The music, the aesthetics, the gameplay
As soon as that old blocky look of Final Fantasy VII was in the rear view mirror, Square Enix had a perpetual “break glass in case we need to print money” box with a potential remake. As much as I prefer Final Fantasy games before and after it, VII defined a generation, and helped usher a brand new era into the medium of JRPGs.
The Final Fantasy VII Remake is similarly going to nudge along yet another generation.
Having missed it at tradeshows this past year, I finally got my hands on the Final Fantasy VII PSN demo thanks to its wide release, and it didn’t disappoint.
The demo (which should last you roughly an hour and takes place during the first Mako Reactor bombing run mission) kicks off right at the train station with Cloud and Barret, serving as an early tutorial and an intro to the world of Final Fantasy VII. The Avalanche crew is still bombing the reactor that belongs to Shinra, but there’s a lot more nuance this time around as Square Enix delves more into the characters and the implications of the act. But let’s talk about the new combat system first.
In the default action-based mode, everything is fast. Killing enemies automatically snaps items to your person and you level-up instantly. At the start you have access to Cloud, who can initiate attacks by pressing the Square button, or hold it to trigger an area-of-effect slash. As you slice up enemies and guard you’ll build up your ATB gauge, which can be used for abilities like Braver (that can be queued up menu-style, with a slow-motion effect, or with a direct L1+face button shortcut), spells or items.
Cloud also has access to a “punisher mode” with the press of the Triangle button, which is just how it sounds based on fighting game vernacular. It’s a stance that enables more damage but also slows Cloud down a bit, eschewing his ability to evade. I think what I love most about the new system is how much personality combat has. Seeing Cloud wildly swing his sword looks great, and I’m already excited at the prospect of picking up more party members and trying them out directly. Barret is the other playable party member in the demo, and you’re encouraged to swap to take out enemies from afar, swapping back to Cloud when they encroach. I’m already dreaming about how fun Vincent will be to play.
The first boss (Guard Scorpion) also showcases how much potential the remake has in terms of dramatic, multi-stage raid boss-like encounters. Fights are more interactive, and beating up that big bad tin can has weight to it as it becomes more busted and desperate. I got a real “enrage timer” sort of feel to one of the final phases of the fight, which is a great thing through the lens of a single-player RPG.
From a story perspective, you can already see the seeds are being planted for a greatly extended story. Cloud’s relationship with his SOLDIER comrades is more apparent from the start, including what seems to be a more complicated rapport with Barret. It also looks like we’re going to be seeing a lot more of the “other side” of the conflict: Shinra. Barret actually curses now instead of spewing on-screen “%*!#$” text. Midgar actually feels lived-in. The list goes on.
As fun as the Final Fantasy VII Remake is to play, this is what excites me the most. This is how remakes should feel: retaining the spirit of the original but also, in a way, completely new for another generation. Square could have gone Lion King 2019 style and just retold the same story in a more neutered way, but they seem to be going all-in. I’m still worried about the complete lack of info on the other “parts,” but for now, the Midgar portion seems sorted.
You can find the free demo here on PS4. No PlayStation Plus needed!