When I picked up Final Fantasy 7 for the first time, I didn’t know its biggest spoiler.
Sure, it’s normal for fans to avoid spoilers before starting a new game or piece of media. But Final Fantasy 7 is anything but new. It came out in 1997. The “spoiler” in question has spawned memes and parody cosplays at cons. It’s improbable that I avoided all knowledge about [redacted] all these years, and yet, I did.
I knew who Cloud was, and I was acquainted with his big sword, but I didn’t know much about him or his world. I encountered him for the first time in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, and while I appreciate his and Sephiroth’s appearance in the series to this day, their Smash appearances are devoid of a lot of lore.
[Ed. Note: This article contains spoilers for both Final Fantasy 7 (1997) and Final Fantasy 7 Remake.]
I got dunked right into that lore when I picked up Final Fantasy 7 Remake on a whim. I didn’t know all that much about it, other than a lot of people liked it. The game grabbed me from the start; I wanted to see Cloud and Barrett and their friends see their visions through and save their world from the looming climate catastrophe. If they upended the rigid class structure in Midgar along the way, all the better. Also, I wanted to know who the heck that cat-looking creature was at the end, and why Red could talk. I was completely enthralled, and I wanted to learn more. So, not even a week passed before I picked up the original Final Fantasy 7 to play on my Nintendo Switch.
For those unfamiliar, Remake brought more than just updated graphics or performance. It entirely reimagined the original FF7, taking the first couple hours of the game and stretching them across a roughly 33-hour AAA experience. What we get is a zoomed-in view of the world of Midgar, both figuratively and literally — we get to see the expressions on everyone’s faces in a way that the low-poly style of the PlayStation couldn’t capture.
So you could imagine my excitement: I would be able to see the full story and get all the references in Remake, by playing the original. But playing the original as a fan of Remake was like loving a game that wouldn’t love you back.
Sure, there was still a lot to appreciate. To this day, the game feels like this special relic of the PlayStation era, markedly more playful and experimental than its peers. FF7 defies the conventional, triple-A game logic that Remake follows. At one point, we take a trip into Cloud’s mind, and the cutscenes feel more like a surrealist painting than an uber-popular title from a giant game studio. It’s genuinely refreshing to see something that changes up the formula.
But in 2021, the original Final Fantasy 7 bristles back.
As with any older turn-based RPG, there is a lot of grind in the game. I started out wanting to play without using the speed-up option and the invincible mode on the Switch version, but I caved after dying to one of the many bosses. Some points — like taming a Chocobo — also are pretty difficult to figure out without a guide. On top of all of this, there are no save states in the Switch version, so you are stuck using the old save points.
These are all pretty standard experiences of revisiting an old game, especially a turn-based RPG. But even if I grant that, and I acknowledge that these drawbacks are lessened by the invincible mode and using a guide, FF7 and I never got into a groove.
There’s just a lot that doesn’t age well. For example, Aerith and Tifa compete over Cloud’s affections — it’s a frustrating dynamic to observe after enjoying the way they cherish and hold each other in Remake. Cloud as a character is less of a sad boy and just a plain old punk in the original. He uses a slur and feels more much like a middle schooler than he does a young adult navigating the intense trauma of his upbringing. And then there’s the scene where Cloud puts on a dress that was so infamously mishandled that the developers made it a point to update it in a thoughtful way.
Then there’s the big twist and spoiler in the series — the fact that Aerith dies. It came all too suddenly. You’re just watching a cutscene when, seemingly out of nowhere, Sephiroth spears her in the back. Her actual death lacked an emotional punch, to the point where I questioned what had even happened, rather than feeling a sense of loss. And while I understand why her death was necessary for the story, it felt anticlimactic. Hell, I cried more after seeing Aerith’s ghost in Advent Children than I did while playing the original.
So, take the struggles with playing an old game, and combine it with these drawbacks, and I just found myself missing Remake. I missed Cloud’s big, blue, sad eyes, and I wished I could hear the characters’ voices again. At the end of the day, I’m glad I played the original, but I’ll just go back and replay sections of Remake if I find myself missing the world.