Final Fantasy 7 has long been the Holy Grail of videogame remakes. Fans have been clamouring for it ever since it was announced for PS2, before being abandoned. Square Enix later created a tech demo for PS3, recreating the opening of Final Fantasy 7 on the new hardware. However, it wasn’t until 2015, at PlayStation’s E3 conference that the Final Fantasy 7 Remake was officially announced.
In the ensuing period of time, the remake has seemed to go through a turbulent development cycle. However, after finally getting hands-on with the beginning of the game, I’m happy to confirm that Final Fantasy 7 Remake is shaping up to be one of, if not the greatest of videogame remakes of all time.
Final Fantasy 7 Remake is in a different category from most other remakes. One occupied by only a handful of others. Most remakes simply update the visuals, streamline some gameplay elements and modernise the experience. Final Fantasy 7 Remake is different. It fundamentally changes the experience while attempting to deliver on the promise of and feelings of nostalgia.
Final Fantasy 7 Remake absolutely nails it.
Final Fantasy 7 Remake
I’ll admit, I was more than sceptical of the remake when I learned the combat was going to be real-time. Real-time combat in JRPGs is something I’ve never warmed up to and learning that one of my favourite JRPGs of all time wouldn’t have turn-based combat turned me right off the whole idea.
It felt like a betrayal of Final Fantasy 7’s legacy and I assumed it was going to be terrible. Thankfully, those genius developers at Square Enix really know what they’re doing because the combat in Final Fantasy 7 Remake is exceptional.
It somehow feels very modern while still retaining the iconic identity of the ATB system. In the same way that the Resident Evil 2 Remake managed to feel contemporary while still holding onto the spirit of the original, Final Fantasy 7 Remake does too. Importantly, combat does not feel like Kingdom Hearts.
This was another concern of mine. Sure, Kingdom Hearts’ combat is fine, for that franchise. But I don’t want to have Cloud turn into a facsimile for Sora.
There are similarities but they’re superficial. While in combat you can hold L1 to bring up a command menu and use abilities via shortcuts you’ve set up. The difference between Kingdom Hearts and Final Fantasy 7 Remake is that when you enter menus and bring up shortcuts, time pauses. This is how Final Fantasy 7 Remake retains the ATB feel of the original.
A major difference in the remake is that you’re only controlling one character at a time. Your party still fights with you but they’re controlled by the AI and generally fight alongside you without any input required. However, you can give them commands by pressing R2 or L2 and selecting an ability from their list.
You can also switch between characters in your party freely. This allows you to use specific characters when needed. For example, during the infiltration of the Mako Reactor, automated turrets were dealing huge amounts of damage to my party. By switching to Barret and targeting the turrets with ranged attacks, they were removed from the field and I could focus on melee combat.
In order to ensure you’re always facing the right direction and damaging your chosen enemy, Final Fantasy 7 Remake utilises a lock-on system. Switching between targets is simple and easy and makes getting around the field and taking enemies down incredibly stylish.
And it’s not just melee and ranged combat that you have access to in Final Fantasy 7 Remake. What would Final Fantasy be without magic?
Casting magic is accomplished through the same menus as your abilities and items. While selecting it, time pauses and you can make your selection without having to rush or worry about combat in real-time. Magic is governed by Materia and each character only has access to the magic associated with the Materia they have equipped.
Materia is one of Final Fantasy’s best magic/augment systems and it’s as good today as it was in the original. Players find Materia and can equip it in slots on their weapons, armour and jewellery. Depending on the Materia, players will gain access to new spells as well as improve their stats and more. What’s new in Final Fantasy 7 Remake is that Materia can grant active, real-time abilities.
During my hands-on, I found a Materia that allowed me to perform an attack after a Dodge. Dodge is permanently mapped to Circle, however afterwards, you’re unable to attack for a second. With this Materia equipped, you can press attack while dodging to perform an attack as you come out of the Dodge. While this was the only Materia of this kind I found, I can imagine there will be many others hidden throughout the game.
Even though Final Fantasy 7 Remake nails that ATB feel and manages to feel modern and classic at the same time, you really only control one character at a time. Sure, you’re able to give your party members commands through the menu and force them to perform certain actions but it feels like one thing too many to juggle. Controlling just one character gives you enough to do and enough to manage and adding the party members on starts to make combat unwieldy.
Over time, I’m certain players will grow accustomed to the system and be adept at controlling multiple characters but it’s an adjustment. Thankfully, just controlling one character is more than enough. I will say though, playing as Barret is boring with a capital B. Playing as Cloud or Tifa, you use melee combos and different button presses to attack. As Barret, you literally hold Square to fire your weapon.
He’s best used as a party member and to give occasional commands. I wouldn’t recommend using him as your main. I also felt a bit uncomfortable when Barret was on screen as he veered dangerously close to racist caricature on more than one occasion. Hopefully, he doesn’t cross that line in the final release.
When you do focus on controlling one character or start to get a handle on giving commands to your party as well, combat in Final Fantasy 7 Remake is like violent ballet. Cloud dives and slashes across the screen, destroying enemies while spells burst with light and sound and everything explodes with stylishness. I’ve honestly not seen a game with such exquisite and deliberate combat before.
Final Fantasy 7 Remake doesn’t go so far as to mimic the combat style of Devil May Cry or Bayonetta and it also isn’t as deliberate as something like Dark Souls or God of War. It does sit somewhere comfortably in the middle though. And while I wouldn’t exactly call it groundbreaking or revolutionary, it feels fresh and different.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why the combat feels so good but it is clearly something that Square Enix has worked incredibly hard on. The implementation of the ATB and pausing of time into the hack and slash mechanics truly feels like what I always imagined the combat would have been like if the PlayStation One was capable of it.
In fact, that’s largely the overall feel of Final Fantasy 7 Remake. Everything about it looks, sounds and plays like it was meant to in 1997 except the computing power wasn’t available yet. Visually, it looks as good, if not better, than Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, even during gameplay. Square Enix has always been phenomenally capable of creating breathtaking visuals. It’s doubly so in Final Fantasy 7 Remake as everything looks amazing and you’re seeing things you’re so familiar with but have never seen with this fidelity before.
When you’re outside of combat and exploring Midgar it’s a transformative experience. For the first time, you actually get a sense of the scale and degradation of the city. It’s clear that there’s an upper and under city and you can see the disparity, the gap between the rich and poor and the total and utter hopelessness of the majority of the population.
For the first time, I felt that Final Fantasy 7 was actually making a commentary on society. Even though I knew it was doing so in the original, it never felt so real as when I could walk the streets of Midgar and have it look like a real place. The ability to empathise and relate to the characters has also drastically improved with the remake.
The characters are not blocks of polygons smushed together to form chibi characters. Instead, they look like the best anime approximation of real humans. They are so expressive and so believable it’s far easier to accept Cloud as the silent, brooding type rather than sullen emo. One of Final Fantasy 7 Remake’s greatest achievements so far is to make this world and these characters seem real and to allow the player to truly become attached.
Not that players didn’t while playing the original, it’s just that with the wealth of improvements implemented to the audio and visuals, it’s far easier and more rewarding to get attached and invested.
While I was only able to play through the first few chapters and one a little later on, I walked away a true believer in the Final Fantasy 7 Remake. My scepticism melted as I saw Final Fantasy 7 rendered in its realistic glory and experienced the amazing combat. Like Resident Evil 2 Remake, Final Fantasy 7 Remake manages to flawless recreate a classic game, modernise it and still keep the spirit and the feeling of the original alive.
The Final Fantasy 7 Remake is just over a month away and there’s no doubt in my mind that it’s going to be a remarkable milestone in gaming.
Leo Stevenson travelled to Sydney as a guest of Square Enix to attend a Final Fantasy 7 Remake preview.