Monday, 13 April 2020

Final Fantasy 7 remake (2020)

With all major film releases postponed or cancelled due to coronavirus outbreak, coupled with recent MCO (movement control order) enforced by the government to contain the outbreak, one could expect that the situation spells doom for entertainment to any of us cinemagoers. Oh well. But hey, Final Fantasy 7 remake is finally here! Is it the same (and as great) as the 1997 classic masterpiece?

Let me get this straight first. FF7 remake is a game, not a movie or TV series. But it's something of a marvel to experience, with its compelling storyline, memorable characters and mature theme of life and death. 23 years ago, FF7 was considered a game of its time (the best) and also Square Enix's best asset among the Final Fantasy game franchise to date. It's one of the rare RPG (role-playing games) that literally had fans begging the company to remake it instead of the other way round. So when Square Enix finally announced that they're finally decided to remake this classic masterpiece, every fans was stoked, myself included.

However, keep in mind that Final Fantasy 7 remake is not the full game though, it's actually just the first chapter in a planned series to retell the entire story of the 1997 classic. This 'remake' only covers the events that happens in Midgar, and ends when Cloud Strife and the group leaves the city to venture out in the world of Gaia. So that means only roughly 4-5 hours of original plot gameplay contained in this stretched 40 hours 'remake'. Another thing to mention, Final Fantasy 7 remake isn't exactly a 'remake', it's a complete re-imagining of the 1997 classic that also tries to maintain what made us fall in love with this world 23 years ago.

Truth to be told, Final Fantasy 7 remake itself sets a new benchmark for outstanding visuals and real time combat in the FF franchise, while retains its ability to retell one of gaming's greatest tale. Square Enix also made an incredibly bold decision at the same time by opting to take several huge gambles by making certain huge changes to the future direction of the story.

Needless to say, Final Fantasy 7 remake's narrative and characterizations achievements are strongly supported by its modern updated gameplay and visuals. It remains faithful to its characters and proceeds to expand, explore them further by giving them meaningful stories both big and small, to reaffirm us why we love the characters so much over the years. However, some might find that the various small stories, or side quests (mentioned as fillers in most online reviews) which involves the main characters are a tad too much. Personally, I think it's acceptable.

Final Fantasy 7 remake is truly a dystopia of our times, carefully showing us how capitalism can go wrong (remarkable considering that it's a 23-year old story). The world of FF7 is economically, militarily, politically dominated by a powerful conglomerate, Shin-Ra electric power company, which made huge profits from "mako" reactors that pump an energy called "Mako" and convert it into power and electricity, fuel various transports, appliances and buildings. Mako energy is drawn from the lifestream, where all life originates from in the world of Gaia. By doing so slowly kills the planet and its inhabitants. Sound heavily familiar now?

The city of Midgar, also the headquarters of Shin-Ra, also shows wealth inequality as a result of absolute capitalism, which can be shown from its upper plate that houses the president, upper socialites and workers for Shin-Ra while the lower plate houses the slums of the lower struggling class of people. Our main character, Cloud Strife, an ex-SOLDIER (paramilitary force that was set up by the company to wage war against countries like Wutai that against the extraction of Mako), now working as a mercenary of an eco-terrorist group called Avalanche, to blow up Midgar's mako reactors.

By spending nearly 40 hours of gameplay in Midgar, it allows you to slowly immersive and get to know several old supporting characters better, especially Jessie, Biggs and Wedge. Their expanded screen time allows us to learn why they joined Avalanche and support the cause. Other beloved main characters like Tifa and Aerith are given more screen time for us to get to know them and see how the story's famous and compelling classic love triangle blossomed (more will be shown in later chapters in future). Barret is also there and it's been a pleasure to see how hard he is to the group and yet he has a softer side of him when he cares about his team and most of all, Marlene, his lovely cute daughter. Barret and Red XIII surprising bromance was also added in this recent remake as well!

Almost everything from the Midgar section of the original game is found in this 'remake', with some scenes tweaked with some differences (compared to the original) that will be further explained near the ending. It's a pleasure to see the residential areas of Midgar's slums, Aerith's house, Sector 5 Church, Seventh Heaven, Shin-Ra headquarters, Don Corneo's mansion in Wall Market, etc...Everything is beautifully and masterfully re-created with utmost care. FF7 remake includes all those iconic moments that we've known and remember all those years...Cloud fell into Aerith's church, or crossdresses to infiltrate Don Corneo's mansion to help Tifa, meeting with the Turks like Reno or Rude, etc.

Another thing worth mentioning is that, the old turn-based combat system in the original game is completely replaced by a new real time active combat system now. Although you can only control one character at a time, but you still able to give commands to others or swap with them in mid-battle. The game's various boss fight also becomes harder and looks intimidating after the visual updates as well. The monster, robot villains that are carefully re-created will guarantee satisfy you while making you pissed at the same time.

Not to mention, Nobuo Uematsu the original composer for the beloved songs in FF7 original game is also back this time. It's incredibly wonderful and nostalgic to be able to listen those wonderful character themes when our beloved characters appear on screen once again after 23 years long, especially Aerith's or Tifa's memorable soundtrack themes.

Despite the major revelation about the changes at the ending that might anger fan purists who loves the original game so much (which left me with mixed feelings and worry about the story's future direction), there's still so much to love and enjoy about what's been done right about this latest FF7 remake. The expectations for this FF7 remake is absurdly high, but Square Enix managed to deliver most of it (even with their huge gamble near the end, I have to trust them that their future installments won't disappoint and hopefully won't ruin what has been a beloved story to many fans worldwide).

Don't know how many installments this current Final Fantasy 7 story will be told over, but since director Tetsuya Nomura had mentioned that work on chapter 2 is already underway, I'm still hooked to see what's going to happen in the next chapters lying ahead. It's just a shame that we need to wait ages for the next chapter to arrive.

Rating: 8.5/10 (Can't give much higher since it's just a first chapter and Square Enix did made a huge gamble of re-imagining it, needs subsequent chapters to see how it eventually turns out in the end)

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