Final Fantasy 7 Remake Preview: Delivering on Its Promises
When I previewed the Final Fantasy 7 Remake at E3 2019, it was based on an extremely-limited slice of the game. We were allowed to fight a handful of throwaway enemies before getting shoved into the mechanical scorpion boss fight near the beginning of the game. That was pretty much it.
This latest demo I tried in San Francisco, CA, ahead of PAX East was a much meatier representation of the game. My playthrough this time started from the very beginning of the game — intro cinematic and all — and took me all the way through the first two chapters before skipping ahead to Chapter 7, including the Air Buster boss fight.
Last year, I had a few concerns about the game but was largely optimistic Square-Enix could probably pull things off. After spending more than two additional hours with a highly-polished version of the game in this latest demo, I'm confident Remake will exceed expectations.
The Remake Treatment
Remaking anything, much less a beloved video game, movie, or piece of music, is rife with complications. Not only must studios contend with nostalgia, but they must also juggle updating (potentially) outdated designs and ideas for modern audiences while still remaining true to original fans. It's a difficult, and often impossible, balance to strike.
To be clear, Final Fantasy 7 is not my favorite JRPG — nor is it even my favorite Final Fantasy game — but I absolutely recognize its place in history. Even though the original clearly has not aged well — at least visually — the story is more poignant than ever.
One interesting thing I noticed during my latest demo is that key characters like Cloud are less impressive to see fully realized in Remake. That's in large part due to the fact that they've previously been upgraded in spin-offs like Dissidia and have shown up in other games like Smash Bros. That makes Cloud's 4K, HD update a bit less impressive than, say, Barrett's or Aerith's, characters who haven't gotten as much love and attention over the years.
Midgar itself, though, is fantastic. There is an overwhelming sense of panic in the streets after you successfully blow up the first Mako Reactor and the voice acting really sells the government's crooked propaganda throughout the story. In a lot of ways, seeing the game anew with updated production values further underscores just how far ahead of its time FF7 was.
The first 10 mainline Final Fantasy games use relatively similar turn-based combat systems that feature some variation of players and enemies taking turns until one side is defeated. Since then, the franchise has gotten extremely experimental with how it interprets and reapplies that system.
Final Fantasy 13 mixed real-time and turn-based mechanics and, most recently, FF15 is (basically) a strict real-time system with some active menu management. The Final Fantasy 7 Remake is very similar to this.
However, the main difference is how it handles non-basic attacks. When you're mashing your main attack buttons, everything flows quickly in real-time, but when you open up the menu to use an item, queue up a special ability using your ATB gauge, summon something, or issue commands to NPCs, everything slows to a crawl for an impressive, flashy, and incredibly cinematic slow-mo period. There is no limit to this, so you can hold things in slow-mo as long as you want.
When I tried it last year, the majority of my demo was a single boss fight, so I never really got my footing before being thrust into a big battle. It led to everything feeling a bit off. Now, by the time I fought the scorpion, I'd already been playing for around an hour and everything clicked much more naturally.
Having to switch characters, queue up abilities, and more with slow-mo interruptions seemed a little jilted at first, but it's a lot like the real-time with pause mechanics from games like Dragon Age and Baldur's Gate. It's a lot flashier here.
By the time my demo was over, I was really enjoying the way combat flowed. I made a comment to a Square Enix representative that in the original, you always looked forward to the big special attacks and summons because of how cinematic they were. Now, every combat encounter feels like a cinematic moment because of how grandiose combat looks at all times. It still remains to be seen whether that will get old over time or not.
Tifa is Terrific
The most exciting moment for me in the new demo was getting to take Tifa for a spin. As a stark contrast to Cloud's massive Buster Sword and Barrett's arm-mounted gatling gun, Tifa uses her fists — and it's extremely satisfying. Despite the lack of an external weapon, her attacks somehow manage to be even flashier and more impressive than her allies'.
Cloud can switch to a more aggressive stance that dishes out heavier damage but leaves him vulnerable. Barrett can charge up a special shot for his heavy attack, and Tifa has a nasty uppercut — but if she uses a buff ability beforehand, that uppercut turns into an even deadlier attack to finish off combos. Once I switched to the second half of my demo and got to use her, I immediately switched to her in every single fight.
The way she bounces on her feet, ready to strike is extremely well-animated, too, and she brings a lot of airiness to conversations, which cuts through Cloud and Barrett's constant headbutting.
Even though the demo event I attended included a battle that let you try out Aerith, I wasn't able to give her a spin. I was late to the demo because of a scheduling conflict. I did catch a glimpse of her on the screen next to me during my demo, and she seems like a blast.
The way she almost dances while casting spells is mesmerizing and based on trailers, I already knew her voice acting felt spot-on. During my demo, I ran into her very briefly, but that was it. For my money, Tifa is the best girl in Final Fantasy 7 anyway, so I was content with not trying out Aerith.
I did get to summon Shiva though, which was about as epic and visually satisfying as you'd expect.
The wait is almost over for the Final Fantasy 7 Remake, which seems surreal to write. You'll finally be able to re-experience Cloud's epic journey on April 10, exclusively for PlayStation 4.
[Note: This preview is based on a hands-on demo for a pre-release build played during an event in San Francisco, CA, hosted by Square Enix.]