It wouldn't be a stretch to say Final Fantasy 7 Remake is one of the most anticipated releases of all time.
Since the 2005 PS3 tech demo -- ten years before this remake was officially announced -- fans have longed to explore a modern take on Midgar. The overhauled edition of Square Enix's iconic 23-year-old RPG finally arrives this week, assuming you aren't in an area that has already received copies.
Can any game live up to decades' worth of expectations? Final Fantasy 7 Remake's Metacritic score of 87 suggests so, with critics agreeing it delivers on the childhood memories so many fans cling to.
"With smart (and surprising) additions to a classic world and its inhabitants, Final Fantasy 7 Remake artfully appeals to nostalgia without being bound by it," writes Joe Juba in Game Informer's 8.75 review.
"This is console generation-defining stuff that the PS5 will have to hit the ground running to better"
Dan Silver, The Telegraph
Video Games Chronicle's Jon Bailes adds in his five-star critique: "What's here, right now, is a partial re-formed classic, updated and expanded in every direction, at times to the point of over-inflation, but with extraordinary ambition and care that we can't help but love it."
In her Eurogamer review, which awards a Recommended rating, Aoife Wilson assures that Final Fantasy 7 Remake does justice to the original, describing the experience as "emotional -- even if the remake makes a few missteps along the way."
"For the most part at least, the spirit and tone of the original Final Fantasy 7 is perfectly preserved," she writes. "Dare I say it, the remake even manages to frequently improve upon the original's telling of the story."
But while the remake has garnered both high praise and high scores, there's a subtext to the reviews that suggest it may be somewhat divisive. There are mentions that Square Enix has added in some surprises, changed storyf beats, and there is even mention of a major change that will likely prove controversial -- although naturally all critics have avoided spoilers.
Most reviews also emphasise that Final Fantasy 7 Remake only recreates the original's Midgar opening sequence, something USGamer's Kat Bailey observes has not been overly clear in the game's marketing.
Bailey's 3.5 review is particularly conflicted, opening with the admission: "My feelings on this game are kind of all over the place right now."
She continues: "Square Enix's long-awaited return to the world of Midgar is both beautiful and oddly dated, an exhilarating blockbuster that can also be a dull slog. It has a lot of highs, but there are points where it really labors to stretch what feels like a 15 to 20-hour story into 30. It'll hit you with a truly excellent setpiece or story sequence, only to allow the excitement to evaporate in the course of another interminable series of blank corridors and switch-pulling. It reminds me a little bit of The Hobbit, which is to say that it feels like a self-contained story, but also kind of has a case of trilogy creep."
This is partly down to the expansion from a linear JRPG to a semi-open reimagining of Midgar. After key story sequences, players are free to explore different districts of the dark fantasy city, engaging in side quests, mini-games and other activities -- all new additions for the remake. While these sections are generally well received, Bailes notes that the restriction to Midgar and the absence of the overworld from the original means this title "lacks the eventual release of exploration that many RPGs provide."
"Anyone worried this would feel like a cheap hack and slash can rest assured this is not the case"
Aoife Wilson, Eurogamer
He continues: "The change of pace these [side] quests offer is welcome, but when the main narrative has such a strong pull, they needed to be better integrated. While the hunts and mini games such as whack-a-box or squats are fun bonus challenges, the concept of being a jobbing mercenary feels a little forced. It doesn't help that the characters you meet in these errands and the stories they tell are hard to care about, and there's often too much busywork involved."
Even the main quest sequences suffer from padding, with Bailey observing that one 30-minute sequence from the original takes almost four hours of switch puzzles, climbing ladders and wandering around corridors to complete. Bailes adds that while these "contribute to the game's exquisite world-building", it slows the pacing dramatically -- especially when anticipating a boss battle or urgent event remembered from the 1997 edition.
"This is the price of making so much from a six-hour sequence in a 23-year-old game," he adds.
Dan Silver agrees in his three-star review for The Telegraph: "The unfortunate truth is there's just not enough interesting story or content to go round -- and that's coming from a self-confessed obsessive who spent north of 100 hours playing through the original."
Silver is much more complimentary when it comes to the graphics, adding: "Five years of development time have resulted in some truly breathtaking visuals and stunning set-pieces which more than rival the impact of its ancestor's. That game spawned a then state-of-the-art CG feature film spinoff, Advent Children, in 2005; some moments in Remake make even that look as dated as Steamboat Willy. This is console generation-defining stuff that the PS5 will have to hit the ground running to better."
Critics also agree the combat is much improved, now adopting the real-time structure of more recent Final Fantasy games but still offering a version of the Active Time Battle mechanic that so many enjoyed in the original. The Materia system, which enables players to add elemental magic to character's armour and weapons, also returns and, while not as expansive as in the original, Bailes notes it stands as "a testament to the original design that it still feels as modern as the game's new systems."
"This is the price of making so much from a six-hour sequence in a 23-year-old game"
Jon Bailes, Video Games Chronical
"Anyone worried that the Final Fantasy 7 Remake would feel like a cheap hack and slash can rest assured that this is not the case," says Wilson. "It might look like you can button-bash your way to victory at first glance, but most battles insist that you learn elemental weaknesses, stagger points, or an enemy's specific counter lest you be soundly punished."
The ability to control different characters directly, each with their own abilities, strengths and weaknesses, was also praised -- although with the caveat that battles can become a little too chaotic this time around. For example, the AI can instantly switch attention to whichever character you swap to, making it hard to take a moment to gauge what's happening elsewhere in the arena.
"These encounters can devolve into a tedious mess of second-by-second micromanagement, since the bosses have too much health and your control over your allies' behavior is extremely limited when you aren't controlling them directly," Juba warns.
The characters themselves also attracted plenty of praise. Not only have they been graphically overhauled to look better than ever, but nuances in their performance and animation add a lot more depth when compared to their boxy 1997 counterparts. And just as Midgar itself has been expanded, the relationships between the heroes and villains has also been fleshed out -- although it's noted that nostalgia remains a factor in how well players will connect with them.
Wilson concludes her review noting that Final Fantasy 7 Remake "gave me everything I was looking for," but notes the experiences will vary given how cherished the original became.
"What I think it got right another fan may disagree with, and that doesn't mean either of us are wrong," she writes. "Changes have been made, but the core essence and spirit of Final Fantasy 7 has been preserved brilliantly. Will it still be enjoyable and accessible to newcomers? That I can't be so sure of, but I believe so."
Bailey describes it as the "most coherent and enjoyable Final Fantasy game in years" and, for all her reservations, still recognises there is plenty to enjoy.
"In broad strokes, it's really good, with entertaining combat, a largely self-contained and interesting story, and a beautiful world. Oh, and its soundtrack? So good. So good."
She concludes: "Truthfully, it's not really the approach I wanted or expected, but like I said, I can't really begrudge Final Fantasy 7 Remake being bold in an era of incredibly safe blockbusters. I just wish the execution was better."