With last week’s release of the Final Fantasy VII Remake demo, countless fans finally have a chance to relive the thrill of that first Mako reactor run. From returning to Midgar, recreating the game cover of Cloud gazing up at the hulking Shinra building, and hearing the impressively reimagined soundtrack, it’s easy to imagine how FFVII Remake is inspiring some major nostalgic feels. After all, who doesn’t immediately get transported back to memories of the original?
Well, me for one.
I didn’t play FFVII when it was first released. Until recently, I had never even played a Final Fantasy game. The legendary series has always been one of my biggest cultural blind spots, either due to age (in 1997 I was five), or from willful ignorance. JRPGs didn’t always click with me as a kid, and while I saw snippets of different FF titles while gaming with friends over the years, it never quite drew me in enough to play an entry on my own.
Even in 2018 when I finally booted up FFVII on PS4, determined to give a celebrated classic a shot, I still couldn’t connect. There were elements of the game that excited me (The summons! The soundtrack! Tifa!), but even after reaching a certain pivotal plot point (you know which one!), I found myself losing steam and ultimately I didn’t finish it. Maybe I was coming to it too late, maybe my expectations were too high. But ultimately I figured I was firmly on the “Final Fantasy isn’t for me” train.
Which is why after a hands-on experience last month, it’s blowing my mind that Final Fantasy VII Remake is easily one of my most anticipated games of 2020.
At first I thought it was just the updated graphics. That opening sequence drifting through a fully realized and lived-in Midgar is nothing short of stunning. Seeing Cloud leap into action at the beginning of the Mako reactor run genuinely sparked joy in me. He and the AVALANCHE crew are stylishly realized, and seeing them move through the world was a delight. Their personalities shine from small quips during battle to longer fleshed out cutscenes, and I was immediately endeared to the bombastic Barret and sweet, kindhearted Aerith. It helps that the world they are moving through gleams with eye-catching environments. From the glowing metal walkways of the Mako reactor, to the harried and burning alleyways of Midgar’s business district, I couldn’t stop pausing to take in my surroundings.
Square Enix’s updated vision of Midgar had successfully piqued my interest, but I felt like I was finally cutting my teeth as a true Final Fantasy convert during the fast-paced and kinetic combat. Y’all, I was having the time of my life during these battle sequences. Switching between Cloud and his party members is a fluid choreography that I was thrilled to learn, and once I had the hang of balancing my ATB charges and abilities, I felt like I could conquer Shinra and the world. That’s not to say I always had the hang of it — there were some particularly harrowing moments in a post-demo boss battle where I felt like I was using every ATB charge to force feed my party Potions. But once I found a steady rhythm, mastering the dance between characters and abilities felt natural. More than that, it felt exciting in a way that I had never felt about Final Fantasy before.
This increased tenfold when I used a Summon for the first time. Unlike in the original FFVII, Summons are something that require teamwork to get the most out of. With a Summoning materia equipped, one character can unleash a Summon, but then all party members can use their ATB charges to guide it in battle. It makes the Summon so much more than a cool animation and hefty attack. Instead they are an active and lasting part of the fight that encouraged more of that kinetic back and forth that I was thriving on. I might not have a lot of feelings tied to the original game, but I definitely felt something powerful when I unleashed Shiva during a fight.
It’s a feeling that stayed with me well after my playthrough, and again once I sat down to play the demo at home. It may have taken 23 years, but for the first time in my life, I think I’m fully on board the Final Fantasy train. I can’t wait to see where it takes me when Final Fantasy VII Remake comes to PS4 on April 10.