Final Fantasy VII is one of the most talked-about games in the franchise. There have been rumors and “leaks” of a remake for many years. Well, it finally happened, at least partially happened. The first part of three is out in the wild. For those who have never played, you will get to find out first hand what all the fuss has been. If you are a long time fan, you will get to experience the game you love with HD visuals.
There was a lot of excitement with the build-up to this game. We knew what the story was going to be about, all we needed to see was it was like to play this game with high-quality visuals and to see what this new hybrid turn-based combat was going to be like. Of those two things, only the latter was impressive.
For a large studio, backed by a large publisher and with one of the biggest video game franchises of all time, the production values were embarrassing at times. Dialog constantly repeated, hideous textures, ugly environments that clearly show a lot of shortcuts were made during development.
The first part comes down to the visuals. The character models are way too good for the environment they run around in. Playing on the PS4 Pro, you can see clear detail in clothes and in the characters’ faces. Then behind them, you see textures with repetitive patterns like something from a game 20 years ago.
At one point, you will climb to a higher part of the city and get to look down at all of the buildings below. The screenshot below will say everything. How the hell did this pass QA? The city below is a flat, low res image that looks like it was ripped right out of the original game from the PlayStation 1. The likes of Naughty Dog are able to render detailed cities in the distance, I would expect the same here. A flat texture is bad enough. A blurry, low-quality image is even worse. There are several times where you will come across ugly textures like this where areas of the city far away are just flat images. This is very lazy and not up to the standard of modern game development of any standard.
The second big issue you will find with the production values is with the game’s dialog. If you stand in the city streets, you will hear the same person repeat the same line over and over. They don’t even add a long delay between the lines being repeated. All of the NPCs are just broken records who keep repeating the same lines of dialog over and over. You do not have to interact with them either. They keep having these conversations amongst each other.
You may be able to escape the NPCs, but you can’t escape the people in your party. After each battle, they have a list or 5 or 6 catchphrases they like to use. After 30 hours of playing, you will want to mute the TV when you hear the fanfare theme painfully grunted out by one of your excessively muscular teammates.
The only thing worse than what the characters say is the lip-synching when they say it. During some cut scenes, the mouth of the person talking is so distracting that you miss the important content. The lips aren’t matching what is being said. There are plenty of advanced systems out there now to give character models realistic mouth movements. This was clearly another corner that was cut with this game. It stops the city from feeling like a living breathing location when the characters behave like robots.
The combat does quite a bit to redeem the flaws in quality. The blend of turn-based and fluid combat is a lot of fun. You control the characters as you would in any button-mashing combat game. Various combos can be unleashed against enemies. The difference comes with the heavy-hitting attacks. You work up a meter while in battle, sort of like a mana bar. Attacks consume a portion of this bar to be used. While in combat, you can load up the attack list which puts the game into a sort of slow-motion freeze. You can select the attack you want and the combat quickly zips back to full speed where your character will perform the attack you just selected.
The combat becomes so satisfying when you can switch between characters, triggering attacks and while they are unleashing a world of hurt on the enemy, you switch to someone else to hammer the opponent’s weak spot while they are distracted. Not only is this an unusual take on turn-based combat but it is an interesting and highly enjoyable implementation of team-based combat. You will learn to value all of the party members with their strengths and weaknesses.
The combat might be a lot of fun, but there are signs of corners being cut here too. The game does not have much variety in the enemy types. After a while, you will get a little fed up with fighting the same boring enemies over and over with very little gained from actually fighting them when no real strategy is needed outside of beating them down until they run out of health.
Fortunately, the same lazy attitude was not deployed for the boss fights. This game does boss battles incredibly well! The bosses themselves are diverse and look incredible. They add so much character to this weird world and are a blast to try and takedown. Learning the movements and attacks while battling through the different stages of the battle makes them feel like a grand event that was worth the build-up.
The world you explore tries to make you feel like it is an open-world experience and it really should be, but it is not. It is a very linear experience with one way to get to where you are going. The paths are more often than not, boring trails of dirt with unused construction equipment to look at and the same enemies over and over to break up the walking.
One saving grace of the repetitive battles is the soundtrack. Some of the music in this game is very catchy, particularly during intense combat scenes. It is really cool how there seems to be a passive track and an action track and depending on what is going on, the music will transition seamlessly to the track to best fit what is going on.
Part of the appeal of this game was that they had added so much more content and side missions to the city that didn’t exist before. This was most definitely an oversell. The side missions are generally boring fetch quests. The most insulting of which was to track down three missing cats. When each area has five or so side missions, spending one searching for cats is just filling the game with crap.
This release of the FFVII remake was meant to focus on the city of Midgard. You might be looking forward to seeing what this unique city has to offer, but you never get to see it. Bar a few minutes at the start, you spend the entire game running through sewers and mucky construction sites. You never actually get to explore the city in all its grandiose style. You get a linear experience in the sewers while all of the great content in the world above is locked away and you never get to see it.
As a first time player of this game, you will struggle to see what the fuss is all about, especially if you played Final Fantasy XV and were blown away by the quality. Final Fantasy VII isn’t a bad game as such, it’s just poor quality and feels rushed.