It’s been nearly five years since the announcement of the Final Fantasy VII Remake and it says a lot about how long it’s been that it still feels weird that we’re so close to the game coming out. I’m still half expecting it to be delayed by 62 months three minutes before it is due to launch. However, my fears have been eased with the release of the demo earlier today (or yesterday by the time this article comes out). The demo contains the first hour of the game pretty much – up until the bombing of Mako Reactor No. 1. Final Fantasy VII is a game that is very special to me and so I am all too eager to try it out.
(this was a livestream Stu did of the Remake. You can watch this instead or as well)
The opening immediately made me giddy – seeing Aerith in the glow of Mako but in glorious modern graphics and then having the camera pan out to that iconic shot of Midgar and the title popping up and I was seven years old again. The train rolling in with Biggs and Jessie kicking the Shinra guards down so Cloud could make his big entrance in style and I am ready. The intro isn’t too long and within a few minutes you’re swinging Cloud’s Buster Sword all over the place.
If you’ve not been keeping up with the Remake and you go into this game expecting the old style ATB system of battling then I am so sorry to inform you that things are different now. Very different. Battling is mostly real time, you press Square to Attack (and no X to Attack which I am legally bound to repeatedly doing no matter what), Triangle will trigger a character specific attack – for Cloud it switches mode between Operator, weaker but faster strikes, or Punisher, stronger but slower strikes, modes. Barret will unleash a barrage of bullets for his triangle attack but will require a recharge.
However there is an ATB bar which is segmented and there are abilities tied to this. When you press X while one or both of your ATB bars are full you can choose to perform an Ability, such as Cloud’s Braver, or Magic such as Fire, Thunder or Cure. Magic is also still tied in with MP. When you go into this menu, the battle will slow down to a crawl allowing you plenty, but not unlimited, time to make your choice. This is a good way to blend a more modern FF system such as XV’s with the classic menu system of olde Final Fantasy. You can also dodge roll and block for reduced damage which is the one thing I kept messing up – I struggled to switch between attacking and defending on the fly. Battles are chaotic and visually quite busy which is great to look at but might present a problem for someone like me who is distracted by pretty lights.
You can switch between your party on the fly during battle and there are times when one character will be more beneficial to control yourself – such as when an enemy goes out of Cloud’s reach, Barret can come in with his gun-arm and wreck the enemy. The character you’re not controlling will do their own thing and battle alongside you – you can still command their ATB menus even if you are not in control of that specific character which is handy so you can Cure with Barret without having to switch to him first.
The system works well but I will probably still need time to properly get used to it – it’s quite a lot to begin with but eventually I’m sure it will become second nature. It’s not that it’s overly complicated either, just battles are fast-paced and quite chaotic so it’s hard for me to go from one thing to another when my natural instinct is to bash the attack button – the game requires a little more finesse.
The demo also contains the first boss of FFVII, the Guard Scorpion, which is a hefty beast for sure. It attacks almost constantly so being able to dodge, guard and attack during the quiet times are essential. Luckily by this point I had plenty of potions and halfway through the battle I was informed that Barret had Cure so I was able to survive. Towards the end of the battle you unlock limit breaks which work in a similar way to its original counterpart – a meter will go up as you are being attacked and then when it fills up you unleash a super strong attack.
After the boss is destroyed, you have to get the heck out of the reactor before your bomb blows up – before the boss fight you can choose to set it for 20 or 30 minutes (I set it for 30 and it was way too long) – and then the demo ends. There is a couple of scenes with Shinra and Heidegger in their cushty headquarters but I’ll avoid mentioning too much of the story as there are little things they’ve changed, as well as a little reference to an even from a prequel game.
The characters are familiar to their FFVII counterparts personality-wise – Cloud is a cocky wee prick who could not care less about anything, Barret is a preachy hot-head who has no time for Cloud’s bull, Wedge is a sweet soul, Jessie is super cool and Biggs is there too. This section here is super faithful to its original design but modernised enough that it does start to be it’s own thing. It does a really good job of being familiar and fresh at the same time. This won’t replace the original FFVII but will be it’s own thing – meaning we now have two FFVII’s. What could be better?
The music as well is remixed very well – the version of the Bombing Mission music is now this super bombastic cinematic call for action. It is a good argument for proving that the original soundtrack is timeless for how well it works with a more modern orchestral score. It feels different enough to be fresh yet similar enough that is warms the nostalgia-hungry heart. If you’ve never played the original FFVII but are planning to play this one then please get set to enjoy one of video game’s all time greatest soundtracks but with actual instruments!
I am excited about being able to play Final Fantasy VII Remake next month and all this demo has done is made me realise how much I am looking forward to this. I was worried that it would spoil it, especially if it turned out I didn’t like how it played but luckily I do like it so far. I still need some time to get to grips with the system but it is very visually lovely with enough old school RPG elements that it feels like you’re in control and not just watching a weird ass movie where the main character does the same thing over and over again. I don’t know if the system will be for everyone but I think it’s fun and has potential to grow as the game(s) go on.
I like how familiar this feels but that there is still enough different here that the Remake should be considered a different entity – one that can live alongside it’s older self. In terms of gameplay they are completely different and they are taking the story in some different directions it seems. As I said earlier, we are about to have two Final Fantasy VIIs – albeit the second one is gonna be in chunks – and that is a very good thing indeed.
The demo is out now on the Playstation Store, it should take around 40-60 minutes to finish and if you are on the fence about FFVII then definitely check it out. It might convince you one way or another. For me it just left me wanting more. Just one month until the near five year wait is FINALLY over.