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Final Fantasy VII Remake - title

In a Nutshell


  • Faithful re-telling of opening act of original's first disc, but with an intriguing narrative curveball
  • Expands original's early-game content and characters
  • Just the right amount of wackiness and whimsy
  • Full control of entire party in real-time combat
  • Varied useful abilities
  • Upgrades keep iconic starter weapons viable
  • Better side quests
  • Ambient chatter subtitles
  • No micro-transaction economy


  • Obnoxious anime-ness
  • Inconsistent dodge mechanic
  • Cluttered, chaotic, and sometimes un-readable screen
  • Tedious back-tracking
  • Cumbersome main menu
  • Jessie, Biggs, and Wedge are not playable party members
  • Other throw-away characters like Roche, Palmer, the mayor, etc.

Overall Impression : B+
So crazy, it just might work!

Final Fantasy VII Remake - cover


PlayStation 4 (via retail disc or PSN digital download)


Original release date:
2 March 2020

Japanese Role-Playing Game

single player

Play time:
40 hours

ESRB Rating: T (for Teen) for:
Language, Suggestive Themes, Use of Alcohol and Tobacco, Violence

Official site:

Well I think I waited long enough before playing and reviewing this game that I'm probably not spoiling anything by saying that Final Fantasy VII Remake takes some interesting creative liberties with the original's story. Those hoping for a one-for-one re-telling of the 1997 PlayStation classic might be disappointed that Remake only covers the early half of the original's first disc. It doesn't even make it as far as the emotional sucker-punch (and ludic shake-up) that was the conclusion of the original's first disc. But then again, that opening act is very faithfully recreated and expanded here, and the narrative curveball that this remake throws is bold, creative, and an interesting artistic statement about the reverence for the original masterpiece.

The decision by Square-Enix to put the word "remake" in the title is a deliberate, and important choice. This game isn't simply Final Fantasy VII (2020) in the way that the remakes of Shadow of the Colossus, Demon's Souls, Resident Evil, or even Resident Evil 2 are. Resident Evil 2 takes dramatic creative liberties with gameplay feel by ditching the static camera in favor of an over-the-shoulder shooter, but despite the wild deviations from the original's fundamental game design, the remake is still an effort to recreate the original game's story, environments, and game strategy in all the ways that matter.

No, Final Fantasy VII Remake puts the word "remake" in its title because at the same time that Square-Enix is remaking the original Final Fantasy VII, the game itself is remaking the story and continuity. Final Fantasy VII Remake does not seek to be an upgrade that replaces the original game. The story of the original game exists within this new game's canon, and is being remade within Remake's own fiction. In so doing, it plays with the ideas of fate and destiny. The sky is the limit for where the sequel(s) go from here.

Square imitated Paramount's attempt to keep the original Star Trek's existence as part of the reboot's continuity.

Square-Enix is trying to do with Final Fantasy VII Remake what J.J. Abrams and Paramount tried to do with the 2009 Star Trek reboot: write the original's existence into the continuity of the reboot. Yet Final Fantasy accomplishes this so much more successfully because, unlike Star Trek (2009), Final Fantasy VII Remake tells its revised story while still remaining faithful to the ideals, themes, and spirit of the original. Star Trek (2009) and its sequels (with the possible exception of Beyond) only took the campy space-adventure aspect of the original Star Trek, but did not replicate the thoughtful science fiction and character drama that the original was known and beloved for.

Final Fantasy VII Remake on the other hand, replicates the ludic complexity, strategy, and versatility of the original's character-development and materia systems, and retains all of the original narrative's themes of classism, environmentalism, and the fuzzy line between "protest" and "terrorism" (a question that has become increasingly relevant in recent history). Its expanded length even allows it to explore some of these topics in much greater detail, and after over 20 years, it's environmentalist and anti-capitalist messages have transcended from "warnings" to simple reflections of the current state of reality. It also allows the game to further explore some of the relatively minor side characters from the original, giving them more depth and significance in the story (some more successfully than others). It does all this while re-creating the original characters almost exactly as they were. Eat your heart out, J.J. Abrams...

Remake probes the limits of the fuzzy line between "protest" and "terrorism".

It's an idea so crazy that it just might work; an idea both ridiculously dumb, but also ingeniously subversive. I just hope that it doesn't fall into the same trap of ridiculous self-indulgence and pretentiousness that killed my interest in Kingdom Hearts by the time the end credits of Kingdom Hearts 2 were rolling. I had lost all interest in Kingdom Hearts 3 about a decade before it released, and never bothered to play it. I hope the same does not happen with the final installment(s) of Final Fantasy VII Remake.

I hesitated to buy this remake when it released because Square had announced that it would be broken up into episodes. I wasn't sure if I would have time to play through three or five acts of a remake of Final Fantasy VII if each act was going to be 40+ hours long (and $60 each). With a new console generation coming out, I also wasn't sure if I would be needing to transfer my save file for the sequels, and if a PS4 save file from episode 1 would be compatible with the PS5 to which episode 2 is certainly going to be exclusive.

If the content offered in this first episode is indicative of the plan for the whole series, then the complete remake looks like it would need to span eight or nine episodes, and take another 20 years to be released. But that might not necessarily be the case, since the end of the first episode implies that the sequels are going to diverge considerably from the original game, such that every scene and plot beat from the original may not need to be recreated. So maybe my concerns will be vindicated, or maybe they won't.

Not very subtle

I do wish that Square had chosen to be a little bit more subtle with the introduction of the Whispers. They appear very early in the game, blatantly interfering with a critical plot point, and it becomes painfully obvious not-too-long after that they are working to influence the characters' actions and choices. By the time Red XIII explains what they are, the audience should have long since figured it out.

The Whispers are not subtly introduced.

This lack of subtlety extends to aspects of the voice acting and animation. It's just so obnoxiously anime. One of my pet peeves with anime inspired games is how the voice actors insist on making these exaggerated grunts and sighs and gasps. This is a relic from the early days of voice acting in video games, in which animation (especially facial animation) technology was not nearly so advanced. But now we have the capability to animate much more nuanced body language and facial expressions. The emotions that used to be conveyed with audible grunts, sighs, and gasps can now be communicated with a character giving side-eye, or a slight smirk, or a piercing glare, or a slumping of the shoulders, or in a hundred other ways. But designers insist on continuing to use these silly and out-dated anime conventions. They insist on making all the women characters bouncy and bubbly (in more ways than one) and constantly giggling. It just grates on me so much.

But that isn't to say that I disapprove of all the ways that the game is fun and whimsical. In fact, the fun, whimsy, and levity is one of the game's greatest charms. This is a game that sends you on a "seccret mission" to have dinner at a co-conspirator's mother's house on the night before another big mission. This is a game that has you go through a rhythm dance-off, and then to cross-dress to gain entrance to a glutton's mansion. It's a game that has you chasing after scared chocobos after a disaster. It has you dropping everything to have a squat or pull-up competition with some roided-up gym beefcakes. Anime voice acting aside, I love most of this stuff, and I love the banter and interactions between the characters.

There's welcome fun and whimsy to balance out the dark, brooding, eco-terrorism.

Even though elements of her voice acting and body language annoyed me, these are still fairly robust characters. The main cast are not just one-note cardboard cutouts. I also appreciate that we get to spend more time with peripheral characters like Jessie, Biggs, Wedge, and Elmyra. These side characters still tend to feel mostly one-note (Jessie crushes hard on Cloud, and Wedge can't seem to talk about anything but food, for example), but they're at least more memorable this time around.

The expansion of Jessie's character doesn't go far beyond her being yet another woman fawning over Cloud.

Despite the expansion of content, I was surprised that there were still so many characters that felt under-utilized, or just flat-out wasted. There's a mini-boss name Roche who shows up twice, then buggers off and is never heard from again. What's his deal? We also aren't really introduced to any of the top executives in Shinra until we have to confront them at the end of the game. It would have been nice if the game had been structured such that the Cloud and Avalanche maybe go after each department of Shinra, based on the different ways that each division consumes mako or uses its resources to maintain the socio-economic stratification of Midgar. We would thus have confrontations with villains like Hojo, Scarlet, and Palmer scattered throughout the game. This stuff could have replaced a lot of the filler content with more substantive plot progression. Instead, Heidegger comes off as being the only villain in Shinra for most of the game.

I feel like the Shinra executives should have been more active antagonists throughout the game.

I love how Tifa's bubbly personality gradually drags Cloud out of his stoic comfort zone. I wish they didn't have to give Tifa, Aerith, and Jessie all virtually the same personality, and make all three of them fawn over Cloud's affections, like they're all just sex trophies waiting to be won by Cloud (and by extension, the player). I remember reading a Gamefaqs thread 20 or so years ago about players' reactions to Aerith's death, and one user posted something along the lines of "Why does everybody even care that Aerith died? Tifa and Yuffie are way hotter anyway", as if their entire value as people and characters is based on the size of their breasts and the amount of skin their outfit shows. I've remembered that comment ever since. Why does this remake have to feed into that sort of juvenile sexual fantasy?

I guess it's not too late for Square to course-correct in this particular area. They don't necessarily have to develop the same love triangle in the same manner as the original.

Are the ladies strong, empowered, independent characters, or are they arm trophies for Cloud and the player?

It isn't like Square is ignorant to feminist concerns. There's multiple "girl power" scenes in which Tifa or Aerith take charge of a situation. In one case, they order Cloud to sit and watch a control panel for a blinking light while they go and fix some heavy machinery. There's even an important sub-plot about escaping from sexual slavery. But then a couple chapters later, these "strong, independent" women who have been through countless live-and-death situations and conflicts are clinging to Cloud's arms like a couple school girls afraid of ghosts. Are these strong, independent women who can hold their own in a fight? Or are they juvenile fantasies who are going to throw themselves at the player character? Make up your mind, Square!

I also similarly wish that Barret didn't have to feel like this cliche "angry black man" stereotype who'll pick a fight with people on the subway over an idle political comment. Yes, he does also have his sensitive side, but that pretty much only manifests when he interacts with his daughter.

Barret frequently comes off as a cringy stereotype of the "angry black man".

Yes, these characterizations are true to the original game, more or less, and changing them runs a severe risk of angering long-time fans. But Square could have elevated the material, instead of settling for maintaining these elements of the original's story and characterizations which haven't aged well.

The best real-time battles since Final Fantasy XII

Case in point, Square wasn't afraid to deviate from the original mechanics when it came to updating the game's combat system. Now, I liked the classic, turn-based combat systems of the PS1-era Final Fantasy games, and I'll defend them till the cows come home. In fact, Final Fantasy X is still my favorite, and it was purely turn-based, without even having the active-time mechanic that was in the other games. So I'm not going to say that the new system in Remake is "better" than the original system. Both have their merits. Both have their strengths and weaknesses relative to each other.

Final Fantsy XIII and XV limited our control to one character.

What I will say is that Remake's real-time battle system is hands-down the best real-time battle system that Square has created so far. It blows Final Fantasy XIII's "press X to win" and Final Fantasy XV's "hold X to win" battle systems out of the water. The key difference here is that, unlike XIII and XV, the player has full tactical control over all three characters in combat, and you don't get a "Game Over" when the party leader gets KO'd by a cheap insta-kill attack.

Despite the shift to real-time, this new battle system maintains a lot of the strategic complexity from the original system. There's a wide variety of spells and abilities that all have their different uses. No one strategy ever seemed to dominate every battle, and I was constantly changing up how I approached different conflicts. This was largely due to the stagger system, which allows the player to use different combinations of attacks or spells to knock an enemy into a vulnerable state in which damage is multiplied. The different techniques required to stagger different enemies and bosses meant that raw attack power was never the end-all-be-all of combat, which helped keep certain weapons, abilities, and spells relevant throughout the game.

Remake's real-time battles retain much of the
strategic nuance of the original ATB battles.

The real-time nature of battles also adds the additional element of position in the arena. Having full, action game levels of control over the character during battle means that spacing and positioning can be a significant aspect of battle strategy. Navigating the arena is now a part of gameplay. In some cases, the arena itself can be an adversary, with obstacles blocking you from reaching certain enemies, or hazards that deal damage if you walk through them. Or the arena may provide cover from some of the enemy's more devastating attacks. The enemies will typically focus on the player-controlled character, so using a ranged character (like Barret or Aerith) can allow you to bait the enemy, while hopefully keeping out of its range, and taking some of the pressure off the other characters while they heal or charge up.

Having to wait for the characters' Active-Time Battle gauges to charge up does actually lend a feeling of turn-based strategy to the game. You just fill the meantime with basic attacks or guarding, or switching to another character who's gauge is charged up. The gauges charge pretty quickly for the active character, but slowly for inactive characters, so I did a lot of switching between characters during combat. This kept the pace up, and kept the action going.

Sometimes I wished that the game would have included a battle speed option, so that I could slow down certain battles. Square made a lot of conscious design decisions that make some of the encounters and boss fights really annoying and frustrating. Many bosses move very quickly, zipping or teleporting across the arena, making it difficult to track them. Sometimes even the playable characters dash around the arena or jump up into the air and give the camera fits, and making it hard to tell where your own party members are in the arena. Special effects also tend to clutter up the screen. Background music and the cacophony of sound also limits the effectiveness of audio queues -- on the off chance that there actually is an audio queue for you to listen for. All this combines to make the screen and sound profile seem cluttered, chaotic, and very difficult to read with everything moving around so quickly. This was a real disappointment, because my impression of the playable demo was that combat was very readable. Ah well.

Battles can sometimes get frantic and chaotic, making it hard to read what is happening.

How far away from the enemy am I? Am I in range to actually use this special attack or limit break that I spent so long charging up? Or will I just whiff if I use it now? Or worse yet, will the boss zip out of range during the brief cutscene of the limit break being activated? I've actually seen that exact case happen, in which I triggered a limit break while standing right next to a boss, but then watched that boss teleport away while the limit break was winding up. I switched to another character, so I'm not sure if the limit break actually hit of not, but if it actually is possible to whiff a limit break, that is just complete bullshit. And that doesn't even include the times when a mid-battle cutscene canceled my limit break, or canceled the stagger status of the enemy that I was saving those limit breaks for, or caused my buffs (or the enemy's debuffs) to expire, making said limit break less effective, and all that careful planning just goes down the tube such that I feel like I might as well have just mashed buttons the entire boss fight, because the end result would have been the same.

Bosses also like to fill the arena with hazards, which makes navigating the arena dangerous. The problem here is that you have no control over where the other party members stand or move to when you aren't controlling them. This is also a problem with some of the area of effect spells (such as Aerith's Arcane Ward ability). It's also a problem when an enemy uses a powerful area of effect attack, and you have no idea which (if any) of your party members are in the blast zone. A "regroup on me" command, a "scatter" command, a "defend" command, and "focus-fire this target" command would have gone a long way towards alleviating some of the necessary micro-management and the few other annoyances that I had with party member A.I.. But even so, the speed with which enemy attacks happen, and the lack of warning before a particularly powerful attack would likely make such features moot anyway. Maybe that's something that Square can address in the sequel(s)?

The right tool for the right job

Upgrades keep starter weapons viable through whole game.

I also really appreciate that weapons can now be upgraded. This is one area that I feel is a substantial upgrade over the original game, as it ensures that each character's iconic weapons can be used throughout the entire game. Want to stick with Cloud's iconic Buster Sword because you think it looks cool? Well now you can, and it will remain viable for the entire game.

Specialized gear does not become obsolete as quickly as it often did in the original game. I do wish that the gear were a bit more specialized. I rarely felt that any one particular weapon would be more effective than any other, and I usually just stuck with whichever weapon had the most materia slots, and upgraded its attack power and HP. Each weapon has a unique limit break, but each one can be permanently learned by the character after just a few uses, so there's very little pressure to stick with a particular weapon for any extended period of time.

The original's materia system is also recreated with most of its original strategic complexity. The only thing that the old game did, but the new game doesn't, is that maxing out a materia doesn't split it into a second copy. Instead, if you want more copies of a materia, you have to find it as a pick-up in the world, or you have to buy it from a particular vendor. Some of the most valuable materia, however, cannot be bought. This includes the super-valuable "elemental" materia, which imbues your weapon with the linked materia's element. I only found 2 copies of this materia in the entire game, and the second copy didn't show up until late in the campaign.

The materia also contributes to another problem with the battles that annoyed me, which is the "gotcha!" quality of some trial-and-error encounters. Every now and then, you'll wander into an encounter that is basically a check if you have a specific materia equipped. Oh, here's a bunch of flying soldiers, hope you had wind materia equipped; otherwise, you're basically hosed. You die, restart the encounter, equip the necessary materia, and the battle becomes borderline trivial.

Materia is replicated almost exactly as it was in the original game.

As is the case with so many modern games, every encounter is designed to be a threat to bring you from full health to total party wipe. You're checkpointed before every battle, so what's the harm in killing you and making you redo it? It's not like you have to go back 2 hours to the last save point. But as I've said before about Resident Evil's classic typewriter save system, the challenge of these old games was based largely around resource management and attrition. Each battle ekes away at some of your HP and resources, with save points or rest areas being few and far between. But only a few mid-game bosses and the hardest of the optional bosses were designed to wipe a full-health party. And all of those bosses have save points right before the fight so they don't feel like cheap deaths. In the meantime, you can play with whatever combination of party members and materia you prefer. Yes, some loadouts would be more efficient, but you would rarely find yourself in a position in which a particular loadout is completely unviable.

I just don't feel like that's the case in Remake. There were enemies scattered throughout the game that felt impossible to even confront (let alone defeat) unless I had one or more character equipped with that enemy's specific vulnerability -- whether it was an element or a status ailment. It just feels cheap, in my opinion. It wastes my time. The game might as well pause before the battle and say "Hey! Make sure you equip Lightning materia before the next fight!"

I'm not saying that I want dungeons full of bog-standard enemies that I defeat in droves between checkpoints. That can be boring and tedious as well. But I think Remake errs a bit too far in the direction of these micro-challenges, and severely lacks much in the way of macro-challenges. Surely there must be a happy middle ground in which a series of battles that drain your resources is as much of a threat to strategize around as a single powerful boss or mini-boss.

Hope you had lightning equipped before wandering into this encounter;
otherwise, you might as well just reload the checkpoint now.

On the side

I'll go ahead and say that this combat system is mostly a slam dunk, and the game is mostly very fun to play. There are some other elements of design around the combat that are more hit or miss. And yeah, these are a lot of nagging issues that don't come close to ruining the game as a whole. But they annoyed me enough that I went to the trouble of taking screenshots of it, so damnit, I'm gonna rant about them!

You can teleport back to a quest-giver
after completing a side-quest.

Side quests are largely an improvement over recent Final Fantasy entries. There were a few tedious fetch quests, but nothing as asinine as "drive across the continent to buy a single tomato and return it to a roadside diner chef". Most of the quests in Remake do a good job of fleshing out the world and the side characters, while simultaneously giving the player an excuse to play with the excellent combat system.

I wish that there wasn't so much tedious back-tracking in all the quests. There were some maps that I had to visit 3 or 4 times for various side quests. Most quests allow you to instantly teleport back to the quest-giver after you've completed the quest. It's a nice thought, but I rarely used it because I often wanted to further explore the area for items and collectibles, and therefore ended up having to walk back to the quest-giver anyway.

The map also wouldn't let me place my own custom waypoints. There were several occasions when I wanted to come back to a place later (especially some of the little alleyways in Wall Market) because I saw an inaccessible treasure chest, but I couldn't mark their location on the map. Custom waypoints is just something that every RPG should have.

Even though the side quests often required tedious back-tracking and felt like filler, I thought they actually did a decent job of world-building. They weren't Witcher III-level quests in terms of writing and thoughtfulness (but then again, what other games have Witcher III-level quests, except for The Witcher III), but they were mostly serviceable. Many of the quests tied in directly to the game's themes of wealth inequality and environmentalism -- whether you're helping a business in the slums collect money for services rendered to other struggling businesses who can't pay, trying to clean up the messes left in the wake of derelict or condemned facilities, or making sure that low-income children with other troubles on their mind remember to attend school, or confronting the literal ghosts of orphaned children who died alone and afraid in the streets. The game doesn't shove these ideas down your throat with expository ham fists. In fact, I doubt that many players are even consciously aware that so many of these quests have this undercurrent of classist struggle about them, but it is definitely the case that most of the problems that Cloud is asked to solve are direct results of Midgar's outrageous wealth disparities.

Are the people topside really any better off than those in the slums?

Unfortunately, despite the expansion of the original game's early plot, we never really get to spend a lot of time on the topside of Midgar. Jessie takes us for one mission topside, but we never really get a good feel for how the wealthier class lives. We know they live in comfort and relative excess, but the game never really gives any real impression of just how wide the wealth disparity is, or just how easy or difficult it would be to solve the problems in the slums. In fact, our one trip topside shows us that Jessie's father is in a vegetative state due to injuries sustained at work. So even the people topside are still being abused and exploited by Shinra. It begs the question of just how much better off are they? Maybe that's the point.

Maps do not support custom waypoints.

I wish that changing the party leader would also change which character you control outside of combat. Running into a battle with Cloud, only to suddenly have control of a different character when battle begins, then suddenly transition back to Cloud when the battle is over, can be a bit disorienting. There's parts of the campaign in which you take control of each character in the party for brief periods, so I don't see any technical reason why the party leader can't be the active character both inside and outside of combat.

The last set of nagging complaints has to do with the menu U.I.. I can't count the number of times that I went to the "Party" menu to try to switch the default party leader, instead of going to the "Battle Settings" menu. Makes sense, right, that party leader would be set in the "Party" menu? I also totally forgot that I could switch limit breaks because I controlled most of the combat through the menu and never needed to change the quick key controls in the "Battle Settings" menu. So even after I had unlocked a couple alternate limit breaks, I didn't remember to try them out until I was practically done with the game. Why couldn't "Battle Settings" have just been rolled into the "Party" menu as well? One menu that lets you view party members' stats, set their quick key controls, and define their limit breaks would have been much more intuitive than splitting that out into 2 separate menus.

The menus are a bit confusing, and multiple sub-menus probably could have been collapsed into one.

Similarly, why couldn't weapon upgrades have been accessible from the "Materia & Equipment" menu, instead of having to be its own menu? Or hell, why couldn't all four have been rolled into 1 menu that lets you equip weapons, upgrade those weapons, equip armor and accessories, equip materia, and equip limit breaks -- all in one place.

Why does flipping a lever require holding a button?

There's thought and care put into other elements of the U.I.'s design, such as the ability to re-slot materia when switching weapons, and the ability to automate the upgrades of weapons. These are great time-savers.

What wasn't a time-saver was having to hold a button to flip levers. I don't recall there ever being enemies attacking or any other risks to juggle while flipping a lever. Flipping the levers is never irreversible in a way that flipping it prematurely is going to lock off certain rewards, so there's no need for an extended prompt to verify that it's actually what you want to do. I can't think of any reason why this particular interaction would require holding a button, but other interactions like opening a chest or accessing a vending machine or resting on a bench are accomplished with just a single press. It's just a second or two of unnecessarily standing around doing nothing. And now I've wasted even more time talking about it...

Ah well. Annoyances and frustrations aside, I enjoyed Final Fantasy VII Remake, both in terms of its faithfulness to the small fraction of the original that it recreated, and also for the new and bold things that it's doing. It's now going to be a long, grueling wait for the next episode, and I'll keep my fingers crossed that it doesn't get too "Kingdom Hearts" for its own good.

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Silent Hill HD CollectionSilent Hill HD CollectionSilent Hill: Shattered MemoriesSilent Hill: Shattered Memories
Silent Hill: The Short MessageSilent Hill: The Short MessageSilicon DreamsSilicon Dreams
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SimCity BuilditSimCity BuilditSomaSoma
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This War of MineThis War of MineThis War of Mine: the Little OnesThis War of Mine: the Little Ones
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A gamer's thoughts

Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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The Humanity of NCAA Football's In-Season RecruitingThe Humanity of NCAA Football's In-Season Recruiting08/01/2022 If you're a fan of college football video games, then I'm sure you're excited by the news from early 2021 that EA will be reviving its college football series. They will be doing so without the NCAA license, and under the new title, EA Sports College Football. I guess Bill Walsh wasn't available for licensing either? Expectations...

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