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Critics hail 'messy' but 'beautiful' take on Square Enix's Final Fantasy VII Remake

By Benjamin Bullard
Cloud Strife in the Final Fantasy VII Remake cover banner

The Clouds (ahem) have parted, and the Avalanche (double ahem) of reviews have begun pouring in for Final Fantasy VII Remake. The first installment in Square Enix’s multi-part project to completely reimagine a game that, for many, is an indelible part of a PS1-era childhood, it’s an insanely ambitious undertaking. How do you walk the line between nostalgia and current-gen cutting edge, while pleasing everyone and (hopefully) disappointing no one? And, more importantly, does this new trip through Midgar stand on its own?

We’ll leave the past-versus-present talk for another day. But so far, the answer to the second question appears to be a resounding “yes.” With the review embargo lifted from FFVII Remake and critics finally having their say, the PS4 timed exclusive currently sits at a sweet 87 average rating at Metacritic, with plenty of perfect (or near-perfect) scores sweetening the mix.

What do reviewers like? Nearly all agree it’s a blast to finally see director Tetsuya Nomura’s mature and sophisticated sci-fi dystopian vision fully realized, in a way that the low-tech 1997 version’s limited horsepower had to leave to the imagination. More praise goes to lavish visuals that at last flesh out a fully-realized version of Midgar, the tiered disc city that’s all but held hostage by the energy-greedy Shinra corporation. And there’s plenty of consensus about the sweet spot Square Enix has found, combat-wise, between a modern action-RPG and the original’s old-school, menu command-based roots.

Here’s a sampling, in roughly descending score order, of what the reviewers are saying:

"Despite the spit and polish, it still feels like Final Fantasy VII...What a spit and polish, too – Remake is one of the most breathtakingly realised and staggeringly beautiful games in years. From character models that could just about pass for live action at times, to environments that look almost real, it is an absolute joy to behold...Sometimes, risks pay off – and despite the gamble that Remake could have sullied the memory of Final Fantasy VII, it has instead enhanced it for those with nostalgic fondness, while proving a spectacular introduction to this mythic world for newcomers." — Matt Kamen, Empire

"Regardless of your history with the original game, Final Fantasy VII Remake is an astounding achievement. The wait for its release was a long one, but in gameplay, story, characters, and music, it delivers — the wait was worth it...It's the chance to experience a multifaceted story that grapples with complex subject matter, be in the company of memorable characters, and be moved by their plight. For returning fans, this isn't the Final Fantasy VII your mind remembers, it's the one your heart always knew it to be." — Tamoor Hussain, Gamespot

"Final Fantasy VII Remake is perfection. It breathes life into the cold steel of Midgar, adding weight and dimension to that which was once simply an introduction to a more grand adventure. It’s filled to the brim with reverent fan service that respects the source material while occasionally taking leave to subvert expectations. Final Fantasy VII is one of the most defining games of all time, and Square Enix’s modern-gen treatment of Midgar lives up to the legacy of the original in every way imaginable." — Chandler Wood, PlayStation LifeStyle

"Final Fantasy VII was always going to be a tricky game to remake....Attempting to harvest that energy, which feels innately tied to the late ‘90s and the early days of 3D gaming, seemed like a particularly difficult task...Yet, that’s what makes the remake all the more impressive. It translates the experience into something modern, without losing much of that classic charm. It’s not the whole experience — FFVIIR only encompasses the opening Midgar section of the story, which amounts to the opening of the game, with no indication of how the rest will be released — and it’s certainly not perfect...It’s messy and beautiful, thrilling and confusing — which is to say, the remake is 100 percent Final Fantasy VII." — Andrew Webster, The Verge

"Final Fantasy VII Remake is a phenomenal game, one that any fan of the series should play. I’m not sure if people who haven’t played Final Fantasy VII will appreciate it as much or find the story all that comprehensible. But if you have at least a basic familiarity with the adventures of Cloud and crew, you’re likely to appreciate what is one of the most audacious remakes that we’ve ever seen in any medium." — Jason Schreier, Kotaku

"In the end, the Remake is somehow both a faithful and wild re-imagining of the first few hours of a classic story. Even if its changes rankle purists, there’s enough here to melt the heart of even the most cynical fan. The changes will take time to process, debate and, for some, decry...But it’s all worth it, just for the sentimentality and earnestness of its small, beautiful character moments. Final Fantasy VII Remake gives permission to soak in how we remember old, familiar moments of our lives, even if they’re not quite the way we remember them. It’s a story about the comfort that nostalgia brings in an uncertain future." — Gene Park, The Washington Post

"Meticulously rebuilt, Final Fantasy 7 Remake succeeds at hitting the difficult balance between staying faithful to the original story and introducing elements that make it feel so fresh and new. Playing the Remake is like returning to a place I once knew and reuniting with old friends I haven't seen in years, but everything is so much more impressively detailed and fleshed out than I remember it...As a loving reimaging of the original that delivers a new experience that's wholly its own, it's a spectacularly entertaining introduction to the world of Final Fantasy 7 for modern audiences." — Heather Wald, Gamesradar+

"With smart (and surprising) additions to a classic world and its inhabitants, Final Fantasy VII Remake artfully appeals to nostalgia without being bound by it...Regardless of what the future holds, Final Fantasy VII Remake finds an impressive equilibrium between its past and its present. Square Enix nods to the original without depending on that familiarity, crafting a distinctive world and exciting combat system that feel modern. The new approach still has rough edges, but that doesn’t stop Final Fantasy VII Remake from carving out its own legacy." — Joe Juba, Gameinformer

"Remake is also the very best thing a game can be: fascinating. It forces us to confront our subjective tastes, and asks us to consider what we value in the games we play. Your feelings about Remake will be determined by what you, personally, valued in the original release...This isn’t a replacement for the original game, it’s another take on the same ideas, blown up to fill multiple releases in a way that feels artistically justified in some ways and mercenary in its approach to becoming a commercial juggernaut in others." — Carolyn Petit, Polygon

"The expectations around Final Fantasy 7 Remake are sky high, and it mostly manages to deliver. Its combat is top notch, its enemy variety kept me constantly entertained, and seeing this snippet of story fleshed out with real emotional arcs and the previously hidden humanity behind Midgar filled me with pure joy. The boring RPG filler and Kingdom Hearts-esque convolution that was inserted in between did stop my ear-to-ear grin from being constant, but never long enough to kill the mood completely. That leaves this remake as one that still delivered on letting me relive (part of) a classic in stupendous fashion, while also standing as a great RPG all its own." — Tom Marks, IGN

"While I’m excited for the next game, I felt deflated for an entire day after the credits rolled. But the journey is completely worth it. Midgar is so well-realised, the main characters are wonderfully done, and the battle system is masterful. I can see myself moseying through the entire 40 hours again. At times it felt almost overwhelming to actually be playing it – like Square Enix had made a game specifically for me. I just wish the loyalty to the source material lasted throughout. Despite that, there’s no denying that this is the best Final Fantasy has been in a long time." — Kirk McKeand, VG 24/7

Are there complaints? Those who scored the game on the low end (and we’re still talking in the 80s here, mostly) say some of the side quests feel like filler, while a couple of reviewers pointed out the potential awkwardness, depending on your fan fervor, of seeing familiar characters and story beats make some unexpected swerves — a change that some critics worry could leave the promised second installment with a near-impossible story task.

Overall, though, there’s near-unanimous agreement that Remake succeeds as its own game. That should come as a relief for longtime fans who can’t easily shake off the high expectations set by the original FFVII (not to mention five years’ worth of anticipation since the new game’s announcement).