Final Fantasy VII Remake Demo Impressions: A Promise Fulfilled

The original Final Fantasy VII holds a very special place in my heart for being one of the first video games I ever played, and has since remained one of my all-time favourites. Diving into the remake, which Square Enix has been constantly knocking out of the park in its marketing, I was once again met with that same tingling nostalgic feeling that took me back to my childhood, sitting in front of the TV in the late afternoon, anticipating my new adventures with Cloud and the Highwind gang, and not a care in the world. I got all of this in the latest Final Fantasy VII Remake demo without even leaving the menu.

From booting up the demo and witnessing the opening cinematic play out, brilliantly recreated on modern hardware thanks to its bump in visual fidelity, one thing became abundantly clear: I was in for something special. An hour later and the demo completed, this point was just reaffirmed. Square Enix have poured their soul and passion into this remake, making it far greater than your run-of-the-mill, half-baked “new” adaptation. Nostalgia is a powerful thing, but that can’t be the sole driving force behind a remake, especially one of this caliber. What has Square Enix done to detach Final Fantasy VII Remake from this stigma?

…the DNA of the original – the soul, spirit and charm of it – remained untouched.

Often when you think of remakes, you think of “change”, but with Final Fantasy VII Remake, the term “evolution” is far more accurate. While we were only given a very small portion of the initial bombing run on Midgar’s opening Mako Reactor mission, it became apparent that the DNA of the original – the soul, spirit and charm of it – remained untouched. Whether it was the charm of the characters, the immersive atmosphere of Midgar, or the banter between Avalanche, Final Fantasy VII Remake vastly improves on these aspects in ways I didn’t think were possible.

For one, the introduction of the side characters is far stronger this time thanks to some great character writing and banter. It’s significantly fleshed out, and you get a better idea of who these side characters are from a few clever lines of dialogue and exchanges between them. Jessie, in particular, is given a lot more limelight and seems to have this “interest” in Cloud that simply wasn’t in the original (like her inquisitive nature in finding out the relationship between Cloud and Tifa). It’s these small moments that really impressed me about the remake, because these are the exact same characters from the exact same team, only given so much more to do and say for the sake of meaningful development.

…the introduction of the side characters is far stronger this time thanks to some great character writing and banter.

Visually, Final Fantasy VII Remake is astounding. Needless to say, Midgar looks stunning with a graphical upgrade, and there are moments in the demo – such as Cloud looking up at the intimidating size of the Mako Reactor – that really evokes a terrific sense of scale and breathtaking world design. It immerses you more effectively than the original, and thanks to its legendary soundtrack which has mostly remained in tact, hammers in this awesome feeling of nostalgic and whimsical adventure sorely missing from most video games today.

The combat in Final Fantasy VII Remake has also been given a welcomed overhaul. Gone is the traditional turn-based system in favour of a seamless blend between turn-based and real-time. The ATB system now acts as a merging of these two gameplay styles. By pressing square, Cloud can unleash a flurry of attacks – and if you’re feeling braver, can simply tap triangle to enter Punisher Mode where the attacks are faster and hit harder, but comes at the expense of speed and mobility. You’ll gradually build up your ATB bar during real-time combat, and once its filled, can enter Tactical Mode, where time practically slows to a crawl. A list of commands (a la the old-school TB way in the original) appears, allowing players to choose from various abilities, spells, and items.

The ingenious part of this system is how is blends together the straight-forward, hack-and-slash gameplay of Final Fantasy XV with some of the classic combat elements of the original. It’s not entirely turn-based, but not entirely real-time either. I thought of it being similar to Final Fantasy XIII‘s tried and sort of failed combat, just here, it’s a lot more intuitive and easier to pull off. Best of all, it doesn’t break the flow of combat at all, something that turn-based games tend to suffer with despite their best efforts (Persona 5 being a major exception in recent memory).

…for me, [the combat] worked magnificently and felt like a step in the right direction for what a modern turn-based system should evolve into.

Final Fantasy VII Remake‘s combat won’t impress everybody, though, especially those longing for the classic turn-based formula, but for me, it worked magnificently and felt like a step in the right direction for what a modern turn-based system should evolve into (and of course, for not simply repeating the same system and making the game seem like just a shinier coat of paint. Instead, it feels like a fresh, new experience without forgetting its roots, as all remakes should aspire to be).

The demo takes us through the first bombing run, all the way up until the explosion. This includes a battle against the Scorpion Sentinel, which encouraged a mixture of both Cloud’s close-ranged melee and Barett’s long-ranged shooting – speaking of, in a party, you can seamlessly switch between party members with the tap of a button. This is also very useful when you need to use items, but don’t want the entire flow of battle to stop. By switching to another character in your party, you can apply the necessary items while AI takes hold of the other characters as they continue engaging in battle. It’s simple, but surprisingly effective.

From just the demo, I don’t really have any negatives. Final Fantasy VII Remake looks great, feels great to play, sounds great, and is just… great. I can’t wait to see how the full game shapes up, though that leaves a couple of lingering questions and concerns. With this being the first part of a planned string of remakes to encompass the full game, how will Square Enix prevent this from not feeling exactly like what it is: just the first part? Only time will tell once the full game rolls around, but I do urge you to play the demo if you’re either really excited, or just on the fence. You might get a few of your questions answered, and concerns calmed.

Final Fantasy VII Remake launches on April 10, 2020 for PlayStation 4.

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