It's always a little embarrassing to see grown-ass adults turning into large, furious babies over adaptations or remakes of their faves, as if the thing they loved was somehow destroyed in the process. I, of course, only ever have proportionate responses to things. Except, apparently, Final Fantasy 7 Remake. It broke into my home and took a big, steaming dump right on my childhood—which is surely a crime. Yes, now I'm the large, furious baby.
Final Fantasy 7 was, for a while, the best game I'd ever played. I don't even think it's the best Final Fantasy these days, but it remained special for a long time—the first one I really got stuck into, and a rare JRPG I've actually finished. But when I think back on this treasured part of my childhood, I now only remember my exasperation from playing Remake last year and the relief I felt when I finally finished it.
At the start of my adventure through the intimidating city of Midgar, I was spellbound. Technology had caught up with the original team's vision, finally giving us a city that felt tangible and characters that didn't look like they'd fallen out of a Kinder Egg. Final Fantasy 7's backdrops look amazing, of course, but this recreation of Midgar feels alive, rather than a handsome piece of art with some goofy-looking characters stuck on top.
I was even happier to see characters like Jessie get their due, and everyone benefits from the new voice acting and modern animation. While the wee, blocky character models from the original do have their charms, Remake's are far more expressive. Then there's the Honey Bee Inn section, which now celebrates tearing down gender norms instead of making fun of Cloud putting on a dress. The boy's a hottie and deserves respect for looking that good in a gown.
But even when I was enjoying myself, I was growing less and less enthusiastic about getting into yet another fight. Remake's scraps are undeniably flashy and fun to watch, but participating in them is like trying to wrangle combat systems from three separate games at once. In trying to do a bit of everything, it does nothing well, and I never felt inspired to get to grips with it—I just muddled through.
The original's turn-based fights never exactly set the bar high, so I wouldn't call the change a huge loss, but Remake's combat system made me put my controller down and look for other diversions a lot. This broke the game's rhythm. I just couldn't get into the groove, and every fight just exacerbated this awkwardness.
As JRPGs go, Remake is not a long game, but it's absolutely been padded out. Side quests are plentiful, but these rarely amount to anything other than busywork. Square Enix had an opportunity here to use them to give us a stronger connection to Midgar, but instead offered up nothing but finding lost kittens or killing random monsters in a scrapyard. People will argue that you can just skip them, but what if the next one is actually going to be good? FOMO is nearly as bad as doing more dismal chores.
I was playing Yakuza spin-off Judgment at the same time, and it really shows up Remake—pretty much everywhere, really, but especially when it comes to side quests. Like Yakuza, Judgment's side stories get just as much consideration as the critical path, but Remake's feel like an obligation, and only a couple justify their existence. The rest serve to fatten up what's really just a third of a full game.
Remake is simply unable to escape the fact that it's not a complete story, and even though I knew that going in, I found it hard not to be disappointed with how awkwardly it attempts to tie things up—an attempt that ends in failure. It must be wild to play without knowing the original story, as it lacks even a proper antagonist. Sure, there's Shinra, Final Fantasy 7's evil corporation, but the payoff there is some weak stuff: a fight with vice president Rufus and his magic dog. Rufus just shows up, you get into a frustrating battle, and then you're done.
It's a hollow confrontation because, while you've been dealing with Shinra throughout the game, it's mostly via grunts or henchmen like Reno and Rude. Rufus is just some guy you don't know.
Sephiroth is still around, of course, but at the point in the story Remake covers, he's a total enigma. When you face him in Remake's climax, there is a long, dramatic and flashy battle, but it's an unearned moment. It comes too soon, so what should be a powerful emotional highpoint just becomes an excuse to show off how epic and pretty Remake can look.
This is true of the original, too, which teases Sephiroth while keeping him at arms length for a long time. But at least there you're not waiting for years to actually find out what this creepy dude's deal is. It simply doesn't work when you break the game up like this.
When it was clear I was hurtling toward the end, I was on autopilot, just trying to get through a bunch of big fights so I could finally walk away. Remake had lost me completely. I couldn't bring myself to care about any of it, because it was clear there wasn't going to be a satisfying conclusion.
I was worried that Remake would change too much, but it turns out that what it really needed was some more dramatic changes to make its transformation into multiple games a success. And this brings me to what, sadly, I must confess is the real reason it feels like Remake took a crap on my childhood: maybe Final Fantasy 7 ain't all that. I have a lot less patience now for fighting my way through boring corridors—Final Fantasy 13 doesn't have a monopoly on this—or participating in poorly designed minigames. If I ever have to visit a gym again, I will cry (opens in new tab).
Playing Remake also made me face the fact that I don't really like anyone I have to hang out with in FF7. Cloud has never been a strong JRPG protagonist, but I thought I liked some of the other characters—no more. Barret's an exhausting blowhard, Aerith is sickly sweet, and most of their adversaries are idiots. I still dig Tifa, but I think that's just because I like anyone who will pour me a drink. The very thirsty Jessie, the character who's evolved the most, is the only one I unreservedly enjoyed.
That's always the risk with a remake, I guess. It's nearly impossible to find a game that's genuinely timeless, and even positive changes might result in venomous anger from fans who believe their fave is sacred.
Maybe it's a good thing that my rose-tinted glasses have been removed and stomped on. Putting games on pedestals isn't helpful, and it shouldn't come as a surprise that game design that's a quarter of a century old doesn't feel great to play today. But I liked having those memories, and I miss thinking Avalanche was awesome, or that Cloud's stoicism was exceptionally cool instead of dreadfully dull.
I wish Square Enix could give me back my innocence. Or at least my ignorance.