The original Final Fantasy VII has a special place in the hearts of many gamers. The visual advancements, strategic combat and impactful story beats shaped the identity of hundreds and thousands of people around the world. Realistically, as long as there are no game-breaking technical issues or disagreeable unnecessary monetisation models, Square Enix should have sales in the multi-millions, thanks to fans with ingrained happy memories of the original. However, I cannot count myself as one of those people, having not played the original Final Fantasy VII. This preview comes from someone with a passing knowledge of the game, world and characters, gained from an admiration of its legacy, admittedly from a safe distance. The following impression comes from fresh eyes, with no prior nostalgia for the game; so take this preview of Final Fantasy VII Remake with as many or as few grains of salt as you see fit.
The demo was set at the start of the game, controlling Cloud and descending down a factory stairwell. Accompanied by Barret, at multiple levels a variety of small enemies confronted the pair, giving the player the opportunity to test the controls for battle and menu navigation. At the bottom of the stairwell, Cloud and Barret face off against a giant red scorpion robot in a 4-stage boss fight. There was no story elements in the demo, save for a single line from Barret implying that Cloud had been hired to do a job. Who might have predicted that urgent storytelling may lose some importance when you make the decision to release a game over multiple discs.
Final Fantasy VII Remake will be released exclusively for PlayStation 4 on March 3rd, 2020.
Final Fantasy VII Remake has sharp graphics, with all the high quality sheen one would expect from a PlayStation 4 game in the swansong years of the console’s lifespan. The steel of Cloud’s Buster Sword and Barret’s almost-glistening sweat, show evidence of fine texture work at play. There was also a generous, but not over-the-top, number of particles produced with each casting of a spell -- something which may exponentially increase once given access to bigger, more powerful spells. After all, this comes from the same developer that put Sora on a new theme park ride every 2 minutes.
The UI was very clean, with the command menu taking up minimal room on screen. A small success given the magnitude of battle options the player has at any point in time. Square Enix may have lots of experience in menu navigation, more recently seen in Final Fantasy XV, but it’s nice to acknowledge they’ve come a long way from an original that dedicated a third of the screen to the command menu.
The biggest change in this remake of Final Fantasy VII is the preview combat, evolving the original’s side-on turn-based system into a fully 3D real-time balance of close combat, ranged fire, magic blasts and special attacks. Tapping the attack button starts a basic combo; Cloud slashes the opponent 3-4 times with the Buster Sword while Barret unloads an infinite volley of bullets out of his machine gun arm. These standard attacks fill a bright blue bar known as the ATB gauge; in the demo each character had 2 bars (I assume they gain more bars as you advance through the game) which were filled after roughly 10 seconds of standard attacks. Cloud and Barret also have higher damaging special attacks such as Cloud’s Braver and Barret’s Bullet Barrage which consumes 1 or 2 ATB bars (I assume bigger attacks will require more bars as you advance through the game). There are also magic attacks, of which I only used offensive and healing spells. But if I know JRPGs, I imagine there’ll be magic involving buffs, nerfs and status effects further down the line.
Explanation of the game’s combat and various menus was served through many screens of information, all slightly overwhelming and easily forgettable. I assume this was simply the format of the demo and the tutorial information will be easier to digest in the full game. Combat flowed naturally after a short time; I didn’t use the slow motion bullet time mode for strategic planning, but rather to give myself a chance to remember what all those menus had said earlier. I began to enter a rhythm between standard attacking, triggering the boss’s weakness and launching bigger attacks during their vulnerable state, return to standard attacks when they recover. Managing both characters actions, keeping the magic points and health points at a good level, remaining spatially conscious of everyone’s position at all times; there were a fair number of engaging mental choices at any one point in the battle. With the assumption that there will be more party members, more attacks and more creative enemies later in the game, I would eagerly continue on with this game.
The demo’s limited scenario meant very few music pieces could be heard. For the most part the background music present was serviceable, successfully maintaining and raising tension when required. The music didn’t leave any lasting impact however -- simply washing over me and fading from memory.
Barret’s vocals have been the centre of a small controversy. The original Final Fantasy VII saw Barret speak with a particular cadence and vernacular that would make you think he referred to any random passersby as a “soul brother”. To my understanding, Barret spoke in a level of ‘jive’ talk that was an outdated, insensitive stereotype even in the 90s. So with the remake, some saw it as a chance to correct past wrongs. However, Square Enix have once again decided to voice Barret like a man who simultaneously supports and undermines the work of Dr Martin Luther King.
As such, Barret’s voice was fairly grating, but only in small part because of the jive talk. It was the abundant frequency of Barret’s vocal interjections that I found the biggest headache. Barret had many comments prior to and during the boss fight, half of which I could have happily done without. For example, when he and Cloud arrive at the bottom of the stairwell, entering an area that any gamer worth their salt could tell is about the become the setting for a boss fight, Barret shouts out, “yeah lets do this”, like he was suddenly aware of the tropes of a video game and his role as a character within it. With any other character I would have considered this meta, 4th wall break as funny. But when spoken by a man who’d likely only refer to Cloud as “the honky with too much hair gel”, one can only react with an eye roll and a disappointed groan. That being said, Cloud’s voice acting is perfectly reasonable.