It's been many, many years since I last bought a brand new game. In fact, the Batman games, Arkham City and Arkham Origins, were the last ones I grabbed which were even slightly new, at 4 and 3 months old respectively. I usually don't find games, especially console games, worth the massive price tag. I've also got such a massive backlog of old unplayed games that I'm never really in a rush to play new ones.
That general rule however, did not apply to this one. I had to grab this as soon as I could. For it is a modern remake of very probably my favourite game of all time: Final Fantasy VII.
Fans had wanted a remake of this 1997 game for years, and it took until 2015 for Square to finally crumble to pressure and announce they were making it. And so, nearly five years later, the wait is over and the game is out.
So, in my pointless opinion, was it all worth it?
The original is such an important game for so many people, including me, and I would imagine, the developers themselves. And it very much shows. There is no doubt that they poured their hearts and souls into making this thing.
It is because of the story, world and characters that I've always thought so fondly of the old game, and they are even better than ever here (well, except for the end, which I won't go into here). While the remake only recreates the first few hours of the original game, the part set in the city of Midgar, it does so in a massively expanded way, taking the play time from maybe 5-6 hours up to around 40-50. Most of this extra time is spent on fairly awesome, and sometimes very sweet, character moments, made all the better by decent writing and very good voice acting. The actors for Cloud, Tifa and Aerith in particular really suit their characters and do a phenomenal job.
I'm pretty sure I would struggle playing the original game these days due to its mechanics, so I was interested to try the new and updated take on combat within this version of the game's world. The way combat is performed in this game makes it an interesting beast indeed. On the surface, it's a fairly standard 3rd person hack 'n' slash with dodge and parry mechanics, but it also adds in the ATB gauge from the classic Final Fantasy games which you need to use in order to perform abilities and skills like magic and other fancy attacks. It's like you're playing two games in one. You can also take personal control of any of the members of your party, not just Cloud (Final Fantasy XIII this ain't!), and when there are a lot of enemies involved in the battle, things can get very hectic and tense as you try and keep track of it all.
The music is also very good, and a lot of the old tracks are here in new and updated versions. However, there are collectible songs in the game that you can play on jukeboxes scattered throughout the city, but for some reason these versions of the songs are all really weird, and I just never bothered taking the time to look for them all.
Yes I grabbed a screenshot of it. So what?
Hmm, this looks familiar
Ifrit wailing on some fools
Tifa kicks the airbuster in the face
Chocobos ride to battle against the Hell House
Things somehow get weirder than the original ever did. Seriously. You don't know the half of it.
While there is a great deal of good about this game, it is certainly far from perfect. Some of the things I didn't like were fairly mild annoyances, like there were times when the controls during particular segments were a bit janky, or times when control of the camera was completely taken away from me for no reason at all, and I had to either wait or slowly walk to a certain spot to get control of it back.
But more importantly, especially for further playthroughs, my biggest problem was with all the slow filler that has been shoved into the game in order to make it last longer. Sure, a lot of this was the game giving the characters time to get to know each other better, which wasn't really there in the original. But if I ever play the game again, will I really want to spend 15 minutes picking flowers, or hunting for a little girl's cat? There were just segments where absolutely nothing seemed to happen, for ages. Even in fairly tense and hectic story moments, when the characters were in a rush to get somewhere, they would constantly stop to talk to each other and say things like "Our friends are in trouble! We really need to hurry up!", and then proceed to stand there for another 10 seconds staring into the distance before starting to move again.
All the time I was just bouncing up and down in my chair desperately wanting them to get on with it. I'd got bad guys to beat up after all.
I really do think a lot of fat could have been trimmed, for a shorter game at a slightly lower price. It would certainly have made the game feel a lot tighter and more enjoyable, especially for replays.
The new combat also frustrated me at times. This was partly due to the camera, and how awkward it is to look around during a fight when using a controller compared to a mouse, especially when backed up against a wall.
But mostly it was the combat mechanics themselves. Or more specifically, it was how easy it was for the enemies to interrupt your characters as they prepared their next attack, which happened so many times in some of the more intense fights. I thought I was going to start raging at some points, I really did. My old and tired brain just couldn't keep up with it all.
I also found it quite unfair how, unlike the original, the enemies do not have to abide by the same rules that the player characters do. What I mean by this is, in the old one, all of the characters had to wait for their ATB bar to fill before they could act, and spend MP to do it. Whereas in this one, your characters have to wait and spend MP, but the enemies can just continue to throw out special attack after special attack with no ATB or MP cost at all. Sucks, especially when the ATB bars fill so slowly if you are on the defensive, which some fights dictate.
Also included in this game, which does the combat no favours, is something I hated in FF XIII and continue to hate here. This is the dreaded stagger mechanic. Fucking hell that thing is a ball ache and a half. At least here it's not as bad as it was in XIII, as this game does not include that game's paradigm shifting. Because let's face it, those two things together was a combo akin to someone making you eat a shit sandwich, then forcing you to wash it down with a drink of piss.
How awesome can a cast of characters be?
Cloud duels with Abzu
Not the way most people try to pick up Tifa
Barrett letting rip
Nanaki just hanging around
Yay, they did the thing
So then, was it all worth it after all? Does it stand up to the legacy of the original?
To be honest, I'm very torn. In chunks, I was madly in love with the game, but at other times I was a little frustrated by what the game was forcing me to do. Then, in terms of story, there was a great deal here to appreciate, but by the end, I was quite concerned, maybe even disappointed.
Yet definitely fascinated.
I don't think I'm in any great rush to play it again, even though there are still plenty of other things for me to try and do in the game. Part of that is because I've done my share of rushing this week, madly trying to get through the game so I can watch an online discussion about it tonight.
But a big chunk of it is because I don't think there's much of a replay factor here, due to most of the new stuff being slower, story and character based content. I may in the future drop it to easy to go through it again, or use the unlocked chapter select to go back through certain chapters again. I certainly won't be pushing on to the hard mode. That sounds like hell on toast.
Overall, I'm really glad the game exists, and I'm glad I played it. But I wish I'd waited a while, and not been in such a rush to finish it myself as to not hear or read anyone else's opinions on it beforehand. It wasn't really worth the worry and energy.