May 25, 2024

Hello folks. Throwing in a gentle spoiler warning for this one. Nothing about the ending or major plot points (you can go deep dive into the ending of Final Fantasy VII Remake with Toby’s excellent article all about it right here), though there is subtle character beats that you may want to find out on your own. You have been warnedHead here for our spoiler-free review.

As I make my way through the quiet ambiance of Loveless Street I meet Aerith. I immediately want to protect her. I feel like I’m in the presence of a celebrity I’ve never met, with a legacy that will outlive mine posing as a garden I’ve seldom walked upon before. I feel like I know her but I don’t really know why. Our paths are yet to cross in a meaningful way, I only know the name. Aerith. From Final Fantasy VII. That’s where I know of her. I’ve heard friends of mine talk about her for years. I should probably stroll up and after all this time, say hello.

And thus my first ever experience with Final Fantasy VII truly begins. I work my way through the opening Reactor with ease having played through the sequence in the demo, I want to get into this game, finally. Why has it taken me this long? I can probably attest to it laying neatly in my memory banks of pop culture phenomenons I just simply missed and then never really had the urge to catch up on, nestling gently next to the likes of Lost, Game of Thrones and the Pitch Perfect trilogy. FFVII is clearly a milestone of gaming history, I was fully aware of its impact on the industry and how it’s so very beloved by every person that had the common sense to play it when it graced us in 1997.

Meh, I thought. I didn’t have a PlayStation. Too busy with GoldenEye and Banjo-Kazooie. I was simply too stacked at ten years old chasing down Alec Travelyan and that bastard Gruntilda to worry about the spiky blonde boy and his giant sword. My interest was never particularly grabbed by FFVII and I can see now that it was perhaps a mistake to wait this long. I’ve never really ‘got it’.

23 years later, the first part of the Remake is perhaps one of my top ten favourite games of all time.

Is that a bold statement? Perhaps. As I write I’m two hours removed from the games ending and after a killer last couple of chapters, I came out battered and bruised but alive, blown away by an experience that no less than two months ago I was ready to ignore in the wake of wanting to jump into other upcoming titles (that damn demo sold me, the sucker that I am). As an absolute newcomer to the game/lore/history/legacy/characters, I had no expectations. I played the demo and really enjoyed it, so picked up the game and loved it to my bones. It took me exactly 31 hours and 20 seconds to beat the game’s campaign, and I can’t wait to have a bit of a breather and jump back in again to clean up various collectibles and trophies. In a weird way, it’s just a video game to me. One with a beginning, a middle and an end. Full of characters I fell in love with and worlds I want to explore all over again.

And still there’s this, um, cloud, that lingers over.

Upon completion I jumped into the Finger Guns Slack to share the news and in a private conversation, I was asked about the ending. The ending that has caused somewhat of a stir with the FFVII faithful, to the point that some fans are genuinely worried. Obviously I won’t go into any sort of detail in this piece (again, you check Toby’s spoiler-filled article all about the ending and its implications here) but I didn’t really have an awful lot to say? I had *just* finished the final chapter and after feeling like I went ten rounds with Tyson I couldn’t really be critical, only that I was relieved I had finally beat the game, and at the same time sad that it was over. This ending, the one that I now know as my canonical ending (look out for a Black Parade tribute show coming very soon). It was beautifully written and presented, it would have been difficult not to get sucked up in it. I feel like there’s an awful lot to unpack once I can sit down with the whole team and they can talk it out.

To me, it wasn’t a ‘bad’ ending. It was just an ending. We’re all obviously acutely aware this Final Fantasy VII Remake project doesn’t end here. Not even Square-Enix themselves know exactly when it’s going to end and how many damn consoles generations we’re going to have to get through in order to actually see it completed. The dreaded ‘End of Part One of ???’ that we all feared would occur has now been and gone and for someone like me who doesn’t know any different, I’m unfathomably hyped to see what’s next.

Most importantly, I need to spend more time with these characters. Above anything else, they’re what kept me going throughout the mammoth playthrough I’m gutted there’s absolutely no way of knowing when we’ll get to hang out with them again. Honestly? I can give or take Cloud. Yeah, he’s an unquestionable bad ass and it’s super fun tearing up Shinra goons and monsters with him but I’m not entirely sure if he evolved all that much over my 31 hours. Beginning the game as a Merc doing a job into ‘there’s a job that must be done’ was fantastic, but am I wrong to think he never really wanted to, and instead felt duty bound? Again, this is a topic for a spoiler conversation, and he was always my main in any combat situation he was involved in but as a character? He’s so easily outshone by those around him.

23 years later I get the worlds adoration for Tifa Lockhart. I very much want to grab a beer with her at Seventh Heaven once all of this Shinra nonsense has blown over and have a good old bitch about how Cloud is so obviously compensating with that bloody blade of his. She’s beautiful and fearless, the red-eyed beating heart of Avalanche with a personality so infectious I demand a spin-off where she’s just there. Around at all times. When Cloud is doing his hair, when Cloud is shopping for dark blue clothing. When Cloud is emo-moping. When Cloud is moonlighting as one of Andrea’s dancers at The Honeybee Inn. Maybe she’s throwing stacks of gil at his feet, standing on a table with a gorgeously rendered glass of something 4K and alcoholic in her hand before they tear it to shreds to knock seven shades of Shinra out of Don Corneo once again. That’s the follow-up I need, please.

Then there’s Barrett. A character I definitely didn’t warm to for a little while. Our return to Sector 7 after the initial reactor explosion gave me insight into who he truly is. The leader of the eco-warriors on a mission to save the planet, and a father of a young girl who hardly ever gets to see him. His disdain for Cloud in the beginning is understandable of course. Cloud isn’t in this for the cause, after all. As the game progressed though Barrett was always the character whose needlessly loud and at times angry demeanour would take a little bit of the emotion out of particular moments for me. When you’re finally at a moment where characters feel comfortable and willing enough to open up and share some much-desired backstory to all of their blank stares into the middle distance, Barrett’s overbearing tone would drown it out.

He’s brilliantly written and far more complex than I gave him credit for, though he needs to just tone it down a little. He always seemed at odds with himself, particularly as someone who would kill a hundred Shinra goons if it meant saving some trees, but his slow turnaround on Cloud and his admiration for Aerith demonstrated that his heart was made of gold – even if it can be read as menacingly dark in certain circumstances – I was terribly thankful he had my back in certain moments. His brashness at times was just a bit much.

The United Ambassadors of The Red Bandana (well, Jessie, Wedge and Biggs to you and me) crew are also delightful, and as far as my knowledge of this games history goes, criminally underused. It’s simple to fall for them, the tribe of the good, looking to save the world alongside Tifa and Barrett whilst naturally, all matching and looking hella badass in the process. Cloud is an immediate apple in Jesse’s eye and the thirst is frankly, undeniable, bringing an entertaining flirtation angle between Cloud and Jessie (‘swing by my place after, so I can pay you in full…’). I want to shout from the rooftops to Jesse that I’ll protect her at all costs but the sad truth is she’ll never need me. She’s got an awful lot of this handled and carries her confidence much like Tifa, directly on her sleeve. She rules.

Wedge is my favourite though, for reasons that are far too spoilertastic to go into right now. I absolutely adore his need to want to help, to be part of the gang. Wedge is immediately relatable for this reason. Perhaps just as wholesome is the sheer amount of love the rest of the gang have for him. What a hero. Put him down for a pint. He can join Tifa, Jessie and I gossiping about how Cloud’s dumb hair does not match his personality.

I can’t imagine it’s a surprise though Aerith stole this entire game for me though. A couple weeks ago on our glorious Finger Guns Podcast Sean and Greg were discussing how they changed her name from the Aeris in the original (even though her name was Aerith in the Japaense version) and whilst they were nitpicking, I was wondering when I was going to run into her again. At this point in my playthrough I was in Sector 7 working oddjobs for the townsfolk, so my only interaction with her was on Loveless Street. The impression she made was remarkable.

I instantly understood why she is so infamous in the Final Fantasy folklore. Why streamers and YouTubers were crying at her first appearance in a Remake trailer and how, as a character, she appeared to have the very same impact on everyone. You want to be her friend, learn from her and share the adventures. Her initial wide-eyed innocence, her unflappable kindness – one of her all powerful Limit Breaks is healing her entire squad of teammates after all – and her mystery. It was Aerith’s story I was so invested in and I knew there was more to her than just an impossibly sweet flower vendor. I felt like the game lost a little bit of spark when she wasn’t part of the crew at a given moment. I missed her.

Yeah internet, I get it now. Aerith is the best.

In fact that’s probably a good way to wrap this up. I get it now. I get why this particular game, of all the many, many Final Fantasy games that are out there is so beloved, so highly regarded in the hearts of its original players. I get why these characters are so cherished, they are some of the best written in RPG history, and I’ve barely scratched the surface with them. I get why this was the one the fans wanted to be remade. As a newcomer, Square-Enix have done an absolutely phenomenal job re-imagining this world for an audience that spent the last ten years playing RPG’s created as sprawling open worlds with dialogue trees and endless fetch quests. They managed to make the seventh game in a series I’ve never touched seem like an essential purchase. The visuals are absolutely out of this world, the world building is on another plane – like a big pizza in the sky – and the story is beautiful, harrowing, hilarious and epic all in the space of a couple of chapters.

If there’s one thing I’m looking forward to in future chapters – apart form more of well, everything – is I’d like to see the villains fleshed out a little more. Sephiroth was cool and delightfully evil looking but I get the feeling this is one aspect of the game that didn’t have the biggest impact on me because I hadn’t played the original. Again, I understood the conflict with Cloud but Sephiroth was mostly very quiet, only telling a thousand stories with a single look. At times I was at a loss as to what those ‘looks’ may have meant, whilst a seasoned pro may have fully grasped the subtext. That’s not the games fault per se, but it certainly would have been helpful to delve a little deeper other than them staring at each other like they haven’t seen each other in years and are the only two people in the world who know their chequered history.

The villains as a whole never really felt all that threatening or exciting, and I’m hoping that changes. The Shinra robot/monster creations were always vastly more intimidating than President Shinra or any of his promoted goons. I mean, I’m Cloud Strife, I’m not sure if I was ever meant to feel intimidated, but I didn’t. Check the sword, Reno. It ain’t gonna happen today, mate. As for Rude and his terrible taste in sunglasses well, I’ve felt more threatened by Tom Nook.

I mentioned at the beginning of this article that Final Fantasy VII Remake has sailed into my Top 10 games of all time. As I add the finishing touches to this article a few hours later I haven’t stopped thinking about it. It’s been a while since I’ve been so determined to finish a giant action-adventure RPG like this. I knocked out the likes of Horizon Zero Dawn and Spider-Man over the course of a week or so and had a wonderful time doing so. But an RPG? That’s a commitment. A time sink that if the world was currently in its normal state of being I may not have given the time so easily.

That’s not to say I’m grateful I’m being told to stay in my house but at this time, it’s weirdly beneficial for video game fanatics like ourselves and educating myself on Final Fantasy VII seemed like the right thing to do. Oh how I can’t wait to get back to Midgar to see everyone again. Maybe I’ll jump back in tonight and pick up some of the music tracks I missed? Maybe I’ll hit Wall Market and do some squat challenges or dance with Andrea. Maybe I’ll play some Whack-A-Box with the kids in the Sector 5 Slums. Oh! Maybe I’ll head back to Chadley and share my battle reports. Maybe I’ll buy some Ether while I’m nearby. Maybe I’ll go and get another hand massage and not feel really really, terribly, horrifically awkward about it this time?

Maybe I’ll just walk around Aerith’s garden.

Oh man, this game. I get it now.

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