Square Enix delivered the first chapter in what many expected to be a lifelong pipe dream with Final Fantasy VII Remake, though it's going to be a bit before we get the next main chapter in the story. There is something to help tide over fans, though, in the form of Final Fantasy VII Remake: Intergrade, the next-gen version of Remake that also comes with a new side story titled "Intermission." "Intermission" features everyone's favorite Wutai warrior Yuffie and a new character named Sonon, and what follows is an entertaining adventure that leans heavily into its combat mechanics but still has the heart and humor fans love from the franchise.
"Intermission" will run you about 8 to 10 hours, and that's including completion of most of the side activities. That can be a boon or a drawback depending on what you're looking for, but for me, that's more in the former category, and I was ready to learn what awaited our characters by the end of "Intermission's" run time, so it doesn't overstay its welcome.
You can also get more time out of "Intermission" simply by playing more of the minigame "Fort Condor", as there are several players around the city willing to throw down. It doesn't hurt that "Fort Condor" is exceptionally fun to play, and finding all of the units at vendors gives you a reason to return.
"Intermission" is really an experience of two halves, as the first half will be quite familiar to fans of Final Fantasy VII Remake. You start in Midgar below the plate in the slums, and you'll feel right at home as you try to find posters around the city and meet the new characters. This is where you can play "Fort Condor" and interact with the populace as you normally would, and that includes taking on Ramuh. The second half becomes a much more action-oriented experience, moving you linearly from one fight-laden area to the next, and it was a little hit and miss for me. Also, since you're at Shinra for a considerable amount of time, the enemies can get a little repetitive, at least until right at the very end.
Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed the combat immensely. The new synergy attacks add new flexibility and tactics to encounters, and Yuffie's combination of magic and a long-range weapon is a joy to use. In fact, just having the two of them during battles required a more strategic use of Materia compared to Remake's first chapter. I bounced between load-outs, weapons, and accessories far more this time around, but the emphasis on action also means less focus on the narrative elements that are also a hallmark of the series.
Granted, the back and forth banter between Yuffie and Sonon is delightful, as are the emotional beats of their story and interactions, especially in regards to Sonon, who blew me away at just about every turn. The chemistry between Sonon and Yuffie is one of the game's biggest strengths, and it helps keep you invested and immersed in the somewhat monotonous sections of constant battles. I'd be disappointed beyond belief if he doesn't play some sort of role further down the line, but after that ending, we guess we'll just have to wait and see on that.
While the pace does drag a bit once you make your way to Shinra Headquarters, things pick up in a big way towards the finale, bringing all of the game's standout features back to the forefront. It all coalesces into a thrilling and heartfelt experience that will satisfy longtime fans of the franchise, and while I do wish there was a bigger emphasis on story and character, at times, I still had a blast returning to this world and spending time with this delightful duo, and Remake's second chapter can't get here soon enough.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Final Fantasy VII Remake: Intergrade is available on PS5 now.