Final Fantasy VII Remake - First Impressions
Final Fantasy may be the one game franchise that is destined to live forever, somehow surviving despite a few bumps in the road (looking at you, XIII trilogy) and living on well past where others have thrown in the towel and moved on. It's pretty safe to say that everyone has a favourite among the many, many games in the series, and of those dozens of games none has been more iconic and loved by fans than Final Fantasy VII.
Gamers everywhere lost their collective minds when a complete remake was announced to be released on the PlayStation 4 in 2020, their inner child squealing with delight that they could relive an old favourite that didn't look like it was made out of knock-off Lego pieces.
So here's my dark confession: I've never played Final Fantasy VII. My first, and still my favourite, Final Fantasy game was XII way back on the PlayStation 2, and I haven't gone back to the PS1 era since then. When everyone in my class was raving about Final Fantasy VII, I was trying to convince them that Digimon World was a better option (it probably wasn't, but I was 10).
That doesn't mean the new remake doesn't interest me, I just don't have the nostalgia attached to it like nearly everyone else does. When the demo was released, I downloaded it immediately to see if I could find out what all the hype was about twenty three years later.
The demo is fairly short, taking me around thirty minutes to get to the end, but there's a lot going on here. You play through the opening segment familiar to everyone who actually played the original game, where you break into a factory, blow up a reactor and have to run against the clock to make it out alive.
This version of Final Fantasy VII plays very differently to the original, being an action RPG this time around rather than turn-based, with a dedicated attack, dodge and block button aside from the command menu, which will be the one familiar aspect of the combat to returning players.
I'll get this out of the way first, the demo looks and sounds phenomenal. I was honestly surprised that a game so modern could invoke a retro feeling with its soundtrack alone. The graphics are leaps and bounds better than the original game, as you would hope, but one thing I didn't expect was that the characters mouths were synched correctly to the English dub. With most of my ARPG experience coming from Kingdom Hearts 1 and 2, having the correct lip synch made more difference than I thought it would for my enjoyment of the cinematics.
The Mako Reactor is one of the coolest looking levels I've seen in recent years, even if it immediately reminded me of the factory section from The Surge, right down to the psychotic guards in full armour who want to take my head off. There is also a sense of verticality I don't think could have been achieved in a PS1 game, and the level itself is enormous in height.
Control-wise there were no issues for me, and there was never a time where it felt like Cloud was skating on ice or refusing to do what I told him. Each action is responsive from movement to combat and the control layout felt right enough, even if I kept mashing X to dodge instead of O by accident.
There’s a great part of combat I recognised from my endless hours with Kingdom Hearts, and that’s the action shortcuts mapped to L1 and the face buttons. It helped keep the fights fast-paced when opening the action menu would otherwise slow everything down.
I don't know if AVALANCHE were like this in the original game, but the only character I actually enjoyed listening to was Cloud. Barret is annoying, loud and angry with “Merc” for apparently no reason. Jessie is so fixated on Cloud and trying to get him to notice her painfully obvious advances, I'm surprised she managed to get anything done.
I can't even remember the names of the other two, they're only with you for a couple of minutes and neither of them were particularly interesting. The fat one seemed to fanboy over Cloud a bit too much, and I couldn't even tell you what the other guy did aside from open a door.
One small issue I had with the battle system was how you're affected by enemy attacks when you use the dodge mechanic. If you are in the contact zone when the attack starts, even if the attack has completely missed your character's model by the time the animation finishes, you will still take damage and be knocked back. It came down to timing dodges a little sooner than I am used to, to the point where I just kept far away from enemies after whacking them with the buster sword a couple of times.
Weirdly, the combat as a whole is where I am still on the fence about whether I like it or not. On the one hand, finding a way to incorporate the ATB (Active Time Battle) gauge into an ARPG and actually making it work was a pleasant surprise. You can attack freely with Cloud's sword or Barret's gun, and as you deal damage your ATB gauge fills up. The gauge is then used for your items, Spells and Abilities, with each action taking a specified amount of your ATB gauge when you perform it.
I think I would be fine if the ATB gauge only affected your Spells and Abilities, but the fact it heavily limits your item usage as well struck a nerve with me. During the end boss battle I needed to use items a lot more frequently than the ATB system would allow me, which could have come down to how badly I played the demo, but when Cloud kept telling me (as Barret) to use Lightning over and over while I have no MP left, it got irritating really fast.
I know it's supposed to be based on a game with no jumping, but when you put a bunch of obstacles and platforms to jump from in your game, I feel like you could benefit from having a dedicated jump button rather than recreating Zelda's "run off the ledge" jump mechanics. It's a small thing, which is why I'm undecided about it, but it was enough for me to question its exclusion.
Speaking of jumping, why does this game force me to use Barret for some enemies who are out of reach for Cloud, but not for others who are just as out of reach, but Cloud can leap into the air like Michael Jordan and take them out anyway? It could just come from my dislike of Barret's character, but I never wanted to use him in battle if I could help it, and it annoyed me that there were times when I was forced to use him.
The demo for Final Fantasy VII Remake was overall a well-designed and aesthetically pleasing experience, but it just didn't sit with me well enough to make me want to buy it on release day. I don't think I'm the target audience for this game, and that's totally fine since most remakes are aimed at the people who played the original game, so for now it's sitting firmly in the "check back later" pile of upcoming games. If you are a fan of the original Final Fantasy VII I imagine you would find less fault and more enjoyment in the remake than I did.
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