With the Final Fantasy VII Remake project, Square Enix is poised to release not only expands and deepen the original 1997 RPG, but provide audiences a new experience that will stand out amonng a slew of remakes. For all of its pacing issues, Final Fantasy VII: Remake feels like just as much a sequel as it does a remake – and Final Fantasy VII: Rebirth, releasing in early 2024, looks to be doubling down in this regard.
Remakes are nothing new for video games and have had a long history within the medium. Iconic remakes like Capcom’s 2002 Resident Evil for the Nintendo GameCube redefined what a remake could be. Other games like Demon’s Souls (2020), Dead Space (2023) and Spyro Reignited Trilogy have remastered classic games for modern audience, keeping more or less everything in tact. Final Fantasy VII Remake ops for a different approach, acknowledging the game that came before and building off it.
Final Fantasy VII: Remake Updates the Classic Combat While Feeling Familiar
Remakes need to strike a balance between remaining faithful to their source material and offering audiences a fresh take on a beloved classic. FFVII Remake does this by actionizing the combat system while still keeping the ATB gauge and the materia system. FF7R also updates these mechanics to help them better feed into the flow of frantic combat. The ATB gauge can be boosted by blocking attacks and engaging the enemies more aggressively. Materia is far more varied and customizable for what is essentialy the early-game. This, combined with the addition of skill trees tied to the different weapons for each character, helps Final Fantasy VII: Remake feel like an evolution of not just the original game but the series as a whole.
Final Fantasy Fights Fate
Mechanical complications aren’t the only thing that Final Fantasy VII: Remake brings to the table. There’s a very large change by introducing Sephiroth and his mysterious connection with Cloud almost immediately and Sephiroth is the final boss of the game, pitting Cloud against his nemesis much earlier than in the original. Additionally, Sephiroth and Aerith both have dialogue that heavily implies that they know where the story is going, as if they have already lived it once. An important encounter at the end of Final Fantasy VII: Remake with an enemy called the Whisper Harbinger, along with the addition of a new type of enemy called the Arbiters of Fate, also heavily points to the idea that this has all happened before – and that certain entities are trying to ensure that it will all happen again.
Final Fantasy VII: Rebirth Has a Boundless and Terrifying Freedom
Games like the Resident Evil remakes are no strangers to shuffling or outright changing how certain events in their story play out. Perhaps a monster jumps out of a room later than expected or the placement of items is swapped, but at the end of the game, the characters and events line up as they did in the original. It’s an effective trick that works as a subtle conversation between the game and existing fans, yet it isn’t obtrusive enough to make new players feel as though they’re missing out on the reference. Final Fantasy VII: Remake has that conversation not only with the players, but directly with the original game. Final Fantasy VII: Remake subverts and changes what a remake can even be, just as Resident Evil (2002) did 21 years ago. However, there is a danger in that; the direct reference and dialogue with the original Final Fantasy VII could work to alienate and distract new players, and it won’t be until the trilogy of remakes is complete to know if that risk will be worth it.
As Final Fantasy VII: Remake comes to a close and the party stands at Destiny’s Crossroad, Tifa asks Aerith what they will find on the other side. Aerith tells her, “Freedom. Boundless, terrifying freedom.” This is as true for Final Fantasy: Rebirth and its as-of-yet unannounced conclusion. Square Enix has primed itself to change and rearrange one of gaming’s tent pole entries in ways that are impossible to predict and in ways that have yet to be done elsewhere in the industry.