Final Fantasy VII Remake Review (PS4, 2020)

Not sure I cared much when this game was announced in 2015. Playing Final Fantasy XV also didn't help restoring my faith into Square-Enix. To be honest I originally hadn't planned on playing this one at all. Well, until the news got out that it wasn't a remake after all. I mean at least no matter its quality it wouldn't invalidate the original Final Fantasy VII, and people would still have to play that so they could say they had played and witnessed the story of this classic of Playstation history.
So I got to play Final Fantasy VII Remake after all. I was curious about the new direction the story would go in, and how well they translated the original's atmosphere into a 3D world with HD visuals. Still cautious I went in with low expecations. And still found myself disappointed.

The visuals may look good at first glance, but Midgar barely has a trace of the atmosphere it had in the original. According to the remake slums are for the most part well lit, with little hints of smog and dirt. Back in 1997 the place looked like a radioactive wasteland.
Characters in the remake are ironically less expressive than they were in the original where each party member had a set of unique gestures that gave them personality. You barely see any of that in the remake. The animators also didn't make use of the high resolution models - there is very little expression in the mimics of characters. Apparently they tried to keep those in line with the realistic art direction. Yet real life persons employ way more expressive mimics than anything you see in this game.
It goes without saying that the soundtrack is still great. After all it's for the most part a straight up arrangement of the original's superb music collection. However the soundtrack no longer harmonizes as well with the game's general atmosphere, so it still feels like something is lacking.

Now don't get me started on the gameplay experience. There are some additional scenarios and dungeon sections have been stretched out, but overally it really shows that a short introduction scenario has been padded to be sold as a stand-alone game. There's cinematic cutscenes all the time, so much sometimes I felt like I was watching a movie and not playing a game. Lots of boring sections where you're forced to slowly follow some character while they give you a speech. As usually side quests aren't really interesting, you can tell they were added as additional padding (like with almost every game today). They shoehorned Sephiroth into this because apparently you can't have a product saying Final Fantasy VII without the most overrated villain of video game history. I mean I admit I thought he was cool when I was like 11... but come on now.
The story is no longer paced Final Fantasy style. Sometimes you play hours of dungeon grind for seemingly little to no development in between. At times it feels more like a dungeon crawler type of RPG. Barret repeats his speech about Avalanche saving the planet from Shinra ad nauseam. Just a few hours in he already sounds like a broken record.
I don't see how Cloud's visions and flashbacks add anything to the plot of this scenario. The time ghosts also don't make for an interesting or exciting narrative. It all feels like the developers just gave up on the idea of remaking the entire game and quickly put something together to get it over with to give themselves an excuse to do something else instead of working out a faithful remake. This game lacks coherency that makes it feel whole.

Personaly I didn't get much out of the combat either. Having to switch characters so often just annoyed me. Especially since that often made monsters immediately go after the new controlling character, making it unnecessarily difficult to make use of magic and abilities. It's frustrating how easily player characters get interrupted when channeling abilities - especially as it wastes both AP and MP in the case of magic skills.
There's probably a knack to the combat system that I missed. But I wasn't having much fun. I don't want to count how often I had a cutscene in a boss battle void my chance to deal proper damage by stagger.

This product feels very unfinished for an RPG. I clocked in less than 40 hours - doing almost all of the game's side quests and often having the controller sit idle. There are just barely more than 100 types of enemies in the game. That's a ridiculously low number for a stand-alone JRPG that tries to sell itself as a full game experience (I remember some Tales games counting more than 400 enemy types in their beast logs).

The only addition that I really liked were the bosses of the motorbike sections. Chapter 13 was also welcome, as I always found it a bit strange how little the characters seemed to grieve after the plate collapse. But these don't make the game itself any less of a time waster. Newcomers are well advised to skip this and just play the original instead.