This week on Zero Punctuation, Yahtzee reviews Final Fantasy VII Remake.
Prologue: The Escapist+ and New Shirts
Hey, do you want to watch these videos a week early, and can't go to the Escapist site because you're violently allergic to ads? Well, now, The Escapist has YouTube memberships and a new "Escapist+" premium service, either of which can provide what you need alongside all kinds of extra bonuses like emojis and badges and a chance to join in regular Q&A videos! There's also new t-shirts available for sale on Teespring! I wasn't sure how to segue to that!
I know most people come here for knob gags or because you refuse to believe I'm actually still doing this every week, but for those of you coming for purchasing advice, be apprised of two things before you buy Final Fantasy VII Remake. Firstly, if you go in the shop and make the "Ooh, this 'Final' Fantasy's going on an awfully long time" joke, then I think the staff are now legally permitted to push you down a fire escape. And secondly, if you saw the title "Final Fantasy VII Remake", and from the words "Final Fantasy VII" and "Remake" are now expecting a remake of the game Final Fantasy VII, then you might be disappointed; Final Fantasy VII Remake ends at the bit where you leave the first city, or about one-third of the way through the first disc of the original PS1 game, although it takes about forty more hours to get there, 'cos it's padded like an A-cup on School Picture Day.
So there's been some contention over whether this is false advertising or a new take on the subject matter with better character exploration. I think a lot of this could've been cleared up if they'd titled the game "Final Fantasy VII Remake: Episode One". But maybe they didn't want to commit; I mean, at the rate they're going, by the time they get to the last episode, it'll probably get pushed back by the heat death of the universe. I hope they are doing more episodes, 'cos the plot, as it stands, is painfully unresolved; the bulk of what we get might as well be re-titled "Cloud Strife vs. The Manic Pixie Dream Girls".
You are Cloud Strife, the original pretty anime sword boy, whose entire life consists of being worked by one Manic Pixie Dream Girl after another while he grumps like a teenage boy being forced to escort his sister to the zoo. It starts with him being dragged into an eco-terrorist group by Manic Pixie Dream Girl #1: Big-Titted Childhood Friend Girl, who, if this were a dating sim, I would've classified as "the freebie"; he gets Manic Pixie'd by her for a few chapters before another terrorist bombing goes awry, he falls off a high thing, and lands almost literally in the lap of Manic Pixie Dream Girl #2: Flower Seller with Mysterious Past Who Drives the Rest of the Plot.
All of this is adhering closely to the original, and it was just as much a lurching tonal shift back then, when one moment, we're having a desperate climactic battle with the evil corporation's murder robots in an exploding facility, and the next, we're helping Manic Pixie Dream Girl #2 with her grocery shopping, and watching her give out flowers and be kind to all the orphan children as the townsfolk murmur about how perfect and wonderful and generally too pure for this sinful Earth she is. But that doesn't bother me, laid on as it is thicker than a mammoth-skin rug; what does is that the storytelling feels confused. Not "confusing"; "confused".
There's this whole new chapter between Terrorist Bombing 1 and 2 in which Cloud gets latched onto by Manic Pixie Dream Girl 1.5, and it's all over the place like a living room full of aborted Lego projects. First, there's a motorbike chase and then a motorbike boss fight with a mulleted dude who feels threatened by your motorbike prowess and nicer hairdo; then we have to sneak around someone's mum's house, and the pace slows right down before speeding right back up again when we go through a facility to battle some evil corporate soldiers, and then, oh no! Mullet Dude shows up for another boss fight, and then, oh no! Evil robots come to kill us, but oh yay! Mullet Dude smashes the robots because he respects us now, but then he fucks off and oh no! The robots are still working, so what was the fucking point of any of that? Then, oh yay! A rival terrorist cell shows up to cover our escape, but oh no! They've taken Wedge, but oh yay! Wedge comes straight back, and then a prolonged sequence ensues where our heroes pull Wedge's trousers down and inspect his buttocks.
As I say, "confused", like they were tag-teaming out the writers every ten minutes and they weren't allowed to talk to each other. And at some point, someone must've said, "Hey, you know Sephiroth? The iconic villain of the game who all the fangirls irrigate their inner thighs over? Isn't he, like, barely in the first bit of the game? Doesn't his proper introduction only happen right after the bit where our game stops?" "Well, I wish you'd brought this up sooner, Clemence! All right, let's have the main character hallucinate Sephiroth a bunch of times; then at the very end, as you're leaving the city, a magic portal to space will appear, and you have to go through it and fight Sephiroth on the Moon. Any questions?" "Yes, several." I don't know what the fuck's going on at the end, there; I feel sorry for anyone playing this game with no knowledge of the original. "Blimey, my pretty anime sword boy daydreams about Gwyneth Paltrow a lot."
I've got no nostalgia for the original game - I think I was in the room when someone was playing it once, and I was more interested in the Twix I was very slowly eating at the time - and I found the remake to be a mixed experience. I was having fun when I was in the gambling town and Cloud had to dress up as a lady and becomes somehow irresistible to men, despite looking like a frumpy Amish spinster who spent last night sleeping with her head in the feeding trough. But that's a cultural thing; I'm English, and therefore, the funniest things in the world to me are men dressing as ladies and the concept of social mobility. I like when the game is padding itself out with new story stuff, like having to beat a hairdresser in a dance-off before he'll consent to do your bangs; I don't like it when it pads itself by copy-pasting the same sewer tunnel nineteen times and then collapsing the floor underneath our fat anime arse, so we have to slog through the nineteen identical sewer tunnels to get back to the place we were just fucking at! This happens more than once!
As for the combat, I was liking it up to a point. You attack, block, and dodge in real-time until you fill the meter, and then you get to pause to contemplate what special move would best exploit the enemy weaknesses; it felt like a nice way to balance the chaotic battling with thoughtful strategy. But over time, as the challenge ramps up, you need to rely more on your party members, and your party members are as much use as an anti-capitalist protester on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.
I was wondering why they had so much trouble building up a single special move in the time it took me to get three special moves deep, and then I spotted the dude with the gun arm, old Mr. Introverted Japanese Person's Idea of What Black People Are Like, firing round after round into a nearby handrail. I have to keep taking over to show them how to do it; it's like teaching a room full of six-year-olds how to type! So once again, a hybrid combat system in a modern JRPG fails to convince me that its way is better than the old method of having the characters stand in a neat row and take it in turns; it might not have been spectacular, but it was a damn sight more polite.
I guess spectacle is all that matters in JRPGs these days; that's why half the time in combat, the deep shadows and particle effects mean I can barely tell what the fuck's going on. You know what was really spectacular, viewers? An epic three-disc adventure on the PS1 that was long because it had lots of stuff in it. And Final Fantasy VII Remake only managing to be as long as it was because a lot of it's copy-pasted like a suspiciously well-written undergraduate thesis feels like a slap in the face to those of us who remember a time when we could have nice things, and isn't that the story of my fucking life right now? Hey, remember when games had actual depth? SLAP! "No, you don't!" Hey, remember when you could go out to that frozen yogurt place you like? SLAP! "No more of that!" Hey, remember when you could get off on light BDSM? "No slap!" Oh, you tease.
- The original and best, baby: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- Maybe they didn't want to call it Final Fantasy 7-1 because that sounds too much like football results
- Not that we're compensating for anything