewards on top of the original quest rewards. All in all the game is excellent value even though its only part of the original story. The combat is interesting enough to me that I will likely replay it many times as I had with games like Metal Gear Rising (which has a similar progress saving mechanic).
On one final note, the one time you hear the JENOVA theme in the game is one of my favorite moments in a game in a while. Even with my hazy memory I instantly had a nostalgia trip the second they faded up the main synth for it during the long battle it occurs in