A beginner’s guide to Final Fantasy VII Remake and its expanded universe

With Final Fantasy VII Remake set to take the world by storm this week, you may be confused about its popularity if you never got in on the action of the original. What is Final Fantasy VII and why are so many people excited about the remake?

The original Final Fantasy VII came out in 1997 for the PlayStation and still to this day remains one of the most iconic video games of all time. At the time, the game pushed the boundaries of gaming technology in the late 1990s, with CGI cutscenes and audio tracks that forced the game onto three separate discs, alongside a memorable story with a lovable cast of characters that stands the test of time.

Now, of course, technology has advanced so much that the original Final Fantasy VII‘s graphics — plus poor translation from the Japanese original — are often a hard barrier for potential new players to the game in a world where video games can look nearly indistinguishable from real life. However, Final Fantasy VII Remake is set to hit shelves this week on the PlayStation 4, offering the chance for players new and old to get a chance to experience the story of Cloud Strife and company on a modern console.

If you’re confused as to why your Twitter timeline is making so much noise about a video game from over 20 years ago, we’ve got you covered. What’s the deal with Final Fantasy VII Remake? Who are these characters and why should you care about them? Can you jump into this game without having played the original? Let’s take a look.

What is Final Fantasy VII Remake?

Final Fantasy VII Remake is the first part of a remake of the original 1997 turn-based role playing game from Square Enix. The original game was approximately a 40-hour experience, but this game being released in mid-April covers the opening Midgar section of the game, which ran anywhere between five and seven hours in the 1997 version.

Instead of putting the entire Final Fantasy VII experience into one game, Square Enix has made the title episodic, but the first part is still a full 30-to-40 hour video game which expands upon the events, locations, and characters of the original. In the remake, the game is also no longer turn based, but is instead more action-oriented with a hint of turn based with its command system and character switching elements.

What about the plot?

The plot of Final Fantasy VII revolves around protagonist Cloud Strife and a group of eco-terrorists called Avalanche as they look to expose and take down the mega-corporation called Shinra Electric Power Company. Shinra has been using reactors around the globe to suck the literal life out of the planet, and Avalanche is looking to topple their organization by any means necessary.

Of course, the game becomes a lot more complex than that. There’s supernatural shenanigans! Lots of unethical science! Magic! Cowboy outfits! A big case of identity crisis! A famous long-haired swordsman with a taste for murder! Even the overall ecological warnings from the original game feel somehow more impactful in the climate of 2020 than ever before.

The opening section that takes place in Midgar (one of the major cities of the planet) is such a small snapshot of the full scope of the original Final Fantasy VII, but still remains iconic for the plot and characters it sets up down the line.

If everyone cares so much about the characters, who are they?

Even if you’re unfamiliar with Final Fantasy VII as a whole, you may know of two of the game’s most famous characters: Cloud and Sephiroth. Cloud is the game’s protagonist, the one with the big sword and spiky blonde hair. At the start of the game, he’s portrayed as a too-cool-for-school mercenary, but his personality becomes more clear (and more fun) as the game progresses.

Sephiroth, on the other hand, is the game’s actual main villain, carrying a big sword and boasting a really great boss theme that you may have heard before. His interactions with Cloud are incredibly cryptic and make no real sense at the game’s start, but like all things in this game, things become more clear down the line.

Rounding out the main cast of characters in Remake are: Cloud’s childhood friend Tifa, a seemingly shy but no-nonsense woman who beats up her problems with her fists; Barret, the bombastic but well-meaning leader of Avalanche; and Aerith, a mysterious flower girl that catches Cloud’s attention by random chance.

Of course, there are more facets to these characters than what I just distilled into one sentence summaries. There is a reason these characters — even the secondary ones in Avalanche that I did not mention — remain so beloved 23 years later, and giving away just why they’re so great would ruin the surprise. But trust me, the characters in the original are worth caring about — even if you are already familiar with some of their endpoints.

via Square Enix

That can’t be all the characters in this game, right?

Not by a long shot. Once the game leaves Midgar, you round out the rest of your eclectic crew. By the time the original game ends, Cloud also becomes friends with:

Even the secondary villains in Shinra are memorable characters as you defeat them over the course of the narrative.

Like any other game, your party builds as you go along, however only one of those characters is slated to appear in the first part of the remake. But who knows, there could very well be surprises in store!

What’s this about spin-off games and movies?

Over the years since its original release, Final Fantasy VII has dabbled in side content, including a handful of spin-off games and movies. The two biggest spin off games — Dirge of Cerberus and Crisis Core — expanded upon the stories of two characters from the original, adding some backstory or filling in details after the main conflict of the original had ended.

Advent Children is the major spin-off movie from Final Fantasy VII and takes place two years after the original game, but it’s unknown if it’s going to be canon in the world of the remake.

Is this side content going to be relevant to the plot of Final Fantasy VII Remake?

It’s really hard to say. There are going to be changes to the narrative from the original game in Remake, but no one knows what the full scope of this is going to be just yet since we only have just one piece of the puzzle.

The end of Remake, in particular, is getting a lot of talk online already in reviews as to its supposed controversial nature, but unless you want to wade into spoiler territory yourself, you’ll have to play to find out just what’s gone down.

If I’ve never played a Final Fantasy game before, should I pick this game up to see what all the fuss is about?

It depends, really. I only recently played the original Final Fantasy VII to completion this year for the first time ahead of the remake, so I’m familiar with the world and its characters now, but I don’t have the decades-long history with it that many others do.

It’s likely you’ll be just fine if you pick up Final Fantasy VII Remake off the cuff, especially if it generates the same FOMO impact Animal Crossing: New Horizons has had since its release a few weeks ago. Unlike Animal Crossing, however, Final Fantasy VII Remake will be heavy on the story with an action oriented combat system, so if that’s in your wheelhouse, it’s likely worth getting in on the fun.

If you’re looking for a good entry point into the world of Final Fantasy VII for the first time, the upcoming remake seems like a great place to start.