Square Enix’s new release, Final Fantasy VII Remake Intergrade, is as confusing a project as its title suggests.
The original Final Fantasy VII, released in 1997, was a landmark role-playing game for the original PlayStation console. Following the story of Cloud Strife, a mercenary hired by ecoterrorist group Avalanche to stop industrial megacorporation Shinra from destroying the planet, the original pushed video game storytelling and 3D graphics to new heights.
Then, in April 2020, Square Enix released the Final Fantasy VII Remake exclusively for PlayStation 4. Despite bearing the “Remake” misnomer, it was in fact a total reimagining of the original game, boasting cutting-edge graphics, a brand-new dynamic combat system and a more ambitious, cinematic approach to storytelling. The Remake paradoxically both increased and reduced the original’s scope: Though it fleshes out nearly every beat and encounter, the Remake only covers the first third of the original game’s epic-scale story.
The “Intergrade” portion of the title was added earlier this month, when Square Enix released an upgraded version of the Remake exclusively for PlayStation 5. The Remake Intergrade takes an already stunning, if flawed PS4 game and amplifies its best qualities.
While the PS4 version was capped at 30 frames per second (fps), the Remake Intergrade allows players to choose between highly detailed 4K graphics at 30 fps, or buttery smooth 60 fps gameplay at a slightly lower resolution. Square Enix has also enhanced the lighting and volumetric smoke and fog effects, making the game’s impeccable cinematic presentation that much more stunning.
The Remake’s upgraded battle system is also made even more gratifying in the PS5-exclusive Intergrade version. Balancing the strategic turn-based combat of the original game with modern hack-and-slash sensibilities, Intergrade’s combat is fluid yet deep and especially in 60 fps, bursts with visual flourishes. Players typically control Cloud, using his massive broadsword in real time. Additionally, players can use an attack menu that pauses combat and allows players to pick devastating special attacks, spells or items. The ability to switch between Cloud’s squadmates at the press of a button adds another layer of strategy, enabling players to fully benefit from each character’s unique strengths.
Sound design also makes combat particularly satisfying; not only is each sound effect perfectly weighty and crisp, but the Remake’s score, comprising a mix of arrangements from the original 1997 compositions and new tracks, makes for one of the most delightful video game soundtracks to date.
Though Intergrade enhances the PS4 game’s highlights — taking full advantage of PS5 hardware to perfectly render the futuristic dystopian world of Midgard with an oppressive atmosphere, while still keeping the overall tone quirky and fun — it also retains the Remake’s blemishes.
The story cutscenes are slow and languid, with verbose dialogue that is at once overly expositional and woefully opaque, sometimes exacerbated by cringeworthy voice acting. Outside of combat, the Remake feels exactly like what it is: the first act of a game stretched out to full game length. As evidenced by the recent “Hobbit” film trilogy, however, more content does not correlate to greater impact — though the added gameplay never loses its charm, the narrative pacing suffers when nearly every story beat lasts just too long.
The release also includes a new expansion — with the equally frustrating title Episode INTERmission — that follows Yuffie, an optional party member from the 1997 game who did not appear in the PS4 Remake release. While this expansion gives players a welcome excuse to jump back into Intergrade’s combat and adds variety t0 the gameplay with Yuffie’s unique combat style, it still falls into the same trap as the main game. Despite only running approximately five hours, INTERmission feels padded for content and stretched thin.
Without the rest of the Final Fantasy VII story, which Square Enix is saving for a sequel or sequel series (one can only wonder at what sort of monstrous nomenclature lies ahead), the Remake’s lack of dramatic urgency and narrative momentum can be frustrating. Still, the campy tone, accessible yet complex combat and immersive moment-to-moment gameplay are enough to sustain player engagement, and with its technical improvements, the Intergrade version feels like the way the Final Fantasy VII Remake was always meant to be played.