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Five years after its initial announcement, fans were finally treated to a highly anticipated return to Final Fantasy 7's Midgar—well, sort of. Final Fantasy VII: Remake follows the story of Cloud, a former member of Shinra's elite SOLDIER unit turned mercenary, as he assists Avalanche, an eco-terrorist organization, in combating the Shinra Electric Company's exploitation of the world's Mako energy (its life essence). This remake is much more than a mere visual upgrade; it's a reimagining of the original game, cleverly weaving in numerous callbacks.

While the story of Midgar largely adheres to the original game's progression, it does modify certain events to incorporate additional world-building elements. Characters receive expanded backstories, new story elements modify some original events, and the inclusion of 26 new side quests successfully crafts a 40-hour narrative that's deeper and more impactful than the original 10-hour Midgar experience. Though not identical, I believe the remake carefully and effectively enhances the original story, resulting in a more cohesive and emotionally engaging experience.

The remake abandons turn-based mechanics in favor of a modern action RPG system, allowing your character to freely move around the battlefield to attack, dodge, or block. Unlike Final Fantasy 15, the game adopts Kingdom Hearts' menu navigation style, slowing down the action while browsing this menu. Square also introduced a Classic mode for more strategic players. While not turn-based, Classic mode lets the AI control the action mechanics of all characters, leaving the player to focus on party management tasks such as executing special abilities, casting spells, and using items.

As for the battle system, I may be biased, as I prefer action systems over turn-based mechanics, but I believe the game strikes an effective balance between action and strategy. The original game offered considerable depth with its abilities, customizations, and items, and the addition of slow-motion in the remake helps retain this complexity while reducing pressure on the player. However, dodging and blocking can be frustrating when characters prioritize completing combos over executing dodge actions or when enemies have unavoidable attacks.

The side quests encourage exploration of the environment, bonding with locals, and are crucial for character progression (e.g., leveling), but they are technically optional. I strongly recommend completing the quests—there are only 26 of them, they're quite enjoyable, and they lend additional weight to the story's major events. However, don't feel pressured, as although the game warns that you'll be unable to return to any unfinished quests once you progress past a chapter, this applies only to the current playthrough. After completing the game, you can replay chapters with Chapter Selection, which allows you to revisit any chapter with your current items, unlocks, and abilities.

Final Fantasy 7's soundtrack is highly cherished by fans of the entire series, and the remake elevates many iconic tracks through high-fidelity reprisals, partly due to the return of Nobuo Uematsu. The track "Midgar, City of Mako" in the introduction cinematic still sends shivers down my spine with its haunting incorporation of Sephiroth's theme's choir chants! The remake also introduces new tracks; my favorite is "Hollow Skies" from the Sector 5 slums, closely followed by "Collapsed Expressway." Both perfectly capture the ambiance of their respective areas and are absolute bangers!

In conclusion, if you're solely interested in a visual update, you may be put off by the alterations the game makes to the story and its choice of an action-based battle system over turn-based mechanics. The remake is designed to modify the original story and provide a fresh yet familiar experience in a far larger world than what the 1997 entry could offer. As long as you approach this game as a retelling or reimagining of the original rather than a replacement, I believe you will thoroughly enjoy the epic journey that Square has lovingly crafted in Final Fantasy 7: Remake. Embrace the changes, immerse yourself in the richly detailed world, and discover the enhanced character development that breathes new life into this beloved classic.

Gameplay 4.5 / 5
Soundtrack 5 / 5
Replay Value 5 / 5
Storyline 4.5 / 5
5 / 5 Perfect!