Noob Plays a JRPG For The First Time

I’m a travelled gamer. I’ve played a huge variety of genres, and then games within those genres. But JRPGs are a complete blind spot for me, to the point that I’ve never really understood the distinction? RPGs are RPGs, why the necessity to define them by their origin? I don’t refer to God of War as an ‘American RPG’ or Witcher 3 a ‘Polish RPG’. 

But I’m not here to decry a whole moniker, at least not today anyhow. JRPGs have been a well loved sub-genre for years but I’ve not played a single one of them. Well, I’ve played a lot of Pokemon but I’m not counting that on account of it being Pokemon. I mean, literally everyone is born knowing what Pikachu is, it doesn’t count. 

So when FF7 Remake – 2020’s ground up remake of the fan favorite Final Fantasy game – got a PS5 upgrade in the form of ‘Intergrade’, my interest was piqued. 

I’ve never played the original, in fact I’ve never even loaded up a Final Fantasy game before. I know the famed Square Enix series is generally made up of games with contained stories that generally don’t carry on from one another. I also know that some of the characters are in Smash. Then there’s the Buster Sword.

But beyond that? I knew squat about Final Fantasy 7 before jumping in. The first thing that jumps out at me is the… stage-esque approach to characterisation? Literally everyone outside of Cloud is hyper-eager, constantly laughing, smiling, shouting out in excitement or fear. It’s like an endless stream of very loud and extreme emotions, it’s a bit odd. It’s like a whole layer of dramatisation on top of what is already quite a dramatic world and story. It feels like a play, or a stage show, where every character isn’t overacting, per se, but acting in favour of a grandiose narrative. 

I don’t actually dislike it either. The intense characterisation of Jessie, Tifa, Barret and the others is part of what endears me to the story, at least as it stands 8-10 hours in. But it’s quite exhausting. Facial reactions are always accompanied by “huh?” Or “hah!” or some other combination of sighs and gasps that people just don’t do in real life. 

In fact the vocal quirks of every character are what leads me into my next point – the sexualisation of basically every single important character, and especially Tifa. Square Enix knew exactly what they were doing here. The crop top, knee high leggings, braces, long hair, and basically everything that makes this rendition of Tifa… Tifa, is exactly what prepubescent boys dream of. I imagine anyway, not that I’d know. The problem is that it’s so damn blatant.

Final Fantasy VII Remake: Best Weapon Builds for Tifa Lockhart | Digital  Trends
Image credit to Digital Trends

Lead characters in all entertainment – whether that be film, TV, music, or stage – are usually designed to be some form of conventionally attractive. Sex sells and all that jazz. 

But the characters in FF7, ranging from the complicated Cloud, to the flirty Jessie, the subdued Tifa, and to the oversized Barret are all so outrageously designed to be physically appealing to the player that I find it actually detracts from the more subtle aspects of their personality. 

It feels like rewinding the clock to fighting games like Dead or Alive and Soulcalibur, where every humanoid character had to look like the leading person on a modelling magazine, complete with egregious boob physics where applicable. It’s wild to me that the FF7 Remake seems to have escaped any criticism here. 

In a world where inappropriate butt shots are being rightfully removed from Mass Effect 2 and achievements in Nier for looking up a skirt are understandably crucified, the fact that Square got away with making all of their characters look the way they do for no real reason is odd. Tifa or Jessie being stereotypically attractive doesn’t sway my opinion of them in any way. In fact, I often find both of them unbearable in the extended cutscenes, partly due to the way they throw themselves at Cloud constantly.

Although with Cloud’s hair the way it is, who can blame them right?

I don’t know if the focus on stereotypically attractive characters is a theme within JRPGs at large, but from a cursory search it’s pretty clear that they don’t always have the most realistic men OR women physically. It’s pretty jarring as a complete newcomer.

I’d like to make it absolutely clear – I’ve no problem with characters looking good. Doesn’t matter which video game, TV show, or movie you pick, it’s likely that the lead cast are going to look good. I do have a problem with it when it’s used to actively distract from the nuances found elsewhere. 

Tifa spends the opening hours struggling with Cloud’s indifference to wholesale murder, while also being pulled between disdain for their corporate overlords, and not wanting to do anything too drastic. This directly opposes Barret, who seems willing to do almost anything to ensure the future of their planet – perhaps in relation to his very young daughter who will likely have to live there. 

All of this nuance may be watered down by the ‘horny teenager’ vibe spread throughout FF7 Remake, but that doesn’t stop the interactions and gorgeously rendered cutscenes from being a joy to watch most of the time. The visual fidelity of this Remake, especially on the PS5, is close to being unmatched in places and Square Enix should be very proud of what they’ve achieved here. Facial details and the body language throughout cutscenes are definitely in the upper areas of the class, and it’s hard to pinpoint anything I outright dislike about the way FF7 Remake looks – aside from the sketchy lip sync animations anyhow.

When it comes down to the actual act of playing the game, I had no idea what to expect. I knew that the Remake was more action oriented than some of the other Final Fantasy games, and I also knew that it was laid out in a more linear fashion – perfect for someone like me who has their grievances with open world games

What I didn’t know is how damn fun the combat is. Seriously, it’s a real joy through and through. After 8-10 hours with the game I can’t get enough of it to be honest. The ARPG style moment to moment combat, with Devil May Cry style combos, gorgeous animations, and dazzling visual effects accompanying every single action, it adds up to one of the most satisfying combat suites I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing. 

The system no doubt struggles in boss fights where you’re aimed at a single larger target instead of groups of enemies. With groups the soft targeting and flashy combos come into their own, but it can feel slightly watered down against solo targets mostly due to the fact that the dodging mechanics just aren’t great.

But genuinely, Cloud’s fighting mechanics are excellent. The Buster Sword is obviously a crowd pleaser – it’s practically a pop culture icon at this point let’s be real – but the variety of ‘big feckin swords’ that you can use is pretty great as well, each with slightly different damage numbers and ‘Materia’ slots. I’ve only got access to two swords right now but I’ve had a look online at all of them and they’re all pretty cool. 

The Materia system that I just mentioned is a hugely interesting approach to magic as well, inserting attachments into your weapon to alter the spells that you have access to at any given moment – things like fire, ice, healing, etc.

All of the stuff I enjoy about the combat carries through the hybrid system that FF7 Remake employs as well, allowing you to switch between your characters at will in a way that gives me fond flashbacks to Dragon Age Inquisition. I can jump from Cloud’s hilariously large sword, to Barret’s minigun-arm, to Tifa’s fists whenever I want, combining special attacks and spells lavishly. I will say that no other character feels as good as Cloud in combat, but the experience is heightened by the optional variety. 

I know JRPGs, and RPGs in general to be honest, have a storied history with turn-based combat systems and I have to be honest; outside of Pokemon I generally don’t enjoy them at all. I much prefer action based systems, and the FF7 Remake combat system is a lovely hybrid of action and tactical RPG gameplay that suits me down to the ground. 

I loaded up FF7 Remake Intergrade with the goal of just comparing the visual fidelity between the launch PS4 version and doing a ‘graphics comparison’ style article. Instead I’ve found myself somewhat enamoured with it – to the point that I’m now entirely open to trying more JRPGs in the near future. Make no mistake, Intergrade looks beautiful most of the time and you’d be hard pressed not to recommend another playthrough to a fan just on that basis, but FF7 Remake has ended up representing more to me than just a new PS5 game to try out.

In the past I’ve been put off by JRPGs because of sketchy acting, wacky cutscenes and characters, and the regularity of turn-based/ tactical combat. FF7 Remake has done a good job of pulling me in so far and changing my mind, and it’s my full intention to see it through after an incredibly strong opening 10 hours.

After that? Who knows! Kyle is always going on about how good Persona is, and I’ve heard the Yakuza games ain’t half bad either. If I can come out of this with a wider interest in video games I’ll class that as a complete win. But even beyond possibly expanding my interests to JRPGs, at the very least I know that Final Fantasy 7 Remake is pretty damn good.

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