Final Fantasy VII Remake Intergrade takes this FF7 reimagining to new heights on PS5, with the added bonus of an exciting Yuffie chapter.
Upon its release in 2020, Final Fantasy VII Remake won over audiences with its inspired spin on the Midgar portion of the 1997 JRPG classic. Square delivered a fantastic experience that did not just recreate the thrills of playing the original game but actively enhanced specific elements to enrich the experience for both fans of the source material and those unfamiliar.
At the core of the experience is a genuinely captivating narrative, unfolding in a well-realised dystopian setting and featuring a phenomenal ensemble. The major characters are likeable but burdened with emotional baggage and are put through the wringer in an exciting story packed with surprises. While it only covers a fraction of the original’s storyline, what is there is fleshed out and ultimately in service to the characters, shedding more light on their values and motivations behind their attitude towards Shinra. It particularly benefits from the entertaining supporting cast; Jessie is a real highlight with her flirtatious interactions with Cloud being a memorable part of the early chapters.
The main party is effortlessly likeable, and each member brings something unique to the table. Cloud proves to be an amazing protagonist with his actor Cody Christian doing a beautiful job of delivering both a believable mercenary and a sympathetic victim of Shinra’s evil. Watching Cloud develop as a person and grow closer to the other characters is immensely satisfying.
The English voice acting is superb across the board, with Briana White’s Aerith being my favourite performance. These are iconic roles, and the remake’s cast proves they are up to the task of voicing them for a new generation. The ‘Turks’ are also extremely entertaining and encounters with them turn out to be some of the memorable moments in the entire game. Each is unique in their own way; I was an immediate fan of Reno whose cocky persona and tendency to hold grudges made him the perfect complement to his straight-faced partner Rude.
Of course, the strong plot and character work would be wasted when combined with weak gameplay and, quite frankly, I also feared Final Fantasy VII Remake would lack tactical depth due to the move to real-time action combat. Fortunately, it manages to accomplish the opposite by combining the action combat with elements of the original menu-based combat and the end result is simply stunning. The hack-‘n-slash keeps the player invested in real-time while they build their ATB gauge to unleash abilities and skills that will exploit their enemies’ weaknesses. It takes the tension of a contemporary action game, as the player has to evade enemy attacks and projectiles, whilst retaining a good amount of tactility with the ATB mechanics and Materia.
Materia plays a significant role in the gameplay as each individual piece equipped to a party member can provide a range of enhancements to that unit’s moment to-moment gameplay. These enhancements vary in functionality: equipping Magic Materia for example, allows the unit to cast elemental spells and/or be linked with Elemental Materia to infuse basic attacks with that specific element. Using Materia effectively can mean the difference between a twenty-minute battle with many cure spells cast and potions consumed or a five-minute encounter where the enemies’ weaknesses are thoroughly exploited, leading to them getting staggered and eliminated without any real damage to the party. It is a smartly implemented mechanic that is massively rewarding for meticulous players but remains balanced as there is only a limited amount of Materia slots for each piece of equipment, though weapons can offer additional slots when levelled up with skill points.
Suffice to say, the base game is still an incredible experience. Gameplay is often rewarding and tense, the characters are terrific and the story delivers gloriously despite only adapting a select portion of its source material.
For more thoughts on the base game, check out Matt’s Review.
Graphics or Performance?
Final Fantasy VII Remake Intergrade raises the presentation to new heights, providing the player a choice between a Graphics Mode, which targets a native 4K resolution and a lower-resolution albeit solid Performance Mode. The Graphics Mode looks incredible on a UHD display, everything from the detailed character models to the heavy use of volumetric fog and the showering of particle effects in battle look absolutely glorious in this mode. Those who favour the Performance Mode will not be disappointed with the framerate, as the game holds to 60 FPS even in demanding battles and areas. It is also worth noting the game’s strong HDR implementation which when combined with the sharper image quality, is a sight to behold.
I found myself favouring the higher framerate but frequently switched between them to gauge the differences. The core visuals are almost identical, but the real price to be paid for extra performance is sharpness, as the Performance Mode is noticeably blurrier than its image-quality focused alternative. Individual player experiences will vary depending on preference and, arguably more importantly, their display. For example, while the Performance Mode’s blurrier presentation could stick out on a larger native 4K TV, the same output would look great on a 1440P monitor.
In addition to these two modes, Intergrade also offers a boost to the lighting, which is instantly noticeable in the Wall Market, almost every inch of the area is now drenched in neon lighting emitting from shop signs and individual light strips. It looks surreal in action. Unfortunately, the same love is not given to the Sector 5 Slums, which remains the weakest looking section of the game. I understand a slum is not the most fabulous looking place on the planet, however, I would have appreciated more detail in the texture work.
Intergrade’s final improvement is the loading times. It is a transformative difference, the game is playable faster from the home menu, save files load in a second and a half and the loading screens have disappeared. The only time I personally came into contact with a loading screen was after skipping a cutscene I had already seen at the beginning of a chapter. This is an enormous upgrade over the PS4 version, which took upwards of forty seconds to load into areas.
Players that buy Final Fantasy VII Remake Intergrade will receive, in addition to the aforementioned improvements, the INTERmission expansion featuring the Wutai ninja Yuffie.
Her real-time action combat is the most satisfying in the game, utilising both short and long-range attacks, making her a considerably versatile unit in battle. Yuffie is able to bind any element to her weaponry using the ninjutsu ability from the Command Menu. This allows her to carry more ability-based Materia like Steadfast Block and Deadly Dodge since the spots usually reserved for Elemental Materia are no longer filled. The combination of these traits makes for a delightful gameplay experience although later stages of Chapter 2 provide some of the tougher encounters the game has to offer.
It almost jumps the shark in a combat simulator section which skirts the line between challenging and unfair but for the most part, the time spent with Yuffie and her companion Sonon is a delight. Its worth noting that Sonon is not a playable character, however, the synergy mode allows the two to collaborate on individual enemies and use special synergised versions of existing abilities for increased damage. In that respect, it never feels Yuffie is fighting alone despite direct control of her partner not being available to the player.
Sonon’s stoic demeanour balances out Yuffie’s eccentric persona incredibly well and they make a great duo. Bonding over their shared Wutai background and hate for Shinra, I found their relationship to be genuinely touching at points due to strong performances from the English voice actors and smart writing ensuring their relationship avoids cliché. Though the story is scaled back slightly from the base game’s narrative, it manages to sell the stakes of their mission and importance of “sticking to the man” as is so eloquently described in the tutorial of an included minigame. It is more personal and the last hour is some of the best Final Fantasy content ever delivered, with an epic boss fight and climactic cutscenes perfectly setting up for the next chapter of the narrative.
INTERmission also improves on what is in my opinion, the game’s only discernible flaw: Side Quests. The two included side quests in Chapter 1 of the DLC are both incredibly enjoyable, especially the Fort Condor mission. Fort Condor is a surprisingly addictive tower defence mini game. While I have never been a fan of similar mobile games like Supercell’s Clash Royale, I found this to be quite fun and smartly constructed with genuine tactical depth. Knowledge of the game’s enemies is useful as the mini-game counterparts share the same weaknesses and the inclusion of variations of enemy units like an Elite Security Guard and a regular Security Guard which requires less ATB to deploy, as well as multiple boards with different advantages ensure it feels like a fleshed-out game in its own right.
Summary: Packed with technical improvements and a superb single player expansion, Final Fantasy VII Remake Intergrade further cements its spot as one of the greatest remakes in gaming history.
Title: Final Fantasy VII Remake Intergrade
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Platforms: PlayStation 5 (reviewed)
Release date: 10 June 2021
A review copy was provided to Shindig by the publisher.