A Handful of Hours with Final Fantasy VII Remake

As a hotly anticipated title, the Final Fantasy VII Remake fully released this month, so of course I have more to say about it. I wrote about the demo in a post a little over a month ago, and having played said demo I knew I would enjoy the moment to moment gameplay of the remake. Combat and how it would be handled was a big concern of mine, because despite purists wanting a turn-based ATB copy of the original’s system, most people don’t have the patience for that anymore. I also like the idea of “random” battles being replaced by respawns in particular parts of combat areas. Another plus is the sprinkling of cut scenes and commentary throughout combat pieces, keeping the story flowing alongside the fighting mechanics. Modern conveniences and what have you.

Combat is, after all, the crux of this game. JRPGs always had a way of pulling you into them with a deep storyline but still relied on combat shenanigans to make things interesting. A story rich game can benefit from a strong combat system due to the fact that you’ll feel satisfied growing your character/party and the ability to take on bigger challenges. Both ends pull the middle together so to speak. So while early on the combat is a little narrow, eventually more characters join your fight and bring their own sets of abilities and stances to the fight. Combat animations are fluid and satisfying and come with some flashy effects at times. As everything is done in real time, you end up with a lot of options but still must make decisions quickly. The only piece of the combat system that really is a throwback to the original is the action meter, which must fill up before you can cast spells or use abilities or items. Otherwise, you’re mashing the attack button while pausing to block or dodge from time to time.

I’ve read elsewhere that some of the adult undertones (and some of the more blatant weirdness) of the original has still made its way into this title, and the above shows that it’s made it through. I don’t remember being called a punk-ass bitch in the original, but I also enjoy a lack of censorship in the titles I consume. Otherwise, much of the story remains the same, with iconic tunes being reimagined and scenes I had all but forgotten reminding me of playing this game as a child. This is definitely not the Final Fantasy VII I played as a teenager, but it’s definitely made for the fans of that game. For many of us it was our first JRPG love-affair. For those who have never picked up a Final Fantasy game, it’s a great place to start (though if you’ve played Final Fantasy XV already, you’ll be somewhat familiar with the combat).

As with any Final Fantasy game, there are side quests and other activities to partake in. The original Materia system seems to be intact or at least close to what I remember. It allows you to slot gems into your items in order to gain new spells, abilities and passives. You can also modify your weapon with points, which is something new that allows you to literally pick whatever sword you want to have appearance wise, while still being able to take abilities from that sword and use them regardless. You’ll have to master a sword before this happens, but could theoretically play the whole game with the Buster Sword and only swap out to level up other sword abilities. It’s a creative way to add new depth. You can also spend time collecting various music that is largely remixed original FF7 music, or collect information on various creatures to get new materia made for you. I’m sure there’s more to come but this is what I’ve seen so far.

As far as story goes, I believe it has covered the major plot points well enough for now, however there is a lot more to explore in Midgard, along with plenty more detail for characters that didn’t get much of the spotlight during the original. The first chapter is still the raid on the Shinra reactor which was also covered during the demo. I still had to replay through that again, and that helped to refamiliarize the controls and whatnot. From there during your escape you meet Aeris who touches you and gives you the ability to see these wraith creatures I don’t quite remember from the original, but again we’re talking over twenty years since I played the game. Later, you’ll band up with Tifa in the slums to do a bunch of side quests and that’s basically where I left off after a few hour play session. I know there was still more to this area of the game in the original but it’s been said that this first part of the remake only takes place in Midgar, so I assume there’s a lot more to it than there used to be. Going forward I probably won’t report back on this too often because I don’t want to spoil too much but I see myself being able to power through it while we’re still on quarantine. If you enjoyed the original I can’t see how you couldn’t enjoy this one, but those who are adverse to action combat might want to avoid it, because you’ll be doing a lot of it.

The FF7 Remake Demo

We’ve known about the Final Fantasy VII Remake for several years now, but the time has finally come to see more. It has actually been delayed once, and we’ve already seen a few trailers that show off parts of the game, but finally a playable demo has been released. As a huge fan of the original game (it was my first FF game, it was the reason I bought a Playstation back in high school) I knew that I’d be interested in an updated version of the beloved classic. As information trickled down we were unsure if would be a faithful recreation or if things would be changed. It was also said that the game would be “episodic” and though I can see this being okay if they split the game the way they did in the 90’s, by making each disc of the original into a full episode, I still would prefer a whole game all at once. I assume this means that development of future episodes isn’t completed yet, and we still don’t know exactly where this first episode will end, but for now let’s just talk about what happens in the demo.

As you can see above, the game is clearly gorgeous. All of these screens show some of our main and supporting characters and all of them are introduced throughout the play session I had with the demo. To be clear, this isn’t a lengthy demo, but it does allow you to see how cool the game now looks, and also runs through the entire Mako reactor scene that introduces Cloud and the rebel group Avalanche. We also get to see how combat has evolved, and you’ll have to see some of the next screen shots for me to really describe it.

Anyone who has played the original game knows that it was a product of the times. JRPGs of that era mostly relied on ATB meters in order to determine turn order for actions that would take place during the battle. Also seemingly gone are random battles, in that you only fight when you happen upon some enemies as you traverse the level, there aren’t “unseen” enemies that attack you as you wander. I do feel this is a positive change in some aspects because I hated getting swarmed by things as I was trying to get to chests and other secrets. However, this may prove problematic if you encounter a tough fight and would need to level up on these random battles. Since we don’t ever get to a point where we get to see the world map and how that will be handled, its unclear if this was just part of the demo. Whatever the case, combat feels less like the turn based strategy of the former game, and instead feels much more like Final Fantasy XV in that regard. However, in XV you weren’t able to swap between characters, only issue commands, whereas in this title you can control who you want and still issue commands. So the best of both worlds I suppose. There is an difficulty option that also lets you focus on purely giving commands rather than also trying to do the combat yourself, so that’s a great choice for those of you who don’t care to button mash. It is a bit button mashy, but at the same time fairly fluid and responsive. Basic attacks happen when pressing square. You can change stance with triangle. Otherwise spells, abilities and items are all used via a context menu. I loved the combat, but that last boss before blowing up the reactor was a bit of a challenge without more phoenix downs.

Upon completing the reactor scene you are treated to pretty explosions and a zoomed out view of the city before the demo winds down. Clearly this is only the tip of the iceberg but I was hit in the feels immediately. I cannot wait for full release at this point, as I already know it’s going to be a blast. I’m just curious how much more of the original game will make it over and how much of it will change. Time will tell I suppose. You can download the demo for free via the Playstation Store if you’re curious to see for yourself.