If you wanted to sum up Final Fantasy VII Remake Intergrade in three words, they would be pure, epic spectacle. Whether it’s racing down the highway on a motorcycle at a hundred miles an hour while battling a gigantic robot using nothing but a sword, fighting a huge monster from an alternate time-line which looks like it wandered in from a Marvel movie, or rescuing a friend from the clutches of a mad scientist, I really can’t remember the last time a game managed so effortlessly to get me hooked and make me lose track of time. This is as much due to the brilliant pacing and gameplay, as it is to a story which always leaves you wanting to find out just what happens next.
The game follows the adventures of mercenary Cloud Strife and the members of Avalanche as they fight the evil Shinra Power Corporation which runs the sprawling city of Midgar – a massive two-tiered city, where the wealthy live topside, and the less fortunate inhabit the slums underneath the plates that make up the upper layer (anyone who’s seen Alita: Battle Angel will get the idea). What starts off as a seemingly straight-forward task of shutting down the generators which power the sprawling city of Midgar – generators which literally burn the life-blood of the planet – very quickly escalates into an epic tale of unwitting pawns, betrayal, war-mongering, supernatural forces, and the potential destruction of the entire planet.
Told with no small amount of flair, the story is equal parts crazy and engaging, with the main characters being genuinely likeable, and the over-the-top villains (whether they’re sleazy mob-bosses, power-crazed CEOs or mad scientists) feeling like they’ve walked straight out of a kid’s cartoon. From the very start, you feel you’re in good hands – that the game is here to entertain you, not put you through an emotional wringer or say anything sanctimonious or preachy (which most writers confuse for being deep and meaningful). This is coupled to a light sense of humour (and one of the most hilarious infiltrate-and-rescue missions I’ve seen – involving an uncomfortable, cross-dressing Cloud, mirth from his female friends, and one extremely disappointed mob boss), and you have a highly enjoyable experience.
While the story definitely propels the game forwards, gameplay itself revolves around exploring Midgar, finding new weapons and items to help you on your adventure, and combat. Simply put, each of these is a delight. Each new location is a visual treat and truly epic in scale, whether it’s Shinra’s enormous buildings, the Sector 7 Slums which cower under the massive central column that supports Plate 7, or the miles of highway on which you’ll engage in crazy sword-fights whilst riding a motorcycle.
Combat is a fast, furious mix of twitch reactions and strategic decisions – though players can opt to enable a ‘classic’ mode if they want to simply focus on the strategic element. As each member of your party fights, they build up action points, which the player then chooses how to spend. These may be used to activate a visually impressive special attack – of which each character will accrue a huge amount of by the end of the game – use an item from the inventory, or cast a spell. Given that there’s usually four members in your party at any point, and each foe has different strengths and weaknesses, this gives players a huge amount of choice, as well as incentive to think very carefully about which actions they spend the points on. Thankfully, time slows to a crawl whenever you go to select an action, and each action helpfully tells you what it’s main use is (for example, absorbing damage, healing, dealing damage, staggering an opponent and so on). Whether it’s fighting guards, monsters, an evil mechanical house which fires furniture at you (yes, that’s right), or a creepy little lizard that slowly shuffles towards your party, lantern in one hand, and chef’s knife in the other (funny, until you realise it can soak up a ton of damage and one-shot kill anyone in your party), combat is always fun and engaging.
The way combat works also encourages you to explore the environment, finding useful items, new spells, and new weapons. Unlike other RPGs where you’ll find weapons that you simply don’t use, this isn’t the case here. Every weapon you find has a different special ability which you can learn by using it, meaning you’ll at least have a go of everything you come across.
It should be noted that this is a remake of the classic 1997 Final Fantasy VII, not a remaster. They haven’t just prettied up the original graphics; they’ve rebuilt them completely, and the game is one of the best looking ones around. Also, the game doesn’t follow the original story. Along with changes, it only presents the first part, up to where the characters leave Midgar and finishes on a cliffhanger promising to continue the story. There’s still more to do once you’ve finished the main game, thanks to the Intergrade DLC, which takes place during the events of the main game. With a greater emphasis on traversal and combat, this is definitely designed for veterans, with boss fights suddenly ramping up the difficulty so that they comfortably sit alongside any boss from Dark Souls. Unless you’ve mastered the combat, you will get beaten. Repeatedly. That said, it’s still a lot of fun.
All up, this represents over thirty hours worth of highly entertaining and well thought-out gameplay (I particularly like the fact that the game always warns you when you’re about to reach a point of no return, so you’re never worried that you’ll miss content by locking off part of the game). In fact, the only misstep, gameplay-wise, occurs between the Plate Incident (no spoilers) and the return to Sector 7. This is the only section in the game where the quests feel like ‘filler’ content – and largely due to confusion as to just where you should be going (the only time that occurs during the game). However, unless you really want to complete everything, these quests can simply be skipped. The only other criticism I can throw at it is that there is the occasional, obviously low-res background texture, which is particularly striking when you realise just how good the rest of the game looks.
The last thing I should mention is that you might come across criticism of the game for its PC implementation. While the criticism is correct in that there is (at the time of writing) limited options to change graphics settings, and the game does stutter occasionally, these are, frankly, irrelevant. I did not encounter anything which broke the game or ultimately detracted from my experience, which is more than I can say about several other big-name games which seemed to have escaped criticism yet suffered truly game breaking bugs (to the extent I had to leave them several weeks until a patch came out).
All in all, this is simply one of the most enjoyable, and carefully crafted games I’ve played. If you’ve enjoyed classics like Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time, then you’re sure to like this. Yes, sometimes it’s a case of style over substance, the story is nonsensical, and the ending is a bit confusing. But who cares? It’s enjoyable, engaging, and highly entertaining, and at the end of the day, that’s what gaming is all about. ■