In its long running history, the Final Fantasy franchise has had its fair share of hits and misses. Recently, Square-Enix has given us our first glimpse into the upcoming remake of the beloved, and long asked for, Final Fantasy VII.
This massive undertaking sees the adventures of Cloud Strife and his companions as they grow from a eco-terrorist group all the way to saving the world from the apocalypse.
However, this endeavor needs to be taken with the utmost care. During E3 2019, I had a chance to play the first public demo of it with my own hands, and left with an overall good feeling about its future.
Skipping its iconic bombing run opening, I was dropped into the final area to set up an explosive on Mako Reactor 1, being blocked by guards, robots, and turrets in my path to my objective.
Being very faithful to its source material, I descended down into its newly modeled 3D world. The environment was very straight forward, with breakable objects that uncovered healing items and Mako that made my task easier.
Graphically, from character models and the environment, its safe to say that these were some of the best looking visuals I have seen on the Playstation 4 in recent memory.
Clothing on Cloud, Barret, and every enemy in my path, as well as the reactor itself, was noticeably striking with a massive amount of attention to detail. It was almost as if Square-Enix didn’t just want to remake the game, but leave a strong lasting impression when I left.
The banter between Cloud and Barret added a lot more depth to the characters than ever before. Cloud didn’t seem to be the mopey character I have grown accustomed to from the original game, ill fated movie, and his many appearances.
He was there to get his job done and to collect his pay in any way possible. Barret, on the other hand, was on a mission, and showed his distrust in Cloud.
Just by these two characters alone talking with one another in the reactor created a fresh feeling that I can’t wait to explore more of.
The greatest fear I had with the game was the combat, mostly due to the button mash gameplay style of Final Fantasy XV. To this, Final Fantasy VII does continue with the one button attack gameplay style that I have played before. It did however, feel as if it flowed quite a bit better than before.
Also rather than being locked to one character as with FFXV was on its release, from the press of the up or down arrow on the D-pad, I was able to switch between my two party members on the fly.
While dispatching weaker enemies was simple, Final Fantasy VII had a much stronger feel of strategy.
Cloud in some cases would not be able to reach airborne enemies, and I would have to switch to Barret to take them down with his gatling gun arm. Blocking and dodging were strongly emphasized and were required often.
I had an very positive feeling in how Square-Enix is now approaching the combat, and left with the impression and continued hope that they learned their lesson with their previous entry.
On top of attacking my way to victory, I was not able to throw out spells and skills at any moment. The ATB timer gauge has been transformed to create a stock number of abilities I was able to use during that instance of combat.
While it fills up slowly, you’re able to increase its speed by attacking enemies. After awhile, this allowed me to cast a spell costing 1 ATB charge along with some MP, or use one of a few special attacks specific to each character.
The limit gauge also makes its return and fills up when taking damage. Over time, you can use the iconic limit break for a devastating attack that plays with a quick cinematic.
The depth of the gameplay shows when I came to the Guardian Scorpion boss of the reactor. While most battles now were done in a few quick moments, the boss took me about five to ten minutes to complete. One of the major impressions I got from the trailer was that this boss would be dull after some time, but after playing it myself, it feels a lot different and emphasized using all tools and abilities to my disposal to win.
I found myself having to use both Cloud and Barret at different points to maximize my damage output to attempt to stagger the Scorpion in order to get a heavy amount of bonus damage, making the boss fight faster and easier. Sticking with one individual character against it would have made the fight progress much slower. At some points, one of the two characters would not be able to inflict damage on the boss.
In the trailer, the boss had cinematics that happened mid-fight that gave me the impression of the fight becoming tedious as it went on. These did appear at points in the fight in full detail, causing some interruption, however any subsequent repeated actions would be quick and straight to the point.
The first time felt as if to give a visual clue on what to do next, without giving me any full detail how to approach the next phase of the fight, from trying to blast the boss off the wall using Barret, or using cover to avoid the devastating tail laser.
The fight truly had a lot of depth to it, and felt enjoyable from start to finish.
Musically, the demo featured fully orchestrated and remade tracks that were both familiar and fresh. I was blown away with the updated musical score, and can’t wait to hear more. Interestingly, it seems to have taken a page from NieR: Automata when it comes to exploration and battle modes.
When in battle, the songs changed to a much more upbeat and aggressive tune of the song currently playing. I did miss the traditional battle theme, but was quick to notice that the song was tied into the Scorpion Guardian theme, along with the traditional VII sub-boss theme.
At the end, I could not help but feel that Square Enix is on the right path, but still have my skepticism over the game’s direction. While this segment was short and enjoyable, I found myself asking a lot of questions to which the only answer can be “wait and see.”
Can it hold up for hours of play? Is breaking the game into sets of smaller games the right answer? And most importantly, should this game be remade in this way?
Only time will tell, and the first chapter of the Final Fantasy VII Remake will hit shelves March 3, 2020, and hopefully my questions will only be answered positively.