Like movies and television, gaming is experiencing a glut of remakes and remastering in titles.
The difference, however, is in how they're appreciated. Think of any classic movie you like and odds are you'd be aghast at the idea of someone trying to remake or remaster it. There's precious few examples of them working out, too. Why? Because in the case of movies, the first experience and the first iteration is often the one that holds the most value, culturally and artistically.
Gaming, even though it is an art-form, doesn't have the same reverence for what came first. Because it's based in technology, it allows for updating, for advancement, but still holding close to the same idea and the same concept - just with a fresh coat of paint. 'Final Fantasy VII Remake', however, is much more than just a fresh coat of paint.
For one, it's a top-to-bottom new game altogether, bearing only the slightest resemblance to the game from 1997. There are familiar characters, the skeleton of the story is there, some visual nods and references, but that's really it. Where the original was far wider in its scope, taking in themes of religion versus technology, ecological death, mass consumerism, 'Final Fantasy VII Remake' instead opts to ground itself more in characterisation than anything else.
While those themes all still exist in the game, the narrative is more about how people deal with trauma and form connections in spite of themselves, and how surviving doesn't come easy when you're alone. Granted, it's wrapped up in soap opera-levels of dialogue and plot twists, but the ideas feel far more personal than they did in the original.
This, as well, translates into the gameplay. While there is still the option to play out battles with tactics and turn-based strategies, the game flows more naturally in real-time, hack-and-slash based action sequences. Moreover, you're far more reliant on Cloud Strife than any of your party and the story itself zeroes in on him than anyone else. It's not that it's button-bashing, but the action feels far more involved than what players of the original might expect.
Yet, in comparison to something like 'Dragon Age: Inquisiton' or 'Skyrim', it can feel a little remote. Although you can purchase new armour and weapons, Cloud's appearance doesn't update and the customisation is utilitarian rather than cosmetic. Moreover, the story is very much on rails and has almost no open-world components whatsoever. The story is broken up into chapters, with a few sidequests here and there to break things up.
If you're familiar with JRPGs, this is all familiar stuff - but if you're more used to the likes of 'Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild', 'Skyrim', 'Mass Effect' and so forth, this kind of inhibitive narrative can make it feel like you have less of a hand in the events of the game. Again, this isn't something that necessarily would or should put people off playing the game - but it is something to consider.
More to the point, the over-the-top design, the strangeness of the world itself, the character dialogue - if you played the original, it isn't as jarring but if you're coming into the game fresh having never played it, it can definitely take some getting used to. After all, it's a game that draws heavily from anime and doesn't have much in the way of comparison with Western pop culture.
Thankfully, even if you find all that off-putting, the game has enough pull and the graphics are that beautifully realised that it won't really matter. You're so taken in by it that whether you played the original or not doesn't matter - it's a game in its own right; more inspired by than a remake of 'Final Fantasy VII'.
'Final Fantasy VII Remake' is a game that absolutely benefits from the upswing in graphics and the outrageous, pantomime character design and music is only heightened with the advances in technology. You can see every fibre of Cloud's ridiculous hairstyle and the soundtrack's blistering guitar solos and sweeping orchestral movements just add to the drama and scale of it all.
So often is the case with remakes in movies is that they often miss something intrinsic in the original, or that they fail to make any vital improvement on it. 'Final Fantasy VII Remake' doesn't have that problem, not just because of the technology updates and the completely revamped battle systems. What it does is offer up a refreshed story, told from a new perspective, with the benefit of deeper thought and complexity than we saw in 1997.
It's a game worthy of the franchise, and as accessible, entertaining and compelling as the original - whether you played it or not.