I’m not what one would call a conventional Final Fantasy fan, but I love Final Fantasy VII Remake. The only Final Fantasy I’ve played aside from Final Fantasy XV, which I loved despite its evident flaws, it was one of the first games I threw myself into in the early days of the pandemic, taking me and many others away from the traumatic headlines and rising death counts. I became part of a similarly fucked-up world, but one that I could change by joining a group of friends fighting for what’s right in the most over-the-top anime way, all with fantastic combat and dazzling visuals.
So it pretty much goes without saying that I was excited to play Episode Intermission, a PlayStation 5-exclusive expansion that focuses on Yuffie Kisaragi (Suzie Yeung) while providing some much-anticipated story tidbits that hint at what might be next in store for this iteration of Cloud and the gang. Unfortunately, Episode Intermission doesn’t entirely live up to the high standards set by the base game, and falls into some of the same traps VII Remake also does toward the end. Still, the continuation of its combat along with the introduction of some great characters does enough to make it worth its relatively shorter runtime and smaller price tag, with the PS5 enhancements sweetening the deal.
Somewhat confusingly, this expansion is a part of Final Fantasy VII Remake Intergrade, which is effectively a remaster of the 2020 game for PS5 that pretties up some of the textures and improves the frame rate and resolution while adding a normal-difficulty option for the turn-based “classic” mode that nobody played. The remaster itself is free for everyone who has a copy of the original (aside from those who got the game through PlayStation Plus), but Episode Intermission has to be purchased separately for $19.99, or as part of Intergrade if you don’t qualify for a free version. As Square Enix is wont to do, it feels like a needlessly complicated way of doing things, and I’m not fully convinced that the expansion couldn’t have been sold as a DLC episode for the original game on PlayStation 4, especially since the new console is so hard to come by.
Once you’re able to actually start the game, however, things are pretty good. The visual upgrades are slight but noticeable, which is fine since it was already one of the best-looking games on the PS4. The biggest improvements are in the background textures like skyboxes and doors, which didn’t get as much love as the character models and big setpieces and thus could look a little pixelated or ugly compared to the rest of the game.
Yuffie is the star of the entire episode, not coming into contact with any members of the main cast aside from a few glances in the distance and, oddly enough, playing a few mini-games with them. Like many characters in Final Fantasy VII Remake, Yuffie was originally a relatively minor character who now is getting more time in the spotlight, and although I admit I know nothing about the original iteration, I adore this one. A ninja from the often-referenced land of Wutai, Yuffie is exuberant and cheerful nearly all the time, dancing around giddily as she speaks about infiltrating fascist governments and fighting bad guys. It’s a saccharine sweetness that can be overdone in some anime and JRPGs, but it strikes a good balance here, with Yeung giving a great performance for the character in the English localization.
One of the character’s best moments comes right before a boss fight, where she gives a dramatic introduction complete with changing art in the background, finally revealing her actual outfit after five hours of wearing a delightfully stupid Moogle costume over it, only to fall face-first onto the ground. It’s the kind of anime silliness that was Final Fantasy VII Remake at its best, and Yuffie excels at it.
Representing the worst of Final Fantasy VII Remake is Sonon Kusakabe (Aleks Le), resident Anime Boy (™) with some spiky hair and no personality. The episode really tries to make you care about the connection between Sonon and Yuffie as one between a brother and sister, even though they aren’t tied by blood, but Sonon’s lack of any defining traits of his own mostly makes him a blank slate that I couldn’t care less about.
He’s still good for something, however, as he makes for an interesting addition to the game’s combat. It mostly works the same as the base game, where you attack enemies in real time as you build up a gauge that lets you freeze time and use an ability, spell or item. You sadly can’t control Sonon once he joins your party (the only party member in the episode), but you can “synergize” with him to use both of your gauges at once for a fancy attack that does extra damage. Yuffie’s shuriken (or boomerang) also gives things a new wrinkle, since she can send it out to do ranged damage or attack baddies head-on, making up for the lack of variety in playable characters by giving her various ways to control. She can also use the shuriken outside of combat to hit crates and switches from afar, which sets up some simple but unintrusive puzzles.
One of Yuffie’s defining characteristics is that she’s obsessed with materia, the glowing orbs that give characters various abilities like spells, increased health or new attacks. The entire reason she and Sonon decide to infiltrate Shinra Building is because they want to find “advanced materia,” which doesn’t seem like good enough motivation to me, but the bigger gripe I have is how it factors into the gameplay. Unlike the base game, where your abilities, including materia usage, are introduced over time to not be too overwhelming, Episode Intermission assumes you’ve already played that and loads you with tons of items, including materia, in a very short time. Even though I understood it all, I hated having to spend so much time in the menu fiddling with the bajillion abilities and items for the best optimization, leading me to gloss over some of it and come into some battles underprepared, getting my butt kicked. It’s a symptom of having an RPG with so many complex systems take place in such a short time frame, just around 10 hours, and I wonder if it would have fared better had it shaved some of these elements down.
I also have to mention the new mini-game Yuffie plays with a few characters from the base game, Fort Condor. Based on a time-attack mini-game from the original, the game has you place down Shinra soldiers and machines as they automatically attack those of the other player, with the ultimate goal being to take down the most eagles at the back of each board, somewhat resembling a far simpler version of Auto Chess. But because it’s so much simpler, simpletons like me can actually wrap their brains around it, and I was shocked by how much I enjoyed it. I tend to ignore these extensive mini-games littered around the world like Gwent in The Witcher III since it seems like too much of a distraction from what I’m there for, but I ended up playing every mission just because I enjoyed it so much, adding a couple hours to my playtime. There’s also a mini-game where you attack cubes worth different points to unlock various materia, but it seemed like a copy-paste of the same game from the original.
Like any good DLC or expansion, Episode Intermission gives us more of the stuff we loved from the original game: colorful characters, addicting combat and a beautiful world, enhanced by the power of the PS5. However, it also runs into some of the same issues that game had in its final act, where what was consistently an accessible and engaging story for newcomers throughout seemed to throw us to the wayside, bringing in new plotlines and villains to fight without much introduction at all.
If you loved VII Remake, it’s hard to imagine you not enjoying this episode. But if you haven’t been able to find a PS5 or don’t want to pay extra for it, you’re not missing out on too much, either. Episode Intermission feels like a nice, bite-sized snack to munch on while waiting for the next main course with the second part, providing just enough new wrinkles and story elements to feel fresh while not doing anything crazy enough to warrant it as essential.
Final Fantasy VII Remake: Episode Intermission was developed and published by Square Enix. It is available for the PlayStation 5.
Joseph Stanichar is a freelance writer who specializes in videogames and pop culture. He’s written for publications such as Game Informer, Twinfinite and The Post. He’s on Twitter @JosephStanichar.