I wasn’t sure what to expect from Final Fantasy VII Remake when the demo went live. A complete reimagining of the beloved 1997 PlayStation Classic (Part 1 of an as of yet to be determined number of games), it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that this has quickly become one of the most anticipated titles of the year. The Final Fantasy franchise has become synonymous with JRPGs, several of which have often been labeled as some of the “greatest video games of all time.” Of all the games, Final Fantasy VII has been credited as the title that would have the most influence on the series, making the jump to 3D and incorporating in-game cinematics that would forever change our perception of RPGs. From spin offs to cameos in other video games, its legacy continues to hold to this day.
Almost 23 years later after the game’s release, I have yet to play it.
Though I’ve dipped my toes in Final Fantasy occasionally, starting with the Tactics spin offs (Editor’s Note: Where’s my A3 Square Enix?), to more recent titles like XIII and XV, I never had a compelling reason to revisit any of the older titles given my limited free time and my nostalgia-free view of older JRPGs. At the behest of a certain individual who swears on FFVII as a must play video game (and shall remain anonymous), I said I would give it a try and downloaded the demo. What follows is my first impressions of the game; from a guy who has never experienced FFVII.
Truth be told, the recent FF games, ranging from okay to good (if somewhat grating stories), have never quite scratched that JRPG itch that I’ve come to enjoy from similar titles. Whereas recent hits like Persona 5 and Fire Emblem Three Houses polished their “old-school” turned based gameplay to feel modern or newer titles like Nier: Automata and Bloodborne have upped the ante on action RPGs, FF has had the difficult task of living up to its traditional roots while bringing something new to fruition through its transition into more action based gameplay.
I’ll be blunt, the recent 3D FF games have always had an identity crisis. It’s like Square Enix can’t decide whether they want to be a turned based game or action oriented game. The integration of the Action Turn Based gauge (“ATB”) has been their method of simulating the turn based strategy of old by giving you menus and other means of “pausing” the battle to cast a spell or direct your allies. So moments into booting up FFVII Remake, you can imagine my surprise I had full control over main character Cloud’s movements and iconic Buster Sword; to a degree. The combat itself is pretty simple: Square repeatedly for attacks (or hold the button down), Triangle to switch weapon modes (Operator Mode for swift attacks; Punisher Mode for slow, heavy attacks), R1 to guard and Circle to dodge. You can even lock on to targets with R3.
Let’s start with the good: the game is hands down gorgeous, no doubt about it. It may even be the nicest looking PS4 game to date. Gameplay is surprisingly fluid. It never quite reaches the satisfaction of Devil May Cry’s over the top chain combos or the feel good combat of God of War (2018)’s Leviathan Axe, but cutting enemies down as Cloud has a certain amount of “smoothness” that one would not normally expect from such a heavy weapon. And this being a FF game, of course the music is fantastic. Even if you’ve never played a FF game, it’s hard not to enjoy the amazing sounds and stylings presented here. I got giddy when “Let The Battles Begin!” (which has been lovingly remastered) started to play; a song that even a non-FF fan could probably guess its origins without much thought.
Some minor nitpicks: The level was mostly linear with a few treasure boxes to loot; level design 101, the works. I also didn’t care for the wonky camera/lock on system as enemies can easily be hidden or difficult to target at a distance. Little by little, it introduces new mechanics from using the command screen (L2 or R2) to bring up a menu for Spells, Items, and Skills, the ability to switch to another member on the fly (Barrett for this demo who uses a long range mini gun), and the various little tools for navigation. So as I sat there in gleeful delight swinging my Buster Sword, I wondered at what point the game would put the brakes on me. “This is way too good to be true” I thought.
And then the first boss drops in.
As many have already pointed out, the tutorial boss from the original is a much more intimidating multi-stage threat in the remake. Here is where all those mini tutorials all come into play and you have to switch between landing hits, healing, casting spells to disable the shield, and of course, minimizing damage by dodging/blocking or recovering in between. It’s this micromanagement where FFVII remake fumbles between being an action title and a turned based RPG as you hit the command menu to cast a spell or use a potion only to realize you used up your ATB gauge (it fills as you land hits) and are put on cooldown. It’s another element to manage that adds an element of risk to longer battles; at worst likely killing you if you are down to a sliver of health.
I completed the boss without dying, but it does give me pause for concern on how the rest of the game will look like with two more party members and even greater foes to deal with. At the moment, I can’t tell who Final Fantasy VII Remake is for exactly. Though there is a lot of promise in this hour long demo, the gameplay will likely draw at least some criticism from both crowds who would prefer one over the other; and that’s before we get into what’s actually changed from the original and whatever controversy is created when people find out this is only Part 1 of a planned number of episodes. It’s entirely made from the ground up as a new game for newcomers, and has enough of that nostalgia touch that will no doubt be appreciated by diehard fans, but it never excelled in one particular area; aside from the visuals and music.
Then again, I’m going into this having never touched the original. Whether that proves to be an asset or inconsequential is a story for another day.
That’s it for me. What did you think of the demo? Have you played the original? Let us know in the comments below.