There’s nothing new about separating a game into different chapters, but the way Final Fantasy VII Remake does it especially captures the episodic structure of a TV show. Each time I started a new chapter, I didn’t know if I was going to find myself in a sprawling dungeon, dig deeper into the relationship between Cloud and Sephiroth, or get to play through a grab-bag of sidequests. This kept things varied and surprising throughout my playthrough, with highs and lows throughout.
Of course, not every chapter knocked it out of the park. Final Fantasy VII Remake’s sidequests in particular can feel tedious and unrewarding, yet if you wanted to complete them before the credits roll, you needed to do each new batch all at once, crippling the game’s momentum. Other episodes took small or nonexistent parts from the original game and blew them up into their own storylines or dungeons, to varying success. Here’s my unofficial ranking of each of Final Fantasy VII Remake’s 18 chapters.
There are no chapters in Final Fantasy VII Remake I dislike… except for this one. It’s bad enough if you make a mad dash through, with a retread of a previous dungeon and an extended chase sequence. If you go for all the side content, you’ll need to retread yet another dungeon, as well as other areas filled with filler enemies. There’s a beautiful scene at the beginning with whichever character you’ve romanced the most, but it doesn’t make up for this desperate bid to lengthen the game’s runtime.
Normally, a dungeon will start simple and then escalate over time, ending with a climactic boss fight. In this chapter in which Cloud, Aerith and Tifa are thrown into the sewers, it’s the other way around. After a satisfying encounter with Abzu, you’re tasked with navigating the icky waters by raising and lowering water levels and completing a frustrating water pump minigame. Still, it’s fantastic to see Aerith and Tifa take such a liking to each other, and the chapter is over before it starts to get too grating.
Following a bombastic entrance and a dose of mystery, Chapter 3 is where the game sits you down and forces you to learn the finer details of its mechanics. This means you’ll spend plenty of time in tutorials, and also be introduced to the first batch of sidequests. Although optional, these sidequests are among the weakest of them all, asking you to kill rats and chase cats. The chapter does a good job at preparing you for the rest of the game, but it still ends up feeling a bit like doing homework. And nobody likes homework.
I had to look this chapter up when doing this ranking, because I almost completely forgot it. That’s because little of consequence happens here, and the game could likely have cut it without losing much. That’s not to say there aren’t fun encounters, and the cutscenes with the villainous Heidegger do a good job at making you hate him, but it’s more-or-less a straight walk to the finish line.
Chapter 11 feels the most like Final Fantasy VII Remake’s “filler episode,” but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The Halloween-y aesthetic and storyline aren’t particularly scary, but they are fun, and watching Cloud, Tifa and Aerith react to everything like kids from Goosebumps is adorable. The chapter gets bogged down a bit by delving a bit deeper than necessary into the ghosts’ motivations and backstory, but it’s still a fun diversion from the main story.
Final Fantasy VII Remake’s first real dungeon, “Light the Way” tests players’ spatial reasoning and offers plenty of goodies for those who poke their nose throughout the environment. It can start feeling tedious toward the end, but overall it’s one of the game’s first real challenges, and one I felt accomplished with after conquering.
Shortly after the chapter starts, Barret falls down a pit, which just so happens to lead into an underground research facility filled with monsters and Venom-like experiments. It’s as odd and out of place as it sounds, especially following the tragedy of Sector 7’s plate collapsing, but it’s undeniably satisfying to play as the gun-armed eco-terrorist as you storm through the place. Also, shooting all the boxes is fun.
With its first half acting somewhat like a “walking simulator,” which is to say it contains traversal and story without much combat, Chapter 2 might not be for everyone. But I loved the chance to slow down and introduce the audience to Cloud, Sephiroth and Aerith in mysterious yet engaging ways, as well as getting to take in the beauty of Midgar’s upper plate for the first time.
Taking on Midgar’s second Mako reactor is a lot more involved than the first, requiring Cloud and Avalanche to take on hordes of Shinra baddies and divert materials to the chapter’s final encounter, the Airbuster. The boss fight is admittedly teased a bit too long and isn’t quite as insane as hinted, but it’s still a fun and satisfying battle. On the other hand, fuck that timing minigame.
Chapter 8 isn’t the most exciting, spending its entirety in the Sector 6 slums and offering another set of sidequests of varying quality. It more than makes up for this, however, with the introduction of Aerith. Not only does she add new abilities to keep combat fresh, but her character is instantly endearing through her witty dialogue and Brianna White’s heartfelt vocal performance. The chapter offers plenty of quiet moments to create a connection between her and Cloud, which also serves as a nice respite from the previous high-octane action.
As Final Fantasy VII Remake’s final chapter, “Destiny’s Crossroads” starts out with an insane motorcycle sequence before throwing the original game’s story out the window and having you essentially fight God. It feels a bit like Square Enix needed a big show-stopper to cap off its first installment, but despite the confusing narrative for a first-timer, the sheer spectacle is unparalleled and gets me stupidly excited for whenever the next part comes out.
The lead-up to the game’s conclusion, Chapter 17 tosses you to the bottom of “the Drum” and forces you to take on essentially the game’s final dungeon before getting back to the story. Fortunately, this dungeon captivated me throughout. I loved the concept of having to switch between teams of two, even though at times it could get frustrating switching everyone’s materia loadouts. It was the game’s final test before its climactic boss rush to the end, and it was a test I was more than happy to take.
In what feels like Final Fantasy VII Remake’s mid-season finale, “Fight for Survival” sees its characters at their lowest. Cloud climbs up a tower to prevent the Turks from collapsing the Sector 7 plate, which he fails to do, while Aerith gets captured and both Jessie and Biggs lose their lives. This is reflected in the gameplay by having Cloud fight on his own for a while, which feels restricting after getting used to having a party of three. On the other hand, the climactic cutscene with Sector 7 collapsing gets ruined by a fucking anthropomorphic cat coming out of nowhere, which might be super resonant for veterans but is just bonkers to a newcomer like me.
Even though I have no emotional connection to Final Fantasy VII and little connection to Final Fantasy as a whole, I still get teary-eyed when I watch Remake’s opening cinematic. I can just feel the collective anticipation, the cuts to the train spliced through the zoom out on Midgar, it’s all just… perfect. When the game actually starts, you’re thrust right into the action, and the game doesn’t feel like it’s babying you even though things start pretty simple. The second after I beat the Scorpion Sentinel, I knew I needed to see this game through to the end, which Square Enix likely knew would happen to people when they made the first chapter free to play.
There’s not much story to speak of in “The Day Midgar Stood Still,” but the context of what came before and anticipation of what is to come coupled with the unbelievably good music made it one of the most emotional chapters for me. Cloud, Tifa and Barret spend the chapter climbing up the rubble of Sector 7, with an in-game tracker keeping count of how high up you are. The feeling of tension is palpable as the team ascends ever higher and the sun begins to set, punctuated by a tense boss fight with The Valkyrie. Have I mentioned the boss fights in this game are excellent?
I’m told practically nothing that appears in Chapter 4 happens in the original game, but I’m so glad it does in this one. This chapter is all about the “b-tier” members of Avalanche, being Jessie, Biggs and Wedge, giving each character (well, maybe not the rather deadpan Biggs) the chance to shine. Starting with the game’s first motorcycle sequence, the game then goes Gone Home style as you examine artifacts in Jessie’s home and learn of her surprisingly sad backstory, right before throwing you a huge gauntlet and then making your escape by parachuting off the plate to the slums. It’s so good that I’ll forgive the stupid, worthless character of Roche. Maybe.
Throughout the game, Shinra is the evil corporation you always hear about but seldom see up close. Chapter 16 uses that anticipation to unlift the veil and act as the supposed final goal of the story, before things get even weirder and the story keeps on going. Things are plenty weird here though, fully introducing you to every member of the Shinra elite, especially the maniacal scientist, Hojo. Add delightful scenes such as the team exasperatedly climbing the stairs and the tour through the propaganda-filled Shinra museum, and you’ve got one of the game’s most satisfying chapters. Unfortunately, the section where Tifa does acrobatics to get a keycard is a bit contrived and lacks any challenge at all.
Oh, you thought Chapter 4 had a lot going on? Well in Chapter 9, you travel through a tunnel by solving puzzles with giant hand cranes, beat up gang members, play on a slide, explore the entirety of Wall Market complete with sidequests, beat up a house, get a literal handjob (as in, um, the job’s being done to your hand), do a rhythm mini-game to get Cloud in a dress and kick ass as Aerith and Tifa before confronting the sex-crazed crime lord, Don Corneo. Did I say you get to beat up a house??! It’s insane. It’s fantastic. And what used to be problematic in the original got updated to give a surprisingly progressive message about not needing to conform to gender norms. It’s Final Fantasy VII Remake’s weirdest chapter, and also its best.
Joseph Stanichar is a Paste intern.