Final Fantasy VII Remake Demo Hands-on Preview

It has been a long time coming, but Square Enix has finally released a playable demo of Final Fantasy VII Remake. Much like the original demo to Final Fantasy VII (1997), Remake gives players a taste of the bombing mission of the first Mako Reactor.

Final Fantasy VII Remake makes an incredible first impression. The choice to use Unreal 4 over Final Fantasy XV‘s Luminous Engine proves to be a fruitful endeavor. The imagery that Square Enix’s artists manage to pump out are out of this world, and have more life in them than the CGI animated Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children.

The presentation is slick, and has a polished veneer that has not been seen from Square Enix in a long time. The developers are undoubtedly aware of the expectations that is attached to this title, and seeing it all in motion suggest that the publisher spared no expense.

During gameplay, characters move very naturally and fluidly. Every pixel is seemingly agonized over to ensure that even the most die-hard of Final Fantasy VII purist will appreciate the humbling craftsmanship poured into this game.

Cloud swings the Buster Sword viciously with purpose and style. Its obvious that it has some real heft behind it as he has a seemingly unnatural strength to wield it.

Special attacks violently erupt into a flurry of some of the best effects that Unreal 4 has to offer. It makes the classic attacks that we have known for over 23 years have a more visceral flair to them.

What was once a two-dimensional pre-rendered background is now fully realized into three dimensions. In 1997 it was a very efficient means to expand the environment, and to give the impression of a detailed world.

Final Fantasy VII Remake’s environments are fully realized with a 3D controllable camera. There is more to see than ever, and artists did an admirable job of filling the world with details to add flavor. Making things feel lived in is how a world can feel real, and the demo suggests that with a little touches like stray litter and a couple of vending machines in the train station.

If there was anything to be concerned or disappointed with, is that the art direction is noticeably more clean than the original’s take on the bombing mission. The art direction can be best described as “idealized realism”. Things were dirtier and less slick in 1997.

The chunky low resolution graphics added some vagueness to objects, allowing players to fill in the gaps with their imagination. Final Fantasy VII Remake noticeably simplified some areas in the reactor that used to have wide vistas, and altered architectural style of the structures.

The original Mako Reactor was a much filthier, and a more run down mechanical nightmare. Steam burst from pipes, electrical currents were raw, and you could get your elbow snagged on pointy bits. The new Mako Reactor is kind of a generic collection of sci-fi catwalks, and shiny surfaces. It does not feel like an OSHA non-compliant monstrosity.

Humans look photorealistic for the most part, but have a bit of style added for appeal. In a perfect world, this remake could have had an art style that more closely resembled the Tetsuya Nomura character art illustrations.

What we are getting is still some of the finest graphics ever put in a console game. It is mostly the same intent, and only those who are deeply intimate with the original would catch the less-than-desirable alterations.

There has been much intrigue in how the combat of Final Fantasy VII Remake would work. Would it be turn-based like the original or would it become an action game like Tetsuya Nomura’s Kingdom Hearts franchise? What we get is something that exists somewhere in the middle.

Cloud is able to switch between two different combat styles. “Operator Mode” is his standard go-to hack and slash combat. “Punisher Mode” makes Cloud slower, but also geared for offense, and can counter-attack while blocking. The game does manage to have a very interesting balance of strategy and action. It is very clear that mindlessly mashing attack will only get you dead.

Juggling between Cloud’s swordplay, Barret’s ranged attacks, and knowing what kind of spells to cast is crucial to weakening Sweepers. Much like Final Fantasy XIII, an important strategy is to stagger larger threats, in order to stun them and to inflict big damage.

As much as the action on screen may resemble a technical hack and slash, it is not. There is no air-juggling, jump canceling, or any kind of timing for specific inputs. There isn’t any jumping at all; Final Fantasy VII Remake leans in heavily on strategy.

Cloud and Barret get a max of two ATB bars that fill up as they deal damage. Each bar can be counted as a point to use special attacks, items or magic. When choosing, time slows to give players a bit of leeway when planning.

In the demo, there is a decent amount of variety to be had from this system, and it really comes down to the enemies. Many of the threats have their own gimmicks that make situations where you must think on your feet.

It is a fascinating system that could have a lot of possibilities in the final game. What remains to be seen is how versatile it can be with Materia. Final Fantasy VII (1997) had a very customizable system, where anyone could create game-breaking combinations if one were clever enough.

“Classic Mode” is a deceptively named easy setting, designed to be played by people with no hands. There is nothing classic about this mode. It removes the player from the equation of having to do attacks, and the only responsibility they have is to use the ATB bars when they feel like it.

In a way Classic Mode is kind of like playing Final Fantasy XV, but without holding down a button to attack. This is definitely not the way the game is intended to play, and really seems like a desperate attempt to placate the fans of the original turn-based RPG- by fraudulently calling it “classic”.

The most unfortunate aspect of Classic Mode, is that it is going to give a totally wrong impression of how the original Final Fantasy VII played. It comes across as a extremely simple and easy mode, for people who just want to watch the story… A story that won’t have a conclusion.

Final Fantasy VII Remake

Anyone who has played Tetsuya Nomura’s Kingdom Hearts games can tell you that the storytelling in those games were an incoherently told nightmare. Naturally, this created some concern over the direction of Final Fantasy VII Remake.

Somehow, Final Fantasy VII Remake’s script is amazing. The dialogue and banter is very natural, and the voice acting is stellar. Everyone sounds pretty much as you imagined. Barret Wallace sounds like the always angry Mr.T we always thought he sounded like, and it is enough to make a fan’s heart flutter with joy.

Cloud is as we knew him in the original game- not as the joyless and melodramatic dullard from Advent Children. This is a smart-ass and cocky Cloud- more Han Solo, less Eeyore the donkey.

The original Final Fantasy VII has one of the best video game soundtracks ever composed. It is no surprise that Final Fantasy VII Remake follows what it established very closely.

It is expected that the remake’s score would be mostly orchestrated versions of the original compositions. What is not expected is that there is multiple versions, and alternate interpretations of each track that seamlessly transition.

There is now a sped up battle version of the slow and oppressive Mako Reactor theme. The amount of musical variety is overwhelming to the senses, and flawlessly fits each scene. This is because now there is always an appropriate tempo for whatever the scene calls for.

The music is utterly perfect. Maybe it leans too far into orchestral, and could have used a bit more synth in some areas. There were some audible cues in the original that no instrument can honor, and relying on an orchestra creates a different vibe.

Final Fantasy VII Remake is likely going to please most fans. It is a huge departure from the gameplay of the original, and will not give you the same experience. This is Final Fantasy VII reimagined as a cinematic experience, with eye-searing visuals that do manage to impress.



A youth destined for damnation.

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