Over the next week, we will be posting features for what we’ve nominated to be the best games of 2020. Then, on December 17, we will crown one of the nominees as GameSpot’s Best Game of 2020, so join us as we celebrate these 10 games on the road to the big announcement. Be sure to check out our other end-of-the-year coverage collected in our Best Games of 2020 hub.
Very few games have shouldered a weight of expectation as heavy as the one Final Fantasy VII Remake has–even fewer have done so for as long. The original Final Fantasy VII remains one of the most beloved RPGs of all time, and formative in the lives of multiple generations of gamers. It’s only natural, then, that news of a remake would be met with countless demands of how it should be and what it needs to do to respect the legacy of Final Fantasy VII. Over its protracted development cycle, the expectations put upon it grew to the point where it seemed all but impossible for Square Enix to succeed.
And yet, it did. Final Fantasy VII Remake lived up to expectations, but not in the way many envisioned it would, and that’s what makes it one of the standout games of 2020. Instead of delivering a like-for-like remake to show what Final Fantasy VII was, Square Enix endeavoured to honor the legacy of what Final Fantasy VII meant. In doing so it showed, with crystal clarity, not only why Final Fantasy VII is beloved, but also why Final Fantasy endures as a franchise.
This remake confidently restates the core tenets of what makes the franchise great. Its story is one of rebellion, upheaval, standing up to oppressors, and fighting for the very fate of the world. However, it also delves into the grey areas of waging a war for good, exploring the burden of guilt and the moral struggles felt by members of eco-terrorist group Avalanche. It makes an effort to look at the price of heroes fighting for the future, which is often paid by ordinary people suffering in the now.
It takes the idea of fighting against fate–a common thread in Final Fantasy games–and uses it in a bolder way. This time, the stifling hand of fate isn’t that of a powerful sorceress, a chaotic court mage, or a power hungry empire; it’s the hand of expectation and the demand that history should repeat itself. Depicted as Whispers, ghostly figures appear in pivotal moments to force events to adhere to how they were in the original game. But Final Fantasy 7 Remake–both in its narrative and its overall objective–is a game about pulling away from how it should be so that it can walk towards what it needs to be.
This is a story that lives and dies by the strength of its characters, and in that regard Final Fantasy VII Remake shines brightest. Cloud, Tifa, Barrett, Biggs, Wedge, Jesse, and the others that make up the game’s legendary cast are characters that have become iconic more for what people saw in them than what the original Final Fantasy VII showed them to be. The remake recognizes this and makes huge strides in taking what, in retrospect, are archetypal figures and introducing nuance, heart, and charm to them.
Cloud, for the most part stoic and cold by design in the original, undergoes a journey that opens him up to let him grow into a likeable hero. Aerith is no longer just an innocent, angelic figure that serves as the crew’s resident healer. Instead she is shown to be a warm, sweet, and disarmingly goofy person that, despite all this, is shackled by a terrible fate and a crushing responsibility. Barrett’s borderline reckless crusade for justice often blinds him, but his bravado and assuredness is what the team needs to drive them forward. And when he interacts with his daughter it becomes immediately apparent why he fights so hard. The list of characters goes on and each one has a vital place in the story. They are realized in a way that leaves an impression, so while you may not like all of them, you certainly won’t forget them.
The gameplay that facilitates this story is as revelatory now as it was back in 1997. For the longest time, Final Fantasy has struggled to plant its feet in a world where static, turn-based combat has increasingly been seen as outdated. Square Enix has made many attempts to give Final Fantasy’s combat a cinematic quality, a thrilling momentum, and engaging moment-to-moment interactions, while maintaining its slower, more strategic underpinnings. And, although it has succeeded in some regards, it has felt awkward in just as many. Final Fantasy VII Remake, however, finally finds footing for the franchise. Its hybrid system of turn-based and direct-control action leverages the best of both worlds and is bolstered by systems and progression from the original that, to this day, are outstanding. Tweaked and updated for the modern-day, it is comfortably one of the most satisfying and rewarding RPGs to play in recent memory, and no doubt the new template for future entries in the franchise.
Final Fantasy VII Remake’s impeccable soundtrack, meanwhile, will stir pangs of nostalgia in fans and give chills to first-timers as the music uses the emotion of a scene to sweep them away. You’ll feel tears build as the somber notes of Aerith’s theme are struck on the keys of a piano, and then have your breath taken away as it builds into a hopeful crescendo, reminding you how this one, pure-hearted girl fights so hard against impossible odds for the fate of people who can’t even begin to understand the dangers they face.
There’s the tongue-in-cheek acknowledgements of Final Fantasy VII’s most outlandish moments, which are embraced and played up so they’re as bizarre and hilarious now as they were the first time. And the game also made efforts to right the wrongs of the original’s treatment of gender identity and depiction of what it means to be beautiful, as well as the dynamic between its lead female characters.
This is a game that is thrilling, funny, sad, uplifting, and hopeful. It inspires that sense of wonder and adventure that made you love Final Fantasy in the first place.
Sure, Final Fantasy VII Remake has its issues, but in every single way that matters, Square Enix has more than done justice to the original. This is a game that is thrilling, funny, sad, uplifting, and hopeful. It inspires that sense of wonder and adventure that made you love Final Fantasy in the first place. It stokes that melancholy that comes from going on a perilous journey with people that become friends so dear that, when it’s over, it hurts to say goodbye. It leaves you longing to return to them, desperate to be in its world once more so you can take the next step on the journey together. And that’s what makes a Final Fantasy truly special.