As a complete newcomer to the world of Final Fantasy VII, I’m meeting (and, in some cases, falling head over heels for) its cast members for the first time in the updated and reimagined Remake. I’ve grown to appreciate every character Cloud has met during his journey, but one stands head and shoulders above the rest in terms of how she performs in battle: Aerith Gainsborough, the ill-fated flower whisperer from Sector 5.
Cloud’s lovely adventure with Aerith following his plummet from Mako Reactor 5 eventually lands the duo in Wall Market, which is like Wal-Mart but horny. Tifa, it seems, has been kidnapped as a possible wife for Don Corneo, the de facto ruler of the settlement, and it’s up to Cloud and Aerith to rescue her from his gaudy headquarters. Aerith explains that Wall Market got so out of control that Shinra decided to construct huge barriers around the area rather than go in and deal with it, leaving Don Corneo to do as he pleases.
Aerith concludes that the best way to get into Don Corneo’s home is to offer herself up as another candidate in his creepy spouse auditions. It’s here that the story takes off at a mad dash, the details of which would take way too long to recap. Cloud and Aerith eventually become participants in an underground fighting competition to earn some money for Aerith’s makeover. None of the fights are particularly challenging, both in the narrative and in terms of gameplay, and our adventurers are soon tasked with taking down a living house. Like, a literal building, with shutters and shingles and everything.
Hell House, according to departing Kotaku news editor Jason Schreier, is a “brilliant surprise” for fans of Final Fantasy VII. In the original game, this mechanical homestead served as a random encounter enemy rather than a boss and is remembered fondly for the absurdity of its design. It made quite an impression on me in Remake as well. I could only imagine what horror awaited my party as the floor of the colosseum opened up to reveal its final encounter, so seeing a house emerge from the darkness instead of a generic monster gave me quite a laugh.
It’s during this fight that Aerith showed me just how useful she could be. As the first true mage that Final Fantasy VII Remake threw my way, Aerith was the perfect character to load up with offensive magic like Fira and Thundara. And unlike Cloud, Barret, or Tifa, she can actually do some great damage with them thanks to her stats and abilities. Soul Drain, for instance, allows Aerith to steal MP from enemies, and Arcane Ward doubles any attack spell performed in its circle of magical haze. Where before offensive spells had just been a way to stagger enemies, Aerith made non-physical combat a key component of my strategy.
Aerith proved to be a godsend in the Hell House boss battle. The building’s weaknesses change rapidly over the course of the fight, indicated by the types of moves it uses and the lights beaming from its windows. While keeping Hell House’s considerable strength focused on Cloud, I was able to direct Aerith to use whatever spell was best to damage it. Those attacks, combined with Cloud’s stagger-building lunges, were enough to put Hell House down for the count. I’ve enjoyed Final Fantasy VII Remake’s combat so far, but this is the first time I truly felt in control of a team rather than having to take charge almost entirely with Cloud.
It’s hard to tell how much of Final Fantasy VII Remake I’ve seen without previous experience with the original. Instead, I’m charting progress in my understanding of the combat mechanics and every new face I meet in Midgar. I feel the journey through Wall Market slightly overstayed its welcome, but the wonderful character-building moments it provided—Cloud stepping outside his comfort zone, Aerith’s fierce independence, and the foreshadowing of a complicated love triangle with Tifa—deepened my appreciation for what has been a fantastic experience so far.