It's Like This Train...
Five years ago when we learned that Final Fantasy VII's remake would be broken up into separate installments it left fans, and newcomers, worried about how much content would be present in the first installment. Especially upon learning it only took place in Midgar, which wasn't even half of what the original game offered. However, what Square Enix gave us here is a fully fleshed out and wonderfully realized world that is an unforgettable experience.
One of my biggest takeaways from Final Fantasy VII Remake is that Square Enix genuinely loves these characters and the world they built around them. Everything from the blood-pumping combat, to the dialogue and character interactions, and even the breathtaking environments all felt like they belonged. Nothing was out of place or just there to pad out the game. What was once a relatively small section of the original game, is now a sprawling campaign that took me well over thirty hours to finish on my first playthrough. Square Enix understands why this game, in particular, is special to many people, and it's like they wanted to recreate those emotional moments all over again. Not only for the fans but newcomers like myself, and they crushed it.
The thing that blew me away the most was how much fun, and rewarding, the combat system is. You can't just button mash your way through encounters. By switching things up, and continuously cycling through your party, you get an upper hand on the enemy. If you're about to cast a long spell or even heal, you can switch to someone else on the fly and start dealing damage to the enemies while that animation plays out so you're not just standing there as a defenseless target. This is also a useful strategy as most of the enemies seem to be aggroed to whoever you're controlling so queuing up special attacks, buffs, or heals and then immediately switching to someone else works wonders. You also have to build up your ATB bars which allow you to use spells or special abilities that can deal exuberant amounts of damage or save your life. There's never a dull moment with the combat and each battle feels engaging and genuinely exhilarating. Especially when facing many of the epic bosses of this game.
Besides that, you will also have to consider what's the best weapon for your play style along with which Materia goes best with that weapon and playstyle. There are six weapons per character and a ton of different Materia that can be slotted into those weapons. Materia are esentially abilities you can equip on any of the characters who are a part of your party. They range from elemental spells like wind, fire, ice, and thunder, to more support oriented ones that allow you to heal a member of your party or add a barrier of protection around them. This system is deep and rewards the player for thinking outside the box and trying different builds constantly throughout their playthrough. You can also level up your Materia, which will make your spells more potent or can even make the casting duration shorter. Also, on top of all of that, you can upgrade your weapons which bring a plethora of different benefits to them (more power, Materia slots, speed, magic/physical defense, etc). However, each new weapon brings with it a new ability that is tied to that specific weapon. Fortunately, if you use that ability enough and become more proficient with that weapon, you unlock that ability forever and can use it across any of the other weapons in the game. It's a smart and rewarding system overall and encourages you to try different things instead of sticking with the same load out the entire time.
The story, characters, and overall world of Final Fantasy VII Remake is truly an unreal experience. The grounded nature of this campaign brings you a heartwarming, endearing, and often tear-jerking tale that leaves you with your jaw on the floor. The bonds made with these characters are unforgettable and just add weight to the many personal moments the game has to offer. This is a well-realized world unflinching in its delivery, with moments that had me stunned and moments that had me wanting to jump up and down from the adrenaline. You genuinely care about these characters and feel connected with them in a way that feels very real. The game does an exceptional job of setting up what's at stake and what the character's motivations are, which help flesh out the characters and world in a more believable fashion. However, some antagonists can feel a bit too "cartoony" and can come across unclear why they're doing villainous things except for them being evil. But, with that aside, what you have at the core of Final Fantasy VII is a breathtaking world filled with loveable characters that you fall hard for, and all of that is fully realized and heightened by the remarkable soundtrack that perfectly sells every moment and encounter throughout your journey.
Final Fantasy VII Remake, mostly, runs without a single flaw and feels great to play. However, I encountered a few technical issues during my time with it such as NPC pop-in, muddy textures, and weird camera angles while trying to bounce between my party members which could be disorienting anytime they occurred. These issues rarely happened though, and I was rarely taken out of the experience during my time with the game. Overall, this game runs and looks great. I played on a PlayStation 4 Pro and cannot speak on how it runs on a base PlayStation 4.
Overall, Final Fantasy VII Remake is an incredibly fun game with an even more incredible campaign and cast that comes with it. You can tell Square Enix poured their heart and soul into realizing this world. Whether you're a newcomer or a die-hard fan, Final Fantasy VII Remake is a great experience no matter what your history with these characters is. This is a phenomenal experience and I'm looking forward to leaving Midgar and hanging out with this charming group of eco-terrorists in the next installment.