Final Fantasy VII Remake: Intergrade – Expect The Unexpected
*Spoilers for both the 1997 release of Final Fantasy VII, as well as 2020’s remake are contained within this review*
It was crazy to think that in the 23 years that separated the original launch of Final Fantasy VII and the 2020 remake, that more than half of those years would be spent ruminating on the prospects of said remake. It seemed almost impossible for the game to meet fan expectations, and yet, Final Fantasy VII Remake is widely regarded as one of, if not, the best games of 2020, which itself is one of the strongest years of game releases we’ve ever seen. We all assumed that by carrying the name “Remake”, that is exactly what we would get, and yet, as the Whispers of Fate were defeated at the end of the game, it became crystal clear that from this point on, you can check your expectations at the door, this isn’t the Final Fantasy VII you once knew. Most of us had expected that with Part 1 out the door it would be years before we saw more, but Square-Enix, clearly feeling pretty good about themselves following the 2020 success, decided to mess with our expectations once again by revealing Intermission, a 4-5 hour DLC bundled with an upgraded core game on the PS5. Will this first bold step on a newly forged path, along with the updated original release, continue the dizzying success that the 2020 release achieved, or has the slippery slope into madness begun?
The most notable component of this new-gen upgrade is of course Intermission, the Yuffie-centric chapter that explores what she gets up to parallel to the core game’s narrative. Yuffie, a ninja from Shinra’s enemy, Wutai, has entered Midgar to break into the Shinra Building with the plan to steal Shinra’s ultimate materia. Yuffie’s plan is simple enough, meet up with Avalanche, and leverage their knowledge to steal the materia, the problem is, Yuffie, even with her cool, calm partner Sonon, are improvising every step of the way, and the inner workings of Midgar, as well as the chaos stemming from Cloud and co. provide extra layers of complexity for the duo to contend with. The 4-5 hour, 2-chapter long side-story heats up quickly, as Yuffie’s story quickly intermingles with the core narrative, before hard-deviating into the realms of the periphery content as characters from Dirge of Cerberus make their presences felt. It’s already very complicated for even the hardened Final Fantasy veteran given the events at the end of Remake, but the final hour of Intermission adds further layers of complexity for us to wade through. It’s not unapproachable, and may even better suit those new to Final Fantasy VII, it’s just a lot to take in for those with established expectations when this story undoubtedly doesn’t play out as you’d expect it to.
Intermission plays like it’s coming from a team bursting with confidence. The brightest minds at Square-Enix have clearly looked at the feedback, what worked, and what didn’t from the 2020 release, and designed the perfect playground for Yuffie to navigate. Yuffie, being a ninja, is far more acrobatic than most, and this can be leveraged in a few scripted ways that change up the fairly methodical navigation methods that Cloud’s team had available to them in the main game. This mobility, paired with her Shuriken changes combat up significantly too. As Cloud, Barrett, Tifa, or Aerith, you could only ever be an up-close and personal brawler or a ranged specialist, but as Yuffie, you’re capable of being both. Square prompts act as standard melee attacks, but if you opt to throw the shuriken at a target, those same prompts have a ranged, elemental effect. Given you’re a party of two, with a more standard, melee-only partner, Yuffie’s versatility is as beneficial to the party as she is enjoyable to control. Another notable addition to combat is the Synergise ability. Assuming that both Yuffie and Sonon have at least one ATB bar available the pair can synergise some of their abilities, performing far more powerful Chrono Trigger-tech-inspired attacks.
One of the more common critiques of Remake was the absence of anything meaningful, or even particularly enjoyable to do outside of following the critical path – enter Intermission’s “Fort Condor”. The adaptation of the original Final Fantasy VII’s Battle of Fort Condor sequence transforms the heated battle into a mini-game that desperately needs further implementation in the sequel. Fort Condor, though wildly different in play-style, extracts Gwent like addictive behaviours, and the only thing that will stop you from spending dozens of hours in tactical combat is the fact that there are a very small number of available opponents, and the option is contained to a segment of the DLC’s first chapter. There are a few other challenge-based distractions thrown at you, as well as a poster collecting sequence, neither of which hit home as hard, but it’s clear that more thought has gone into giving players more meaningful things to do with campaign downtime.
Intermission aside, there is of course the main game that returns, and while Remake hasn’t seen too many bells and whistles added to it there have been some cosmetic changes made. Most notable of all is the 60FPS support that makes combat feel as smooth as butter, while there have been some improvements made to certain assets that were notable for looking quite rough in the last-gen version. There are still some visual rough edges in the form of some super low-res assets, but these are offset by some truly phenomenal set-pieces from both Remake and Intermission. Having heard the fan feedback, Square-Enix have included a long-requested photo mode so that fans can easily capture their favourite moments as well.
While it warmed souls everywhere to hear modern renditions of tracks like One-Winged Angel, and Bombing Mission play out in the core Remake, Intermission, being a new chapter previously untold, with a hero we know relatively little about, takes its chance at establishing its own musical tone. The jazzy score, especially of the first chapter fits perfectly with Yuffie’s bubbly energy and when the audio and visual arts are working in synchronicity, it’s mesmerising to behold.
The already exceptional Final Fantasy VII Remake has managed to get better still. Players whose fears had built following the expectation-breaking conclusion of the main game should feel heartened by their time with Intermission, as it shows that Square-Enix are being incredibly considered with the story they’re weaving. It doesn’t bite off more than it can chew but tells a meaningful story that doesn’t feel like filler either. Merge that strong narrative with an already excellent, but now further improved combat system and you’ll find it impossible to go back. The future of Final Fantasy VII looks to be in the right hands.
Final Fantasy VII Remake: Intergrade was reviewed on PS5 with code kindly supplied by the publisher.