In 1997, the opening scene of Final Fantasy VII was a revelation. This was a JRPG where I wasn't waking up a complete amnesiac or some child in a pastoral village. I was Cloud Strife, a first-class SOLDIER, and all-around badass. I wasn't visiting a bland forest or shallow cave. I wasn't searching for some MacGuffin. I didn't return to find my village burned down or that the village elder wanted to kick me out for some contrived reason. I was being paid by an ecoterrorist cell to help blow up a power plant in a cyberpunk city of the sort I'd never seen before. It was a stunning opening that set the game apart from its peers and has stuck with me ever since.
But looking back, the time spent in Midgar seems short. A few hours later, and you're out into Final Fantasy VII's wider world. The overworld map is pretty typical and soon you're in Kalm, the pastoral town where Cloud goes into exposition mode. Then we get a flashback to NIbelheim, another pastoral town where he and Tifa grew up. It turns such towns do exist in the world of Final Fantasy VII. This game happened to hold its version back until the second act.
It isn't that the rest of Final Fantasy VII isn't great because it is, but those opening hours in Midgar have always felt special. Even during my first playthrough, it was hard to shake the feeling that I'd left something incredible behind to go explore a wider but less interesting world. In the decades since then, I've returned to Final Fantasy VII a handful of times with the intent to replay the entire game. Every time, I play through the entirety of the story in Midgar. Then I get to those long, drawn-out flashback scenes in Kalm and decide it isn't worth it and leave the game behind.
Fans were skeptical when Square Enix revealed that Final Fantasy VII Remake would be the first part of a series. They were more skeptical when they learned that first installment would stretch the Midgar part of the game out to 40 hours. That's the length of the original Final Fantasy VII in its entirety. Would this become gaming's version of Peter Jackson's The Hobbit?
For me, it was the best news. I get to spend 40 hours on that big pizza? Count me in. Now that I'm playing Final Fantasy VII Remake and the game is exceeding my highest expectations. There's a lot that's implied about Midgar in the original Final Fantasy VII, but in Remake it's all brought to life. We see what life on the plate is like. We get a sense of the slums community beyond its simplistic squalor. We get to know the endearing members of Avalanche far better than the PlayStation original ever allowed.
Most important is the depth Remake adds to the game's themes. In 1997, Final Fantasy VII's ecological concerns seemed like a distant academic argument. In 2020, they feel urgent, and spending more time in Midgar allows the game to unpack those themes in ways the original couldn't. Spending more time with its characters make the themes personal.
I'm thrilled to be spending so much time in this dystopian metropolis. This is what Final Fantasy VII always should have been. I'm happy to have it now.
Final Fantasy VII Remake is now available for PlayStation 4.