I winced the first time I heard that Final Fantasy 7 Remake was being split into multiple episodes. It put an immediate damper on the euphoria of Square Enix finally remaking its most beloved game of all time, strengthening the little voice going through everyone's head: "But they might mess it up."
With Final Fantasy 7 Remake (Part 1) out today, it's now possible to take stock of what it gains and loses in the transition. As I wrote in my review of Final Fantasy 7 Remake, it's definitely messy at points, with the dungeons in particular receiving obvious padding. But that's not to say nothing was gained.
In focusing explicitly on Midgar—roughly the first five hours or so of the original game—Square Enix got the chance to truly flesh out Final Fantasy 7's most memorable section. The results are often spectacular, but there are also definitely points where Final Fantasy 7 Remake suffers from an acute case of trilogy creep.
The following section contains some spoilers for the early part of Final Fantasy 7 Remake.
Midgar is Spectacular
Staff writer Hirun Cryer put it best when he talked in the internal USgamer chat about how mind-blowing it was to look up and see Midgar's steel sky for the first time. The level of detail featured in Midgar's most iconic locations—Aerith's Church, Shinra HQ, the Train Graveyard—is unparalleled. It's what happens when a development team puts so much care into handcrafting all of the assets, meticulously rendering the formerly static backdrops of the original in 3D.
If Square Enix had attempted to remake the whole game all in one go, locations like Midgar would have doubtlessly suffered. Instead, we get areas like the expanded Wall Market, which looks like spectacular Las Vegas by night, and dusty, drab Carson City by day. Areas like Sector 5 are filled with bustling crowds and omnipresent telecasts.
Keeping the focus on Midgar even allows Square Enix to expand it a bit. As I mentioned in my review, one of my favorite sections takes you above the plate, dropping you into a tranquil suburban neighborhood occupied by Shinra employees. The contrast with the hardscrabble life of the slums throws the class disparity that dominates so much of Final Fantasy 7's setting into sharp relief.
The downside is that the nature of Midgar means that Final Fantasy 7 Remake is frequently dominated by sewers, industrial areas, and rubble, which can start to get monotonous after a while. At its best though, Final Fantasy 7 Remake's art positively sparkles, and the huge amount of detail afforded by the focus on Midgar is a big part of that.
The Avalanche Trio
Biggs, Wedge, and Jessie did not have a huge role to play in the original game (as an aside, I just learned that Jessie's last name is "Rasberry"—did we know that all along?). Biggs is the stolid action hero. Jessie crushes on Cloud and frets about the damage done by the bomb she creates. Wedge's pants catch fire at one point. They are there for a moment, then forgotten.
They are considerably more fleshed out in Final Fantasy 7 Remake, and they kind of steal the show as a result. We get to learn a great deal about why Jessie decided to join Avalanche, and we get a wonderful bit in which Biggs and Wedge have a family dinner at her house. Wedge (played marvelously by Breaking Bad's Matt Jones) is mostly comic relief, but his charm is tinged with self-doubt—he feels as if he contributes little to the group, not realizing that his three adorable calicos are more than enough. Rounding out the group is Biggs, who is the least interesting of the bunch, but functions well enough as a capable leader who helps Cloud shed some of his aloof attitude.
The natural interplay between Biggs, Wedge, and Jessie is a delight, upstaging even the friendship that develops between Aerith and Tifa—Final Fantasy 7 Remake's resident power couple. You get a strong sense of their role in the community as the leaders of the neighborhood watch, and you see how close they all are to Jessie's family. When they're on-screen, the newly-updated Biggs, Wedge, and Jessie are easily my favorite additions to Final Fantasy 7 Remake.
What Was Lost
Confining Final Fantasy Remake to Midgar also has its downsides, unfortunately. One of the biggest is the bloat, which turns the original's formerly slight dungeons into four-hour marathons. Everyone complained about the simplicity of Final Fantasy 7's dungeons back in the day—how they were basically just glorified corridors—but the remake might actually swing too far the other way. Repeatedly opening one door at a time to fight a clutch of monsters doesn't count as "content," it's just filler.
The compromises that come with splitting Final Fantasy 7 Remake into multiple parts run deeper than just padding, though. The beauty of the original game was that Midgar felt huge; not just because it had its own self-contained story arc, but because when you stepped into the broader world, you felt tiny. In Final Fantasy 7 Remake, you get only the smallest taste of that feeling.
The overall effect is something closer to Fellowship of the Ring or Two Towers. All that's missing is Red XIII saying, "The battle for Midgar is over, the battle for the Lifestream is about to begin." For what it's worth, I'm a fan of Fellowship of the Ring, and I think that's fine, but it does lose something in the translation.
Slightly more frustrating is the overall loss of atmosphere in Final Fantasy 7 Remake. As I discussed in my preview from a month ago, the original Final Fantasy 7 had a somber, haunting quality to it, which was aided by wistful tracks like "Anxious Heart." You would think the remake would have more time to dwell on such moments thanks to its extended runtime, but actually the opposite is true. Where the original game had many subtle moments, Final Fantasy 7 Remake moves with the energy of a blockbuster, with formerly spooky sequences being buried by the need to pad out dungeons as much as possible.
Nowhere is that more apparent in Final Fantasy 7 Remake's handling of Sephiroth. In the original game, Sephiroth didn't even really show up until the climax of the Midgar section, which then led into the second act. In the remake he's important almost from the start, persistently haunting Cloud with mysterious flashbacks and flash-forwards.
With Final Fantasy 7 Remake being split into multiple parts, the desire to frontload Sephiroth is obvious—he's one of the most popular characters in video game history. But there is a price to pay in terms of atmosphere and pacing, and that's in sucking away much of the spookiness of his first appearance, as well as the keen sense of the stakes being raised.
If I had one wish for Final Fantasy 7 Remake, it would be for it to do more to capture that sad, mournful feeling that was so apparent in the original game.
Whether or not Final Fantasy 7's big split is ultimately successful will depend heavily on the execution of the second episode. After all, the middle part of the trilogy—and I'm assuming that this will be a trilogy—is often where momentum is gained or lost. For every Two Towers, there's a pointless, meandering Desolation of Smaug. With the novelty of playing Final Fantasy 7 Remake for the first time dissipating, Square Enix will have to work extra hard to get people interested in Part 2.
I suspect that goes a long way toward explaining Final Fantasy 7 Remake's rather crazy ending. A beat-for-beat remake would have been praised, digested, and forgotten; changes will spur discussion and speculation. It could well prove to be a masterstroke by Square Enix... if the next part is able to stick the landing.
Whatever happens, we're definitely on the road to something very new. That, ultimately, is the biggest gain of all.