Final Fantasy fans have asked Square Enix a Final Fantasy VII remake for years, and the Japanese publisher finally granted their wish with the Final Fantasy VII Remake. The game was announced four years ago at the E3, but very little of it has been seen in the following months. Rumors of troubled development started circulating online, with Square Enix outsourcing part of the development to CyberConnect 2 before bringing it back in-house later.
Months passed and the silence on the game continued, not counting teases that we would see the game again at the right time. The time has finally come, and the Final Fantasy VII Remake has been shown in full this month and at the E3, where a playable demo was available to both media and public. How's the remake shaping up? Incredibly well, and way beyond my personal expectations, which were extremely low.
The E3 2019 demo allowed players to play through the beginning of the game, starting when Cloud and Barrett reach the Shinra Reactor until the battle against the Grand Scorpion, the very first boss of the game. The reactor is pretty linear, as it was in the original game, but its scope is much bigger, giving the feel of a massive structure that's only explored in part.
On the field, players control Cloud as in every modern JRPG with a behind the back third-person camera. The character can open chests to collect items, climb ladders and use his sword to attack and gain the advantage on enemies, which are all visible on the field.
Final Fantasy VII Remake twists the classic Final Fantasy combat system in some very interesting ways, offering a real-time, action battle system which also comes with turn-based elements. Upon entering battle, players can control any of the characters in their current party, unleash regular attacks and perform a dodge maneuver freely. All other actions are locked behind ATB, which builds automatically during combat. Once a bar is full, it's possible to unleash special attacks (which may even require more than a single bar), magic spells, which also use MP, and use items. Limit Breaks are also back, and they don't require any ATB bar to be used.
What makes Final Fantasy VII Remake a perfect mix between action and turn-based RPG are these ATB mechanics. Unlike the Kingdom Hearts series, which also employs some sort of menu system in battle, Final Fantasy VII Remake slows down time when selecting commands, allowing players to plan and strategize. Special Attacks and spells for multiple characters can be selected from the menu, and all actions will be performed once choices have been finalized. Those who want a pure action experience can assign actions to shortcuts like in the Kingdom Hearts series so that actions will be performed without going through menus. The battle system is incredibly intuitive and fun, so it takes very little time to get used to it.
Characters also feel extremely diverse. Cloud is the short-range powerhouse, mowing down enemies with ease with his Buster Sword. Barrett can hold his own in close quarters but excels at long-range fights. The two characters' special moves also work distinctly differently, with different ATB requirements as well, so it will be very interesting to see how these differences will evolve during the course of the game.
Once at the reactor's core, it becomes clear how Final Fantasy VII Remake is going to be an epic game. Dialogue has been revamped, feeling way more natural than it did in the original, and voice acting feels spot on for both Cloud and Barrett, despite all characters losing the voice actors who have voiced them since the time of Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children. After a bit of tinkering with the bomb that will take down the reactor, the very first boss of the game, the Grand Scorpion, appears: what was a very simple battle in the original has been turned into an epic, multi-phase, cinematic confrontation that left me in awe.
Forget about being able to unleash special attack after special attack against the boss. Its defenses must be lowered first by using the right spells, and once staggered, it's possible to unleash all of your might to deal some heavy damage. The Staggering mechanics work almost like they did in Final Fantasy XIII, as players must hit the enemy repeatedly to build a gauge found right below the enemy's name: once it's full, the enemy will be staggered and defenseless.
After being staggered, however, the Grand Scorpion will recover, and it will jump on the wall to continue the fight. At this point, players must switch to Barrett to continue fighting it until it comes back on the floor, together with some minions that will make the fight more complicated. At times, the boss will also unleash its iconic laser attack, only that this time Cloud will give the right advice, suggesting that they avoid attacking while the tail's up and find cover behind the debris.
The final phase of the battle requires players to damage the boss' legs to stagger it and deplete its HP. Minions will continue appearing, so players will have to switch targets constantly while keeping an eye on their HP and ATB levels. Once the boss has been defeated, the demo ended, and I have been left craving for more: the Grand Scorpion battle is nothing short of epic, and it's only the first boss of the game!
The E3 2019 demo was short, but it made one thing clear: Square Enix is not pulling any punches with the Final Fantasy VII Remake, giving it their all to make the game the remake the original deserved. Everything works extremely well, from exploration to battle, so what remains to be seen is how the Midgar arc has been expanded for this episode. I was very skeptic before trying the demo, but now I am sure the Final Fantasy VII Remake will be among the best Final Fantasy games ever released, and a far cry from Final Fantasy XV, which I did like but always felt it could have been so much more.