As we slowly but surely trudge our way into the next generation of consoles, we’re beginning to see two trends: new games and spiced-up old games. The former tend to be fantastic, naturally. If you haven’t had the chance to try Demon’s Souls on the PlayStation 5 with the new haptic-enabled controller, well, you’re missing out. The latter, meanwhile, are fantastic…mostly if you haven’t had the chance to try the original games anytime recently. There’s absolutely a subset of previous-gen games that were hungry for higher-end hardware and offered a significant depreciated experience as a result.
One great example of that is Ghost of Tsushima, which is vastly improved on the PlayStation 5. Another is Final Fantasy 7 Remake, which has had a chance to redeem itself a bit with its beefier Final Fantasy 7 Remake Intergrade re-release and expansion. This new version of a new version of an old classic is a surprisingly salient upgrade, which, along with some new content, makes it worth a second look even if you’ve finished the original. Well, the original remake. The originally remade remake? You know what I mean.
In the dystopian city of Midgar, the populace toils under the seemingly-benevolent power company Shinra. The city is built on the power provided by Mako reactors, which draw power directly from the Lifestream of the Planet on which the city is built. The ecoterrorist group Avalanche believes that the use of Mako power is killing the planet and have resolved to stop Shinra from continuing to do so.
In particular, one extremist branch of Avalanche has hired on a mercenary to help with more dangerous and impactful raids against Shinra facilities. They’ve hired a spiky-haired mercenary, Cloud Strife, to help do their dirty work…but ex-Shinra operative Cloud has some skeletons in his closet that are just waiting to come out.
Remake’s closest relative would probably be the Kingdom Hearts series, though if you wanted to stay within the Final Fantasy 7 canon you’d be talking about Crisis Core. That means this is an action-RPG with an emphasis on the action. A “Classic” mode that’s pseudo-turn-based is available, but this drastically reduces the difficulty of the game and doesn’t feel like a recommended way of experiencing Remake.
In practice, Remake ends up feeling like a whole lot of style with….somewhat less substance. This is a game that’s all about presentation and that extends to the gameplay experience. Mash away on the attack button and watch as your chosen character beats the bejeezus out of whatever you’re targeting in as stylish a manner as possible! A personal favorite is Cloud’s tendency to knock an enemy up with the penultimate hit of his regular attack combo before launching a perfectly accurate midair slice. It’s lovely.
That said, you aren’t really doing a lot to make any of that lovely stuff happen. That midair slice? It’s perfectly accurate because you’re not the one controlling it. Likewise, there’s all kinds of impressive-looking special skills, magic and combos you can use that just kind of happen when they’re ordered rather than involving a significant amount of player input. That goes for enemy attacks as well; you’ve got a dodge roll, but it’s slow, it’s unwieldy and it’s unlikely you’ll ever dodge much with it.
Things aren’t all bad, of course. Each playable character controls differently and feels unique to play, with Barrett being a personal favorite thanks to his tanky nature and the heavy impact of his special attacks. However, there’s just not a great degree of immersion when it comes to combat past the first few hours’ “wow” factor.
Along with this, Remake would really like you to do what Remake wants you to do. Outside of specified hub areas and dungeons, you’re locked onto a specific path, with characters chiding you if you dare to stray. You often won’t even have the chance to stray, as many areas are simply corridors with few side paths. If you think about it on a practical level, this is understandable; the degree of polish that define Remake would simply be impossible to maintain throughout a full-sized RPG. It’s still disappointing whenever you see a potentially interesting path and aren’t allowed to go that way.
When I reviewed the original version of Remake, I said that it probably should have been a launch title for the PS5. It didn’t quite make that time frame, but it turns out I was right – Intergrade is a far superior experience in basically every way. It runs like a dream, the odd graphical glitches are gone, the load times are basically nonexistent, the game as a whole is just better. It’s a wonderful centerpiece for the visual splendor of AAA gaming. Hook your giant, finned monstrosity of a console up to a 4K TV and drink it all in.
As an interactive movie, Remake excels, and the more powerful hardware available on the PS5 helps it shape up as a game as well thanks to the diminished loading times and considerably fewer graphical problems. The environment, enemy and character designs are exemplary and it’s possible to spend hours just deducing tidbits about the setting from the sheer level of detail placed into everything. Characters like the AVALANCHE members who existed mostly to get killed off in the original have more of a presence here, new scenes and characters are added to expand the plot and new, exciting things happen every fifteen minutes or so to keep your interest. This is probably what I would have liked Advent Children to have been back in the day.
Oh, and it must be mentioned that the plot is…uh…let’s just go with it being somewhat different than the game you knew. If that’s going to bother you, it might be wise to steer clear.
As for the new content added in Intergrade, it’s a great bonus scenario called Intermission that adds another few hours to the game and brings back the much-beloved Yuffie from the original FF7 along with the questionably-beloved Fort Condor minigame. No longer do you have to search in a forest to find her, she’s ready and waiting to join the team in the PlayStation Store. Which is more dangerous?
Yuffie’s chunk of the plot is shorter than the main game, naturally, but she provides a significant enough shift in gameplay that the few hours you’ll have playing her feel fresh and exciting. She’s got a speedy playstyle that mixes melee and ranged combat, something that the other characters in Remake tended to lack. She’s also got a companion, Sonon, that allows for fancy combo attacks. You’ll spend about five hours with the new characters and they’re pretty pleasant all around, which bodes well for future entries in the series.
With the upgrades and new content added in Final Fantasy 7 Remake Intergrade it’s easy to recommend this upgraded upgrade without any reluctance. The combination of more powerful hardware and a little more variety in the game’s content do a lot to bring this one up from a B- to an A-, maybe even an A depending on how you feel about games with a greater focus on graphics than gameplay. I maintain that this game should have been a Day One launch title for the PlayStation 5 in to really help show off what the new hardware could do, but hey, better late than never!