E3 2019 Hands-On Impessions: FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE
Saturday, June 15th, 2019
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Title: FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE Publisher(s): SQUARE ENIX Platform(s): PlayStation 4 Release Date: March 3, 2020 Website / Twitter / Facebook
One of the biggest questions that anyone had about FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE for the PlayStation 4 was if it is going to be a completely authentic paint-by-the numbers remake of the original 1997 FINAL FANTASY VII release on PlayStation or if it was going to be a completely re-imagined version of the story ala the butchering of Evolution: The World of Sacred Device as part of the Gamecube’s 2002 Evolution Worlds collection. Thankfully, FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE answered that question at E3 2019 with an answer that takes the dialogue and situations set up in the PSX version and enhances it by adding foreshadowing cutscenes, spoken dialogue, and a new action/ATB-hybrid system to the mix to really flesh out this classic title.
The demo took place at the very beginning of FINAL FANTASY VII when Cloud and Barret are raiding the Sector 1 Reactor in Midgar, planting the bomb, and then fighting the Scorpion Sentinel that spawns afterwards. First things first: this game’s character design is clearly influenced more by the 2002 film FINAL FANTASY VII: Advent Children than by the 1997 character designs. Cloud and Barret have clearly defined facial and body features that would fit in perfectly with a fifteen-year-later update of that Compliation of FINAL FANTASY VII movie and have moved away from the more ‘cartoony’ aspects of the original game.
There are definite shades of the character designs from FINAL FANTASY VII: Advent Children in FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE. (Images courtesy of SQUARE ENIX).
The combat gameplay itself was fun, if not a little frustrating. In an obvious nod to the past twenty-two years of advances in gameplay and the fact that the gaming public has moved by-and-large away from classic JRPG turn-based combat into action-combat, FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE attempted to strike a balance between its classic Action Time Battle system combat and the modern action-combat styles of games like KINGDOM HEARTS III and FINAL FANTASY XV. The hybrid works like this: mash the basic attack button until at least one ATB bar fills up at the bottom of the screen. Once that happens, you can now use an item, a magic spell, a special attack, and more. You can also switch between party members on the fly with a simple button press and the non-playing character will still fight using AI and utilize limit breaks when your character takes enough damage. I liked this combat system for the most part, other than I noticed that the party member that I wasn’t controlling would have a slower ATB fill-up than my active member. What this meant was that I was frequently playing one character, spamming attacks to get an ATB bar filled, switching to the other character to get his ATB filled, and then using special attacks and spells one after another in an attempt to stagger the enemy (which is a mechanic from FINAL FANTASY XII) so I could do even more damage.
Battle in FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE is a hybrid of the classic ATB system and the modern action combat system that results in special combat actions only able to be used when an ATB bar is filled. (Images courtesy of SQUARE ENIX).
If all of this sounds chaotic, that’s because it is. It also didn’t help that Cloud and Barret use their basic attacks differently: Cloud requires a repeated button press for each weapon strike and Barret requires the button to be held down to fire shots from his Gun-arm. The FINAL FANTASY VII concept of front-row/back-row characters to change attack/defense damage has been all but eliminated (presumably alongside the Long Range Attack Materia) as a result of placing combat in a 3D battle arena. This hybrid battle system honestly does work as a modernized update in 2019. The biggest issue, however, is that I felt like the ATB bar for the active character takes a little too long to get filled up and I got tired quickly of having to just mash a button repeatedly as Cloud as I dodged around the arena so I can use an item on both him and then Barret.
The voice actors for Cloud and Barret, as someone who is used to hearing them from FINAL FANTASY VII: Advent Children, initially threw me off but I became quickly acclimated to them in this FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE demo. Although this demo is obviously only a small sample of the overall FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE game, I am hopeful that the entire voice cast does a good job with the final product. This does, however, lead into the topic of cutscenes- and there were a fair number of them in this demo. In the original game, cinematic cutscenes were few and far in-between as most of the story was told via text boxes that would pop up with the in-game engine and blocky characters doing the heavy lifting as control is taken away from the player. In FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE, it is clear that voiced cutscenes and dialogue that is spoken while actively running around the gameplay maps will be how the story is told, and I was pleased with what I saw during the Mako raid.
FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE will only contain gameplay through the end of Midgar, hopefully with future entries to contain the rest of the game. (Image courtesy of SQUARE ENIX).
There is one final point to talk about and I have been saving it for last, as it has to do with how the story is being told in FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE versus in FINAL FANTASY VII, 1997 edition. In the classic edition, when Cloud plants the bomb, the screen turns red and dialogue appears telling him to watch out and that this isn’t just a reactor. This is a very non-obvious foreshadowing clue to the prior incident at Nibelheim that the player will experience later on in the game. In FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE, a black feather drops during this vital foreshadowing moment, which hints at the role of Sephiroth as a one-winged angel and at the role that he played in that vital moment.
This is a minor detail, for sure, but it really does show in sharp focus what SQUARE ENIX’s goal with this game is: to retell the story of FINAL FANTASY VII by adding in new storytelling elements, new dialogue, and more. By SQUARE ENIX taking this approach in FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE, it makes the game feel both in tune with the expectations of a current generation of mainstream players who have never had to watch a bar fill up before they can attack and who want a more cinematic storytelling experience while simultaneously attempting to please people who played the original back in 1997 and want this remake to be that authentic experience. SQUARE ENIX really does have to strike a careful balance here to make sure that everyone is happy, and this game is clearly attempting to compromise with both camps by melding elements from both generations of players into one final product.
Even though this game only covers up through the end of the Midgar section of the game (so not even through the end of Disc 1 of the PSX game), I am still really excited for FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE to come out March 3, 2020, and I already have it pre-ordered for my PlayStation 4.