Final Fantasy 7 Remake avoided the remake trap

I was too young to play the original Final Fantasy 7 in 1997, so I instead watched my older brother beat it. Repeatedly. My memories of those long sessions are hazy, but I remember thinking that Red 13’s accessories were dope and that Tifa’s long dark brown hair was pretty and when will I get my chance to play?

As I entered my very-online teen years, I began to notice the copious amount of Final Fantasy 7 fan art on the internet. Epic digital portraits and even silly Flash animations of Tifa, Cloud, Sephiroth, and the rest of the gang reignited that childhood interest, and before I knew it, I was falling down the Final Fantasy 7 rabbit hole that had opened into a chasm during the years following the game’s debut. I was playing the spinoff games, I was watching the movie, I was drawing my own fan art.


FINAL FANTASY 7 REMAKE

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Square Enix bombarded fans like me with the Compilation of Final Fantasy 7 material, yet I still craved more. Specifically, more of the same. Like so many fans, my brother and I speculated about how and when the company would remake the original game. In 2015, Square Enix finally gave us an answer.

I was ecstatic, but also worried by the news of Final Fantasy 7 Remake. The newer Final Fantasy 7 media often painted Cloud as a gloomy sad boy, rather than the loyal friend willing to make jokes and enjoy the occasional chocobo detour. Would Cloud be allowed to be fun again? And how much of the remake would be new? I wanted the feeling of watching the original game with my brother, but also an experience all my own: more character interactions, a huge world for me to explore, additional lore and fun character quirks to learn about my favorite heroes and villains.

Cloud Strife from Final Fantasy 7 Remake Image: Square Enix

I wanted the game to be the same and also different, which seemed impossible. And yet, when I played Final Fantasy 7 Remake, after a two-decade wait, it did not disappoint.

Its additions built on the framework of the original game, without concealing what made me love it decades ago. Getting to chat with the kids around the Sector 5 Slums, or hearing Cloud mumble, “This sucks,” after getting rejected by a stray cat, was exactly what I wanted.

For over 20 years, I had time to think of every little tweak I wanted from a Final Fantasy 7 remake. I wanted more dialogue between the party members, something more than Barret shouting at Cloud with Cloud giving a non-response. I wanted to see what the Avalanche crew’s life was like in Sector 7, only making their inevitable departure from the group even more painful. I wanted all these things — and Square Enix said, “You got it, chief.”

I wanted more and more, and Square Enix continued to deliver. I wanted the Honeybee Inn scene to be a pleasure, not a stain on the series. By far, the most iconic addition to the game was this revision, an absolutely amazing dance sequence that Cloud has with the Honeybee Inn’s owner, Andrea. For pretty much no reason outside of “just because,” Cloud gets down with Andrea in a weird rhythm game, while Aerith claps and cheers from the audience. At last, a scene that cements Cloud as so much more than another edgy sad boy.

Aerith looks beautiful and done-up as fireworks fire off behind her in the Final Fantasy 7 Remake. Image: Square Enix via Polygon

In Final Fantasy 7 Remake, we were confined to Midgar, but I didn’t feel confined. The large city felt as big as it should have as I ducked through underground tunnels or explored Wall Market. I was in one of the smallest locations from the original game, and yet it felt gigantic.

There was no grand character development in Remake, which is to be expected. Most of the big narrative turns come later in the original game, so I’m excited to see how Square Enix fleshes out the gang’s past in the other parts of the remake. Or how they subvert my expectations entirely.

And here’s where I give you the obligatory spoiler warning.

The biggest change to the original game is the final twist in Final Fantasy 7 Remake, which includes some timey-wimey nonsense. While I initially felt a little weird about it, the idea that the subsequent remake titles won’t strictly follow the original game has me excited. I don’t know what to expect. I feel like a kid again, watching this beloved story unravel for the first time. I spent so many years imprinting every factoid about this game’s world into my brain, it’s magical to realize that I can’t predict what’s coming next. And a relief to no longer be fixated on what I want the game to be. From here forward, the developers will be steering the ship into uncharted waters on their own.

Square Enix could have just given me a gorgeous direct remake of the original game, copying everything word for word. But the company added more and dared to be different, if only in small areas, and that’s what makes Final Fantasy 7 Remake so perfect to me.