Video games are an incredible art form. Playing one for the first time and experiencing everything it has to offer is a truly special experience. You get to watch the story unfold and experience its twists and turns. Many of my most positive and memorable experiences with my favorite games largely happened on the first playthroughs, when I was along for the ride and didn’t have any expectations or knowledge of what would happen next.
I wish I could have had that experience with Final Fantasy VII. I’m almost positive that if I could have experienced the game spoiler-free, I would have gotten a lot more out of it. But between Final Fantasy VII‘s popularity, its impact on the video game industry and community, and spoilers abound on the Internet, that pretty much made a blind playthrough impossible.
Spoiler warning: I will be talking about both the original Final Fantasy VII and Remake in depth. If you haven’t played either and would like to experience them blind, stop here! If you have played them, or don’t care about spoilers, continue and enjoy!
It’s Hard to Enjoy the Experience When You Know What’s Coming
In some ways the Internet is a blessing and absolute curse. It’s very difficult to avoid spoilers these days, especially when something is popular. And when a video game has one of the most iconic character deaths in video game history, it’s inevitable people are going to talk about it. So, by the time I got around to playing Final Fantasy VII, I was already aware of all of the major spoilers and key plot points. And after years of having my expectations risen to impossible heights because of how hyped up it was, I watched the credits roll with a sense of confusion.
At the time, I had a hard time seeing what made people cherish it so much. I could see glimpses of potential, but for the most part, I couldn’t help but feel disapointed and wanting more. I wanted more of the characters and the story. I wanted to be invested in Cloud’s journey and Aerith’s sacrifice. But it didn’t really resonate with me at the time. In case you don’t know my thoughts on the original game, check out my critical rant about it.
Enter the Remake Announcement
When Square Enix first announced Remake with a trailer in 2015, I’m pretty sure I booed when I watched it. That’s how much I didn’t care. And at the time, I felt that other classic Final Fantasy games like VI and IX weren’t getting any love. Final Fantasy VII had how many spinoff games, a movie, and now a remake? I get that it was popular, but it felt like it was getting undo attention.
But after the big announcement and fanfare, things were quiet for a few years. It wasn’t until 2019 when substantial information and trailers started dropping that I became genuinely impressed by what I saw. The graphics were significantly improved from its initial announcement, the music was familiar and fantastic, the voice acting was excellent, and the action-based combat system looked really fun (despite being a departure from the original).
This remake didn’t seem like it was just going to be the original with some spruced up graphics and voice acting slapped in. They sold me with the attention to detail and effort put into it, work that was already apparent in the trailers. So when April rolled around, I was actually looking forward to it.
I played through it, and to my shock, I loved it. Which is such a strange thing to say, given my thoughts on the original game. But it’s so true. This game has managed to do something I thought would be impossible. Final Fantasy VII Remake has been so enjoyable and well done that it has shifted my perspective on the original VII.
How Final Fantasy VII Remake Succeeds
Final Fantasy VII Remake is, as its name suggests, a “remake” in every sense of the word. We’ll get to how exactly it has evolved beyond the original while respecting its origins, but the ways this remake succeeds are numerous.
Expanding on Midgar with Meaningful World Building
Final Fantasy VII Remake succeeds in enhancing the original game by adding a significant amount of story to the Midgar portion of the game. In the original, this was probably a few hours, tops. This time around, Midgar is chockfull of story, sidequests, and NPC’s that you can listen to and interact with that makes it a whopping 40+ hour game. I won’t pretend that every chapter is a perfect or necessary inclusion (see Leslie and the sewers). Still though, I appreciate the depths Square Enix went to in developing Midgar using modern video game design and development principles.
In the original game, Midgar doesn’t really feel bustling or lively, and I’ll admit that I was never 100% clear on the worldbuilding or how exactly the city was constructed. But Remake makes it abundantly clear that the slums are literally “below” the city, almost underground, and the Upper Plate is where the rich prosper through the jobs Shinra provides, and can even see the sunlight regularly unlike the people below.
By adding this level of depth to the world building, it made me care so much more about the conflict and the repercussions of Avalanche’s actions on the city. Midgar is alive and full of conflict, and as a result, it’s much easier to become invested in the struggles of the people and their plight. It doesn’t just feel like a stop on the journey in a video game; it feels like a real place.
The Cast Features Nuanced, Fully-Realized Characters
One of my major complaints with the original Final Fantasy VII were the characters and their development. While some characters like Cait Sith and Yuffie were just plain annoying, others like Cloud and Aerith felt very flat and one note. While Cloud did get some much needed development alongside Tifa later on, it didn’t help that they were largely defined by singular personality traits for so much of the game.
With the exception of Tifa and Red XIII, I wasn’t a fan of almost any of the characters in the original. To my extreme surprise, the characterizations in Final Fantasy VII Remake (at least for the playable characters we’ve met so far) are significantly improved. Now? I adore these characters, and never in a million years did I think that would be possible.
Cloud still has his moments where he tries to be the cool, lone wolf, but everyone around him very quickly sees through the act and calls him out on it. It’s great. He shows a wide range of emotions, too. He cares deeply about Tifa and Aerith once he gets to know her. He can be sarcastic or shy and awkward. The focus isn’t on him just trying to be aloof or brooding.
It’s a crime that Advent Children and Kingdom Hearts leaned in to Cloud’s emo and brooding phase so much. With Remake‘s impressive graphics, Cloud’s personality shines through subtle facial expressions that were impossible to convey in the original.
Remake also incorporates his messed up memories and visions (much earlier than in the original game), giving the impression that Cloud has some deep trauma that he doesn’t understand and is desperately trying to bury.
Quick aside, but the entire crossdressing and dancing sequence had me in stitches. I can’t remember the last time I cackled and laughed til I cried SO MUCH at a scene in a video game. It got so bad that I kept messing up the button inputs during the dance number, and Aerith was pretty unimpressed. It was hilarious. I guarantee I did not react the same way in the original, which is a testament to how likable Cloud and Aerith are in Remake.
Meanwhile, Aerith is a far more interesting character in Remake. My perception of her changed the most out of all of the characters. I originally described her as selfish and inconsiderate. The Remake goes a long way to change that. She’s kind and spends time working at the orphanage. She has moments of innocent naivety (and sometimes curses! Gasp!), but she seems to know more then she lets on. It adds some nuance to her — she isn’t just a saccharine flower girl you meet on the street. There are notably quiet moments and cryptic dialogue that implies she may be aware of the original timeline (more on the story details later) and her true fate.
There’s something tragic about the possibility that she might be aware of what has to happen and it could give her a compelling arc. Will she try to resist her fate, or accept it for the greater good? It has the potential to recontextualize her decisions later on. I remember thinking how stupid it was that Aerith went off by herself in the original and was killed, but now, what if she makes that decision because she knows about the future and what has to happen? Suddenly, it seems far less foolish and far more profound and brave than I could have ever imagined.
I’ve always liked Tifa and felt she had the most depth in the original game, and luckily the Remake doesn’t detract from the good aspects of her character and continues her development in an organic and positive way. Her moral dilemma around what Avalanche is doing, and feeling trapped as a result, is really compelling. She supports the cause and the fight for the greater good, but questions the violence and potential consequences. It reinforces her compassion and caring personality.
I also adore her redesign. All of the character redesigns so far have been solid, but hers in particular stands out. Maybe because it’s the most different to her original design compared to everyone else, but giving Tifa realistic body proportions and a (mostly) practical outfit to boot was a fantastic choice.
Even characters I didn’t really have a strong opinion about in the original, such as Barret, are more fleshed out. He’s not just a gruff and angry character. He is motivated by the trauma of his past and desire to create a better future for his adoptive daughter, Marlene (and by the way, all of their scenes together are precious).
As a result, Barret’s ambitions as the eco-terrorist leader behind Avalanche comes from a place of noble intent and good, and not just from a place of anger and revenge against Shinra. He’s a far more interesting character than ever before, and as one of the few prominent Black characters in a JRPG, this representation as a multi-faceted individual is so great to see and no doubt appreciated.
Slight tangent, but every single voice actor for the core cast of characters — Cloud, Barret, Tifa, and Aerith — does an excellent job. They all sound younger than their Advent Children and Kingdom Hearts voice overs, and they bring heart and humor to their line deliveries. They are all fantastic and perfectly cast. I’m sure there are fans out there who wanted to see the original voice actors return, but I much prefer the new voices.
Lastly, I am excited for Zack! More on that later.
The Villain(s) are Active and Involved
Perhaps the biggest disappointment I experienced when playing the original Final Fantasy VII was the realization that Sephiroth, the famous villain fans loved to hate, wasn’t actually who we thought he was. Turned out, it was Jenova disguising herself as him. I wasn’t a fan of the bait and switch and didn’t feel the seeds were planted properly for it to really work.
But in Remake, visions of Sephiroth haunt Cloud early in the story. On top of that, Jenova (or at least a version of her alien form) is fought near the finale, reinforcing the important connection between these two villains. By introducing Jenova in a more active role much earlier in the story, her presence and involvement in the plot going forward will make a lot more sense.
The Story Balances a Concise Yet New and Fascinating Premise
The story in Final Fantasy VII Remake is really cool. It covers many of the same story beats in Midgar that the original game does, such as the bomb mission at the Shinra Powerplant in the game’s opening sequence, or Cloud falling through the church and meeting Aerith in the Sector 5 slums. Remake presents these familiar moments with concise and effective storytelling, while expanding on the lore and background when it needs to. But it’s what is going on behind the scenes that is far more interesting.
Throughout the game, creatures called Whispers (black whispy figures that look like the Smoke Monster from Lost and Dementors from Harry Potter) swirl ominously around the characters. At first it’s not entirely clear what they are or what their purpose is. But as the game progresses, whenever characters try to act outside of or change predestined events, the Whispers come in to course correct.
Through clever visual cues and references to the original game, it turns out this is an alternate timeline, and the original game serves as the “true” one. Basically, the Whispers are keeping the timeline intact and preventing any variation, allowing the story to progress as intended. This includes saving characters who aren’t supposed to die and vice versa.
By the end, the Whispers are killed by Cloud and the party, meaning that (in theory) the story is effectively “unknown” and can progress in any way. A major example of a shift to the timeline is Zack being alive. He should have died in the last stand, and the Whispers were there to make sure that was the case. But they weren’t killed in just the alternate timeline; they were seemingly destroyed in all of them, so Zack survived. This could have major ramifications on the story going forward (will he join the party?! I hope so!), and it begs the question: can Aerith survive too? Maybe. I don’t want to speculate one way or the other.
I know it sounds complicated, but I absolutely love this approach to the story. It’s a really neat premise that respects and acknowledges the original while paving the path for a reimagining of its own. It’s a true “remake” in every sense of the word, and it could be seen as a spinoff or sequel in a way. It’s allowed to coexist with the original through exploring the multiverse and challenging fate.
Most fans would have been fine with the original game seeing a glow up. But I think this remake has gone above and beyond just being a shinier rehash of its predecessor. While the story is being set up to go in any direction now, I suspect Remake will still cover many important story elements from the original. But how it does so, the order of events, and which characters are involved, could look very different. Either way, it’s evolved into something far more compelling and deeply interesting.
How My Perspective of the Original Final Fantasy VII Has Changed
For all of these reasons, I look back on Final Fantasy VII with more respect now. I personally don’t find VII to be a perfectly executed game (in particular, the at-times haphazard localization that impacted the dialogue and story presentation that lead to hilarious lines like, “This guy are sick” isn’t great), but looking back, there are nuggets of fascinating lore and compelling ideas. I remember finding all of the story beats with the Lifestream and the socio-environmental commentary to be absolutely fascinating, and these themes are still relevant to this day.
I respect what it did for the video game industry, and for the groundwork it laid for this remake. I fully recognize the Final Fantasy VII Remake would not work without the original game serving as the foundation for it. Maybe VII had the pieces all along, but it needed the benefit of advancements in technology and improved localization to convey them as originally intended.
Because of that, Remake has undeniable advantages that work in its favor since it’s able to expand on the original story, add nuance to the characters, redefine the world, and incorporate contemporary gameplay features in a way that still feels true to the original. Instead of fixing the original, Remake is like an extension of Final Fantasy VII, and it’s given me a lot of food for thought lately.
Through its unique storytelling approach, excellent expansion of Midgar, character depth, and great voice acting, Remake has (so far) addressed every major criticism issue I had with the original game, and it’s not even the whole experience! But the work and commitment to make something special is there.
I can’t think of another video game remake that has been as creative and different as this one, so much so that I can’t help but rethink my impression of the original. I, for one, am beyond excited for Final Fantasy VII Rebirth. I can’t wait to see where it goes.
Has Final Fantasy VII Remake given you a new appreciation for the original? Or do you feel the changes Remake is making don’t work? Let us know in the comments, and thank you for reading!