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Better with age? Final Fantasy VII 2020 vs. Final Fantasy VII 1997

An old-school gamer puts his nostalgia to the test.

Joseph Kaminski Senior Associate Technology Editor / Reviews
During my almost twenty years at CNET, I handled benchmark testing/methodologies for both Mac and PC systems and, sometime after, integrated testing for micro-mobility (e-bikes, electric scooters and EUCs), which is a passion of mine. Transitioning from a BMX background to this field was seamless. Despite testing numerous products, each new one brings the same excitement as my first.
Joseph Kaminski
3 min read

The original Final Fantasy VII was one of my favorite first-gen PlayStation games. I logged over 99 Clinton-era hours on the original and fondly remember taking out Sephiroth, but my biggest regret was not beating the Ruby and Emerald weapons. So naturally I've been looking forward to seeing how it's been reimagined for modern audiences.  

I'm just about 16 hours into the Final Fantasy VII Remake. It keeps some of my favorite elements of the game and makes some worthwhile changes, but it also misses a few of my nostalgic triggers. 

Square Enix

One of the obvious reasons for a remake is that we can now enjoy this classic in high definition. Back in 1997, the PlayStation wasn't HD and neither was your TV. Forget 4K resolutions and downloadable games -- back then we had to juggle three separate CD-ROMs. 

Read more: Final Fantasy VII: Everything you need to know

Cloud Strife and company obviously look better in the remake's gameplay than they did in even the prerendered cut scenes from the original. But at the time, those '90s cut scenes were gorgeous. They showed us what kind of creativity and narrative depth video games were capable of, even if the technology still had a long way to go. 

Sound Cloud 

A welcome new element is that all the dialogue is spoken. No longer do I have to walk from person to person and click through endless text-only conversations. Even as you complete certain quests, you'll hear the people in town talking about it as you walk by them. As Cloud travels and his reputation grows, you notice more of the sector residents speaking about him and even kids emulating him -- something that wasn't in the original. 

One of the most jarring things about many RPGs of the era was the way your party was represented on-screen. In the original FFVII, even though Cloud led a party of three, you'd only see him walking around. The remake has thankfully moved to a more modern design style. The full party is on-screen at all times, and they even banter back and forth.

One thing about the original FFVII that didn't age well was the animation during conversations, which was usually just a series of head nods and hand waves. Now we have fully animated mouths, even on nonessential characters as you pass by them. 

If you've played both versions, you'll notice a lot of similarities. But there's a lot more depth to some of the main characters. I'm doing my best to avoid spoilers, so you'll have to experience that for yourself. Some things never change, however, and my first summoning Materia was the same as in the original -- and it was a welcome sight when I first called it into battle. 

Square Enix

Real time vs. turn-based

An optional feature in the remake is you can play it in a classic turn-based mode or just take the controls yourself and slash away in real time. One thing that got me pumped in the original version was the spiral screen you'd see, accompanied by the classic battle music, right before a fight. The remake no longer does that, but you can now see the encounters beforehand and plan accordingly by swapping weapons, Materia, armor and so on. 

The menus are cleaner and easier to navigate than the original, which should make it easier for newcomers to pick up and play. The one killer misstep is not knowing when you'll be able to finish the game. The FFVII remake is being split into at least two games and maybe more. This new version, as excellent as it is, is only part one.  

The original Final Fantasy VII was a hit on the original PlayStation, selling over 11 million copies. 

Despite adding high-definition graphics, full voice-overs and real-time combat, the remake doesn't take us all the way though the original game. You'll have to wait for the next installment for the rest of the story.