Spoiler Warning: This story contains spoilers for a sequence in Chapter 16 in Final Fantasy 7 Remake within Shinra HQ. There are no spoilers beyond that.
When you head into Shinra HQ toward the end of the opening Midgar section of Final Fantasy 7, you're given two options on your way to save Aerith: take the elevator, undoubtedly putting you head to head with lots of foes, or take the emergency stairwell. In all my playthroughs, I've always taken the latter.
The sequence is an iconic one. For five minutes straight, Cloud, Tifa, and Barret climbs flight after flight of stairs; 59 floors, to be exact. It takes ages, but it's not without silly banter between the three. Tifa even calls Barret something that is wildly inappropriate and offensive in the modern age. Heading into Final Fantasy 7 Remake's Midgar-centric part one, I wondered how it would adapt this iconic decision. Would we really be forced to climb so many stairs again? Would Tifa use a slur again?
The answer is: Yes. (And also no, thankfully!)
It's an exciting moment, breaking into Shinra HQ in the remake. The three infiltrate the building via the parking garage, and strangely, not a person is to be seen once they fight through armed guards to reach the floor lobby. After some monkeybar-ing and light parkour with Tifa, the trio find a key card that gives them access to two paths: the elevator or the fated stairwell. Naturally, I chose the stairwell, to the chagrin of Barret. His voice got low as he questioned Cloud's decision. Gone was his loud, enthusiastic, always-angry demeanor. He wasn't mad at the decision I picked, he was disappointed.
In the original game, the sequence is played for laughs. It's tediously long, serving for more bickering between the three characters as they step-by-step venture to save Aerith from Shinra. The remake, unexpectedly, captures the very same spirit. It's an annoyingly long sequence, but it's one that had me chuckling the whole time. Progressively, the higher you get, the more exhausted Cloud and co. get, and the slower your speed is. The higher they are, the more exhausted they are, and even the music gets distorted. For a moment even, I thought that it was my brain playing tricks on me when it came to the music growing warped. I thought I was experiencing fatigue as I made Cloud climb higher and higher. At one point, an exasperated Barret yells, "This sucks! I wanna go back!" (And I can't say I blame him.)
The banter between the trio captures the spirit of the original, too. Tifa, initially pompous in her fitness capability, is flight after flight ahead. Thanks to a handy tally next to each character name showing what floor they're on, I could always see how far ahead Tifa was, up to the point where her voice was like a distant echo, yelling down at Cloud and Barret. Eventually, she got tired too. She stopped berating Cloud and Barret's senseless bickering, even. Meanwhile, Barret would plead with Cloud to slow down, and the moment I'd wait for him, I'd easily surpass him by at least a whole floor again once I started moving, no matter how sluggish my pace.
It's another example of Final Fantasy 7 Remake when it's at its absolute best: When it's adapting the original with its own modern flair. The stair sequence is not a one-to-one recreation, what with the progressive exhaustion and the more robust dialogue, and it's better that way. (Plus, can you imagine the nightmare if Tifa spit that slur in 2020? Square Enix would be canceled.) It doesn't shorten nor cheapen the long climb—a part of me even wonders if it's technically longer.
Some of Final Fantasy 7's most memorable moments in Midgar have indeed been changed for the worse, like Cloud and Aerith's first time meeting. But it's the smaller details that have delighted me; the ones that have been kept firmly intact, from the NPCs at Sector 7's train station to Cloud goofily flipping into the train car at the end of the first bombing mission.
It's seeing these moments, and having embellishments on things and characters we already knew (like Jessie, Biggs, and Wedge's little backstories) that give me what I wanted most out of a remake of one of the most memorable RPGs of all-time. Not just a do-over, but enriching the world so many fans have come to love. I may not be a fan of the weird dementors, boring side quests, or the knock-off Riku in Wall Market, but the blemishes fall away when compared to the exciting action and better character moments of Final Fantasy 7 Remake.
When the stair scene comes to its eventual end, Cloud, Tifa, and Barret huddle as they pant for a couple minutes. After panting for quite a while, a proud Barret utters, "Made it." And a beat after, Cloud ruins the mood and says, "The real challenge starts now." As if, Strife.