The photo mode in Final Fantasy 7 Remake Intergrade is surprisingly limited compared to its contemporaries, but that hasn’t stopped me from sinking into it every 30 seconds to snap pictures of my favourite characters and position landscapes in such a way that the player camera is seldom capable of. This modern rendition of Midgar is positively beautiful, despite the dystopian political machinations that pin much its populace into submission. It’s about finding beauty amidst the oppression, seeking out small pockets of humanity that wish to carve out a purpose away from the lives they’re forced to abide by. Photo mode allows this, and when combined with the improved visuals courtesy of the PS5, it results in something quite special indeed.
Compared to Spider-Man: Miles Morales, Horizon Zero Dawn, or Ghost of Tsushima, the photo mode here is oddly restrictive. Camera angles are unusually tight, with the field of view not allowing you to zoom out and go beyond expected environmental constraints. You can tilt the image and move your perspective up and down, but beyond a few fanciful features there is little here to help Intergrade stand out.
Fortunately, these restrictions don’t prevent me from exploring each new location with an intricate attention to detail. Even in the opening reactor, I’d stop and stare in the majority of new rooms as I flicked on photo mode and peered at the faces of characters, admiring newfound flourishes that went unnoticed in the original release.
The craftsmanship on display in almost everything is immaculate, even once you step onto the streets of Midgar itself where dozens of NPCs populate every corner. Upon the reactor’s sudden explosion, you find yourself in a city whose inhabitants are reeling from the trauma of losing homes, loved ones, and have had their sense of stability torn asunder by your actions. In the original game, you could walk past them and soak in the dialogue, your perspective limited to where Cloud’s feet could take him. Now things are completely different. Call me a voyeur if you like, but I nestled myself within these suffering crowds, using photo mode to analyse the scorching fires and plentiful debris that littered the streets, watching alongside citizens who could do nothing but witness everything they hold dear fall apart.
Enhanced resolution and graphics help these moments pop all the more, many of the new additions transferring over to a photo mode that is utterly uncompromising. Final Fantasy 7 Remake always forced you to contemplate huge moral dilemmas and the human cost of political progress, but now you have the ability to stop and analyse these moments, piecing together personal conclusions now made possible thanks to the introduction of photo mode. However, it isn’t all a morbid disaster marathon wrought with melancholic storytelling. Intergrade also gives the urbanism of Midgar far more room to breathe. Storefronts, theatres, and cafes are now rendered in supreme detail, so obviously I approached them armed with photo mode to capture the normalcy of this society, peering into the businesses that define the everyday lives of its workers. It’s refreshing, and the interface is intuitive enough that hopping into photo mode between battles and during cutscenes is a breeze.
I’m still only a few hours into Intergrade, so many of the character moments I hold dear haven’t even occurred yet. Aerith isn’t in my party, so the lesbian chemistry between her and Tifa hasn’t even materialised. Once it does, you can expect me to spend several hours in photo mode capturing material for my fanfiction. Only kidding, I haven’t written anything like that – not yet, anyway. Everyone will approach photo mode in a variety of different ways, perhaps using it as a brief distraction as they progress through the main story, examining the finer details of the world, capturing Cloud’s subtle emotional tells, or sinking into it more seriously as part of a second playthrough. I’m in the latter camp, and I’m having so much fun revisiting a world that means so much to me. Much of Intergrade remains a surprise, regardless of how familiar I am with the overall narrative, and being able to rediscover this through the magic of photo mode is an unexpected delight.
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