Reviews for Insomniac Games’s recent magnum opus have been largely unequivocal: “Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart” is probably the best-looking game ever made. But after several hours with Square Enix’s “Intergrade” upgrade on the PlayStation 5, “Final Fantasy VII Remake” belongs in the conversation.

In “Final Fantasy VII Remake Intergade,” which released June 10, the PlayStation 5 essentially received its own version of last year’s award-winning “Final Fantasy VII Remake,” a thorough reimagining of the 1997 role-playing game that made a meteoric impact on how video game stories are told. The clumsy title is a cheeky reference to the fact that the game isn’t exactly an upgrade. But, in this rare instance of a major studio playing down expectations, Square Enix actually sells itself short.

“Intergrade” isn’t quite a remake of a remake, but it still feels like a game not possible on older machines. It features new textures in the world, adding detail where there was little. Game tech analysts Digital Foundry already have a comprehensive breakdown of the upgrade, and it’s worth watching just to notice the back-to-back comparisons.

The first thing returning players will notice is the update running at 60 frames per second. This is the smoothest a mainline “Final Fantasy” game has ever performed. And no other game in the long-running series would benefit more from that upgrade than this remake, which eschews the turn-based battle system of the old titles for dynamic character-based action, operating closer to a “God of War” or “Devil May Cry,” albeit with menu screens for more granular actions.

Two new chapters arrive with “Intergrade,” collectively titled “Intermission,” and they come with increased difficulty. Yuffie, a returning cast member who leads both chapters, has to face virtual reality challenges, and her ultimate foe is Weiss, a mysterious character from another FF7 spinoff game, “Dirge of Cerberus” (2006). The fight against Weiss is more intense than anything in the normal game, mostly because it relies heavily on quickly taking advantage of openings and fast dodging. It’s like Square Enix programmed Weiss to demonstrate to players firsthand why a higher framerate can really matter in some games.

The texture work and new lighting effects lift this upgrade above other games that have recently received tuneups. Both “The Last of Us Part II” and “Ghost of Tsushima” received saw framerate boosts; neither title was spruced up to otherwise account for the new console generation. The Xbox Series consoles also offer framerate boosts as a feature for the system, enhancing a much wider swath of older games due to Microsoft’s insistence on futureproofing its systems with backward compatibility.

Even on 9-year-old hardware, the original PS4 release of “Final Fantasy VII Remake” dazzled players in early 2020. But that effort feels like unfinished work compared to what’s achieved on “Intergrade.” Every scene is given more color thanks to new lighting effects. Now, you can almost feel the heat radiating off Barrett’s sweaty skin or Aerith’s blushed cheeks. It’s hard to ignore the vibrancy as you revisit the neon lights of Wall Market. You’ll wonder how you ever praised the game last year when it looks this much better now.

Seeing “Final Fantasy 7 Remake Intergrade” so quickly after “Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart” in no way diminished my astonishment. While “Ratchet” has more detail and fidelity, “Intergrade” offers almost the same amount, while maintaining a hyper-realistic anime style and offering a far deeper play experience. The residents of Midgar are alive in ways that the pristine puppets of “Ratchet” simply aren’t. While “Ratchet” keeps track of one hero creating screen-filling particle effects, “Intergrade” tries to maintain that level of fidelity across three human characters acting independently.

Fans of “Final Fantasy VII” should consider “Intergrade” a new version of last year’s release. It is also among the best-looking console games ever made. Set back by the pandemic, the gaming industry has released a slew of updates to older games to keep players satisfied. But “Intergrade” head and shoulders stands above the rest, seven months into the console generation. It’s not just an upgrade. Like the bold new story in “Remake,” “Intergrade” has raised the bar on how these updates can rejuvenate memories.

Read more: