Taking a game that was once a single, cohesive story and dividing it up into parts is taking quite a risk. Especially when the first steps originally took place over a matter of hours. Final Fantasy VII Remake kicked off a new take on a familiar story, with FFVII Remake Intergrade now offering an adjusted and slightly more comprehensive story to tell. It’s an impressive feat, and one that makes a now classic and iconic tale feel fresh and like there are new sides to see and explore.
As with the original Final Fantasy VII, FFVII Remake Intergrade begins with a man who trying to find a new place for himself. Former SOLDIER 1st Class Cloud Strife’s come to Midgar and started working as a mercenary. His first job is with a splinter cell of Avalanche, a group that considers itself potential saviors of the planet and is called a terrorist cell by Shinra, the company that runs the city. After taking part in the destruction of a Mako reactor, one of the keys to providing power to the city, a chain of events that gets Cloud, his childhood friend Tifa, Avalanche head Barret, and local flower vendor Aerith involved in events that could change the world.
As this is now the Intergrade version of FFVII Remake, however, it doesn’t end there. This story includes a two-chapter episode called FF7R INTERmission. This follows Yuffie and Sonon, two ninjas from Wutai, who’ve come to Midgar to work with the main branch of Avalanche to essentially humiliate Shinra by stealing a rare Materia. It’s a complement to the main story, taking place after Cloud’s temporarily parted with the group and and playing “bodyguard” to Aerith. It offers new backstory to explain why Yuffie happened to be in the area (and interested in working with Cloud and company) and provide an excuse to weave in additional Compilation of FFVII characters.
And, to be frank, both stories work quite well. The core narrative fleshes out the group’s time in Midgar. It provides a better foundation for people. We are able to understand that Cloud is a soldier suffering from trauma from his past experiences. There’s proper foreshadowing for the twists we know are coming from the original FFVII. People like Tifa and Aerith have an opportunity to forge a friendship on their own, so we have a better idea of the connections between them. We also have a better idea of what these supporting cast members of Avalanche are like and believe in, as well as get to see the moral quandaries Shinra employees like Reeve, Reno, and Rude are experiencing.
With the FF7R INTERmission DLC, we get more context. In the original FFVII, Yuffie was an optional character. She also might not have come across in the best light. Here, she’s portrayed with a good mix of teenage brattiness and earnest charm. Can she be annoying? Perhaps a bit, but who wasn’t at that age? And having Sonon around tempers it in a positive way.
As for the combat, it builds on the more active systems Square Enix integrated into the series since FFXIII and Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII. You control a primary character in combat, typically Cloud or Yuffie, and can use different sorts of active attacks or styles. Dodging is also important and often critical. When the ATB is filled, you can bring up the menu for more specific sorts of skills, magic spells or summons if you have the right Materia equipped, and Limit Breaks when the conditions are right.
In the case of Cloud, knowing whether to use Operator or Punisher mode to handle an opponent can turn the tide depending on the group of foes or boss, as each one has its own nuanced approach to a fight. For example, Operator is more balanced and allows for aerial attacks, while a Punisher is more defensive and allows for counter-attacks. Meanwhile, Yuffie and Sonon can synergize for focused, collaborative attacks designed to quickly stagger and break through opponents’ defenses.
But fighting is only part of what goes on in Midgar. Though, to be fair, a lot of battling is done. There are also opportunities to explore the city. Cloud and Yuffie both spend most of their time below the plates in the Slums, with Sector 5, 6, and 7 being the most fleshed out points of interest. Each one, in its own way, feels like a community and like it has its own vibe and points of interest. Especially when you factor in the Fort Condor minigame that provides even more excuses to chill around Sector 7. And with Sector 6, trying to be the best when dancing at the Honey Bee Inn or while working out at the gym.
Fort Condor especially is a new highlight in this release. A real-time strategy game, it involves rising through the ranks, earning units to build up a “deck” of fighters to use, and knowing when to deploy the right units. There’s a clear rock-paper-scissors dynamic in play, but it works well and being able to adjust where the “front lines” are based on performance or use a spell to turn the tides can feel quite satisfying.
And, as you might expect, it is visually gorgeous. The game looked fine on the PlayStation 4, and the FFVII Remake Intergrade is as pretty and offers an opportunity to use a photo mode to take better pictures of certain characters or moments.
The only issue is the pacing. For much of FFVII Remake Intergrade, everything flows well. And in FF7R INTERmission, the action is divided perfectly between its two parts. But once you hit the endgame, things start to drag on. As much as I love the game, the last three chapters can feel like quite a slog. It’s like there’s unnecessary padding to help provide an excuse to use every member of the party.
FFVII Remake Intergrade is a game full of moments both expected and unexpected. It is packed with people you recognize and, unless you went all in on Compilation of FFVII, don’t. Its fundamental gameplay is tight and does enough that it engages you with what-ifs. What could happen this time and how will things change since Square Enix is able to things out more? And with FF7R INTERmission especially, we’re getting hints of how additional stories could go. We’re seeing an extra viewpoint providing details as to why someone else, Yuffie, was around Midgar and eventually joined the team. It’s a promise of things to come, and suggests the future is bright for FFVII even 24 years after its 1997 debut.
Final Fantasy VII Remake Intergrade is available for the PlayStation 5. Final Fantasy VII Remake is available for the PlayStation 4.