Final Fantasy VII Remake has been a long time coming–and that’s only talking about the four years since it was officially announced. Like Final Fantasy XV and Kingdom Hearts III before it, the game has acquired a near mythical status where it needs to be played to be believed. Thankfully, Square Enix gave fans the chance to do just that with a playable demo at its E3 booth. After getting my hands on it, I'm more eager than ever to take down Shinra one more time.
The demo offers a slice of the game’s opening mission shown during Square's E3 briefing. Cloud and Barrett fight their way through the bowels of Shinra’s headquarters at the behest of eco-terrorist group AVALANCHE. First and foremost, I’m floored by how stunning everything looks. Cloud and Barrett have never looked better, and their in-game models trump their Advent Children renditions. Fluid animations, gorgeous effects, plus neat little touches, such as the myriad of scratches on Cloud’s Buster Sword, make Final Fantasy VII Remake a serious piece of eye-candy.
Combat blends fast-paced action with traditional turn-based mechanics. Basic melee attacks are performed by mashing the square button. Despite looking and feeling good, these attacks don't do a ton of damage. Instead of chipping away at an enemy’s health, the melee’s primary focus is to whittle away at foes until they become staggered, which leaves them vulnerable for more powerful attacks. Such big-time moves include spells and, of course, Limit Breaks.
Hitting X pauses combat to allow players to select commands in classic JRPG style. Executing these actions costs a portion of the classic Active Time Battle gauge. This meter continually refills itself, so having a solid battle strategy involves properly managing ATB usage and cooldown times between party members.
Wailing away on the attack button, then stopping to manually select a Fire spell feels a bit disjointed at first. In a way it can feel like patting my head and rubbing my belly at the same time. I eventually got used to it, though, and the ATB/command select gives the game a more classic feel than I expected which is good. Even better is that players can also hotkey commands to the shoulder buttons. This makes executing favorite moves, such as Cloud's Braver attack, a simple button press away.
Hitting up and down on the d-pad seamlessly switches between characters. Some heroes sport abilities better suited for certain threats. Cloud's magic may reach some airborne enemies, but Barrett's gun arm is a far more reliable solution to that problem. While in control of one character, the rest of the party handles their business in the background, so there’s no need to micromanage everyone. It’s also cool to watch partners tear foes to shreds off in the distance. However, you can still pause the fight to issue specific commands to your teammates.
I fight my way pass a few waves of goons until I arrive at the Scorpion Sentinel boss battle. This multi-legged machine is no joke, dishing out rocket barrages and a wide-reaching EMP blast. Again, the impressive fire and particle effects sell the chaotic and desperate vibe of the fight. The Scorpion’s relentless assault beats me into skillfully using the dodge and block maneuvers as I get my butt handed to me early on. Basic attacks do minimal damage against the hardy machine. Thankfully, enemies often sport weaknesses that can be exploited, and the Scorpion is vulnerable to electrical attacks.
I switch to Barrett and dump as much lightning as the ATB gauge will allow, doing tons of damage. Once I finally stagger the machine, I unload with Cloud’s most powerful sword attacks. After a back and forth struggle the Scorpion Sentinel is, quite literally, on its last legs. All that’s left is to individually target its limbs to further disable it. I throw everything I have at these appendages until they shatter, grounding the machine for good. A final Limit Break reduces the Scorpion to a fiery heap and the demo concludes.
I had a great time with this first look, and I’m more excited than ever to experience Cloud’s revamped adventure. So far the marriage of JRPG and action mechanics seems well-suited; I’m curious to see how it evolves with a full party of characters. Most importantly, the overall atmosphere and vibe of Final Fantasy VII felt intact even with the massive overhaul. I just hope the rest of the game can maintain that momentum.
We won’t have to wait nearly as long to find out as initially expected. Final Fantasy VII Remake releases on March 3 for PlayStation 4.
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Edited by Marcus Stewart