Final Fantasy VII Remake Hands-On Preview: Breaking Limits All Over Again
My very first E3 was all the way back in 2015. At that event, Sony's press conference had a new trailer for The Last Guardian, announced Shenmue 3, and finally confirmed the existent of the Final Fantasy VII Remake. Now, four years later at my fifth E3, I actually got to play it.
And despite all that, I'm still not 100% sure I believe it's real.
Long Time Coming
Final Fantasy VII is often regarded as the best Final Fantasy game and even the best RPG of all-time. I'd take Final Fantasy IV over VII any day, but I know I'm in the minority with that opinion.
That being said, I can understand the excitement. It's rare that a game with such a storied history and massive following gets the chance at a revival. If you go back and play most PlayStation 1 games, such as Final Fantasy VII, they just don't hold up well at all. This remake is a chance for Square Enix to make it look like we remember it looking with our rose colored nostalgia glasses.
My demo for Final Fantasy VII was split into two parts inside the massive Square Enix booth in the South Hall at E3 2019. The first half took place in a waiting room, a bit like the kind you find for rides at Disneyland. We all gathered on benches and watched a video of Jessie explaining our mission and the game's controls. It's got a very different flow from the original's turn-based combat.
Gameplay in Final Fantasy VII Remake has a lot more in common with Kingdom Hearts than it does the first 10 mainline, turn-based Final Fantasy games. You freely move around the environment and can clearly see enemies in the world outside of combat. When combat starts, it seamlessly shifts to display prompts on-screen as your characters automatically face enemies. You're also free to move around the battle wherever you want.
Pressing "square" uses normal attacks, which build up the ATB gauge, and you can press "X"to enter a slow-motion mode where you can select either an Ability, Spell, or Item to use that will spend some of your built up ATB gauges. Cloud was all about up-close melee with his massive buster sword, obviously, while Barret could do sustained ranged damage with his gun arm. Switching between characters and issuing commands to keep their gauges full was a crucial part of every battle.
The Flow Of Combat
The E3 2019 demo was heavily focused on combat. It featured an early section of the game in which Cloud and Barret are dispatched to place a bomb inside a Shinra facility. I ran around on some metal platforms, opened up treasure chests by hitting "triangle" just like Sora would, and made my way down into the heart of the facility.
Since you need to pause the action to issue any command other than dodge rolling or doing a normal attack, the fluidity of combat is interrupted a lot. It's a bit jarring since you're encouraged to use abilities often — those ATB gauges don't carry over between battles. It would be nice if there was a way to map a go-to ability for quick access or something like that instead of needing to pause battles every single time.
I also found it a bit annoying that the camera didn't automatically lock onto enemies, unless I was missing a control option. I found that Cloud and Barret would target enemies with attacks no problem, but the camera didn't always face enemies and there was no option to automatically re-center it other than just using the right stick. Trying to move with the left stick, attack and dodge with the face buttons, and move the camera all at the same time was a bit cumbersome.
Scorpion Boss Fight
This brief Final Fantasy VII Remake demo ended with the iconic Shinra scorpion boss right. I (thankfully) didn't have much trouble here, but the battle took much longer than any of the non-boss encounters from before. Not only did I need to ensure I kept dealing damage to build up my ATB gauges, but I also needed to build up the boss' stagger meter as well, similar to in Final Fantasy XIII.
Switching between characters was quick and easy, just tapping up or down on the d-pad. The boss was a straightforward fight consisting of just brute force until it raised a shield, then targeting the shield, and dodging its big attacks. Nothing too complicated, but certainly some extra layers as compared to the original turn-based version of the game.
It should be interesting to see how different more advanced enemies, such as Sephiroth, will be on the battlefield when they're not forced to take turns while attacking.
Once I staggered a boss I could do even more damage, which was always a great time to use powerful abilities. And as you take damage in combat you'll build up your Limit meter, which lets you use an extremely powerful Limit Break attack once full. Finishing off the boss with a massive blast from Barret's arm canon was the highlight of the demo for me.
Final Fantasy VII Remake
I had a blast playing Final Fantasy VII Remake at E3 2019. Visually, it's a staggering technical achievement and despite my initial concerns, the gameplay translates to a more action-focused format extremely well.
During its E3 2019 press conference, Square Enix announced that the Final Fantasy VII Remake will hit PlayStation 4 on March 3, 2020. This release is expected to only contain the first part of the Remake since it will be an episodic series this time.
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