This opinion piece contains major spoilers for Final Fantasy VII Remake. Please do not continue reading if you haven't completed the game. Also, please be respectful of spoilers which pertain to what comes after Midgar.
At this point in time, it is difficult to play Final Fantasy VII Remake without any knowledge of the source text. The world knows who dies, Cloud Strife is one of the most recognisable characters in the industry, and many of its locations have become iconic in the time since the 1997 original. However, having played very little of Final Fantasy VII and not knowing any of its narrative beats outside of Aerith's death, I feel compelled to share my experience as a newcomer to the remake of what many consider one of the greatest video games of all time. And, despite not having any nostalgia for Midgar whatsoever, what I uncovered was something special. Final Fantasy VII Remake is a strange game, but it's also an excellent one.
There's no getting around the fact that Square Enix assumes you've already gotten to know Cloud, Tifa, and Barret the moment you boot up Final Fantasy VII Remake. While the opening chapter is what I'm told be to a very faithful recreation of Mako Reactor One's bombing run, I am immediately left with questions. Who is Sephiroth? What happened to Barret's arm? Why are we attempting to blow up a Mako Reactor in the first place? Of course, some of these queries are answered, but then some aren't. And it's this which forms the epicentre of my thoughts. The Japanese heavyweight has managed to develop what feels like a complete game, except for the fact that I'm working with maybe a quarter of the full picture when it comes to story and lore. And instead of being frustrated by that fact, I'm excited. Very excited.
Much has been made of Final Fantasy VII Remake's ending, and from where I'm standing, I'm even more in the dark than anyone with knowledge of what's to come. Following a thorough explanation from deputy editor Robert Ramsey, I've managed to wrap my head around the events of the remake for the most part. But even then, I still have so many questions which I chose to not have answered through fear of having future reveals spoiled. Who is Zack? Why are there two Clouds? How come Aerith can sense the two of them but nobody else can? Who, or what, is Jenova? What is Sephiroth's deal? What comes next?
I will receive those answers in future instalments, but far and away the biggest revelation of Final Fantasy VII Remake is the role of the Whispers. What I took to be "destiny" is quite literally something trying to ensure the events of the original game continue to take place. How absurd and meta is that? Has a remake of a video game ever attempted this before? Honestly, I'm incredibly impressed by it all. Instead of developing a one to one recreation of the 1997 classic, Square Enix dared to create something that feels like a sequel -- an experience which simply couldn't exist without the events of Final Fantasy VII taking place. Talk about taking a risk. I love it. I love it so, so much.
Of course, I don't have any nostalgia for the PSone version and so I can take this ending at face value. The audacity to even attempt such a thing is off the charts, but that conclusion is my canon. And I revel in that. I cannot wait to see where the plot takes us next, what reveals await me which you may already know yourself, and to learn of whether or not Square Enix plans to make even more changes. The story of Final Fantasy VII is an unknown quantity once again, and that's incredible.
However, there are 17 other chapters to discuss, so let's focus on those. Final Fantasy VII Remake is heavily character-driven, and its unique, eccentric cast is a phenomenal one. I eventually came around on Cloud and began to like him the more I progressed. Barret is one of the best side-kicks ever -- full of humorous, goofy remarks while managing to remain on point when it comes to political perspectives and extravagant quotes. Tifa is an absolute badass, and Aerith is innocently lovely. Biggs is great, Jessie is wife material, and Wedge is...tolerable. Each bringing something new to the table, it's immediately clear how this set of characters has stood the test of time. Although, I've heard that Jessie was a complete afterthought in the 1997 original, and that's what I would consider a crime. When it comes to Midgar, Jessie is best girl.
Speaking of the Mako-fuelled city, it is very, very linear. I don't think this ever actually becomes a problem, especially so when Midgar supposedly wasn't very freeing in the first place, but it's still impossible to ignore. Linear pathways over and over again aren't the most exciting places to traverse, but at least the gigantic Shinra Building and Sector 5 and 7 slums allowed for a bit of exploration. The side quests which take place in the latter aren't exactly inspiring, however, sending you on various fetch quests and tasking you with slaying monsters. Although, I did enjoy learning who the Angel of the Slums really is.
The other side of this gameplay coin is combat. I'm a big, big fan of turn-based encounters, but it's obvious why Square Enix felt the need to dramatically update the system to make it real-time. It plays at a lightning-fast pace and allows for limitless experimentation through the use of Materia, turning any character into one packed to the rafters with magic attacks. I felt like a handful of boss fights became a little bit long in the tooth, but for the most part, combat is excellent. Dodging and blocking is at the core of it, while weapon upgrades boost your stats. I wasn't sure whether or not Final Fantasy VII Remake would feel like a complete game in this aspect so I was pleasantly surprised to stumble upon a huge number of enhancements to purchase.
Honestly, I feel like I'm trying to buy myself more time before returning to the topic of the game's narrative. But I have to. This is already a weird game, but having it be your first exposure to Midgar increases that factor exponentially. Even certain small, throwaway scenes didn't make a whole lot of sense to me -- I had to chalk them up to nostalgia plays which fans would recognise and appreciate.
Final Fantasy VII Remake will be remembered for its narrative and plot twist, and despite being just three years old when the title it's based on released, I feel like I can be part of the collective effort to figure out where this rollercoaster is headed next. Sure, I don't have the answers to a lot of my questions, many of which will be coming down the line, but Square Enix has made such a radical departure from what its fanbase expected that it feels like everyone is in the same position. No matter whether you're a newcomer or a veteran. I still don't understand every plot point of Final Fantasy VII Remake, and I'm more than okay with that. My questions will be answered in part two -- a game which has very quickly become one of my most anticipated games. Just don't take another five years to release it, Square Enix.
Did you find yourself in the same position as Liam? Was Final Fantasy VII Remake your first exposure to Midgar, or are you a veteran? Share your thoughts on that ending in the comments below.