Final Fantasy VII Remake E3 Impression
I’ve been apprehensive about the Final Fantasy VII Remake ever since its announcement. The remake’s event started with a typical hype video that added to my fears, coming off very out-of-touch with the Final Fantasy franchise of old, and even including some cringeworthy “it’s not the size of the sword that matters”-type of jokes. I braced for what I thought would be a disappointing demo that would taint the memory of Final Fantasy VII for me.
To my pleasant surprise, this didn’t come to be. The demo, while indeed different in presentation from the original game, was similar enough to come off as a genuine yet different take on the same story and style. There were definitely stylistic differences in the character dialogue and interactions, and not always for the better, but not so different that they felt too far off. With some serious modern polish added in this department, the remake feels like it will be able to stay true to the core of the original while bringing its own identity.
As expected from Square Enix, the graphics and visual style are phenomenal, and the area I explored simultaneously made me feel nostalgia and awe — the former for the art direction that closely matched the original game, and the latter for the technical fidelity with which it was delivered. Running around a high-definition Mako reactor was a pure delight. Hopefully the visuals aren’t scaled back when the first game actually releases, but we’ve seen that bait-and-switch too often from games before.
My fears around combat were also allayed. The demo featured a short dungeon and boss fight, and gave a good sense of what low-level combat will be like. Importantly, it’s not just real-time action the whole time. Normal attacks happen in real time through repeated presses of the square button. Players can also dodge and parry attacks in real time. Attacking builds up ATB points, needed to use abilities, items, and magic, the latter of which also consumes a limited pool of MP. Players control one character while the AI controls the others. The AI seems to only auto attack, building up ATB, though it was not clear how configurable it will be in the future.
However, once at least one ATB point has been fully charged up on any of the characters, players can open a combat menu from which they can select many combat options requiring those points. Opening the menu slows down time to a crawl, so much so that it might as well pause the game, letting players think on how to proceed, and allowing them to select commands on any of the characters. In practice, it seems like only standard attacks are designed to be used in real-time, while the rest of the actions are menu-driven.
ATB points fill up very quickly and are spent just as quickly, so there’s an almost constant changing between menu-driven and action-driven combat inputs. In the demo, characters only had a maximum of two ATB points, but if more can be unlocked as characters level it will introduce interesting decisions around holding onto and spending the points. Overall, I found the combat highly satisfying and enjoyable, and it felt like a great cross between real-time and ATB combat, without the tedious need to select attack over and over as with ATB systems of previous games, but keeping it possible to make considered combat decisions through the menu.
The demo takes place early in the game, and as such characters only had a handful of abilities and spells, all of which were standard fare of the series. Limit breaks are also back, with limit gauges that charge when taking damage, though in the remake their animations are nowhere near as lengthy or cinematic as the original game. Characters seem to also be somewhat specialized, and in the demo Barret was needed to reach enemies flying high up in the air, while Cloud fared better against enemies in melee range. It wasn’t clear to what extent this specialization will hold up or be developed as characters level up, but it could prove to be an interesting mechanic requiring players to change up their party compositions for different encounters.
Enemies can perform attacks that pin down a party member, requiring other characters attack that particular enemy to let their ally escape. Failing to do so within a set time can lead to massive damage on the restrained character, so when this happened I found myself reprioritizing my attack plan. Enemies have a stagger bar that fils as they are attacked, and once staggered they take more damage from abilities. Players can also use the environment to take cover and block damage, and this was required to dodge the the ultimate attack of the demo’s boss.
There are still many unknowns about how the game will turn out. For example, can the new combat system in the remake, with simpler and more streamlined menus, support the same array of abilities as the original? Does character progression and leveling offer as much depth and customization as Final Fantasy VII fans expect? And will the game’s narrative and pacing hold up given the stylistic changes, the breaking up of the story into multiple parts, the expansion of the Midgar chapter to take up the entire first part, and Square Enix’s admission that it still does not know how many parts the complete game will end up being? What I do know though is that I went into the demo expecting to see something that would lessen the legend of the original game, but came out feeling that Square Enix may just be capable of delivering an experience that is both modern and still preserves the core of what made Final Fantasies of that era so beloved. There’s plenty of cause for optimism.