There's a lot of demand for a review year old remake of a 23 year old game, especially for such reviews written by someone who only played half of the original 10 years ago, right?
Final Fantasy VII Remake sets out to do what Hollywood did to The Hobbit and turn what was previously a single story into a high budget trilogy. But where that remake seems to have been a bit of a flop, 7R is largely successful. There are some inevitable pacing problems with some sections going on longer than they need to or character development that was originally slow now feeling glacial, but for the most part the extra running time goes to building formerly neglected characters and settings.
Start with the good. Biggs, Wedge, and Jessie are proper characters now that fully justify the huge amount of screentime they get in the first half. Since the main cast aren't exactly the most expressive at that point in the game, it's these three that do pretty much all of the plot lifting, and liking the game is probably going to hinge on liking them. Other minor characters and settings also get expanded development, but not to quite the same extent. Marlene and Aerith's mother are fleshed out to the extent they need to be, and both Wall Market and Sector 7 feel like real RPG towns, but they're not meant to be the reason you remember the game.
Of course, the shift to real time combat is the biggest change. I'm a fan of the new system, which probably isn't surprising given my usual dislike of turn based fights, but there's still room to improve here. Abilities feel much more useful than spells because they don't drain MP and can hit incredibly hard, and with so much happening on screen it can be hard to tell if your party characters or even summons are actually contributing much. Aerith and Barret are much less fun to control than Cloud or Tifa, and they also have less interesting skills that take forever to charge up with their slow AP gain. None of these are huge problems, though, and I think they can be worked out in the following games. This is my favorite FF battle system, I think, but I'd also like to see an expansion of the "Classic" battle setting that brings it closer to the original so that it stays accessible to turn based fans.
Now, pacing. Tifa is the biggest casualty here. The game devotes a ton of time to Aerith and still finds time to give Cloud and Barret at least a little to work with, but Tifa is just kind of there for most of the game. The game hints at development to come, especially by contrasting her doubts with Barret's unshakable belief in Avalanche, but it never really goes anywhere with it. It almost feels like Biggs, Wedge, and Jessie were built up so that the game could baton pass the role of carrying character to Aerith and count on her to get you the rest of the way. It just about works because all of those characters are very well written, but I wouldn't have minded them bringing some character development forward in the plot to keep it more balanced.
Oddly, the second pacing issue after some characters not getting enough screen time is that some places and sequences get far too much. Most notably, the final chapter is several hours longer than it feels like it should be, and could easily have dropped a few plot-irrelevant boss fights to get to something more reasonable. There are quite a few places in the game where they had the time to expand on neglected characters but chose to have you fight a bunch of sewer lizards instead.
All in all, I had a great time. It doesn't land every trick it attempts, but it broadly succeeds at reimagining a classic game in a new format, and it tosses in some great remixes of the original songs. Of course, its greatest significance to me is that it's the first mainline FF game I've cared to finish since FFX. Final Fantasy is finally back.
Time to beat: ~30 hours
Platform: PS4, with bonus content for PS5 eventually