Review: Final Fantasy 7 Remake

I completed Final Fantasy 7 Remake (FF7R) over the weekend. Astute readers will recall that this is a full two months since I originally purchased it. Considering how giddy I was when I started, you might wonder why it took that long to play through… approximately 25 hours of game. The reason? What I wrote about in my final paragraph of the first impression post:

Anyway, not going to let a little thing like a combat system interrupt my JRPG nostalgerbation. I am going to assume it gets better, or that I can change things around enough to make it so, or that it will not diminish the rest of the experience. Which would be quite the feat considering how much I am enjoying myself already just walking around.

Let’s just say the game devs indeed achieved that ignoble feat.

Before I get started, it is important to know that I love that this game exists. The original FF7 was groundbreaking in a lot of ways, including ushering in the era of mainstream RPGs, and seeing Cloud and Aerith and Midgard again is a goddamn magical experience to me. Looking at screenshots from the original game today makes you question whether your memories from 25 years ago are suspect. But watching the gang walk around the Sector 7 slums or the Shinra tower? The graphics on my screen right now in FF7R are what my mind saw back then, like some kind of reverse déjà vu.

I say this for two reasons. The first is to establish my inherent bias. The second is because if you are also a fan of the original game, I would suspect that you will feel similarly.

If you are not a fan of the original or never played it… well, it’s hard to recommend FF7R at all.

The short version is that the combat system is hot garbage. I thought I had been doing things wrong somehow, but nope, it’s really that bad. And by “bad” I mean unintuitive and punishing to a frustrating degree. I played the whole game on Normal difficulty, so perhaps things are better on Easy.

During combat you control one character (of up to three) and can run around, Dodge Roll, Guard, perform light/heavy attacks by pressing/holding X, and have a character-specific move with Y. You also have an ATB gauge with two segments that slowly fills over time, and fills more quickly when you attack or Guard against attacks. Once you have at least one ATB segment filled, you can cast a Spell, use an Ability, or use an Item. You also have Limit Breaks and the ability to use Summon materia on “bigger” fights. Sound good so far?

There are a few problems that pop up right away. For one, Dodge Roll is a completely useless noob trap – it convers no invincibility-frames and doesn’t move you faster than just running. Secondly, the ATB setup rewards momentum and punishes falling behind. For example, if you take a lot of damage, the only way to heal is… to melee more mobs until you can cast Cure or use an Item. Blocking will reduce damage and technically you can run around in circles to buy time, but in both cases you are praying to survive long enough to spend your one ATB action to heal. Your other party members have their own ATB gauges and could bail you out – you can either switch to them directly or remotely command them to use an action – but their ATB accumulates much slower than the active character.

Here’s the kicker though: your ATB actions can fail. The first time it happened, I couldn’t believe it. Cloud used his Braver ability to spin around in the air and bring his sword down on… empty pavement. The enemy had walked away, not even on purpose. All abilities have to specifically target a character, so this isn’t like I accidentally pressed the wrong button on my way up to melee range. There is no range-finder indication to suggest your attack will succeed or fail, so you just sort of hope for the best. Oh, and magic works the same way. Spells like Lightning hit instantly, but Blizzard has a sort of delay where an ice crystal spawns and then explodes – if the enemy has better places to be, nothing happens. Normally these differences would result in spells dealing more or less damage based on ease of use, but that’s not the case either.

By the way, surprise! Your characters can be interrupted. If you’re casting Cure, perhaps on yourself because you’re about to die, but get hit by whatever, the spell fails (!!), you lose the ATB charge (!!?), and even the MP used to cast it (!!?!?!). Technically enemies can also be interrupted in this way, but guess what, that typically requires you to be using ATB actions… which will probably be interrupted by whatever the enemy was doing in the first place.

I’m spending a lot of time on this because it really drags down the game. Simply put, combat isn’t fun, and only gets worse over time when you face enemies who are resistant to everything but particular elemental attacks. Dungeons are big, and while there aren’t random encounters per se, you already know there are dozens of fights you have to slog through. It got to the point where I would just Save & Quit right in the middle of a dungeon and play a different game entirely for the next week. Which of course makes it more difficult to get back into the game knowing you got this shit cake waiting for you.

What really galls me about this is how the devs split the baby. I could imagine an actual action-based combat system where Dodge Rolling was used to avoid attacks, you had to aim special moves, and interrupting was an important (explained!) mechanic. Instead, we have this pseudo-action nonsense.

[Fake Edit] As noted, I played the entire game on Normal. There is a “Normal (Classic)” mode available (along with Easy/Easy Classic) that I tried out for a few minutes after beating the game. Classic basically means your characters will attack, defend, and run around on their own with the player basically waiting around for ATB charges and deciding what Ability or Spell to use. While I would be curious how the AI handles some of the tougher boss fights, this did seem to be a viable option for those who don’t want to spend a lot of time mashing X. However, I can confirm that your characters can still be interrupted mid-action, Abilities can still miss when the target walks away during the animation, etc.

Everything outside of combat though? Great. Fantastic, even

I’m not going to talk about the story or anything, as I appreciated the fact that I somehow avoided spoilers for years. Suffice it to say, the Remake part of the title is not a misnomer, even if the main story beats are similar. Characters are expressive and interesting. I have heard some people complain about the voice actors, but aside from Barret (a faithfully recreated caricature) and Wedge, everyone else is perfectly fine or even great. Graphics are phenomenal, and Midgard really comes to life in a big way. Managing materia is just as fun as it was 25 years ago, even though your selection is somewhat limited.

Ultimately, I am glad that Final Fantasy 7 Remake exists. That it does is a validation of decades-long adoration on my part. It’s just a goddamn shame that the combat system is so bad. Not bad enough to prevent progression, but enough to dissuade me from recommending this game to people not already invested in the experience. This will hopefully change as the next two titles come out and the plot comes closer to fruition. At which point I would likely recommend just buying the Ultima(te) edition that has all the games at once.

Posted on July 26, 2022, in Review and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Review: Final Fantasy 7 Remake.

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